The Earl's Palace in Kirkwall was commissioned by Earl Patrick Stewart, and completed in 1607AD. The Stewarts were notorious despots, who forced the local population to work without pay, under fear of imprisonment and torture.
In 1568AD, the neighbouring Bishop's Palace had been acquired by Earl Robert Stewart, and his plan was to incorporate the two buildings into one grand complex. However, by 1606AD, his son Patrick was burdened by debt, and shortly after the completion of the Earl's Palace, he was arrested and thrown into prison. As a result, further work was abandoned, and both palaces were handed over to the church.
In 1614AD, Patrick's son Robert rose up in revolt against the crown, seizing the Earl's Palace, the Cathedral, the Bishop's Palace and Kirkwall Castle. The rebellion ultimately failed, and both Patrick and Robert were executed in 1615AD. The original Bishop's Palace fell into disuse, and the Bishop Law took up residence in the completed section of the Earl's Palace. Bishop Mackenzie was the last occupant of the Earl's Palace, and when he died in 1688AD, the building reverted to the crown.
Following this, the Earl's Palace slowly fell into decay. By 1705AD, it was deemed no longer fit for habitation. By 1745AD, the roof had been stripped for its slate.
Today, the ruins of the Earl's Palace overshadow the neighbouring Bishop's Palace, and their elegance belies the fact that the complex was never completed, nor put to its intended use. The rambling shell of of the building survives in surprisingly good condition. Noteworthy features include the kitchen, the broad stone staircase to the first floor, the great hall and the striking towers and the elegant corbelled stone window frames.
Once described as "the finest example of French Renaissance architecture in Scotland", the Earl's Palace is a magnificent ruin, and essential viewing for any Orkney visitor.