Balmoral Castle

Balmoral Castle
Balmoral Castle
South front of Balmoral Castle
South front of Balmoral Castle
Location: Royal Deeside, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
Coordinates: 57°02′23″N 3°13′53″W / 57.039722°N 3.231389°W / 57.039722; -3.231389Coordinates: 57°02′23″N 3°13′53″W / 57.039722°N 3.231389°W / 57.039722; -3.231389
Architect: William Smith, directed by Prince Albert
Balmoral Castle is located in Aberdeen
Location in Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Balmoral Castle /bælˈmɒrəl/ is a large estate house in Royal Deeside,Aberdeenshire, Scotland. It is located near the village of Crathie, 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) west of Ballater and 11 kilometres (6.8 mi) east of Braemar. Balmoral has been one of the residences of the British Royal Family since 1852, when it was purchased by Queen Victoria and her consort, Prince Albert. It remains the private property of the monarch, and is not part of the Crown Estate.

Soon after the estate was purchased the existing house was found to be too small. It was demolished, and the current Balmoral Castle was completed in 1856. The architect was William Smith of Aberdeen, although his designs were amended by Prince Albert. The castle is an example of Scots Baronial architecture, and is now protected as a category A listed building.[1]

The Balmoral Estate has been added to by successive members of the Royal Family, and now covers an area of about 20,000 hectares (49,000 acres).[2] It is a working estate, including grouse moors, forestry and farmland, as well as managed herds of deer, Highland cattle and ponies.[3]



King Robert II of Scotland (1316–1390) had a hunting lodge in the area. A house at Balmoral was built by Sir William Drummond in 1390.[4] The estate is recorded in 1451 as "Bouchmorale", and was later tenanted by Alexander Gordon, second son of the 1st Earl of Huntly. A tower house was built on the estate by the Gordons.[5] In 1662 the estate passed to Charles Farquharson of Inverey, brother of John Farquharson, the "Black Colonel". The Farquharsons were Jacobite sympathisers, and James Farquharson of Balmoral was involved in both the 1715 and 1745 rebellions, and was wounded at the Battle of Falkirk in 1746. His estates were forfeit, and passed to the Farquharsons of Auchendryne.[6] In 1798, James Duff, 2nd Earl Fife, acquired Balmoral, and leased the castle. Sir Robert Gordon, a younger son of the 3rd Earl of Aberdeen, acquired the lease in 1830 and made major alterations to the castle, with baronial-style extensions designed by John Smith of Aberdeen.[5]

Royal acquisition

Balmoral Castle. A principal keep similar to Craigievar Castle's is the middle of the castle, while a large turreted country house is attached
Balmoral Castle, painted by Queen Victoria in 1854 during its construction

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert first visited Scotland in 1842, five years after her accession and two years after their marriage. They stayed at Edinburgh, and at Taymouth Castle in Perthshire, the home of the Marquess of Breadalbane.[5] They returned in 1844 to stay at Blair Castle, and in 1847 when they rented Ardverikie by Loch Laggan.[7] The latter trip was extremely rainy, which led Sir James Clark, the Queen's physician, to recommend Deeside for its more healthy climate.[8]

Sir Robert Gordon died in 1847, and the lease on Balmoral reverted to Lord Aberdeen. In February 1848 it was decided that Prince Albert would acquire the remaining part of the lease on Balmoral, together with its furniture and staff, and the couple arrived for their first visit on 8 September 1848.[9] Victoria found the house "small but pretty",[10] and recorded in her diary that: "All seemed to breathe freedom and peace, and to make one forget the world and its sad turmoils".[6]

The house was quickly found to be too small, and John and William Smith were commissioned in 1848 to design new offices, cottages and other ancillary buildings.[11] Improvements to the woodlands, gardens and estate buildings were also being made, assisted by the landscape gardener James Beattie and the painter James Giles.[5] After seeing a corrugated iron cottage at the Great Exhibition of 1851, Prince Albert ordered a pre-fabricated iron building for Balmoral from E. T. Bellhouse & Co., to serve as a temporary ballroom and dining room.[12] It was in use by 1 October 1851, and served as a ballroom until completion of the new ballroom in 1856.[13] Major additions to the old house were considered in 1849,[11] but by then negotiations were underway to purchase the estate from the trustees of the deceased Earl Fife. The sale was completed in November 1851, the price being £32,000, and Prince Albert formally took possession the following autumn.[5][14] The neighbouring estate of Birkhall was bought at the same time, and the lease on Abergeldie secured.

