The Impressive Earl’s Palace, Kirkwall

Robert Stewart, the first Earl of Orkney and his son Patrick go down in history as the most tyrannical Earls of Scotland. The two Earl’s Palaces in Birsay and Kirkwall were built by them with slave labor on land partially acquired by force.

Patrick Stewart built the Earl’s Palace opposite the Bishops Palace not far from St Magnus Cathedral in the center of Kirkwall, Orkney in 1600. Forced labor quarried stone and the grand palace took shape. It was hailed as the finest example of French Renaissance architecture in Scotland but today lies in ruins, hidden behind a thick screen of trees.

A two storey structure with two rectangular sections placed at right-angles to each other, forming an “L”, the Earl’s Palace had massive cellars, a large kitchen and a well on the ground floor. A broad stone staircase led to the first floor which held the main apartments and the great hall with its grand painted decorations. This was the main feature of the palace and was over 16 meters long, with two large fireplaces and ornate high vaulted windows. Its huge stone window frames beautifully corbelled out from the ground floor walls are an example of the fine architecture of the building. The palace entrance was impressive with rows of heraldic panels, flanked by carved pillars.

Earl Patrick Stewart did not enjoy his grand palace for very long. Earl’s Palace was almost ready in 1607 when Patrick Stewart was arrested for his misdeeds. Work on the palace was abandoned. He was tried in 1610 and imprisoned and later executed in 1615. It is commented that the execution was delayed in order to give him time to learn the Lord’s Prayer!

Most of the palace was ready and that portion became the residence of Orkney’s bishops. It was used by them sporadically until 1688, when the Earl’s Palace became the property of the Crown. It lay in disuse and by 1705, the palace had fallen so much into disrepair that it was no longer considered to be fit for habitation. By 1745 the roof had been stripped and the slates sold. The structure has remained roofless ever since.

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