How Balmoral Castle Became the Royal Summer Retreat

Balmoral Castle is located in Aberdeenshire, Scotland on the Royal Deeside, near the village of Crathie. The estate covers around 20,000 hectares of land. By royal tradition since the Victorian era, it is the summer holiday retreat of the British royal family.

Unlike other royal residences of the British monarch, Balmoral castle remains a private property and not part of the Crown Property, which means all its cost of maintenance is shouldered by the Queen and not funded by the public purse.

Balmoral as a private residence

In 1830, Sir Robert Gordon, a younger brother of the 4th Earl of Aberdeen, acquired the lease of the estate from the Earl of Fife who leased Balmoral from the Farquharsons family. When he died in 1847, the lease reverted to the Earl of Aberdeen.

Prince Albert and Queen Victoria

On the following year, 1848, Prince Albert, who was on the look-out of a property near the Deeside for his wife, Queen Victoria, heard about Balmoral and immediately made an arrangement to acquire the lease.

In what would have been intended only to lease part of the estate. Prince Albert decided to purchase the property to use as a summer residence of his family and to provide Queen Victoria a conducive holiday retreat in Scotland. 

The negotiation was completed in 1852 and Prince Albert took position of Balmoral estate in the autumn of 1852. He also purchased the neighboring estate of Birkhall, a property which is now owned by Prince Charles.

Prince Albert started the extensive development of the estate. He decided to demolish the small Balmoral house to build a large house for his growing family and visiting dignitaries. Thus, in 1853, the construction of Balmoral castle started and completed in 1856.

Balmoral castle today

Balmoral castle eventually became the favorite home of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria among the private residences of the royal family. They would spend every summer in the estate and did country life things like taking long walks, playing with dogs, hunting and horseback riding/

In Balmoral, life is more relaxed for the royal family. 

The young family of the Queen and Prince Philip with Prince Andrew still a baby

They lived more of a gentry lifestyle than royalty. Prince Albert took charge in running the estate and its developments. He also became interested with Scottish architectural style and decorated Balmoral Castle with tartans.

Unfortunately, his life was short. He died unexpectedly from Typhoid fever in 1861. And Queen Victoria mourned his death for the rest of her life.

He increasingly became attached with Balmoral. The Queen considered it as a living memorial where best memories of Prince Albert confined. She would spend long summers and autumn in Balmoral.

Her granddaughter Princess Victoria Eugenia, the future Queen Consort of Spain (grandmother of King Juan Carlos), was born there in 1887. 

She was the daughter of Princess Beatrice, Queen Victoria's youngest child who acted as her private secretary after most of her daughters including Princess Alice (great grandmother of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh) married to German princes.

In 1896, her favorite grandchild, Empress Alexandra (daughter of Princess Alice) and husband. Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, paid her a visit in Balmoral.

Balmoral castle is more of a country house than a castle. A typical and ordinary country house from the Victorian period. And considered a typical baronial style residence in Scotland.

Why Balmoral is not a Crown Property?

Balmoral estate is not considered a crown property because it was originally purchased privately by Prince Albert rather than Queen Victoria. No revenues of the estate go to the parliament or public purse in contrast to the Crown Property.

However, it is managed by the Trustees under Deeds of Nomination and Appointment.

The last two prince consorts of the British monarchy. 
Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, and his great-great grandson, Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II. Both took charge in running Balmoral estate during their tenure as prince consort

Balmoral and Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, where the Queen traditionally spends Christmas break, are two of the properties of the British monarch that are privately owned.

These estates are inherited by the first born son of the British sovereign. It became the subject of intense negotiation in 1936 when the Queen's uncle, King Edward VIII, abdicated.

As private properties, Balmoral and Sandringham never passed automatically to the next monarch, thus, Edward, as an eldest son, remained the owner of the estates despite giving up the throne to his younger brother, King George VI.

A huge financial settlement was made for Edward VIII to purchase the estates because traditionally Balmoral and Sandringham belonged to the British monarch, although not directly inherited.

Balmoral estate today

When Queen Elizabeth II ascended the British throne in 1952, her husband, Prince Philip, took charge in running the estate, just like what his great-great grandfather, Prince Albert, did.

The Queen and Prince Philip during summer holiday in Balmoral

The Duke of Edinburgh converted it to working farm, raising cattle and organic vegetables and fruits, managing herds of deer and ponies. He would also take charge of the family barbeque party in the grounds of Balmoral castle every summer

Prince Philip managed the Queen's private estates including in Windsor Great Park like a seasoned businessman. He helped designed the renovation and improvements of both estates.

The Queen and Prince Philip at Balmoral farmland

Balmoral, apart from the main castle, has several holiday cottages and buildings but one lodge considered special is the Craigowan Lodge.

It is a seven-bedroom stone house, approximately one mile from Balmoral castle. It was there that Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, often took up residence when they're holidaying at Balmoral.

During their marriage, Birkhall, was still owned by the Queen Mother (the mother of Queen Elizabeth II) and was only inherited by the Prince of Wales in 2002 following the Queen Mother's death.

Craigowan Lodge is also special to the Queen and Prince Philip. It's there that they would spend the first few days of their summer in Balmoral.

Public visit to Balmoral estate

Balmoral can be visited by the public between April and July. Another guided tour is also organized during winter season

The guided tours cover the gardens of the castle, gift shop, coffee pod, restaurant, exhibition rooms, walking trail. The ballroom area of the castle is open for public viewing.

However, due to the pandemic, the estate is still close to the public, except the gift shop, coffee pod and the post office.

For more inquiries of a Balmoral visit, you may check their official website here.

The Queen's summer break in the time of pandemic

In 2020, the Queen was accompanied by Prince Philip only during the traditional summer holiday break of the royal family. The pandemic altered everything in the world including the lifestyle of the royal family.

Instead of having family members accompanying them, Her Majesty and her husband spent summer moments with just the two of them without their children and extended family. 

They moved to Sandringham before autumn and went back to Windsor Castle before the Christmas holiday began.

In February this year, Prince Philip was brought to the hospital due to lingering illness and in April, the Queen's beloved husband, who had been instrumental in modernizing Balmoral estate, passed away at Windsor Castle.

The Queen's summer would never be the same again.

In midsummer, she was off to Scotland for her usual summer holiday break in Balmoral. This time alone. Wearing a hot pink dress and a hat, she was a picture of loveliness despite her age of 95. 

The Queen during her arrival in Balmoral this August

However, beneath her warm personality and sunny disposition, lies a grieving wife who would have to go on with her life and many summers without the man she loved all her life. And to whom she always referred as my "strength and stay".

Picture Gallery of the royal family taken at Balmoral during summer break

The Queen, Prince Philip and the young Princess Anne and Prince Charles
Happy days. The Queen and Prince Philip with their two younger sons, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward
The royal family at Balmoral in late 1970s
Prince Edward, Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Philip, the Queen and Prince Andrew
The Queen and Prince Philip at River Dee in Balmoral in 1984. Photo taken by Prince Andrew
From left: The Duchess of York carrying Princess Beatrice, the Princess of Wales, the Queen, Peter Phillips. At the back: Prince Philip and Prince Charles. Seated in front: Prince Harry, Zara Phillips and Prince William
The Queen and Prince Philip accompanied by Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex
The Queen and Prince Philip at Balmoral with their great-grandchildren.
From left: Prince George, Prince Louis at the Queen's lap, Princess Charlotte, Mia Phillips Tindall holding her younger sister Lena, Isla Phillips. At the back: Savannah Phillips

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