Falkland Castle was built on the site of an earlier manor or hunting lodge at some point before the thirteenth century by Clan MacDuff, Earls of Fife. Little is known about this early structure but it probably evolved from relatively humble beginnings. It occupied a naturally defendable site upon the high ground overlooking the Maspie Burn. However, its primary purpose would have been to enable the Earls of Fife to exploit the valuable hunting in the surrounding parkland. It remained with the MacDuffs through the First War of Scottish Independence but thereafter they became embroiled in the shifting political allegiances of Scottish politics. Falkland Castle was attacked in 1337 and 1371 but was rebuilt on both occasions.
The Earldom of Fife passed to Robert Stewart in 1371 and in 1398 he was granted the title of Duke of Albany. In 1402 he imprisoned King Robert III's eldest son - David, Duke of Rothesay - holding him in the Well Tower at Falkland Castle in dreadful conditions which led to his premature death. This action prompted King Robert to send his younger son James, who was now his heir, to France for safety. However, when his ship briefly put into an English port the young Prince was captured and spent 18 years in English custody. When he eventually returned to Scotland as King James I, he moved against the then owner - Murdoch Stewart, Duke of Albany - and confiscated Falkland Castle in 1425.
Initially the Crown did little with the castle but in 1451 it was granted to Mary of Gueldres. Between 1453 and 1460 she made significant modifications to the castle to convert it into a Royal residence. Concurrent with these upgrades, Falkland was elevated to the status of a Royal Burgh. Around 1511 James IV commenced a substantial rebuilding of the site to convert it into a Palace. He commissioned the masons William Turnball and John Brown to build a quadrangular structure around the courtyard of the former castle. By 1513 the north and south ranges had been completed and work was underway on the east range but construction came to a halt when James IV was killed at the Battle of Flodden in September that year.
Falkland Palace remained in a state of limbo over the next fifteen years during the minority of James V although it did serve as a Royal residence during this period with the young King being held there by John Stewart, Duke of Albany. However, in 1528 James V escaped and fled to join his mother, Mary Tudor, at Stirling Castle. The newly freed King appointed William Barclay as the new Keeper of Falkland Palace. He completed the work on the east range.
In 1537 James V married Madeleine de Valois, daughter of Francis I of France, and Falkland Palace was deemed sufficiently grand to be promised as a 'jointure house', a residence to be allocated to the Queen in the event of her husband's death. This prompted a period of substantial upgrades to the site. Between 1537 and 1541 the spectacular entrance gateway was built and the east and south ranges were completely remodelled. Thereafter Falkland Palace was regularly used as a Royal palace. Given that much of the Royal revenue came in the form of goods and services, the court regularly moved between venues and by the mid-sixteenth century the standard itinerary gravitated around the main Royal palaces/castles at Edinburgh, Linlithgow, Stirling, Perth, Falkland and St Andrews.
James V died in 1541 which brought work on Falkland Palace to a halt. Accordingly a planned western range, which would have completed the original quadrangular plan, was never built. James was followed by his infant daughter - Mary, Queen of Scots - who, due to hostilities with England, spent much of her childhood in France. However, upon returning, she spent significant amounts of time at Falkland and clearly favoured it as a residence. So too did her son, James VI, who granted it to his wife, Anne of Denmark. However, when James became King of England in 1603, he went south and only returned to Scotland once. His son, Charles I, was also an absentee King making only one visit to Scotland in 1633. During this tour he spent five days at Falkland Palace doubtless appreciating a garden he had commissioned from afar five years earlier.
The seventeenth century Civil Wars saw Charles I deposed. Scotland, which had not been consulted in that King's execution, declared support for Charles II prompting English forces under Oliver Cromwell to invade. Despite an English victory at the Battle of Dunbar (1650), Charles II was crowned at Scone in 1651 and thereafter spent a short period in residence at Falkland Palace. However, Charles was defeated at the Battle of Worcester (1651) and spent the next nine years in exile. Falkland Palace was occupied by Parliamentary troops and in September 1654 they (accidentally) caused a fire that resulted in significant damage to the north and east ranges. The palace was not restored and when Charles II returned from exile in 1660, as King of both England and Scotland, he never went back to Falkland. With its main role as a Royal residence over, the palace went into decline that was only halted by nineteenth century restoration.
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Visit Official Website
Falkland Castle and Garden is owned by the National Trust for Scotland and is a major tourist attraction.
Falkland Palace Gatehouse. The gatehouse formed part of the South range and was completed in 1541. Three heraldic shields can be seen above the gate with Scotland in the centre and flanked by the Earl of Fife and Stewarts of Bute. Splayed gun holes were built into the structure.
Cross-House. The cross-house was built by James IV.
East Range. The East Range was built by William Barclay, Keeper of Falkland Palace during the first half of the sixteenth century.
Falkland Palace occupies the site of a former castle that had been built by the MacDuffs. It was seized by the Crown in 1425 and later James IV transformed it into a lavish palace. Work continued during the reign of James V but the intended quadrangular plan was never completed and it was rarely used after the Union of the Crowns.
Falkland Palace is found just off the A912 at the north end of the town. There is a car park nearby (details below).
Car Parking Option
High Street, KY15 7DA