Located in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, is Balmoral Castle, a favourite of the Royal Family for over a century. While it is widely known as a favourite of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, it’s also known for its “Balmoral Test.”
Essentially, it’s known as an unofficial “royal initiation.” As depicted on the second episode of series four of Netflix’s The Crown, it depicts a rite of passage for many royal couples. Then Lady Diana went to Balmoral in September of 1980 and is said to have “passed with flying colours.” Though the “test” is not just for partners, it must be completed for every distinguished guest who wants to be a prominent fixture in the Royal Family.
While this was a thing under the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, it’s not exactly clear if this will remain true for the reign of King Charles III and other monarchs. Under Her Late Majesty, every Prime Minister was expected to visit Balmoral annually. Margaret Thatcher famously called it her “purgatory.” Those who did not successfully navigate the social minefield were “not accepted” by the Royal Family and vanished from royal favour, or so legend tells.
Guests were expected to be brushed up on royal protocol, have a wealth of talking points ready and be prepared with outfits for every occasion. They needed hunting clothes and black tie attire prepared at any moment. Social etiquette is an absolute must!
But despite the stress for first-time visitors, The Queen was known to be her most laid back during her summers at Balmoral. She was known to have gone out of her way to ensure everyone felt welcome and at home.
While Diana passed the test with flying colours, she actually dreaded some of the visits to the castle in the years to come. According to interviews with Andrew Morton, Diana claimed she felt certain “negative atmospheres” when she was there.
As she told Morton: “This myth about me hating Balmoral—I love Scotland, but just the atmosphere drains me to nothing.
“I go up ‘strong Diana.’ I come away depleted of everything, because they just suck me dry, because I tune in to all their moods and, boy, are there some undercurrents there! Instead of having a holiday, it’s the most stressful time of the year. It’s very close quarters.”
As for Diana’s former husband, then-Prince Charles, his love of Balmoral goes back to a young age. When leaving for his second year at Cambridge in 1968, he said: “I cannot tell you how much I miss Balmoral and the hills and the air—I feel very empty and incomplete without it all.”
The Balmoral test continued as The Queen’s grandsons found their significant others. The now Princess of Wales visited Balmoral for the first time in 2009, two years before she married Prince William. It was rumoured Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, met Her Majesty there in 2017. Although the Duchess later said she met The Queen for the first time at Windsor Castle.