Spynie Palace and Elgin Cathedral

Scotland.  Day 3.  1st July.

Scott and I had intended to go out taking photos together but his work intervened so I went off to visit places he recommended, though I ran out of time for them all.


David’s Tower, Spynie Palace

A cathedral was built here in 1208 (or it used an existing church, I’m not sure) but that moved to nearby Elgin in 1224.  From then on, Spynie was the residence for the Bishop of Moray.  It was beside an arm of the sea and fairly defensible, as was necessary at that time.

South Range and Little Tower

South Range and Little Tower

Although there was a Spynie Palace from the 13th century, it was completely rebuilt in the 15th century, which is when the current ruins date from.

North-east corner, looking towards Great Hall, Spynie Palace

North-east corner, looking towards Great Hall, Spynie Palace

In 1370, Bishop Alexander of Spynie started paying protection money to King Robert II’s son Alexander Stewart, known as the “Wolf of Badenoch”.  In 1390, he switched to Thomas Dunbar, Earl of Moray, for the protection money and in retaliation the Wolf burned down Elgin Cathedral.  His older brother Robert III ordered him not to attack Spynie Palace at that time but still put it in possession of the Wolf temporarily from 1397 to 1398, in between bishops.

David's Tower through East Gate, Spynie Palace

David’s Tower through East Gate, Spynie Palace. David’s Tower was built around 1465 and is named for Bishop David Stewart, who ordered its construction.

Mary Queen of Scots visited here only once, on her way to a battle where she subdued George Gordon, 4th Earl of Huntly, in a battle near Aberdeen.  Her third husband, James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, stayed here briefly while on the run after Mary’s capture.  He next proceeded to Orkney and ended up in a prison in Denmark.

East Gate and Little Tower, Spynie Palace

East Gate and Little Tower, Spynie Palace

The first Protestant Bishop was elected in 1573.  The role of bishops in Church administration was abolished in 1592 but revived by James I (James VI of Scotland) in 1611.  In 1638, as part of the rebellion of Scottish churches against King Charles, episcopy (the power of the bishops) was abolished again.  The Bishop of Spynie held out for a few years but was charged with various offences in 1641, arrested and imprisoned.

Spynie Palace (not sure what part)

Spynie Palace (not sure what part)

Charles II restored episcopy in 1662 but Spynie Palace had deteriorated and it is not clear whether it was repaired.  Then in 1688-89, episcopy was abolished again and Spynie Palace ceased to have a function as a home for bishops.  All the timber and ironworks were sold and by 1806 the ruins were much as they are today.

Elgin Cathedral

Elgin Cathedral

The Cathedral was formally opened in 1224 and built in several phases up to 1296.  As we have seen, it was severely damaged by fire by the Wolf of Badenoch in 1390.  It was rebuilt after that but effectively abandoned due to the Reformation in 1560.  The lead was removed from the roof in 1567 and the Cathedral quickly degenerated after that.  The central tower collapsed in 1711.

Elgin Cathedral

Elgin Cathedral

I visited during opening hours but Elgin Cathedral was closed for lunch so I was unable to go inside.

2 comments on “Spynie Palace and Elgin Cathedral

  1. A real shame you didn’t get in Murray the view from the roof is fabulous


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