Parliament House

The Great South Window, Parliament Hall
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

The Great South Window, Parliament Hall

The 17th C. Parliament House lies hidden behind a 19th C. facade in Parliament Square in the Old Town of Edinburgh. The building comprises Parliament Hall, where the single-chambered Scottish Parliament met between 1639 and 1707, together with the Laigh Hall, Inner and Outer Houses, all now part of the High Court complex. Robert Reid's facade (of 1803) is inspired by Robert Adam's work on the University's Old College and the similarity is striking.

Designed by James Murray, Parliament Hall sports an impressive oak hammerbeam roof by John Scott (1637), together with the massive Great South Window, which was made in Germany and portrays King James V founding the College of Justice. Below is the Laigh Hall, which was home of Scotland's records until they moved to Register House in 1789.

The Scottish Parliament had its origins in the 12th C., deriving from various bodies which advised the crown. The original 'three estates' consisted of lay members, clergy and the burgh commissioners.

Until the late 16th C., Parliament met wherever the Royal Court happened to be, as it travelled around Scotland. Parliaments were called by the Monarch at 40 days notice and venues included Cambuskenneth, Edinburgh, Haddington, Perth, Scone and Stirling. Thereafter meetings were usually in Edinburgh and King Charles I ordered the construction of Parliament House, which was completed in 1640. It was funded by the citizens of Edinburgh. The independence of Parliament from the Crown was asserted as part of the National Covenant (1638), but meetings were banned under Oliver Cromwell's Republican administration. Parliament was not revived until the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660. General Monk was entertained in Parliament House in 1656, as was James VII, when Duke of York, in 1680.

Parliament House was not to last long in its function, because after union with England in 1707, the Scottish Parliament was dissolved and its functions transferred to London. Westminster benefitted from Scottish members and no less than ten British Prime Ministers were Scottish or of Scottish families.

The building remained in the ownership of Edinburgh Council until 2006, when its was controversially conveyed to the Scottish Government through a Council blunder. The Government subsequently gave part of the building to the Faculty of Advocates, while refurbishing the remainder as part of the courts complex.

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