Construction of the new house

The programme of improvement culminated during early 1852 with the decision to commission a new, larger house, from William Smith.[14] The son of John Smith, designer of the earlier castle, William Smith was City Architect of Aberdeen from 1852. On learning of the commission, William Burn sought an interview with the Prince, apparently to complain that Smith had plagiarised his work in the past. However, Burn was unsuccessful in depriving Smith of the appointment.[15] William Smith's designs were amended by Prince Albert, who took a close interest in details such as turrets and windows.[16] Construction began during summer 1853, on a site some 100 metres (330 ft) north-west of the original building, which was considered to have a better outlook.[17] Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone on 28 September 1853, during the annual autumn visit.[18] By the autumn of 1855, the royal apartments were ready, though the tower was still under construction and the servants had to be lodged in the old house.[13] The new house was completed in 1856, and the old castle was subsequently demolished.[5]

Balmoral Castle is built from granite quarried at Invergelder on the estate,[19] and comprises two main blocks, each arranged around a courtyard. The south-western block contains the main rooms, while the north-eastern contains the service wings. At the south-east is a 24.5-metre (80 ft) tall clock tower topped with turrets,[20] one of which has a balustrade similar to a feature at Castle Fraser.[21] The architecture of the new house is considered to be somewhat dated for its time, being similar in style to the demolished castle of the 1830s, in contrast to the richer forms of Scots Baronial being developed by William Burn and others during the 1850s.[20] As an exercise in Scots Baronial, it is sometimes described as being too ordered, pedantic, and even Germanic, as a result of Prince Albert's influence on the design.[21] However, the purchase of a Scottish estate by Victoria and Albert, and their adoption of Scottish architectural style, was very influential for the ongoing revival of Highland culture. The royals decorated Balmoral with tartans and attended highland games at Braemar; Queen Victoria expressed an affinity for Scotland, even professing herself to be a Jacobite.[22] Added to the work of Sir Walter Scott, this was a major factor in promoting the adoption of Highland culture by Lowland Scotlanders. Historian Michael Lynch comments that "the Scottishness of Balmoral helped to give the monarchy a truly British dimension for the first time".[23]

Victoria and Albert at Balmoral

Balmoral, c.1890–1900

Even before the completion of the new house, the pattern of the royal couple's life in the Highlands was soon established. Albert spent many days shooting deer and game, while Victoria took long walks of up to four hours daily. In 1849 the diarist Charles Greville described their life at Balmoral as like that of gentry rather than royalty.[24] Victoria began a policy of commissioning artists to record Balmoral, its surroundings and its staff. Over the years, numerous painters were employed at Balmoral, including Edwin and Charles Landseer, Carl Haag, William Wyld, William Henry Fisk, and many others.[25] The couple took great interest in their staff, and set up a lending library. During the 1850s, new plantations were established around the house, and exotic conifers were planted in the grounds. Prince Albert had an active role in these improvements, overseeing the design of parterres, the diversion the main road north of the river via a new bridge, and plans for farm buildings.[5] These included a model dairy which he developed during 1861, the year of his death. It was completed by Victoria, who subsequently built several monuments to her husband on the estate. These included an obelisk, and a large statue of Albert by William Theed, inaugurated in 1867.[26]

After Albert's death, Victoria spent increasing periods at Balmoral, staying up to four months a year during early summer and autumn. Few further changes were made to the grounds, with the exception of the monuments and cottages built during the remainder of the 19th century.[5] It was during this period that Victoria began to depend on her servant John Brown, a local ghillie from Crathie who became one of her closest companions during her long mourning.[citation needed] Balmoral Castle was the birthplace of Victoria Eugenie of Spain, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria.[citation needed]

In September 1896, Victoria welcomed Emperor Nicholas II of Russia and Empress Alexandra to Balmoral. Four years later Victoria made her last visit, three months before her death on 22 January 1901.

