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If It’s May, This Must Be Balmoral

Queen Victoria, footloose and fancy-free? Really?

Well, yes. As Queen of the United Kingdom, Victoria either had use of or personally owned dozens of houses and palaces. While the official home of the kings and queens of the UK is Windsor Castle, Victoria spent her childhood at the royal palace of Kensington and the early years of her reign at Buckingham Palace, both in London. Wanting a summer getaway home for her growing family, she purchased an 1100-acre estate on the Isle of Wight, where she and Prince Albert built Osborne House (that’s it at above right). But Osborne wasn’t the real getaway she’d hoped it would be, so she later purchased a large estate in the Scottish Highlands named Balmoral.

So what did QV do with all these houses?

Amazingly, she lived in them, traveling from house to house several times over the course of the year, much to the dismay of her servants and staff.

Here’s how it generally went: Christmas and New Year’s were spent at Osborne; some time in January she would usually return to Windsor (shown at left) and remain there for February. March and April could be spent at Windsor or abroad, in Italy, Switzerland, Germany, or the south of France (the Queen liked to travel “incognito”, calling herself the Countess of Balmoral). Mid May generally saw a quick month-long jaunt to Balmoral, then back down to Windsor or Buckingham Palace if necessary for receiving debutantes at Drawing Rooms during the Season. Mid July saw her back to Osborne for the yachting season at Cowes, then late August sent her to Balmoral till mid-November for the shooting season. Mid-November meant a return to Windsor, then back to Osborne for Christmas and the start of the cycle once more.

Phew! If I’m exhausted just writing this, just imagine how her children, household and servants felt! The queen did not travel lightly; entire trains were required to ferry her and her household and luggage about the countryside. And even up in the remote Scottish Highlands at Balmoral (shown at left), she was still queen: a member of the cabinet always had to accompany her as a representative of the government (they squabbled endlessly about whose turn it was, as few enjoyed the Queen’s frigid Scottish home); in addition, the prime minister in office frequently journeyed the roughly 500 miles to consult with her as well. In addition, the special red dispatch boxes containing reports and documents requiring her consideration were sent up daily from London.


1 thought on “If It’s May, This Must Be Balmoral”

  1. Whereas the constant retreat of the Spain’s Bourbon monarchs, the Escorial, was only 26 miles from Madrid. Not that those monarchs bothered with monarching, whether there or Madrid or elsewhere. Their servants did that for them. They hunted. Fun fact — Goya was a frequently chosen hunting companion by both Charles III and IV — though his hearing faded, evidently his eyesight and shooting skill remained extremely sharp all his life.

    Camp David seems a far more comfy ‘wilderness’ retreat than Balmoral, or the Escorial.

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