The Bishop's Palace is the older of the
two ruined palaces found in the centre of Kirkwall.
a short distance to the south of St Magnus Cathedral,
the palace was built in the mid-12th century for Bishop William the Old - a friend
and crusading companion of Earl Rognvald Kolsson, the cathedral’s founder.
palace was originally intended to provide accommodation for Bishop William and
his entourage. So, shortly after the construction work on the cathedral
began, the Bishop and his staff moved from their old seat of power in Birsay
to their new home in Kirkwall.
At this time, it is likely
that the palace conformed to the plan of a Royal Norwegian Palace - consisting
of a hall, used for entertaining, and a tower house that formed the Bishop's private
King Haakon's base
The first of the “notable” events in the
palace’s history took place in 1263, over a century after it was first constructed.
the Norwegian king, Haakon the Old, used Kirkwall as a base for his fruitless
attempt to maintain Norse rule over the Western Isles.
a crushing defeat at the Battle of Largs, Haakon's fleet returned to Kirkwall,
where the king fell ill.
He died in the Bishop's Palace on December 15, 1263.
By 1320, the palace had been reduced
to ruins through neglect. Thereafter, it disappears from the history books, apparently
Then, in 1526, the palace came into the possession
of William, Lord Sinclair.
His ownership, however, was
short lived before he was ordered to return the property to the Bishop of Orkney.
building returned to prominence in 1540, when King James V of Scotland arrived
in Kirkwall and garrisoned his troops in the Kirkwall Castle and the Bishop's
Soon after, Bishop Robert Reid, the founder of
Edinburgh University and the last and greatest of Orkney's medieval Bishops, began
an extensive programme of restoration and reconstruction.
As well as buttressing the palace's
badly sagging west wall, Bishop Reid was responsible for the addition of the "Moosie
Toor" - the strong, round tower at the north-western corner of the
The Moosie Toor, pictured above, still stands
In 1568, the ownership of the palace passed to Earl
Robert's son, Patrick
Stewart, later planned to include the structure in his scheme to build the
Earl's Palace, a massive residence in Kirkwall.
Patrick's plans never came to fruition and, in 1607, "drowned in debt",
he was forced to return the complex to Bishop James Law.
1614, both palaces were seized by Robert Stewart - Earl Patrick's son - who staged
a rebellion following the incarceration of his father for treason.
act resulted in a military siege, but whether the action taken against the Stewarts
actually damaged the Bishop's Palace is unknown. For more information relating
to the events surrounding this siege, see the page
dealing with Earl Patrick Stewart.
These days, all
that remains of the Bishop's Palace is the shell of one main building and the
The ruins we see today in no way show the
full extent of the building in its heyday.