Scheduled Monument

Holyrood Abbey, precinct and associated remainsSM13031

Status: Designated


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The legal document available for download below constitutes the formal designation of the monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. The additional details provided on this page are provided for information purposes only and do not form part of the designation. Historic Environment Scotland accepts no liability for any loss or damages arising from reliance on any inaccuracies within this additional information.


Date Added
Ecclesiastical: abbey; burial ground, cemetery, graveyard; precincts, Secular: garden; palace; sundial
Local Authority
NT 26916 73917
326916, 673917


The monument comprises Holyrood Abbey and precinct, associated buried remains which lie beneath the Palace of Holyroodhouse and beneath nearby structures and open spaces, and Queen Mary's Bath. As well as the upstanding remains of Holyrood Abbey and Queen Mary's Bath, the scheduled area includes the ground in the palace gardens, forecourt, Mews Court and the grounds of Croft-an-Righ House, together with ground now buried below structures including the Palace of Holyroodhouse itself, Croft-an-Righ House, the buildings on the N side of Abbey Strand and the buildings around Mews Court. The visible remains of the abbey church consist of the walls of the nave, built largely between 1195 and 1230 and later adapted for use as the Chapel Royal, and the footings of the choir and transepts. Queen Mary's Bath is a late medieval garden lodge or pavilion dating to the later 16th century. The monument also contains buried archaeological remains of great significance, relating both to the abbey and palace. Buried remains of the abbey precinct survive to the E and SE of the abbey church, beneath the palace gardens. Holyrood was the principal royal palace in Scotland from the early 16th century onwards and significant remains of earlier structures are known to lie beneath and around many of the present buildings. Excavations in the palace forecourt have shown the existence of surfaces dating back to the 15th century and boundary walls and buildings exist S of the SW wing of the present palace. Investigation of the Mews area has demonstrated the survival of deposits and structural features beneath the upstanding buildings and in the open courtyard. Croft-an-Righ is a 16th-century house traditionally associated with Regent Moray and its associated buried archaeology is expected to include remains of ancillary structures demolished in the 19th century. The monument is located in Edinburgh at the E end of the Royal Mile and lies 35m above sea level. The monument was last scheduled in 1994, but the documentation does not meet modern standards: the present rescheduling rectifies this.

The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan, to include the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map.

The scheduling excludes the above-ground elements of all buildings and sheds and their floors, except for the upstanding remains of Holyrood Abbey and Queen Mary's Bath, which are scheduled. To allow for their maintenance, the scheduling specifically excludes the top 500mm of the North Carriage Drive and Abbey Strand roads, and the top 300mm of all other surfaced roads, paths, yards and areas of hard standing. The scheduling specifically excludes the above-ground elements of all boundary walls, gates, railings and street furniture, statues, sundials and fountains, as well as all structures built after 1950. The scheduling specifically excludes the underground boiler house N of the palace's NW wing and all existing pads and sockets for the erection of tents and marquees. The scheduling includes the ha-ha on the S and E boundary of the palace gardens.

Statement of National Importance

Cultural Significance

The monument's cultural significance can be expressed as follows:

Intrinsic characteristics

Holyrood Abbey was founded by King David I in 1128. The first church was modest, with an aisle-less nave, short transepts and a short straight-ended choir. It was modelled on Merton Priory in Surrey and was home to the first Augustinian monks brought by David I to Holyrood. This church was replaced by a magnificent cathedral-sized church between 1195 and 1230. The new church was built around the old, with the S wall of the nave incorporating the wall of the earlier church. It had a twin-towered W front and an 8-bay aisled nave, which was vaulted centrally as well as over the side aisles. The domestic ranges and cloister lay to the S of the church and may have been demolished in 1570. Their remains now lie beneath the palace gardens. An octagonal chapter house was built around 1400, adjoining the S transept of the larger church. The nave was restored in preparation for Charles I's coronation there in 1633. It served as the parochial church of the adjacent burgh of Canongate until 1687 when a new parish church was built. This was done in order to permit the use of the abbey church as the Chapel of the Order of the Thistle. The roof of the church collapsed in 1768.

