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The royal ghosts of Holyroodhouse

The Palace of Holyroodhouse has been an official royal residence since the early 1500s. It’s currently the official Scottish residence of The King.

Located in the centre of Edinburgh, it stands in all its grandeur at one end of the royal mile, while Edinburgh Castle is located at the opposite end.

The Palace is said to be home to a number of ghostly residents, who, despite passing hundreds of years ago, still refuse to leave.

Among the best known ghost stories at Holyroodhouse is that of an Italian man named David Rizzio. He first began working as a musician at the Palace and later became the private secretary to Mary, Queen of Scots.

In 1566, Mary’s husband Henry Stuart, also known as Lord Darnley, believed that Mary and Rizzio were having an affair and became extremely jealous of the close bond between them. Darnley conspired to murder Rizzio and forced Mary to witness his execution.

Rizzio was stabbed 57 times, directly outside Mary’s private chambers before being thrown down the staircase. To this day, the bloodstain remains on the wooden floor where he was murdered. According to Palace staff, these floorboards have been replaced several times over the years. However, Rizzio’s bloodstains always reappear in the exact same place. A ghostly figure has been seen in this area and unexplained noises heard late at night.

By William Allan – National Galleries of Scotland online collection [1], Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

One year later, in the early hours of the 10th February 1567, Lord Darnley was residing in an Edinburgh house named Kirk O’ Field where he was recovering from an illness. As he supposedly lay sleeping, there was a huge explosion, leaving very little of the home intact.

Darnley’s body, along with that of his servant, was found in a nearby adjoining orchard. At first, it was believed that they had been killed in the explosion. However, upon closer inspection, it was clear that they had been strangled and murdered before the explosion.

Although it wasn’t proven, many believed that Mary was behind his death as revenge for the murder of David Rizzio the previous year. Another theory was that the fourth Earl of Bothwell – James Hepburn – may have had a motive, especially as he and Mary were married shortly after Darnley’s death.

Darnley’s ghost has been seen on numerous occasions in and around his old quarters of Holyroodhouse.

Another ghost reported to reside in the palace is one Agnes Sampson. During autumn of 1590, Agnes was hunted down by witch hunters, falsely accused of witchcraft and arrested, purely based on accusations and suspicion by a man named Gillis Duncan, without supporting evidence. The witch trials were introduced and organised by King James VI.

Agnes was then imprisoned at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, put on trial and tortured. When the torture became too much for Agnes to bear, she pled guilty and was sentenced to death on the 28th January 1591.

Since her death, the spirit of Agnes has been reported many times, wandering naked through the corridors of the palace with scars on her body from the torture she endured

An extract for the witch trial reads: “This aforeaside Agnis Sampson which was the elder Witch, was taken and brought to Haliruid house (Holyrood Palace) before the Kings Maiestie and sundry other of the nobility of Scotland, where she was straitly examined, but all the perswasions which the Kings maiestie vsed to her with ye rest of his counsell, might not prouoke or induce her to confesse any thing, but stood stiffely in the deniall of all that was laide to her charge: whervpon they caused her to be conueied awaye to prison, there to receiue such torture as hath been lately prouided for witches in that country: and forasmuch as by due examination of witchcraft and witches in Scotland, it hath latelye beene found that the Deuill dooth generallye marke them with a priuie marke, by reason the Witches haue confessed themselues, that the Diuell dooth lick them with his tung in some priuy part of their bodie, before hee dooth receiue them to be his seruants, which marke commonly is giuen them vnder the haire in some part of their bodye, wherby it may not easily be found out or seene, although they be searched: and generally so long as the marke is not seene to those which search them, so long the parties that hath the marke will neuer confesse any thing. Therfore by special commaundement this Agnis Sampson had all her haire shauen of, in each parte of her bodie, and her head thrawen with a rope according to the custome of that Countrye, beeing a paine most greeuous, which she continued almost an hower, during which time she would not confesse any thing vntill the Diuels marke was found vpon her priuities, then she immediatlye confessed whatsoeuer was demaunded of her, and iustifying those persons aforesaid to be notorious witches.”

About author

Susan is an Actress, Vocalist, Voice-over artist and Writer. She graduated from the University of Salford with a BA (HONS) Music Degree and spent some time travelling around Europe with various choirs, during which time she also performed in the opening ceremony of the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games before pursuing her acting and writing career.