After Victoria

Edward VII relaxing at Balmoral Castle, photographed by his wife, Alexandra

After Victoria's death, the royal family continued to use Balmoral during annual autumn visits. George V had substantial improvements done during the 1910s and 1920s, including formal gardens to the south of the castle.[5]

Balmoral is a private property and, unlike the monarch's official residences, is not part of the state-owned Crown Estate. Ownership of Balmoral, along with Sandringham House in Norfolk, was inherited by Edward VIII on his accession in 1936. However, when he abdicated later the same year, he retained ownership. A financial settlement was devised, under which Balmoral and Sandringham passed to his brother, George VI.[27]

Since the 1950s, Prince Philip has also added herbaceous borders and a water garden. During the 1980s new staff buildings were built close to the castle.[5]

The estate

North-west corner of Balmoral Castle

Balmoral Estate is within the Cairngorms National Park, and is partly within the Deeside and Lochnagar National Scenic Area.[28] The 20,000 hectares (49,000 acres) estate contains a wide variety of landscapes, from the Dee Valley to open mountains. There are seven Munros (hills in Scotland over 3,000 feet (910 m)) in the estate, the highest being Lochnagar at 1,155 metres (3,789 ft). The mountain was the setting for a children's story, The Old Man of Lochnagar, told originally by Prince Charles to his younger brothers, Andrew and Edward, and published in 1980 with royalties accruing to The Prince's Trust.[29]

The areas of Lochnagar and Ballochbuie were designated in 1998 by the Secretary of State for Scotland as Special Protection Areas (SPA) under the European Union (EU) Birds Directive.[30][31] Ballochbuie is also protected as a Special Area of Conservation by the EU Habitats Directive, as "one of the largest remaining continuous areas of native Caledonian Forest".[32] In addition, there are four Sites of Special Scientific Interest on the estate.[28]

In 1931, the castle gardens were first opened to the public, and are now open daily between April and the end of July, after which the Queen arrives for her annual stay.[33] The ballroom is the only room in the castle which can be viewed by the public.[34]

The Royal Family employs about 50 full-time and 50–100 part-time staff to maintain the working estate.[35] A malt whisky distillery located on the Balmoral Estate produces the Royal Lochnagar Single Malt whisky.

In 2005, it was suggested that Balmoral would realize at least £14 million if it were sold on the private market.[33]

Other properties on the estate include Birkhall, formerly home to Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, and used now by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall for their summer holidays.[36] Craigowan Lodge is used regularly by the Queen's friends and family, and has also been used by the Queen while Balmoral Castle is being prepared.[33] Six smaller properties on the estate are let as holiday cottages.[37]

Craigowan Lodge

Craigowan Lodge is a seven-bedroom stone house about a mile from the main castle in Balmoral.[38]

It is more rustic than the castle, and was often the home of Charles and Diana when they visited. Now it is usually a home for very important guests.

In the obituary of Michael Andreevich Romanoff: the highest ranking member of the Russian imperial family who died in 2008, it was noted that his family spent most of WWII at Craigowan Lodge.[39]

The Lodge has been in the news periodically since 2005, because the Queen often spends the first few days of her summer vacation in the lodge. Each weekend in the summer it is a lucrative source of income due to tourists visiting the castle, and in an effort to keep revenues high there is some overlap.[40]

In popular culture

The Queen was in residence at Balmoral at the time of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997. Her initial decision not to return to London or to mourn more publicly was much criticised at the time by the London media.[citation needed] Her private discussions with Prime Minister Tony Blair were dramatised in Stephen Frears' film The Queen (2006). The 1997 film Mrs. Brown was also based on events at Balmoral, although in both films substitute locations were used: Blairquhan Castle in The Queen; and Duns Castle in Mrs Brown.[41][42]


