The Chapel Royal

In the Preston Aisle of St Giles’ Cathedral there are two rows of special carved seats dating back to 1929, each of the ten with its roman numeral on the back. These are the seats of distinguished ministers who have been specially appointed as Chaplains to The Queen, in a tradition which began in Scotland in the early Middle Ages. ‘The Chapel Royal’ is the term applied to those royal ministers.

Including its Dean, there are 9 Royal Chaplains, appointed by special warrant. Traditionally, they preach before Her Majesty at Crathie Church, near Balmoral Castle, soon after their appointment, and as their 70th birthday approaches. When they retire at the age of 70, it is customary, but not automatic, for them to be appointed as Extra Chaplains for life. There are currently 10 Extra Chaplains.

For many years the Royal Chaplains had no specific building of their own, but they did attend services in St Giles’ from time to time. However, in 2013 the minister of St Giles’, Dr Gilleasbuig Macmillan, Dean of the Thistle, agreed with Professor Iain R. Torrance, who was about to become Dean of the Chapel Royal, that in future the Preston Aisle should become the home of the Chapel Royal. Professor Torrance was installed as Dean at a special service held in the Preston Aisle on 8 September 2013. Dr Macmillan has since retired, and Professor Torrance now combines the role of Dean of the Chapel Royal with that of Dean of the Thistle.

The Royal Chaplains normally attend the Kirking of Parliament services in St Giles’ at the opening of each new session of the Scottish Parliament, the installation of new Chaplains and the funeral of a Chaplain, when the Dean represents the monarch.