Balmoral Castle

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Balmoral Castle


Balmoral Castle.jpg
South front of Balmoral Castle
Grid reference: NO255951
Location: 57°2’27"N, 3°13’46"W
Built 1856

Balmoral Castle is a large estate house in the parish of Crathie and Braemar, Aberdeenshire, within the area that has come to be known as 'Royal Deeside'. The estate is near the village of Crathie, six miles west of Ballater and seven miles east of Braemar.

Balmoral has been one of the residences of the Royal Family since 1852, when it was purchased by Prince Albert, Prince Consort to Queen Victoria. As it was not purchased by the Queen, no revenues from the estate go to Parliament and to the public purse as would be the case, in accord with the 1760 Civil List Act, for property owned outright by the Queen. Presently the estate is not owned outright by the monarch but rather by Trustees under Deeds of Nomination and Appointment and the castle and estate accordingly remain the private property of the royal family, not part of the Crown Estate.

Soon after the estate was purchased the existing house was found to be too small and the current Balmoral Castle was commissioned. The architect was William Smith of Aberdeen, although his designs were amended by Prince Albert himself.

The castle

Balmoral Castle is an example of Scots Baronial architecture, and is classified by Historic Scotland as a Category A listed building.[1] The new castle was completed in 1856 and the old castle demolished shortly thereafter.

The Castle is built from granite quarried at Invergelder on the estate,[2] 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 an 80-foot-tall clock tower topped with turrets,[3] one of which has a balustrade similar to a feature at Castle Fraser.[4]

The architecture of the 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.[3] 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.[4]

The estate

The Balmoral Estate lies within the Cairngorms, with all the breathtaking scenery that implies.

The Estate has been added to by successive sovereigns, and now covers an area of about 49,000 acres.[5] It is a working estate, including grouse moors, forestry, and farmland, as well as managed herds of deer, Highland cattle, and ponies.

The estate contains a wide variety of landscapes, from the Dee Valley to open mountains. There are seven Munros (hills over 3,000 feet) in the estate, the highest being Lochnagar at 3,789 feet. 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.[6]

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.[7] The ballroom is the only room in the castle which can be viewed by the public.[8]

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

Craigowan Lodge

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

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 Prince Michael Andreevich Romanoff, the highest-ranking member of the Russian imperial family at the time of his death in 2008, it was noted that his family spent most of World War II at Craigowan Lodge.[9]

The Lodge has been in the news periodically since 2005, because the Queen often spends the first few days of her summer holiday in the lodge. Each weekend in the summer the castle is a lucrative source of income from visiting tourists, and the Queen sometimes arrives at Balmoral before the tourist visiting season is over.[10]


Allt-na-Giubhsaich is a climbers' bothy on the Balmoral Estate, at NO297857. It is found in Glen Muick, above and to the west of the River Muick, close to Spittal of Glenmuick.[11]

This was a favourite climbing location for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on their estate.

Other properties

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.[12] 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.[7] Six smaller properties on the estate are let as holiday cottages.[13]

Protected areas

The estate is within the Cairngorms National Park. It is partly within the 'Deeside and Lochnagar National Scenic Area'.

The areas of Lochnagar and Ballochbuie were designated in 1998 as Special Protection Areas (SPA) under the European Union (EU) Birds Directive.[14][15] 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".[16] In addition, there are four Sites of Special Scientific Interest on the estate.


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.[17] 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. 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.[18] 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.

Royal acquisition

Balmoral Castle
Balmoral Castle, painted by Queen Victoria in 1854

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert first visited the Highlands in 1842, five years after her accession and two years after their marriage. They had stayed at Edinburgh, and then at Taymouth Castle in Perthshire, the home of the Marquess of Breadalbane. They returned in 1844 to stay at Blair Castle, and in 1847 when they rented Ardverikie by Loch Laggan.[19] The latter trip was extremely rainy, which led Sir James Clark, the Queen's physician, to recommend Deeside for its more healthy climate.[20]

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.[21] Victoria found the house "small but pretty",[22] and recorded in her diary that: "All seemed to breathe freedom and peace, and to make one forget the world and its sad turmoils".[18]

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.[23] Improvements to the woodlands, gardens and estate buildings were also being made, assisted by the landscape gardener James Beattie and the painter James Giles. 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.[24] It was in use by 1 October 1851, and served as a ballroom until completion of the new ballroom in 1856.[25]

Major additions to the old house were considered in 1849,[23] but by then negotiations were under way 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.[26] 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.[26] 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.[27] William Smith's designs were amended by Prince Albert, who took a close interest in details such as turrets and windows.[28] Construction began during summer 1853, on a site some hundred yards north-west of the original building, which was considered to have a better outlook.[29] Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone on 28 September 1853, during the annual autumn visit.[30] 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.[25] The new house was completed in 1856, and the old castle was subsequently demolished.

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.[31] 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.[32] 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. These included a model farm|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.[33]

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. 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.

Balmoral Castle was the birthplace of Victoria Eugenie of Spain, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria.

