Urquhart Castle dominates a rocky promontory jutting into Loch Ness. That promontory has hosted some famous names in its long history. Around AD 580 St Columba was making the long journey from his monastery on the island of Iona to the court of Bridei, king of the Picts, at Inverness. As he was passing up Loch Ness, he was called to the residence of an elderly Pictish nobleman at Airdchartdan (Urquhart). Emchath was close to death, and Columba baptised him and his entire household. We cannot be sure that Emchath’s residence was on the site of the castle. However, the discovery of a fragment of Pictish brooch (dating from the late 700s or early 800s) strongly hints that it may well have been the location.
From the 1200s until its demise in 1692, Urquhart saw much military action. In 1296 it was captured by Edward I of England, ‘Hammer of the Scots’. Thereafter, the stronghold passed back and forth between Scottish and English control. In 1332, in the dark days following King Robert Bruce’s death, Urquhart remained the only Highland castle holding out against the English.
Soon after the English threat evaporated, the MacDonalds, Lords of the Isles arrived. Time and again, they swept through Glen Urquhart in their quest for more power. The castle passed back and forth between the Crown and the Lords of the Isles like a bone between two dogs. Their last raid, in 1545, proved the worst. The Islesmen got away with an enormous hoard, including 20 guns and three great boats.
James IV had given the barony of Urquhart to the Grant family in 1509, together with instructions to rehabilitate the castle and the estate. At some point during the 1500s, the Grants built the five-storey tower house known as the Grant Tower.
In 1688, the Catholic King James VII and II was driven into exile and the crown passed jointly to his Protestant daughter Mary II and her husband William of Orange. This ‘Glorious Revolution’ prompted the first of the Jacobite Risings – a string of armed attempts to restore the Catholic Stuart line, which continued for over 50 years.
The Jacobites commanded much of their support in the Highlands, so Urquhart was duly garrisoned with Government forces. They remained for more than two years, and when the last soldiers marched out in 1692, they blew it up.
The castle soon fell into decay. Part of the Grant Tower crashed to the ground in 1715 during a violent storm. But attitudes changed, and during the 1800s the ancient stronghold came to be viewed as a noble ruin in a majestic setting. It passed into State care in 1913, and is now one of the most visited of all Scotland’s castles.References:
The famous Italian Medici family have given two queens to France: Catherine, the spouse of Henry II, and Marie, widow of Henry IV, who built the current Luxembourg palace. Maria di Medici had never been happy at the Louvre, still semi-medieval, where the fickle king, did not hesitate to receive his mistresses. The death of Henry IV, assassinated in 1610, left the way open for Marie's project. When she became regent, she was able to give special attention to the construction of an imposing modern residence that would be reminiscent of the Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli Gardens in Florence, where she grew up. The development of the 25-hectare park, which was to serve as a jewel-case for the palace, began immediately.
The architect, Salomon de Brosse, began the work in 1615. Only 16 years later was the palace was completed. Palace of Luxembourg affords a transition between the Renaissance and the Classical period.
In 1750, the Director of the King's Buildings installed in the wing the first public art-gallery in France, in which French and foreign canvases of the royal collections are shown. The Count of Provence and future Louis XVIII, who was living in Petit Luxembourg, had this gallery closed in 1780: leaving to emigrate, he fled from the palace in June 1791.
During the French Revolution the palace was first abandoned and then moved as a national prison. After that it was the seat of the French Directory, and in 1799, the home of the Sénat conservateur and the first residence of Napoleon Bonaparte, as First Consul of the French Republic. The old apartments of Maria di Medici were altered. The floor, which the 80 senators only occupied in 1804, was built in the middle of the present Conference Hall.
Beginning in 1835 the architect Alphonse de Gisors added a new garden wing parallel to the old corps de logis, replicating the look of the original 17th-century facade so precisely that it is difficult to distinguish at first glance the old from the new. The new senate chamber was located in what would have been the courtyard area in-between.
The new wing included a library (bibliothèque) with a cycle of paintings (1845–1847) by Eugène Delacroix. In the 1850s, at the request of Emperor Napoleon III, Gisors created the highly decorated Salle des Conférences, which influenced the nature of subsequent official interiors of the Second Empire, including those of the Palais Garnier.
During the German occupation of Paris (1940–1944), Hermann Göring took over the palace as the headquarters of the Luftwaffe in France, taking for himself a sumptuous suite of rooms to accommodate his visits to the French capital. Since 1958 the Luxembourg palace has been the seat of the French Senate of the Fifth Republic.