Balmoral Castle is well known as the holiday home of the British Royal family.
The castle is located in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, and was a great favorite of Queen Elizabeth II, who sadly died there on the 8th of September 2022, aged 96.
But who built Balmoral Castle?
Sir William Drummond built Balmoral Castle in 1390. It was rebuilt by Scottish architects John and William Smith as a baronial-style castle after Prince Albert purchased the Balmoral estate in 1852 for Queen Victoria.
Let’s find out more about the design and architecture of Balmoral Castle, along with its longstanding royal history.
Where is Balmoral Castle?
Balmoral Castle stands within the Cairngorms National Park in Royal Deeside, which is in Aberdeenshire in northeast Scotland.
It is nearly fifty miles from Aberdeen, and the area is mountainous with incredible scenery and is near the village of Crathie.
What is the History of Balmoral Castle?
Balmoral Castle was initially built in 1390 by Sir William Drummond.
The estate already had royal connections, as King Robert II of Scotland owned a hunting lodge there.
Balmoral Castle remained in the Drummond family until they sold it to Sir Alexander Gordon, the third Earl of Huntley, sometime during the fifteenth century.
The estate was passed in 1662 to Charles Farquharson of Inverey, a Jacobite sympathizer involved in the rebellions during the 1700s.
James Duff, 2nd Earl of Fife, acquired the property in 1798, leasing the castle to Sir Robert Gordon in 1830.
When Sir Robert Gordon died in 1847, the lease on Balmoral reverted to Lord Aberdeen.
Who Purchased Balmoral Castle for the Royal Family?
Queen Victoria visited Scotland with her husband, Prince Albert, for the first time in 1842, and they both fell in love with the Highlands.
However, they had initially intended to go to Brussels for a summer holiday, but Victoria fell ill, and her advisors thought Scotland would be a suitable alternative.
The royal couple looked for a home there, and the Queen’s physician recommended Deeside as it had a healthier climate compared to other parts of Scotland.
In February 1848, Prince Albert took over the remaining lease on Balmoral without even looking at the property, which included furniture and staff.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert enjoyed staying in Balmoral, and the surrounding hilly landscape reminded them of Albert’s homeland, Thuringia, in Germany.
In 1852, Prince Albert purchased the estate for £32,000, the equivalent of £4.7 million today.
It is estimated by Forbes to now be worth $140 million.
Who Built Balmoral Castle?
The royal couple found Balmoral was too small for their needs, especially with nine children and the need for extra staff.
They commissioned Scottish architect John Smith and his son William Smith to design a new castle, along with cottages, offices, and other ancillary buildings.
Prince Albert actively collaborated with the designs, and construction started in the summer of 1853, with Queen Victoria laying the foundation stone.
They demolished the old property and rebuilt Balmoral Castle in a Scottish Baronial style.
When was the Building of Balmoral Castle Completed?
Builders finished the completion of Balmoral Castle in 1856.
William Smith supervised the castle’s building, choosing a new site some 100 yards northwest of the last castle, taking advantage of the fantastic views to the west.
James Beattie, a landscape gardener, also made improvements to the gardens, woodlands, and estate buildings with the help and assistance of the artist James Giles.
What Was the Construction and Design of Balmoral Castle?
The construction material of the new Balmoral Castle was local granite, a specialty of the architect William Smith.
Smith organized the castle into two sections, each of which revolved around a courtyard space.
The northeastern block contains the service wings, while the southwestern block consists of the main rooms.
The architectural style of Balmoral Castle is typically Scottish and Baronial, and it is classified as a Category A building by Historic Environment Scotland.
But the most eye-catching feature is the 24-meter-high (80 feet) turreted clock tower, a style typical in the Middle Ages.
However, although these turrets evoke the idea of earlier times, the overall architecture of Balmoral Castle doesn’t reflect the practicality of medieval castles.
The castle’s broad and low windows signify that it was built for luxury, not security, as the royal couple did not need to defend themselves from any enemies.
Who Owns Balmoral Castle?
Queen Elizabeth II privately owned Balmoral Castle, which is not part of the Crown Estate.
The Scottish residence now passes to King Charles III, who could transform the castle into a museum.
How Many Rooms Does Balmoral Castle Have?
Balmoral Castle has 775 rooms, including one ballroom, 92 offices, a swimming pool, and a large number of reception rooms.
The monarch uses one such reception room for receiving guests for official visits and is where Queen Elizabeth II appointed her last Prime Minister, Liz Truss.
What Does the Ballroom at Balmoral Look Like?
The ballroom in Balmoral Castle is a Highlands-style masterclass with dark wood beams on the ceiling, gigantic chandeliers, trefoil designs, mounted stag heads and an orchestral pit.
Displayed on the walls are paintings by Edwin Landseer (an English painter well known for his paintings of animals) and Carl Haag (a Bavarian-born painter who became court painter to the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha).
The ballroom is most famous for holding the annual Ghillie Ball, a tradition started by Queen Victoria in 1852 to thank her staff for their excellent service.
How Many Bathrooms and Bedrooms Does Balmoral Castle Have?
Balmoral Castle has 78 bathrooms, 52 royal and guest bedrooms, and 188 staff bedrooms.
The guest bedrooms are all on the ground floor.
What is the Interior Like in Balmoral Castle?
Illustrations of the rooms from Queen Victoria’s time give a sense of what they looked like during this era.
The rooms featured patterned wall coverings, plaid upholstery, carved wood cabinets, fire screens, and framed landscapes with plenty of candelabra.
