Scheduled Monument

Bishop's Palace, KirkwallSM90193

Status: Designated


Where documents include maps, the use of this data is subject to terms and conditions (


Date Added
Last Date Amended
Secular: palace
Local Authority
Orkney Islands
Kirkwall And St Ola
HY 44924 10809
344924, 1010809


The monument comprises the remains of a palace, the earliest parts of which date to the 12th century. It is in the care of the Secretary of State for Scotland and is being re-scheduled to clarify the extent of the protected area.

The monument lies at the centre of the town of Kirkwall. It comprises the Bishop's Palace, first built in the 12th century and substantially reconstructed in the 16th century. The 12th-century remains consist of the basement walls of a large stone-built timber-floored hall, measuring some 6m by 25m internally. It was very probably within this building that the Norwegian King Haakon died in 1263, while returning home after his unsuccessful campaign in western Scotland which had ended at the battle of Largs.

The palace appears to have fallen into disrepair by the early 14th century. Little more is known about it until the mid 16th century, when it was extensively reconstructed by Bishop Robert Reid, who heightened the main block and added a round tower at the NW angle. The tower is six storeys high, including an attic, and is furnished with gun-loops. Further alterations were made by Earl Patrick Stewart, who acquired the palace, known by then as the Palace of the Yards, in 1600.

The area proposed for scheduling comprises the remains described and an area around them within which related material may be expected to be found. It is irregular on plan, with maximum dimensions of 39m, measured between just E of N and just W of S by 12m transversely, as marked in red on the accompanying map extract.

Statement of National Importance

The monument is of national importance because together with Spynie Palace (Moray) and St Andrews Castle (Fife) it is one of only a small handful of Scottish medieval episcopal residences to survive, so far as its masonry elements are concerned, in a reasonably complete state of preservation. Furthermore, it contributes or has the potential to contribute through archaeological excavation, to our understanding of medieval and post-medieval domestic architecture, social and economic history, material culture and the urban archaeology of the burgh of Kirkwall. Its significance is enhanced by its connection with some well-known historical events and personalities and by the prominent contribution that it makes to the townscape of modern Kirkwall. The importance of the site is reflected in its status as a property in state care.



RCAHMS records the monument as HY 41 SW 12.


Ashmore, P (ed.), 1995, The ancient monuments of Orkney. HMSO; Edinburgh.

Cross, M, 1994, Bibliography of Monuments in the Care of the Secretary of State for Scotland, 405-9, Glasgow.

Pringle, D, 1998, The Houses of the Stewart Earls in Orkney and Shetland. The Orkney Antiquarian.

Ritchie, A, 1996, Orkney, The Stationary Office; Edinburgh.

Simpson, W D, 1956, The Bishop's Palace at Kirkwal, third Viking Congress, Reykjavik, 101-6.

Simpson, W D, 1961, The Castle of Bergen and the Bishop's Palace at Kirkwall: a study in early Norse architecture, Aberdeen University Studies, 142, Edinburgh.

Simpson, W D, 1986, The Bishop's Palace and the Earl's Palace, Kirkwall, Orkney, Edinburgh.

Historic Environment Scotland Properties

Bishop's Palace, Kirkwall

Find out more

About Scheduled Monuments

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for the designation of buildings, monuments, gardens and designed landscapes and historic battlefields. We also advise Scottish Ministers on the designation of historic marine protected areas.

Scheduling is the way that a monument or archaeological site of national importance is recognised by law through the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.

We schedule sites and monuments of national importance using the criteria published in the Historic Environment Scotland Policy Statement.

The description and map showing the scheduled area is the legal part of the scheduling. The additional information in the scheduled monument record gives an indication of the national importance of the monument(s). It is not a definitive account or a complete description of the monument(s). The format of scheduled monument records has changed over time. Earlier records will usually be brief and some information will not have been recorded. Scheduled monument consent is required to carry out certain work, including repairs, to scheduled monuments. Applications for scheduled monument consent are made to us. We are happy to discuss your proposals with you before you apply and we do not charge for advice or consent. More information about consent and how to apply for it can be found on our website at

Find out more about scheduling and our other designations at You can contact us on 0131 668 8716 or at


There are no images available for this record, you may want to check Canmore for images relating to Bishop's Palace, Kirkwall

There are no images available for this record.

Search Canmore

Printed: 16/02/2019 18:11