The early form of the garden associated with Holyrood Abbey prior to the 16th century is uncertain. The drawing by John Gordon in c.1647 shows several enclosures laid out with elaborate parterres. The map of 1769 does not show any garden on the present site, only two linked enclosures on the east wall of the Palace between it and St Anne's Yards. By 1855, the extent of the present garden was established, as shown on the 1st edition OS map. This garden has been remodelled in recent years.
There are known to have been human settlements in the Kings Park during the Bronze Age as revealed by geological surveys in the area around Dunsapie Loch. Further evidence was found during the course of the construction of the road through the Park in 1843 when Bronze implements were dug up. In 1128, an Augustinian Abbey was founded at Holyrood by David I (1124-53). It was one of several founded by the King, others being at Kelso, Melrose, Jedburgh and Dryburgh. In those days, the Kings would lodge at the Abbey as the guests of the Monks.
In Edinburgh, the main Royal residence was at the Castle, primarily for security reasons although from the early 15th century the Abbey was increasingly favoured as a Royal Residence, and James II was born here in 1430. A spacious palace complex was progressively formed for James IV & V in the first half of the 16th century. It is thought that several parterres were laid out around the Palace at this time. In 1603, James VI of Scotland was crowned King of England and the Royal Court was moved to London.
In the period of unrest which followed the deposition of Charles I, Cromwellian forces took up residence in the Palace, during which time considerable damage was caused. After the restoration of the Crown in 1660, Charles II commissioned Sir William Bruce and Robert Mylne to restore the Palace although the King in fact never visited the site. He commented that the three Royal Apartments shown on Bruce's plan were unnecessary and that he would only have his own Great Apartment to the east overlooking the new Privy Garden. The exact nature of this garden is unknown, but a herb garden and two formal gardens are thought to have existed then. A drawing by John Gordon of Rothiemay in c.1647 illustrates several elaborate parterre designs in the gardens at Holyrood; some of these designs have been used by J.S. Richardson in redesigning the parterres at the Great Garden of Pitmedden (q.v.).
In 1670 Dr Robert Sibbald and Dr Andrew Balfour established a physic garden, only the second in Britain, at St. Anne's Yard, situated to the north of the Palace. In 1695, part of the King's Garden was adopted by James Sutherland who, by that time, had been appointed in charge of the physic gardens. Sutherland was appointed Professor of Botany at the University in the same year. In 1699, he was made King's Botanist and, in 1710, created Regius Professor of Botany.
In 1679, the brother of Charles II, James, Duke of York, took up residence at the Palace as Lord High Commissioner. Despite strong Presbyterian feeling in Scotland, he later furnished the Abbey as a Catholic Chapel and established a Jesuit College and Catholic printing press in the Palace. He succeeded his brother as King and was crowned James VII of Scotland and II of England in 1685. Public outrage at his religious convictions caused him to flee to France three years later. In his absence, the Abbey was sacked by the people.
In 1715, an uprising which sought to restore the Stuart Crown was instigated by James Edward, son of James VII (II), but failed. In 1745, Charles Edward Stuart landed on the west coast of Scotland from where he made his way to Edinburgh, amassing support on the way. He camped at Duddingston on 17th September and next day rode through Holyrood Park and stopped at St Anthony's Well before entering the Palace to reclaim his right to the Scottish Crown. His cause was defeated at Culloden in April of the following year and the Palace saw no other Royal visitor until 1822. The arrival of George IV in that year caused some improvement work to be carried out.
Queen Victoria visited in 1842 and used the Palace subsequently on visits to Scotland. It was during her reign that significant improvements were made to the Palace and gardens as well as in the Park, where the Queen's Drive was laid out and lodges established at the entry points. Since then, the Palace has become the official residence of the monarch in Scotland. The Park has changed little but the gardens have been remodelled to suit their role as the setting for summer garden parties hosted by Her Majesty the Queen and the Lord High Commissioner.