What Balmoral Castle Meant to Queen Elizabeth II

It is fitting that Queen Elizabeth II died in Balmoral Castle.

The 50,000-acre estate in the Scottish Highlands has been a hallmark of the 96-year-old royal family’s life since she was a child, and it was the only place she could truly relax.

Purchased by Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, the castle has been one of the residences of the British Royal Family since 1852. Balmoral was privately owned by the Queen and not part of the Crown Estate.

It was a place where the Queen indulged in outdoor pursuits such as horseback riding and brisk walks.

Princess Eugenie confirmed her grandmother’s deep love for the home a few years ago.

Speaking in the documentary ‘Our Queen at Ninety’, Eugenie said, ‘I think Grandma is happiest there.

“I think she really, really likes the Highlands.”

Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) sitting between her grandfather King George V (1865-1936) and grandmother Queen Mary van Teck (1867-1953) as they ride in a carriage back to Balmoral Castle from Crathie Kirk near Braemar in Scotland in August August 1935.
The Queen has been visiting Balmoral since she was a child.
Hulton Archive

Malcolm Ross, a senior member of the Queen’s household, once said, “At Balmoral she knows every inch. She can enjoy being a country woman,” said Sally Bedell Smith, author of Elizabeth the Queen.

It was also a place where the Queen entertained herself, filling the castle with friends and relatives, and greeting guests at the side door.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip
The Queen and Prince Philip loved to entertain at Balmoral Castle.
Getty Images

The Scottish estate is also where the Queen and her late husband, Prince Philip, indulged in their love of picnics. Housekeeping staff were absent, allowing the royal couple to take over.

The Queen always set the outside table – and “she” [had] to get it all right,” commented frequent guest Anne Glenconner – while Philip was in charge of the grill. After everyone had eaten, the queen piled up the plates, donned rubber gloves, and washed the dishes.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip with their children Prince Andrew, Princess Anne and Prince Charles.
The castle has been in the possession of the royal family since 1852.
Bettmann Archive

Life in the Highlands offered the Queen a slice of normalcy, as she would play card games or read for pleasure in the evenings.

Bedell Smith wrote that Her Majesty could often be seen in the nearby village of Ballater, queuing at the local shops.

It was in Balmoral that the royal family, including Prince William and Prince Harry, learned of Princess Diana’s death on August 31, 1997. The Queen did indeed give shelter to the boys there, believing it was best for them to stay in the “calm haven”. instead of immediately returning to London after the loss of their beloved mother.

“You can go for miles and never see anyone,” the Queen once said of her beloved home, according to Bedell Smith. “There are endless possibilities.”

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