Angharad Moran explores Britain’s historic royal residences
Located in the heart of London, Buckingham Palace has served as the official residence of the monarchy since 1837. The palace’s staggering collection of 775 rooms act as the administrative office for the monarchy as well as the royal family’s personal home. Countless significant family occasions and those of national importance have taken place within the palace walls. Prince Charles and Prince William were both christened in the palace’s music room by the Archbishop of Canterbury, while the Throne Room is where the Queen conducts royal addresses. Together with other members of the royal family, the Queen entertains a huge number of guests at the palace each year, with more than 50,000 people visiting for official banquets, receptions and garden parties. The palace’s gardens and 19 state rooms are also open to the general public each year while the Queen is at Balmoral or Holyroodhouse in Scotland. The annual summer opening gives the public a rare opportunity to view some of the amazing artefacts in the palace’s Royal Collection.
Covering 26 acres, the castle makes for a grand centrepiece as it overlooks the peaceful Berkshire town of Windsor. It is both the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world and continues to be a favourite weekend retreat with the Queen and royal family, as well as being used to hold state visits. The Queen takes up residence here for a month each Easter, known as Easter Court, when she often entertains guests such as politicians and public figures. She also returns for a week each June to attend the Order of the Garter service as well as the nearby Royal Ascot race meeting. Although the castle is regularly inhabited by royalty, much of it is open to the public and it is a hugely popular attraction. Tourists flock to view its sumptuous interiors, learn more about its history and to visit the State Apartments, Queen Mary’s exquisite doll’s house, St George’s Chapel and the castle’s drawings gallery.
Palace of Holyroodhouse
This grand palace, situated at the end of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile and with the vast, green expanse of Holyrood Park rising behind it, has been the official royal residence in Scotland for centuries. The palace served as the home of Mary Queen of Scots in the 1560s and was also briefly the headquarters of Bonnie Prince Charlie during the 1745 uprising. Today, the property hosts a number of state ceremonies and entertainments put on by the royal family. King George V and Queen Mary started the tradition of hosting a grand garden party in the palace grounds, which carries on to this day. Each year, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh welcome around 8,000 guests during Holyrood Week, around the end of June and the beginning of July, when Her Majesty carries out a range of official duties in Scotland.
The palace is strongly linked with members of the current royal family as well as Queen Victoria, who was born at the palace in 1819 and helped save the palace’s state rooms from demolition, opening them to the public as an exhibition space on 24 May 1899 – her 80th birthday. Kensington Palace is also home to a collection of the Queen’s dresses, covering every decade of Her Majesty’s reign and including glittering evening gowns alongside an archive of drawings and photographs that capture the Queen’s tastes and styles.
Looking at the glorious expanse of stunning scenery that surrounds Balmoral Castle, it’s not hard to see why Queen Victoria was so set on buying the estate in 1848, describing it as “my dear paradise in the Highlands”. The fairytale castle, which is viewable today, was commissioned by Prince Albert, who employed William Smith, the City Architect of Aberdeen, in 1852 to create a new, larger castle on the estate, suitable for the royal family. The estate itself covers around 50,000 acres, including ancient woodland and sweeping hills swathed in heather. Balmoral has remained a popular Scottish retreat for the royal family, with the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales taking a close interest in running the estate as well as continuing to make improvements to it.