Thursday, 16 October 2014

Royal Residences: Balmoral Castle

Balmoral Castle in Royal Deeside in Aberdeenshire, Scotland has been a private residence of the British Royal family since 1852 when it was acquired by Albert, Prince Consort for his wife, Queen Victoria. The royal couple quickly fell in love with this beautiful part of Scotland, and the queen called it her "dear paradise in the Highlands", sparking a deep relationship between the Royal family and Balmoral which continues to this day.

Balmoral Castle pictured in the late 18th century. (Public Domain)

The Royal family had been spending time in Scotland since 1842, finding a great liking for both its people and its countryside in those years, but after a particularly rainy stay in the Highlands at Loch Laggan, they sought a location further east where the climate was gentler.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1854 (Roger Fenton - Public Domain)

On the suggestion of Queen Victoria's Physician-in-Ordinary, Sir James Clark, the Deeside area was selected as a suitable place, and on the advice of Lord Aberdeen the lease for Balmoral, by the River Dee, was signed in early 1848.

Balmoral was obtained with full furnishings and staff, sight unseen, but it was soon found to be too small for the family and their retinue when inspected, and so work was begun to build a house more suitable for a queen, her prince and their entourage.

In 1852, William Smith received the commission to create the new Balmoral Castle. Smith was Aberdeen City's Architect, and son of John Smith, who formerly held that position and designed modifications for the old castle at Balmoral in 1830.

Queen Victoria in her sitting room, circa 1850.

William Smith's designs for the castle, with some alterations suggested by Prince Albert, began realisation in the summer of 1853, and the foundation stone was laid by Queen Victoria in September of that year. It was decided the new castle would be constructed about a hundred yards north-west of the old one, where a better view of the area's beautiful landscape was afforded.

The castle with pine forests and the Cairngorms rising above. (© Nigel Corby - Creative Commons)

The castle was designed in the Scottish Baronial style, which was part of the Gothic Revival, and built from locally-quarried granite. The Gothic Revival had been gaining in popularity since the late 18th century and sought to revive architectural styles of the mediaeval period, which featured such elements as towers, turrets, battlements, finials and lancet windows.

Some of the Scottish Baronial style features in the castle's design, including turrets, finials, and battlements. (© Stuart Yeates - Creative Commons)

The newly-built castle, which contained three floors and some seventy rooms - most decorated in tartan and thistle designs representing Scotland - was ready for the Royal family's visit in autumn 1855, and by 1856 was completed, allowing for the demolition of the original castle. In 1857 esteemed engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel completed Crathie Bridge, which linked Balmoral to the village of Crathie, half a mile east across the River Dee. Crathie was home to many of the Balmoral estate's workers in subsequent years. Over a hundred members of staff were employed to run the house.

With Balmoral Castle finished, Prince Albert set about organising extensive modifications to the grounds and oversaw the construction of workers' cottages, a ball room, a dairy and a large driveway leading to the front. The estate was very large even then, at 7,000 hectares, and required much care and management, which the prince actively involved himself in. Today, the estate covers an area of 20,000 hectares and features large deer herds, forestry, moors for grouse shooting, and even Highland cattle and pony populations.

Prince Albert's sitting room in 1857, displaying the comfortable but not overly luxurious nature of life in the castle. Queen Victoria's Prime Minister Lord Salisbury was known to call Balmoral 'Siberia' as the rooms were often unheated despite the cold.

He also designed and organised the planting of new gardens. In 1847, the prince had been elected Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, where among other reforms he introduced the study of natural sciences, and in Balmoral he found a place to pursue his keen interest in nature.

Linn of the Dee (Lorraine Adams - Public Domain)

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert gave over many hours to outdoor pursuits including walking and hunting, with these being almost daily activities regardless of weather. Such was the royal couple's enthusiasm for these pursuits that many ghillies were in service at Balmoral. The queen and her prince enshrined the annual Ghillies' Ball as an essential tradition on the estate.

Queen Victoria and other members of the Royal family attend the annual Ghillies' Ball of 1868. The ball was sometimes held in a large tent outdoors, as seen in this picture.

On Sundays, the Royal family attended Crathie Kirk in the village of Crathie for Sunday services - a mile-and-a-half walk from the castle to the church. The current church was built between 1893 and and 1895 through private donations and money raised by the queen and other members of the Royal family. It replaced the previous which had fallen into disrepair. Since Queen Victoria every reigning British monarch has attended service there.

Crathie Kirk (© Alexander P Kapp - Creative Commons)

With the death of Prince Albert in 1861, Queen Victoria began a long period of mourning and spent increasing amounts of time at Balmoral, much to the unhappiness of her ministers who did not enjoy the long journeys north to meet with her. Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli complained that travelling six-hundred miles north to make decisions "doubles the labour" of government.

