St Giles’ and The Royal Family

Visitors to St Giles’ Cathedral often ask if The Queen ever comes here. The answer is that Her Majesty has been many times. Indeed the monarchy has had a close connection with the building from the very start, for St Giles’ was founded in about 1124, either by the Scottish King Alexander I, or by his devout brother King David I. The medieval Scottish monarchs had their own royal chapels at Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, but they also heard Masses in St Giles’, and supported it financially. With the Reformation of 1560 Scotland became a Protestant country and so Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots could not come to services here, but she did open parliament on three occasions in the west end of the church, when the building where it usually met was in a state of dangerous disrepair.

Mary’s son, King James VI, was often to be seen in the royal pew, interrupting the minister’s sermons to argue with him about theology, but in 1603 James inherited the throne of England, moved his Court to London and came back to Scotland only once. It was his son, King Charles I, who in 1633 issued a royal decree making St Giles’ into a cathedral. However, political preoccupations and the difficulties of travel meant that almost two hundred years then passed without a royal visit until in 1822 King George IV came to a service. Queen Victoria loved Scotland, but she visited St Giles’ only once, on a private tour to see the newly refurbished building, to which she had made a generous contribution. Her son King Edward VII suggested that a chapel should be built on to the Cathedral to accommodate the Knights of the Thistle (the Scottish equivalent of the English Knights of the Garter). He died before the Thistle Chapel was completed, but his son King George V was at the opening service in 1911 and, from then onwards he and later his son King George VI, father of the present Queen, paid regular visits to St Giles’.

In 1953, on her first time in Scotland after her coronation, Her Majesty came with her husband The Duke of Edinburgh for a very important National Service of Thanksgiving and Dedication, receiving the Scottish crown jewels, which are kept in Edinburgh Castle. Since then the royal couple have been back many times, attending morning services and Order of the Thistle services. Various other members of the Royal Family also come here: Charles, Prince of Wales with his wife the Duchess of Cornwall; Her Majesty’s daughter The Princess Royal; her son, Prince Andrew, Duke of York; her grandson, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge with his wife, Princess Catherine. Most recently the Princess Royal in May 2017 attended the annual service of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland as Lord High Commissioner, The Queen’s representative.