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Holyrood Abbey was founded by David I in 1128. The cloister precinct was later turned into a modern Renaissance palace – Holyroodhouse – and became the royal family’s main home in Scotland.

The abbey was badly damaged during the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. By the mid-1600s, only Holyrood's nave remained in use. It was used by both by the local population and visiting royalty for Protestant worship.

But James VII was Catholic and, in 1687, converted the nave into a chapel and decorated it with furnishings suited to Roman Catholic worship. In response, an angry mob smashed the new fittings, broke into the royal vault, and destroyed bones of the Stewart dynasty.

Listen to 'An Unseemly Spectacle'

Listen to Walter Scott’s tirade against those who damaged the abbey in November 1688.

Read 'An Unseemly Spectacle'

The people exhibited another proof of their attachment to the race of Stuart, by despoiling the church of all its internal decorations, leaving nothing but the bare walls. Fanatical fury and political apostacy went further.

They violated the sacred habitations of the dead; they profaned the sepulchre of their kings, they outraged its sanctity by tearing open the coffins that held the mouldering ashes of James V, of Magdalen of France, his first queen; of the Earl of Darnley, once their monarch; and of others who had held the Scottish sceptre. Avarice maintained divided empire with religion in their minds.

They sold the lead of which the coffins were made, and left the bodies exposed; an unseemly spectacle, and the degrading memorial of popular frenzy.

Sir Walter Scott - Celebrating 250 Years

In 2021-22, Scotland celebrates the 250th anniversary of one of its most famous sons, Sir Walter Scott. This online exhibition and audio trail of his legacies is part of the celebrations.

'An Unseemly Spectacle' has been performed by Edinburgh actor Gavin Paul, who is looking forward to visiting some of these important historical sights.gavin