The ground beneath and around the abbey therefore has very high archaeological potential. The buried deposits can help us understand the physical characteristics and layout of monastic buildings, the diet and dress of the inhabitants, the abbey's trading contacts and economy, and its immediate landscape and environment. There may be remains of an early guesthouse designed as a royal lodging, the precursor of the later royal palace. In addition, Holyrood Abbey was the site of many royal and noble burials, including those of Kings David II, James II and James V, and members of the Roxburghe family. Burials have also been found to the N of the church, and to the S of the choir. Burials may provide physical evidence both for the abbey's canons and for the royal and aristocratic individuals who were buried in this prestigious location; they have the potential to enhance knowledge of burial practice, health, diet, illness, cause of death, geographic origin, status, and perhaps the types of activities that people undertook during life.

Researchers believe a royal guesthouse was established near Holyrood Abbey relatively early in its history and that royal interest in staying at Holyrood developed over time. By the early 16th century, King James IV had begun to build a palace in the outer court of the abbey. James V carried out major remodelling and, by 1542, the palace had replaced Edinburgh Castle as the main royal residence. The building was repaired during the 1650s and was redesigned by Sir William Bruce under the patronage of the Duke of Lauderdale later in the century. Excavation has demonstrated that Bruce's palace overlies the remains of earlier structures, but does not necessarily follow their lines. This means that the ground beneath the present building has high potential to inform future understanding of the form and development of the medieval palace.

The structure known as Queen Mary's Bath lies 110m NW of the palace. It is a small, two-storey building of rubble construction with freestone dressings, dating to the later 16th century and restored in the mid 19th century. It has a pyramidal slated roof, two chimneys, a corbelled turret, and a S-facing entrance. There are also individual corbels on the E side, some of which are of oak. The interior contains a ground floor room with a fireplace, a stair, and an upper room with a fireplace and a cavity traditionally thought to have contained a bath. Gordon of Rothiemay's map of 1647 shows a roofed tennis court to the S and the Privy Garden just to the E. Although traditionally believed to be a bath-house, the building could have been used as a garden lodge or pavilion, or it may have been associated with the nearby tennis court. Historic maps also show a succession of buildings, including the tennis court and, latterly, several tenements between Queen Mary's Bath and the foot of the Canongate. No upstanding traces of these survive, but there is potential for buried archaeological remains. To the S, three late medieval houses still stand on the N side of Abbey Strand. These comprise a late 15th- or early 16th-century double tenement of three main stories, and additional structures of the mid 16th and 17th century. Although the buildings fronting the N of Abbey Strand are excluded from the scheduling, the ground beneath them has high archaeological potential to contain earlier structures, as well as deposits that can tell us about daily life, trade and exchange during the Canongate's period as the focal point of Stewart rule. On the S side of Abbey Strand, the ground beneath the Mews Courtyard, Royal Mews and other mainly 19th-century buildings has similarly high archaeological potential. The structures and deposits revealed by the limited archaeological work that has taken place here emphasise the complex development sequence in this area, which lies at the interface between Holyrood Abbey, Holyrood Palace and the Canongate. The upstanding remains of Abbey Court House incorporate the S side of a gatehouse to the palace that was built in 1502 and straddled Abbey Strand, demonstrating the high archaeological potential of the area beneath and immediately N of Abbey Court House.

Gordon of Rothiemay's 1647 map shows that the Privy Garden lay just to the E of Queen Mary's Bath. This garden was superseded by a Physic Garden, which partially overlay the earlier site. The footings of a wall are visible stretching from the rear of the E building at Abbey Strand up to the bath-house. This wall appears to be the foundation of the W boundary of the Privy Garden and may have its origins as part of the Holyrood Abbey precinct wall. The 1647 map shows that the Privy Garden and other formal gardens covered a much greater area than the present palace garden. The original abbey and palace gardens were gradually encroached upon from the 17th century as a variety of buildings took advantage of being beyond the jurisdiction of the burgh of Canongate. The N carriage drive of 1856-7 and the N part of the palace's forecourt also overlie the E end of the former Privy Garden and later Physic Garden. The present garden boundary was fixed in the middle of the 19th century, following the acquisition of several parcels of land previously known as St Anne's Yards. Defined by a bank faced on the outside with a high retaining wall, they are designed to be a beautiful, enclosed retreat. The gardens contain two stone sundials, a polygonal sundial dating from 1633 that originally came from the Privy Garden and was restored in the 19th century, and a plain horizontal sundial on a simple baluster support that came from the former market garden to the E of Croft-an-Righ House. In addition to the clear potential for buried garden features, the gardens have high potential for other buried archaeological deposits, such as structures, pits and middens. These can tell us about the development and layout of the abbey and palace precincts and can enhance knowledge of the diet, trading contacts and economy of these two institutions. At the S end of the palace forecourt, buried archaeological remains comprising three phases of surfacing and structural features offer the potential to understand the transition from abbey precinct to royal palace and the developing use of space in front of the palace.

