Linlithgow’s Story

Cartoon penguin with hard hat and hammer
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Origins of the town

Linlithgow’s origins are lost in the mists of time. It is likely that the town grew up around the royal residence. By the beginning of the 12th Century King David 1st’s Charter reveals it already well established as a burgh with a mansion and a church, given by King David to the newly founded Augustinian Priory of St Andrews. Malcolm IV and William the Lion are known to have lived in Linlithgow occasionally and there was a school in William’s reign.

There are many early spellings and name is said to mean “loch in a damp hollow” from llyn (loch), laith (damp) and cau (a hollow).

The Scottish Wars of Independence

Edward I (Langshanks) appeared in Linlithgow in 1291 and again in 1296, seeking to assert his authority over Scotland, and several local notables pledged their allegiance to him. In 1298 he camped at the Burgh Muir to the east of the town on his way to defeat William Wallace at the battle of Falkirk. He stayed here in 1301-02 and constructed the “Peel” – a fortified wooden palisade surrounding the present day park of the same name.

Edward II stayed here in 1310 but was defeated by Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn in 1314 and the Peel was probably returned to Scottish ownership after the battle.   There is a story that local farmer William Bunnock stopped his hay cart under the entry gate, preventing the drawbridge from closing, and that armed men concealed in the cart subdued the guard and occupied the Peel for a time during Bruce’s guerilla activities.

In 1337 Edward III’s English army set fire to Linlithgow, which was largely built of wood, with catastrophic results. Afterwards the town was described as “uninhabited and totally waste”.

The Royal Charter

In 1349 the Black Death (the plague) reached Scotland and killed a third of the population of Edinburgh. The King, parliament and court took refuge in Linlithgow and gallows were installed at all the burgh ports, as part of the drastic measures to prevent plague carriers from entering the town.

Linlithgow was a busy place, outstripping Stirling. In 1368 it was made one of the Court of Four Burghs and was given custody of the standard grain measures the boll, firlot and peck.  In 1389 the Burgh obtained its Royal Charter from Robert II

The Town Council

The town was granted the right to elect a provost in 1540 and elected Henry Forrest of Magdalene who headed up a council of 27 members, including 4 baillies, a treasurer and 8 deacons elected by the craft guilds – the baxters (bakers), coopers, cordiners (shoemakers), fleshers (butchers), smiths, tailors, weavers and wrights.

The 15th and 16th Centuries

Fires in 1411 and 1424 destroyed most of the town but 1424 saw the return of James I from exile in England and he constructed the Palace, starting the work in 1425. It was much altered and expanded by successive Kings, particularly James IV and James V, who presented it to his second wife, Mary of Guise. The brightest star was probably James IV, who saw a ghost in St Michael’s church which warned him not to go to the battle of Flodden, where he was killed. James VI departed for London in 1603, where he became James I of England.

Major incidents included the Battle of Linlithgow Bridge in 1526, when James Hamilton, Earl of Arran, supported by Archibald Douglas, the Earl of Angus, won the day against a force led by John Stewart, Earl of Lennox. Lennox surrendered his sword to Hamilton of Pardovan but was then ‘murdered’ on the field of battle by James Hamilton of Finnart reputedly near the spot now marked by the Lennox Cairn on the entry to the Kettlestoun estate.

Mary Queen Of Scots

Mary, Queen of Scots, also known as Mary Stuart or Mary I of Scotland was born in Linlithgow Palace on 8 December 1542,  She reigned over Scotland from 14 December 1542 to 24 July 1567. Mary, the only surviving legitimate child of King James V, was six days old when her father died and she acceded to the throne.

The Regent Moray was assassinated in the town by James Hamilton of Bothwelhaugh on January 23rd 1570 in the first ever assassination using a hand held gun (there is a plaque on the old Sherrif Court commemorating this event).   In 1633 King Charles I also made an official visit to Linlithgow and stayed in the Palace.


In 1650 Oliver Cromwell defeated the Scots at Dunbar and entered Linlithgow in October, installing himself in the Palace, which he fortified. After the restoration there was much redevelopment and the Town House was rebuilt by Robert Mylne.

The 18th Century

In 1691 there were 2,500 inhabitants and the town was engaged in the manufacture of linen cloth but foreign trade had declined and Blackness, Linlithgow’s port, lost out to Bo’ness. Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) passed through the town with his Highland army on the way to Edinburgh. In 1746 the Duke of Cumberland and 10,000 troops were in the town and they failed to put out their fires, accidentally destroying the Palace by fire. Robert Burns visited in 1787 but was not much impressed by the town.


Linlithgow had a thriving leather trade, involving the manufacture of leather and shoe making, with almost 300 people involved in that trade.

Modern Times

Paper making was once an important local industry and there was a whisky distillery at the eastern end of the town. In 1822 the Union Canal was completed, linking Edinburgh to Glasgow via the Forth & Clyde Canal. It was highly successful for a short time until the Glasgow & Edinburgh Railway was opened in 1842. Linlithgow tried to levy dues on railway traffic passing through the town, the costly and unsuccessful court action stripping the town of its wealth. Nobels explosives factory stood on the site now occupied by the Tesco supermarket.

Today Linlithgow is a thriving town with popular schools, a busy railway station and a very popular High Street full of specialist shops, cafes, restaurants and bars. There are plenty of award-winning real-ale pubs, guest-house and hotels to choose from. The County Buildings, located on the High Street, contain a Visitor Information Centre and the Kirkgate leads from the Cross to the historic Linlithgow Palace and St Michael’s Parish Church. There are thriving local trades centred around Mill Road Industrial Estate at Linlithgow Bridge to the west of the town, while international trade is represented by Oracle (formerly Sun Microsystems) on the town’s Eastern edge.  Linlithgow’s enviable reputation for good quality education establishments was enhanced by the arrival of Donaldson’s School for the deaf and hearing impaired, which relocated here from Edinburgh in 2008.