Holyroodhouse – A sanctuary for an exiled Bourbon

It has been several months since I last updated this blog – it actually came as a shock to me to realise that I have not posted on here since May! In the intervening months since my last post, I have been enjoying something of a break from writing, spending time with my family and going on summer holiday. However, summer is over and I’ve started work on my second Ailsa Rose book once again.

Today I wanted to share with you a fascinating anecdote I came across when researching this second novel, which is largely set in the Canongate/Holyrood area of Edinburgh. This tale concerns Holyroodhouse, the palace which sits at the foot of the Canongate, and is the official residence of the monarch in Scotland. In its time, the palace has hosted many royal occupants, but did you know that in the 1790s it housed French royalty?

Holyrood House and Chapel from Calton Hill, engraving, 1842. From Wikimedia Commons.

In 1796, Holyroodhouse became the home of the exiled Charles Philippe, the Comte D’artois and his mistress, Louise de Polastron. The comte was the brother of King Louis XVI, and the future Charles X, reigning from 1824 to 1830 after the restoration of the Bourbon dynasty in 1814/1815. He had fled France in the wake of the French Revolution, eventually coming to Edinburgh.

The Comte D’Artois by Henri Pierre Danloux, 1798. From Wikimedia Commons.

The accommodation which greeted the comte upon his arrival, however, was likely far from the grand and sumptuous palace we might envisage. In her book Holyrood and Canongate: A Thousand Year History, E Patricia Dennison tells us that the Hanoverian kings had allowed Holyroodhouse to fall into decay, and that during the eighteenth century, its neglect had led it to become a crumbling building which at times had hosted an assortment of debtors and squatters for tenants.1 Not exactly fit for royalty, then, although in some ways perhaps suitable. In her 1992 article, Furniture for the Comte D’Artois at Holyrood, 1796, Margaret Swain informs us that as the palace was built on the site of an ancient monastery, it was still considered a debtors’ sanctuary and the comte was on the run from his creditors.2 Swain goes on to tell us that refurbishment of the comte’s apartments took four months, during which time the comte and his party had to live in the rooms of Lord Adam Gordon, the governor of Edinburgh Castle.3

Louise de Polastron, mistress of the Comte D’Artois, by Alexander Kucharsky. From Wikimedia Commons.

The comte and his mistress seem to have remained at Holyroodhouse for several years, although by the early 1800s they had relocated to London, where Louise de Polastron died from tuberculosis in 1804. In 1830, the palace played host to Charles Philippe for a final time, following his abdication from the French throne. As Swain tells us, the furniture from his previous stay had to be ‘hastily reassembled’.4 He stayed for a couple of years, before being granted sanctuary by the Habsburg Emperor and living in the Austrian Empire for the remainder of his days.

As those of you who have read The Wax Artist will know, the protagonist Ailsa Rose is a French émigré. As this is a key part of her background, I just love coming across French connections during my research, and this one really caught my imagination. I wonder what Ailsa Rose would have thought about the king’s brother living just a stone’s throw from her humble room in the Canongate! It is fun to consider it.

The Wax Artist is available to read in e-book and paperback now. Find out more here.

References:

  1. E Patricia Dennison, Holyrood and Canongate: A Thousand Year History, (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2005), pp. 111-112
  2. Margaret Swain, “Furniture for the Comte D’Artois at Holyrood, 1796”, Furniture History, (1992), p. 98
  3. Margaret Swain, op cit, p. 98
  4. Margaret Swain, op cit, p. 99

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