It was in Balmoral Castle that the husband and wife most loved to be with their children. Here they could lead a simple life free from all restraints, "small house, small rooms, small establishment. . . . There are no soldiers, and the whole guard of the Sovereign consists of a single policeman, who walks about the grounds to keep off impertinent intruders and improper characters. . . . The Prince shoots every morning, returns to luncheon, and then they walk or drive. The Queen is running in and out of the house all day long, and often goes about alone, walks into the cottages, and chats with the old women."
The Queen loved her life here even more than the Prince, and every year she yearned for it more and more. "It is not alone the pure air, the quiet and beautiful scenery, which makes it so delightful," she wrote; "it is the atmosphere of loving affection, and the hearty attachment of the people around Balmoral which warms the heart and does one good."
It was during the year 1848 that the royal couple paid their first visit to Balmoral. The Queen had long wished to possess a home of her own in the Highlands where her husband could indulge in some outdoor sport, and where they both could enjoy a brief rest, from time to time, from the anxiety and care of State affairs.
Their life there during the years 1848-61 is described by the Queen in her diary, Leaves from the Journal of our Life in the Highlands. It was first published after the Prince's death and was dedicated to him in the words: "To the dear memory of him who made the life of the writer bright and happy, these simple records are lovingly and gratefully inscribed."
The first impressions were very favourable: "It is a pretty little castle in the old Scottish style. There is a picturesque tower and garden in front, with a high wooded hill; at the back there is wood down to the Dee; and the hills rise all around."
Their household was, naturally, a small one, consisting of the Queen's Maid of Honour, the Prince's valet, a cook, a footman, and two maids. Among the outdoor attendants was John Brown, who in 1858 was attached to the Queen as one of her regular attendants everywhere in the Highlands, and remained in her service until his death. "He has all the independence and elevated feelings peculiar to the Highland race, and is singularly straightforward, simple-minded, kind-hearted and disinterested; always ready to oblige; and of a discretion rarely to be met with."
The old castle soon proved to be too small for the family, and in September 1853 the foundation-stone of a new house was laid. After the ceremony the workmen were entertained at dinner, which was followed by Highland games and dancing in the ballroom.
Two years later they entered the new castle, which the Queen described as "charming; the rooms delightful; the furniture, papers, everything perfection."
The Prince was untiring in planning improvements, and in 1856 the Queen wrote: "Every year my heart becomes more fixed in this dear Paradise, and so much more so now, that all has become my dearest Albert's own creation, own work, own building, own laying out as at Osborne; and his great taste, and the impress of his dear hand, have been stamped everywhere. He was very busy today, settling and arranging many things for next year."
Visits to the cottages of the old people on the estate and in the neighbourhood were a constant source of delight and pleasure to the Queen, and often when the Prince was away for the day shooting, she would pay a round of calls, taking with her little presents. The old ladies especially loved a talk with their Queen. "The affection of these good people, who are so hearty and so happy to see you, taking interest in everything, is very touching and gratifying," she remarked upon them. "We were always in the habit of conversing with the Highlanders—with whom one comes so much in contact in the Highlands. The Prince highly appreciated the good breeding, simplicity, and intelligence, which make it so pleasant, and even instructive to talk to them."
In September 1855, soon after moving into the new castle, the news arrived of the fall of Sebastopol, and this was taken as an omen of good luck. The Prince and his suite sallied forth, followed by all the population, to the cairn above Balmoral, and here, amid general cheering, a large bonfire was lit. The pipes played wildly, the people danced and shouted, guns and squibs were fired off, and it was not until close upon midnight that the festivities came to an end.
During the same month the Princess Royal became engaged to Prince Frederick William of Prussia, who was then visiting Balmoral. Acting on the Queen's advice, Prince Frederick did not postpone his good fortune until a later date, as he had at first intended, but during a ride up Craig-na-Ban, he picked a piece of white heather (the emblem of 'good luck') and offered it to the young Princess, and this gave him an opportunity of declaring his love.
These extracts, printed from the Queen's Journals, were intended at first for presentation only to members of the Royal Family and Her Majesty's intimate friends, especially to those who had accompanied her during her tours. It was, however, suggested to the Queen that her people would take even as keen an interest in these simple records of family life, especially as they had already shown sincere and ready sympathy with her personal joys and sorrows.
"The book," its editor says, "is mainly confined to the natural expressions of a mind rejoicing in the beauties of nature, and throwing itself, with a delight rendered keener by the rarity of its opportunities, into the enjoyment of a life removed, for the moment, from the pressure of public cares."
It is of particular interest because here the Queen records from day to day her thoughts and her impressions in the simplest language; here she can be seen less as a queen than as a wife and mother. Her interest in her whole household and in all those immediately around her is evident on almost every page. To quote again: "She is, indeed, the Mother of her People, taking the deepest interest in all that concerns them, without respect of persons, from the highest to the lowest."
As a picture of the Royal Court in those days this is exceedingly valuable, for it shows what an example the Queen and her husband were setting to the whole nation in the simple life they led in their Highland home.
That the old people especially loved her can be seen from the greetings and blessings she received in the cottages she used to visit. "May the Lord attend ye with mirth and with joy; may He ever be with ye in this world, and when ye leave it."
Queen Victoria in the Highlands
The Queen was never weary of the beauties of the Highlands, and quotes the following lines from a poem by Arthur Hugh Clough to describe 'God's glorious works':
The gorgeous bright October,
Then when brackens are changed, and heather blooms are faded,
And amid russet of heather and fern, green trees are bonnie;
Alders are green, and oaks; the rowan scarlet and yellow;
One great glory of broad gold pieces appears the aspen,
And the jewels of gold that were hung in the hair of the birch tree;
Pendulous, here and there, her coronet, necklace, and earrings,
Cover her now, o'er and o'er; she is weary and scatters them from her.
In the year 1883 the Queen published More Leaves from the Journal, and dedicated it "To my loyal Highlanders, and especially to the memory of my devoted personal attendant and faithful friend, John Brown." They are records of her life in Scotland during the years 1862 to 1882.
In the August of 1862 a huge cairn, thirty-five feet high, was erected to the memory of the Prince Consort. It was set on the summit of Craig Lowrigan, where it could be seen all down the valley.
A short extract will serve as a specimen of the Queen's style of writing:
"At a quarter to twelve I drove off with Louise and Leopold in the waggonette up to near the 'Bush' (the residence of William Brown, the farmer) to see them 'juice the sheep.' This is a practice pursued all over the Highlands before the sheep are sent down to the low country for the winter. It is done to preserve the wool. Not far from the burnside, where there are a few hillocks, was a pen in which the sheep were placed, and then, just outside it, a large sort of trough filled with liquid tobacco and soap, and into this the sheep were dipped one after the other; one man took the sheep one by one out of the pen and turned them on their backs; and then William and he, holding them by their legs, dipped them well in, after which they were let into another pen into which this trough opened, and here they had to remain to dry. To the left, a little lower down, was a cauldron boiling over a fire and containing the tobacco with water and soap; this was then emptied into a tub, from which it was transferred into the trough. A very rosy-faced lassie, with a plaid over her head, was superintending this part of the work, and helped to fetch the water from the burn, while children and many collie dogs were grouped about, and several men and shepherds were helping. It was a very curious and picturesque sight."