Balmoral Castle is a large highland country house that is the centrepiece of the 50,000 acre Balmoral Estate. It has been one of the private residences of the British royal family since 1852 when, without having visited the site, Prince Albert purchased a previous 14th century castle and surrounding grounds as a gift for his wife Queen Victoria.
An initial plan to modify and extend the previous castle was deemed too complicated and the current mansion was commissioned in 1855. Local architects John and William Smith were tasked with designing the new home and landscape gardener James Beattie and painter James Giles were commissioned to the project. Construction was complete in 1856.
Balmoral is a statement of Queen Victoria’s love for Scotland. After visiting the site in 1848 she instantly felt at peace in the Dee valley where the castle stands. She spent a lot of time at Balmoral and after the death of Prince Albert she became almost reclusive at Balmoral when she famously befriended her Gillie, John Brown.
Unlike many royal castles and palaces, Balmoral is one of a collection of private residences that are owned by the monarch and not the crown estate. When Queen Victoria died in 1901 Balmoral passed to King Edward VII, and from him to each of his successors to the current monarch. However in a break with tradition Edward VIII retained the property after he abdicated the throne to marry Wallis Simpson in 1936. After an agreement was drawn up with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (the tax man) it was sold to then King George VI.
Queen Elizabeth visits the estate annually in July after her official visit to Scotland, known as ‘royal week’, where she conducts official business at The Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh.
The highlight of a visit to Balmoral is the Ballroom, the largest room in the castle. On display are artworks by Landseer and Haag, silver statues by Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm, Minton China and artefacts from within the Castle. The Ballroom is still used as the venue for two big dances during Her Majesty’s summer holiday at Balmoral. The Ghillies Ball has taken place every year since Queen Victoria’s reign.
Balmoral isn’t used for official crown business, however Queen Elizabeth was in residence at Balmoral at the time of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997. After considerable pressure from Tony Blair’s parliament and the media, the queen held a short press conference outside the gatehouse as was dramatised in the 2006 film The Queen. It has also been the setting for other films and TV productions about royal life including Mrs Brown (1997) and The Crown (2016). Other castles including Ardverikie House have been used for filming.
Much of the rest of the castle is off-limits to visitors however those spaces that are available to the public and the grounds of the castle are fantastic and give a real insight into the history of the estate and day to day royal life.