A study belonging to Prince Albert denotes plaid carpeting, green wallpaper dotted with white blossoms, and pretty white floral fabrics.
Albert wanted the interiors of Balmoral to have Highland details like chintzes and tartan, with weapons and trophies adorning the walls.
The castle has kept much of the original decor.
Many of the rooms in Balmoral today are decorated in different shades of green with mirror-topped marble fireplaces, many leather-bound books, and upholstered chairs with box-pleated skirts.
How Many Buildings are on the Balmoral Estate?
There are 150 buildings on the Balmoral Estate, and Prince Albert was deeply involved in the design of many of them, including the main farmhouse.
After Albert died in 1861 from typhoid fever, aged 42, Queen Victoria built a series of cottages.
These included Garden Cottage, where Queen Victoria would often have breakfast in the morning or spend afternoons working on state papers, correspondence, and writing in her journals.
Victoria gave a cottage to her Indian secretary, Abdul Karim, later known as Karim Cottage, after her devoted ‘Munshi.’
She built Baile-na-Coille for her servant, John Brown, but it was incomplete at the time of his death in 1883.
What Other Homes are on the Balmoral Estate?
Other homes on the Balmoral estate include the seven-bedroom Craigowan Lodge at Birkhall.
Prince Albert purchased the Lodge in 1849 and set it aside exclusively for his son, Prince Edward the Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VII.
After King George V inherited Balmoral, he lent Craigowan Lodge to his second son and his wife, the Duke, and Duchess of York (parents of Queen Elizabeth II). They enjoyed spending time there with their daughters.
On the death of King George VI, his wife, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, returned to Birkhall until she died in 2002.
In 2005, Prince Charles (now King Charles III) spent his honeymoon at Craigowan Lodge after marrying Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall.
Tam-na-Ghar is a modest three-bedroomed cottage in Birkhall used by the Prince and Princess of Wales.
The home is steeped in secrecy as there are no publicly accessible images of the building’s inside or outside.
Prince William inherited Tam-na-Ghar as a present from Elizabeth the Queen Mother and would often holiday there with Kate Middleton before they married.
What is the Balmoral Bridge?
The Balmoral Bridge crosses the River Dee from Balmoral to the village of Crathie and is the earliest plate-girder bridge in Scotland.
The building of the Balmoral Bridge occurred in 1857 under the guidance of Prince Albert, designed by notable engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
However, Queen Victoria did not like the completed plate girder structure because it lacked ornamentation and was said to be “not amused!”
Members of the royal family have regularly used the bridge to cross the Dee to church services at nearby Crathie Kirk since Queen Victoria’s reign.
How Big are the Grounds at Balmoral?
The castle stands on the Balmoral estate, located within the Cairngorms National Park, and covers a staggering 50,000 acres.
Initially, the estate had only 6350 acres.
The topography comprises mountains, forests, grouse moors, lochs, arable pastures, green areas, and formal gardens.
Balmoral is also a working estate active in wood production and farming, with managed herds of Highland cattle, ponies, and deer.
Grouse shooting and deer stalking all take place within the grounds.
The royal family enjoys participating in outdoor activities such as horse riding, hiking, hunting, fishing, picnicking, and barbecuing while at Balmoral.
The grounds have an abundance of wildlife, including grouse, deer, Scottish wild cats, golden eagles, and the endangered red squirrel.
Who Started the Gardens at Balmoral?
The gardens at Balmoral started under the supervision of Prince Albert and have been continually improved and expanded by successive members of the Royal Family.
Albert planted trees, including exotic conifers, and five miles of walks for his wife, Queen Victoria, to enjoy.
In 1923, Queen Mary, wife of King George V, added a flower garden to the south of Balmoral Castle, which included a sunken garden and a fountain featuring a capstan in the middle of it.
Prince Phillip was later a significant innovator in planting many trees and shrubs.
Phillip created a water garden, additional walking paths, and a sizeable and productive kitchen garden, which produces vegetables, fruits, flowers, and herbs.
The formal gardens, which also feature greenhouses and a conservatory, are spread over three acres and are where the royal family can relax on pleasant days.
A team of around eight gardeners look after the gardens, designed to be in full flower from August to October when the Royal Family is in residence.
What Memorials are at Balmoral Castle?
Eleven stone cairns stand at Balmoral Castle as memorials to members of the Royal Family, with the majority erected by Queen Victoria.
A year after Prince Albert’s death, Queen Victoria had a pyramid-shaped cairn erected at the top of Craig Lurachain, chosen for its fine views, in memory of the Prince Consort.
The cairn stands at a height of 35 feet, so, as Queen Victoria wrote in her journal, “it could be seen all down the valley.”
She also erected a bronze cast of Albert in 1867. A later statue of Queen Victoria was placed nearby, with them facing each other.
Victoria also erected a statue in 1883 of her Scottish personal attendant, John Brown.
However, her son King Edward VII, who disliked Brown, moved it to another site after the Queen’s death.
You can also see a life-sized statue of Queen Victoria’s dear and faithful dog, Noble, who died in 1887 aged 16 years.
Can You Visit Balmoral Castle?
You can visit Balmoral Castle from April to July each year when the Royal Family is not in residence.
However, despite being a popular tourist attraction, only the ballroom exhibition is open to tourists, displaying pictures of other rooms in the castle.
The admission price includes an audio tour that guides visitors around the formal and production gardens and exhibitions in the stable block.
Visitors can also enjoy way-marked walks, gift shops, and a spacious cafe and restaurant.
Historic Environment Scotland – Balmoral Castle
Balmoral Castle: National Architecture in a European Context