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Balmoral to mark bicentenary of the birth of Queen Victoria

The Balmoral Castle, Queen Victoria’s beloved Highland home and still Scottish home to the British Royal Family since 1852 when it was purchased for the Queen by Prince Albert, having been leased in 1848, some six years after the Queen and Prince’s first visit to Scotland, in 1842. The architect chosen for the rebuilding of Balmoral was William Smith, City Architect of Aberdeen and the foundation stone for the new castle laid with much celebration on 28 September 1853; today, it can be found at the foot of the wall to the west side of the entrance porch. The castle was completed in 1856 and was in the Queen’s own words: ‘dearest Albert’s own creation, own work, own building, own laying out as at Osborne‘ (cit., Christopher Hibbert, Queen Victoria: A Personal History, 180).

Queen Victoria with John Brown, her devoted Highland servant, at Balmoral, in a carte de visite, 1863 (Scottish National Gallery [Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons])

According to the Queen, the rooms were therefore naturally ‘delightful, the furniture, papers, everything perfection’ (cit, Ibid, 180). This included tartan coverings for the chairs, as well as tartan carpets, wallpaper and curtains, as can be seen in the watercolours of the private rooms at Balmoral, such as the Queen’s bedroom, as captured by the artist James Roberts. Prince Albert even designed individual tartans for the Royal Family, a white ‘Victoria’ tartan and a ‘Balmoral’ red tartan (Ibid, 181). Interestingly, a picture done probably for Victoria’s father, the Duke of Kent in 1819, Princess Victoria Alexandrina, by Paul Johann Georg Fischer, in the Royal Collection, shows the future Queen, not yet one-year-old, wearing a Scotch bonnet, dressed in a white frock tied with red and green ribbon, of which strands still survive (Kay Staniland, In Royal Fashion, 82).

After Prince Albert’s death, life at Balmoral without the Prince meant that the castle was inevitably filled with countless objects and paintings, which recalled him, and through this, her widowhood. She wrote to her eldest daughter, the Crown Princess of Prussia: ‘Oh! darling child… the agonising sobs as I crawled up with Alice and Affie! [her second daughter and second son]. The stag’s heads – the rooms – blessed, darling Papa’s room – then his coats – his caps – kilts – all, all convulsed my poor shattered frame!’ (cit., Delia Millar, Queen Victoria’s Life in the Scottish Highlands, 101).

When the Queen died in 1901, the Balmoral Estates were willed by her to her successor and eldest son, Edward VII and thence to his heirs. Today, the Ballroom at Balmoral – the only room that may be publicly viewed, due to the fact that all other rooms are the private rooms of Her Majesty The Queen – is the setting for a stunning display of objects in the Royal Collection, including artworks by Landseer and Carl Haag. In the present day, the Ghillies Ball, instituted in Queen Victoria’s reign, is still a feature of Her Majesty The Queen’s own stay at Balmoral, which takes place twice annually.

A new exhibition in the ballroom will focus on Queen Victoria’s collection from April until July, with special emphasis on Queen Victoria at Balmoral. Fittingly, Ballater Pipe Band will play to mark Queen Victoria’s birthday. The Queen, who had enjoyed Highlanders playing the bagpipes at the royal dinner table at Balmoral (Hibbert, 181) and gave her beloved son-in-law, Grand Duke Ludwig IV of Hesse a set of bagpipes for Christmas 1882, (ed. Richard Hough, Advice to a Granddaughter, 42) would surely have approved.

Elizabeth Jane Timms, 2019

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