17th century

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KW15 1PD
HY 449 107
Kirkwall, Orkney
s of A960
off Palace Road




Historic Scotland
Undiscovered Scotland


Earl's Palace, Kirkwall

possibly the most important renaissance house .

17th century mansion

The Earl's of Orkney built two massive palaces on the island - the smaller, slightly older one in Birsay, and this enormous renaissance house in Kirkwall, just across from the cathedral.

The castle here is a remarkably modern-looking house, with large windows, window seats, comfortable rooms and large staircases. Plaster it, and it would be a bit ornate for today's housing market, but certainily not out of the ordinary. It may have been attached to the nearby Bishop's palace with a curtain wall (or a secret passage, if the notes are to be believed) with a alrge courtyard between them.

The house is in a rough U shape, with a long main block and two perpenticular wings, one a bit shorter than the other. The shorter wrig has decorated turrets on each corner, and a decorative string course round each turret and around the roof for each one.

The main block has large oreil windows, and corby-stepped gables. The entryway opened to a wide staircase to the first floor, which has a large hall with huge windows. Downstairs (reached by a small staircase) were vaulted cellars and the kitchen; upstairs, private rooms, although the buidling has mostly been truncated above the first storey. As at the Birsay palace, the Earl's personal chambers are at the end of the wing, past the hall, far separated from the other private rooms.

the wide, almost modern-lokoing staircase with decorative niches

The basements are large vaulted chambers arraed along a long passageway, lined with small windows and shot-holes. The kitchens lie in the southwesterly wing, with the chimney for the huge kitchen fireplace rising an extra story.


The palace was built in 1606 by Patrick Stewart, the illegitimate son of James IV and half brothrr to Mary, Queen of Scots. He had no shortage of ego or ambition, and ruthlesly used slave labor to built his palaces and oppress the people of Orkney and the Shetlands.

the taller wing of the house, from the courtyard

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