1503 Falkland Palace - The Courtier Golfer

Earl of Bothwell - World's Second Known Golfer

In 1503, five months after the purchase of golf clubs at Perth, James IV played golf with the Earl of Bothwell. We know this because of the scrupulous records that the Lord High Treasurer kept. On 3rd February 1503, there is a record of 42 shillings for playing 'at the golf' with the Earl, which was apparently paid in French Crowns.

Item to the King to play at the golf with the Erle of Bouthuile iij Franch crounis; summa ... xlij s

Three days later, he spent 9 shillings on new clubs and balls, which he played with.

Item for golf clubbes and balles to the King that he playit with ... ix s

King James is said to have been in Edinburgh when the expenditure is recorded, but that is not to say the golf was played there. Falkland Palace is 16 miles from St Andrews and there are reasons to believe that the golf may have taken place there or at St Andrews. This is a reasonable adduction, as, in between the above entries, on the same day as the first entry and just underneath it, there is a substantial payment of seven pounds to John Barbour with the Bishop of St Andrews. This was also paid in French Crowns. On the same day as the second golf play, there is payment to an innkeeper called 'George Robison'. Where he was based is not known, but it definitely suggests that the King went somewhere.

Hailes Castle from West

Hailes Castle, built c1300 by Hugo de Gourlay and seat of Patrick Hepburn's father

Although we do not know where the King played golf, we know who his opponent was. It was Patrick Hepburn, 1st Earl of Bothwell. The Hepburn family seat was Hailes Castle in East Lothian and Patrick became King James IV's B.F*.  Patrick had supported the young James in the rebellion against his father, King James III, and he is said to have been involved in the murder of the old King after the Battle of Sauchieburn.  By 1503, the Earl was Lord High Admiral of Scotland, as well as custodian of Edinburgh Castle and Sheriff Principal of Edinburgh and Haddington. He had been one of the diplomats sent to conclude the treaty for the marriage of James IV with Princess Margaret Tudor of England, which laid the foundations of the United Kingdom a hundred years later. It was the Earl who stood proxy for the King at the ceremony of betrothal on 25 January 1502. He died in 1508 and was succeeded by his son Adam, who died with King James IV at the Battle of Flodden Field in 1513.

Falkland Palace

Falkland Palace Grounds

Falkland Palace grounds

James IV and James V transformed the original castle at Falkland into the royal palace of today, with French architects and craftsmen. Falkland Palace was their 'sporty' place where they enjoyed their private time. When in residence, the Stuart monarchs hunted wild boar and deer, practised falconry and played tennis. It was also the closest palace to St Andrews.

Falkland was one of Mary, Queen of Scots favourite palaces, partly because it reminded her of the châteaux in France where she lived as a child, as well and because she played sport there.  As it happens, Mary's third husband was a descendent of the Earl of Bothwell.

Falkland Palace Tennis Court

Falkland Palace Tennis Court, unaltered since it was built in 1539/1541

Falkland Palace has the oldest unaltered tennis court in the world. Built for James V of Scotland, construction began in April 1539 and ended in late 1541. It is in use today, and has been since 1541, though not continuously. 

James V was also imprisoned here in 1528 by Archibald, 6th Earl of Douglas, until he escaped disguised as a groom. He died at Falkland Palace 14 years later.

The palace was partially destroyed by fire after Cromwell’s troops stayed here during his conquest of Scotland, which is why the east wing is in ruins. Falkland is managed by the National Trust for Scotland.

Falkland Golf Club is 200 metres from the castle on an open side and it is therefore possible that James IV or his successors, when they did not travel to St Andrews, played in that direction.

Falkland GC 2014 Hole 9W

Falkland GC Hole 9

'A warm welcome is guaranteed to all visitors' to Falkland Golf Club, originally opened in 1902 and rebuilt in 1975.  Falkland golf course is a 9-hole course, set in a farmland area known as the 'Howe of Fife'. 

*B.F. = Best Friend, a 21st Century reality-TV term.