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Spynie Palace


Spynie Palace
Image: Reconstruction by Andrew Spratt


In 1207-8, Bishop Brice Douglas chose the church at Spynie as his cathedral. Although his successor moved the bishop’s seat in 1224, to a new cathedral in Elgin, the bishops continued to live at Spynie.


Nothing remains of the original 13th century timber buildings, and very little remains of the stone buildings which replaced them in the 14th century. Most of the palace dates from the 15th century and later.  The tower house at the southwest corner of the palace was begun by Bishop David Stewart (1462-77) and completed by his successor, William Tulloch (1477-82). It is one of the largest tower houses in Scotland and originally contained five floors above a vaulted basement. The remains of an earlier circular tower can be seen in the basement, but all the floors above ground level are now missing, although it is still possible to climb to the roof.


By 1500 the layout of the palace was very much as it appears today. Rectangular towers had been constructed at two corners of the courtyard, there was a new gateway on the east side, and a large hall had been built on the north side.


The last Catholic Bishop to reside at Spynie was Bishop Patrick Hepburn (1538-73), who was responsible for a remodelling of David’s Tower.


spynie palaceThe first Protestant Bishop of Moray, George Douglas, was appointed on the death of Patrick Hepburn in 1573. These were, however, troubled times, and conflict flared frequently about whether the reformed Kirk in Scotland should be governed by bishops as an episcopalian church, or by elected elders as a Presbyterian church. James VI managed to keep a lid on the simmering conflict during his rule, but his successor Charles I treated the Scottish Kirk in such an offhand manner that he provoked what became known as the "Bishop's Wars" between England and Scotland, which led directly into the Wars of the Covenant; the English Civil War; the execution of Charles I; and Cromwell's occupation of Scotland: 23 years of wide-ranging conflict that did not really end until the restoration of Charles II in 1660.


Protestant bishops continued to live at Spynie until 1689 when episcopacy was abolished in the Church of Scotland. Bishop William Hay was deprived of his office and the palace fell into decay.



Douglas Bishops of Moray:

Bricius de Douglas (1203 - 1222)
George Douglas (1573 - 1589)

Alexander Douglas II (1602 - 1623)

The colossal David’s Tower dominates the palace complex. It measures 19m by 13.5m externally and rises to a height of 22m, making it one of the largest tower houses ever built in Scotland. The great tower had a first-floor front entrance and six storeys.

Though named after Bishop David Stewart (1462–76) who commissioned it, the tower remained incomplete at his death. Bishop William Tulloch (1477–82) finished the tower and Bishop Patrick Hepburn (1538–73) added the gun holes.

The coats of arms of all three bishops are carved on the south wall, beneath the Royal Coat of Arms of Scotland.




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Last modified: Thursday, 16 January 2020