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Bishops Palace – Stunning Renaissance Architecture

Kirkwall on Orkney Island is home to the Bishop’s Palace which was built in the mid-12th century for Bishop William the Old, near the St Magnus Cathedral. The Bishop was a friend and crusading companion of Earl Rognvald Kolsson, the cathedral’s founder. The Bishop and his staff moved here from their original seat of power in Birsay. The Islands were then under the rule of the King of Norway.

The palace was built according to the layout of a Royal Norwegian Palace with a hall, used for entertaining, and a tower house that formed the Bishop’s private residence. The building was already over a hundred years old when King Hakon IV of Norway took up residence in Bishop’s Palace in 1263, following his defeat by Alexander III at the Battle of Largs. The King later died at the Bishop’s Palace.

Unfortunately by 1320, the palace had been reduced to ruins through neglect. Not much was known about it till 1526, when William, Lord Sinclair got possession of the palace. He could not hold the palace for long as he was ordered by the Crown to return the property to the Bishop of Orkney. In 1540, the castle came into the limelight once more when King James V of Scotland arrived in Kirkwall and his troops were garrisoned in the Kirkwall Castle and the Bishop’s Palace.

A few years later Bishop Robert Reid, the founder of Edinburgh University and the last and greatest of Orkney’s medieval Bishops, initiated a program of extensive restoration and reconstruction. The imposing round tower was added at that time to the hall-house in about 1550. Known as the ‘Moosie Toor’, the strong, round tower situated at the north-western corner of the palace, still stands today.

In 1568 the palace was acquired by the tyrannical Earl Robert Stewart of Orkney, an illegitimate son of the King. His son Patrick further restructured the Bishop’s Palace in 1600 wanting ti incorporate it in his Earl’s Palace. Besides its magnificent tower, there is very little of the Castle remaining. Nevertheless, Bishop’s Palace has been described as the most accomplished piece of Renaissance architecture left in Scotland.