The Bishop's Palace, Kirkwall was built at the same time as the adjacent St Magnus Cathedral. It was built for the cathedral's first bishop, William the Old of the Norwegian Catholic church who took his authority from the Archbishop of Nidaros (Trondheim). The ruined structure now looks like a small castle.

Originally it is thought to have been like a typical Royal Norwegian Palace, with a large rectangular hall above store rooms and a tower house as the Bishop's private residence. King Haakon IV of Norway, overwintering after the Battle of Largs, died here in 1263, marking the end of Norse rule over the Outer Hebrides. The neglected palace had fallen into ruins by 1320.

In 1468 Orkney and Shetland were pledged by Christian I of Denmark and Norway for the payment of the dowry of his daughter Margaret, betrothed to James III of Scotland, and as the money has never since been paid, their connection with the crown of Scotland has been perpetual. In 1526 the palace came briefly into the possession of William, Lord Sinclair, before he was ordered to return it to the Bishop of Orkney. When King James V of Scotland visited Kirkwall in 1540 he garrisoned his troops in the Palace and in Kirkwall Castle. Soon afterwards' extensive restoration was begun by Bishop Robert Reid, the last and greatest of Orkney's medieval Bishops who also founded the University of Edinburgh. Reid added a round tower, the Moosie Toor.

Ownership passed to Robert Stewart, 1st Earl of Orkney, in 1568, then to his son Patrick Stewart, 2nd Earl of Orkney who planned to incorporate it into his Earl's Palace, Kirkwall, but debts forced him to return it to Bishop James Law. Earl Patrick's son Robert seized both palaces in 1614, and a siege followed, though it is not known if this caused damage to the structures, both of which are now ruins.

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Founded: 12th century
Category: Ruins in United Kingdom

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4.4/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Lynne Hurley (20 months ago)
Very wet and unable to go round-closed until April!
Liam (2 years ago)
The buildings are very interesting, but it was closed when i got there. You can view them from outside but i would have enjoyed to go inside and have a look around. Be aware of the season and the open times, and phone ahead.
Mark Huvenaars (2 years ago)
This was our first historical stop on Orkney. We were able to pick up or Discovery Pass here. The person that was working at the ticket office was exceptionally helpful and gave us the full run down on his recommendations for the short two days that we would be on Orkney. The castles themselves were interesting because we were able to explore all of it - no ropes or “no-go” zones - the entire place is open for exploration. We spent about an hour here. Very much recommend a visit!
Simon Lidwell (2 years ago)
Well preserved and presented ruins. Great interpretation boards to communicate what it might have been like to live there, and telling the stories of their most famous (or infamous) owners. They are just ruins, but they provide a great framework which you can fill in with your imagination.
Frank Martin (2 years ago)
Cool old ruins can be seen quickly.
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