What Balmoral Castle meant to Queen Elizabeth II

It’s fitting that Queen Elizabeth II died at Balmoral Castle.

The 50,000-acre country estate in the Scottish Highlands had been a feature in the 96-year-old royal’s life since she was a child, and it was the one place where she could truly relax.

The castle, which was purchased by Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria, has been one of the residences of the British royal family since 1852. Balmoral was the private property of the Queen and not part of the Crown Estate.

It was a place where the Queen indulged in outdoor pursuits like horseback riding and going for brisk walks.

Princess Eugenie confirmed her grandmother’s deep love of the abode several years ago.

Speaking in the documentary “Our Queen at Ninety,” Eugenie said, “I think Granny is the most happy there.

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

Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) seated between her grandfather King George V (1865-1936) and grandmother Queen Mary of Teck (1867-1953) as they ride in a carriage back to Balmoral Castle from Crathie Kirk near Braemar in Scotland in 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 countrywoman,” according to “Elizabeth the Queen” author Sally Bedell Smith.

It was also a place where the Queen entertained, filling the castle with friends and relatives and where she would greet 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. Household staff was absent, allowing the royal couple to take over.

The Queen would always set the outdoor table — and “she [had] to have it absolutely right,” noted frequent guest Anne Glenconner — while Philip was in charge of the grill. After everyone ate, the Queen would stack up the plates, don rubber gloves and wash up the dishes.

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

Life in the Highlands offered the Queen a slice of normality, as she would play card games in the evening or catch up on reading for pleasure.

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

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

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

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