Royal Residences: Balmoral Castle

Located in Royal Deeside, Aberdeenshire, Balmoral Castle is one of two personal and private residences owned by The Royal Family, unlike the Royal Palaces, that belong to the Crown.

Royal Residences: Balmoral Castle -

The Royal Family first became interested in Balmoral in 1847 when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited Ardverikie on the edge of Loch Laggan in the west Highlands of Scotland. Their time there was marred by terrible weather - Queen Victoria mentions the 'pouring rain'​ many times in her diary.

While at Ardverikie the son of The Queen's physician, Sir James Clark, wrote a number of letters to his father who was convalescing at Balmoral. The letters from Balmoral described blue skies and fine weather - the news of dry weather interested Prince Albert.

Queen Victoria at Balmoral

In 1848 it was therefore suggested that the Balmoral climate would make a more suitable Scottish residence for The Queen, with the artist James Giles commissioned to make watercolours of a plan of the house. The decision was soon made to acquire the remaining 27 year lease for Prince Albert, and in 1852 Queen Victoria and Prince Albert bought the Castle outright.

A watercolour of old Balmoral Castle by James Giles

The original Castle was built in the fifteenth century and consisted of a square tower with battlements and a thick stone wall surrounding a small square. By 1746 a house had been added to it by the Farquarsons of Inverey. When Sir Robert Gordon acquired the lease in 1830 he demolished most of the building, reconstructing it as a small castle in the Scottish Baronial Style.

After Queen Victoria bought the Castle in 1852, plans were made to build a new castle about 100 yards north-west of the old building designed by the city of Aberdeen architect William Smith.

On the 28th September 1853 the foundation stone of the new Castle was laid by Queen Victoria. Prince Albert took a great interest in the design and construction which was completed by 1856, also in the Scottish Baronial style.

Balmoral Castle

The Castle is constructed from local granite, which was precision cut using the modern machinery of the day, producing a much smoother finish to the building than usual. 

Prince Albert set about landscaping the area, starting a programme of improvements lasting several years, which was done in accordance with a model he had constructed in sand. The main works were completed by 1859 and included new houses, stables, workshops and schools.

The interior of Balmoral Castle

In 1861 the main farmhouse and buildings were finished, with plans drawn up by Prince Albert for a new dairy along the lines of the one at Windsor. Unfortunately, he was never able to see his plans completed for in December of that year he died of typhoid fever at Windsor Castle.

Queen Victoria, heartbroken at the death of her husband, continued what Albert had started and the dairy was completed the next year. Over the years other houses were put up, including the Garden Cottage for her children, Baile-na-Coille for her Highland servant, John Brown, and Karim Cottage for her Indian Secetary, the Munshi Abdul Karim.

Prince Edward, Prince Albert and Princess Victoria

As the years passed, Queen Victoria spent more of her time at Balmoral, with its happy memories and welcome solitude.

When Queen Victoria died in 1901 Balmoral passed to King Edward VII, who did not make much use of it, only staying for only three to four weeks a year.

King George V inherited Balmoral when he became King in 1910. He was unable to visit Balmoral during the First World War (1914-1918), but returned for autumn visits thereafter. Like his grandmother Queen Victoria, George took pleasure in the place, its people, its peace and tranquillity. Local craftsmen were commissioned to make the fine wrought iron gates used today.

King George V outside Balmoral

Queen Mary took a great interest in the gardens, creating the flower garden below the south lawn. The services in the Castle were modernised and electricity was introduced, powered by generators and a turbine installed on the Gelder Burn.

In 1937 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth came to Balmoral and took more interest in the Castle and its Estate more than anyone since Queen Victoria's time, greatly enjoying the place until The King's untimely death in 1952.

Queen Mary, George VI and Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother at Balmoral

In 1952, Queen Elizabeth II came to Balmoral with The Duke of Edinburgh, and with their family they continue to enjoy the place and take a great interest in its running.

The Duke of Edinburgh takes an active role in managing the estate and has created a large vegetable garden adjoining Queen Mary's flower garden, a flowered paved walk along the terrace on the north side of the Castle, and a water garden to the south west of the Castle. He has also started a plantation of oak along the bank south of the cricket pitch.

Every year The Queen spends the summer break at Balmoral, where she is joined by other members of The Royal Family.

Between April and July every year Balmoral is open to the public - find out more here.