The grounds of Croft-an-Righ House are expected to contain buried archaeological remains associated with this important 16th-century building, traditionally linked with Regent Moray. This was one of the fashionable houses that formerly clustered around James VI's court at Holyrood and buried features here may include ancillary structures, pits and middens, offering the potential to compare this household with the adjacent royal palace.

Contextual characteristics

There is great potential to compare the standing structures and buried archaeology at Holyrood with those of other major Scottish royal palaces at Linlithgow, Falkland, Dunfermline and Stirling. At Linlithgow, as at Holyrood, royal associations with the site probably began in the reign of David I. The upstanding palace buildings show a complex development sequence extending from the reign of James I to that of James VI, culminating in the completion of the rebuilt N range around 1624. At Linlithgow, there are proven buried midden deposits associated with the late medieval palace which could provide a comparator for deposits at Holyrood. Falkland Palace in Fife was built by the Stuart kings as a royal hunting seat and is broadly contemporary with the first documented palace at Holyrood. It was the product of two main building programmes, conducted from 1500-1513 and from 1537-1541, and boasts the earliest coherently designed Renaissance façade in Britain, built by French master masons. Dunfermline Palace also dates from the 16th century and James V's palace at Stirling, completed around 1545, is one of the finest Renaissance buildings in Great Britain. Together, these structures and their buried archaeology can provide invaluable information about late medieval and early modern kingship, and demonstrate the transition in royal accommodation from castle to palace.

Comparisons can also be drawn between the remains at Holyrood and those at Edinburgh Castle, the main seat of Scottish monarchs before the development of the palace complex at Holyrood. There is also potential to compare the character of archaeological deposits at Holyrood with those from the Canongate, immediately to the W. The archaeology of the Canongate has been explored in a series of archaeological interventions, notably on the site of the new Scottish Parliament. This has provided a body of information about many aspects of the burgh, including its creation in the 13th century, its role as the fashionable home of aristocratic families in the 16th to 18th centuries, and the subsequent poverty that existed in the 19th century.

Associative Characteristics

The monument has strong ecclesiastical and royal associations, particularly with David I, James IV, James V, Mary Queen of Scots, James VI and Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and has close connections with Holyrood Park and the historic burgh of Canongate. The name 'Holyrood' is now also applied to the Scottish Parliament.

National Importance

This monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to our understanding of the past, in particular of a prominent medieval abbey and the origins and development of what became the principal royal palace in Scotland from the early 16th century onwards. The remains of Holyrood Abbey represent evidence for one of Scotland's foremost medieval monastic houses, adapted and modified at the Reformation. In the vicinity and beneath the present palace building are significant remains of early structures that have the potential to increase our understanding of the palace's construction, development and use, and its evolving relationship with adjacent structures, especially Holyrood Abbey. Queen Mary's Bath contributes to our understanding of the landscape context of the palace. The existing garden and its archaeology have the potential to expand our knowledge of the post-Reformation use of Church lands and the post-union use of Crown lands. The site's varied and well-preserved buried archaeology can also provide information about the economy and trading contacts of the abbey and palace. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand Scotland's medieval abbeys and royal palaces and their role in the promotion of medieval and later kingship.



RCAHMS records Holyrood Abbey as site NT27SE 35.


Edgar, W 1765 Map.

Gifford J, McWilliam C & Walker D 1984 The Buildings of Scotland: Edinburgh, p125-126 & p130-141.

Gordon, J of Rothiemay 1647 Map.

MacGibbon D and Ross T 1892 Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland from the Twelfth to the Eighteenth Century Vol 5, pp 441-443 and p 491.

RCAHMS, 1951, An Inventory of the Ancient and Historical Monuments of the City of Edinburgh with the Thirteenth Report of the Commission, Edinburgh: HMSO , No. 86, 129-144 & No. 87, 152-153.

For further references, see Historic Scotland's Bibliography of Properties in Care 2003 (revised edition).

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Holyrood Abbey

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    Designation Type
    Garden & Designed Landscape

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Printed: 03/10/2023 02:27