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

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.

Balmoral is a private property and, unlike the monarch's official residences, is not the property of the Crown. Therefore, when Edward VIII acceded to the throne in 1936 he inherited Balmoral (and Sandringham in Norfolk) but as personal properties, he did not lose them on his abdication in the same year. A financial settlement was devised, under which Balmoral and Sandringham were purchased by Edward's brother and successor to the Crown, George VI.[34]

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

In popular culture

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.[35] Added to the work of Sir Walter Scott, this was a major factor in promoting the adoption of Highland culture by Lowland Scots. Historian Michael Lynch comments that "the Scottishness of Balmoral helped to give the monarchy a truly British dimension for the first time".[36]

The stern Victorian aesthetic developed here has been named "Balmorality".

  • In Flashman and the Great Game by George MacDonal Fraser, part of the early action takes place at Balmoral.
  • The Queen, the 2006 film by Stephen Frears, is largely set at Balmoral. It dramatises The Queen's private discussions with Prime Minister Tony Blair at the time of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997, at which time Her Majesty was in residence at Balmoral.
  • Mrs. Brown, the 1997 film, was also based on events at Balmoral

In both films, substitute locations were used: Blairquhan Castle in The Queen; and Duns Castle in Mrs Brown.[37][38]


Since 1987 an illustration of the castle has featured on the reverse side of £100 notes issued by the Royal Bank of Scotland.[39]

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Balmoral Castle)


  1. "Balmoral Castle: Listed Building Report". Historic Scotland. Retrieved 23 January 2012. 
  2. Little, G. A. (1981). Scotland's Gardens. Spur Books. ISBN 0-7157-2091-0. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Glendinning, Miles; MacKechnie, Aonghus; MacInnes, Ranald (1996). A History of Scottish Architecture. Edinburgh University Press. p. 270. ISBN 0-7486-0849-4. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Fenwick, Hubert (1974). Scotland's Historic Buildings. Robert Hale. ISBN 0-7091-4497-0. 
  5. "Welcome to Balmoral". Balmoral Estates. Retrieved 23 January 2012. 
  6. "The Old Man of Lochnagar, 1980". The Royal Collection. Retrieved 23 January 2012. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Castle siege by tourists keeps Queen at bay". Daily Mail. 2 August 2005. 
  8. "2011 Admission Charges". Balmoral Estate. Retrieved 23 January 2012. 
  9. "Michael Andreevich Romanoff: member of the Russian imperial family". The Times (London). 11 October 2008. 
  10. Brocklebank, Jonathan (2 August 2005). "Castle siege by tourists keeps Queen at bay". Daily Mail (London). 
  11. [ University of Aberdeen - Allt-na-Giubhsaich]
  12. "Birkhall". The Prince of Wales official website. Household of HRH The Prince of Wales. Retrieved 23 January 2012. 
  13. "Current Availability". Balmoral Estates. Retrieved 23 January 2012. 
  14. "Lochnagar SPA: Standard Data Form". Joint Nature Conservation Committee. 
  15. "Ballolchbuie SPA: Standard Data Form". Joint Nature Conservation Committee. 
  16. "Ballolchbuie SAC: Site Details". Joint Nature Conservation Committee. 
  17. "Balmoral Castle, Aberdeenshire". Retrieved 4 December 2010. 
  18. 18.0 18.1 Gordon, Seton (2009). "The Country of Balmoral". Seton Gordon's Cairngorms : an anthology. Whittles. pp. 141–142. ISBN 978-1-904445-88-3. 
  19. Millar, pp.23,31
  20. Millar, p.39
  21. Millar, pp.40–41
  22. Millar, p.41
  23. 23.0 23.1 Millar, p.55
  24. Bellhouse, David (2000). "E.T. Bellhouse and Co. Engineers and Iron Founders". David Bellhouse and Sons, Manchester. Retrieved 23 January 2012. 
  25. 25.0 25.1 Millar, p.59
  26. 26.0 26.1 Millar, p.56
  27. "William Smith II". Dictionary of Scottish Architects 1840–1980. Retrieved 23 January 2012. 
  28. Millar, p.57
  29. Millar, pp.56–57
  30. Millar, p.58
  31. Millar, p.44
  32. Millar, passim
  33. Millar, p.102
  34. "Sandringham House: History". The official website of The British Monarchy. The Royal Household. Retrieved 23 January 2012. 
  35. Devine, T.M. (2006). The Scottish Nation 1700–2000. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-102769-2. 
  36. Lynch, Michael (1992). Pimlico. ISBN 978-0-7126-9893-1. 
  37. The Queen at the Internet Movie Database
  38. Mrs Brown at the Internet Movie Database
  39. "Current Banknotes : Royal Bank of Scotland". The Committee of Scottish Clearing Bankers. Archived from the original on 3 October 2008. Retrieved 17 October 2008. 
  • Millar, Delia (1985). Queen Victoriaʼs life in the Scottish Highlands : depicted by her watercolour artists. London: Philip Wilson. ISBN 0-85667-194-0.