Since 1987 an illustration of the castle has featured on the reverse side of £100 notes issued by the Royal Bank of Scotland.[43]

See also


  1. ^ "Balmoral Castle: Listed Building Report". Historic Scotland. 
  2. ^ "Welcome to Balmoral". Balmoral Estates. 
  3. ^ "Balmoral Estate". Balmoral Estates. 
  4. ^ "Balmoral Castle, Aberdeenshire". Retrieved 4 December 2010. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Balmoral Castle: Site History". An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland. Historic Scotland. 
  6. ^ a b Gordon, Seton (2009). "The Country of Balmoral". Seton Gordon's Cairngorms : an anthology. Whittles. pp. 141–142. ISBN 9781904445883. 
  7. ^ Millar, pp.23,31
  8. ^ Millar, p.39
  9. ^ Millar, pp.40–41
  10. ^ Millar, p.41
  11. ^ a b Millar, p.55
  12. ^ Bellhouse, David (2000). "E.T. Bellhouse and Co. Engineers and Iron Founders". David Bellhouse and Sons, Manchester. 
  13. ^ a b Millar, p.59
  14. ^ a b Millar, p.56
  15. ^ "William Smith II". Dictionary of Scottish Architects 1840–1980. 
  16. ^ Millar, p.57
  17. ^ Millar, pp.56–57
  18. ^ Millar, p.58
  19. ^ Little, G. A. (1981). Scotland's Gardens. Spur Books. ISBN 0715720910. 
  20. ^ a b Glendinning, Miles; MacKechnie, Aonghus; MacInnes, Ranald (1996). A History of Scottish Architecture. Edinburgh University Press. p. 270. ISBN 0748608494. 
  21. ^ a b Fenwick, Hubert (1974). Scotland's Historic Buildings. Robert Hale. ISBN 0709144970. 
  22. ^ Devine, T.M. (2006). The Scottish Nation 1700–2000. Penguin. ISBN 978-0141027692. 
  23. ^ Lynch, Michael (1992). Pimlico. ISBN 978-0712698931. 
  24. ^ Millar, p.44
  25. ^ Millar, passim
  26. ^ Millar, p.102
  27. ^ "Sandringham House: History". The official website of The British Monarchy. The Royal Household. 
  28. ^ a b "Conservation". Balmoral Estates. 
  29. ^ "The Old Man of Lochnagar, 1980". The Royal Collection. 
  30. ^ "Lochnagar SPA: Standard Data Form". Joint Nature Conservation Committee. 
  31. ^ "Ballolchbuie SPA: Standard Data Form". Joint Nature Conservation Committee. 
  32. ^ "Ballolchbuie SAC: Site Details". Joint Nature Conservation Committee. 
  33. ^ a b c "Castle siege by tourists keeps Queen at bay". Daily Mail. 2 August 2005. 
  34. ^ "2011 Admission Charges". Balmoral Estate. 
  35. ^ "Employment". Balmoral Estates. 
  36. ^ "Birkhall". The Prince of Wales official website. Household of HRH The Prince of Wales. 
  37. ^ "Current Availability". Balmoral Estates. 
  38. ^ "Panorama of Lodge". 
  39. ^ "Michael Andreevich Romanoff: member of the Russian imperial family". The Times (London). 11 October 2008. 
  40. ^ Brocklebank, Jonathan (2 August 2005). "Castle siege by tourists keeps Queen at bay". Daily Mail (London). 
  41. ^ "Filming locations for The Queen". Internet Movie Database. 
  42. ^ "Filming locations for Mrs Brown". Internet Movie Database. 
  43. ^ "Current Banknotes : Royal Bank of Scotland". The Committee of Scottish Clearing Bankers. Retrieved 17 October 2008. 


  • Millar, Delia (1985). Queen Victoriaʼs life in the Scottish Highlands : depicted by her watercolour artists. London: Philip Wilson. ISBN 0856671940. 

External links

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