Prince Albert's memorial on the Balmoral estate. (Drow69 - Creative Commons)

After Queen Victoria, Balmoral continued as a holiday destination for members of the Royal family, with the monarch visiting in autumn, but few modifications were carried out. King George V added gardens during his reign and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh added a water garden in the 1950's.

Queen Elizabeth II at Balmoral with the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and Princess Anne.

Queen Elizabeth II continues the traditions laid down by Queen Victoria, visiting the castle with other members of the Royal family on a regular basis.

Prince Charles and the late Diana, Princess of Wales on honeymoon at Balmoral.

Balmoral Castle today, a class A listed building, signifying its national and international importance. (© Paasikivi - Creative Commons)

Balmoral Castle is, and will continue to be, not only a magnificent and striking example of architecture, but a testament to the relationship between the British Royal family and Scotland.

Friday, 10 October 2014

The Queen Meets Angelina Jolie at Buckingham Palace

It was an eventful day at Buckingham Palace as British royalty met Hollywood royalty when Her Majesty the Queen presented Angelina Jolie with the insignia of an Honorary Dame Grand Cross of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George.


The actress was awarded the honour in recognition of her campaigning against sexual violence in war zones. When the actress received the news she said, "To receive an honour related to foreign policy means a great deal to me, as it is what I wish to dedicate my working life to. Working on the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative and with survivors of rape is an honour in itself. I know that succeeding in our goals will take a lifetime and I am dedicated to it for all of mine."


Angelina looked incredibly honoured and humbled as she met the Queen. It's not often American citizens receive an honour from Britain and it is very much a testament to the impact Angelina has already had and hopes to continue having in the future.


A closer look at the insignia.



What does one wear to meet the Queen? Ms. Jolie got it just right in a conservative and elegant suit by British couture brand Ralph and Russo. The dove-grey, wool crepe peplum jacket featured a silk chiffon bow tie and a cinched belt teamed with a pencil skirt and matching heels. Choosing a British designer for the occasion was a lovely touch. Below we see the look from the Spring/Summer Collection.

Ralph and Russo

Afterwards, Her Majesty held a private audience with Angelina where she met her husband Brad Pitt and their children.

Confirmed: Princess Charlene is Expecting Twins; Who Will Succeed to the Throne?

In case you haven't heard, it's been officially announced Their Serene Highnesses Prince Albert and Princess Charlene of Monaco are expecting twins.

Palais Princier de Monaco

There's been rumours regarding this for months but the Palace took to social media to confirm the wonderful news.

Palais Princier de Monaco

Charlene appears to be sailing through her pregnancy and spoke exclusively to Hello! last week. "I feel absolutely great," she told the magazine in the US where the couple have been attending a string of high-profile charity events including the 2014 Princess Grace Awards Gala in Los Angeles.

Palais Princier de Monaco

Charlene looked lovely in a bespoke Dior gown. The flowing garment worked very well for the soon-to-be mum and she pulled it off with aplomb thanks to her statuesque frame. It's a nice departure from her usual choice of Akris pieces; as much as she loves the brand it's great to see her in a brand like Dior, who sponsored the event.

Palais Princier de Monaco

A closer look at Charlene's earrings.


For those wondering about succession (there's been quite a few misleading articles following the announcement Charlene is expecting twins) it's really very simple - if both babies are boys the first one to arrive will be the heir, if it's a boy and a girl, the boy will become heir, and if it's two girls, again the first one to arrive will succeed to the throne.


It must be a very exciting time in Monaco with preparations underway for the royal arrivals!

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Stylish Sophie in Stella McCartney for Evening of Engagements

It was a busy evening for the Countess of Wessex who was guest of honour at the 10th anniversary London Press Club Ball, which is raising funds for the Journalists Charity in its 150th year. The Countess already has quite a history with the charity, having opened its new care facility in 2007. Sophie's royal links are not the first, and in fact the enduring history goes back a century and a half to Queen Victoria's reign.


Afterwards, the Countess attended the Friendship Ball in aid of Great Ormond Street Hospital at the Natural History Museum.


The inaugural ball took place in 2012 and has been going from strength to strength since. The collaboration between the Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity and the Children's Medical and Research Foundation is one of the most important fundraising events of the year.


Great Ormond Street is truly remarkable, dealing with over 240,000 visits each year and helping patients diagnosed with the rarest and most complex conditions, while offering the widest range of paediatric services under one roof in Britain. Each year they face the incredible task of raising £50 million in order to continue providing these services. If you wish to find out more about fundraising possibilities or would like to donate, please click here.

Great Ormond Street Hospital

Sophie posed with singer Pixie Lott.


Sophie chose a striking burgundy dress by Stella McCartney for the event (with thanks to the wonderful HRH Countess of Wessex Blog). The long sleeved garment retails for £2,225 and features a round neck, long sheer sleeves, darts at the bodice and all-over embroidered floral lace.

Stella McCartney

More from the product description:

'Work the ladylike look in Stella McCartney's long-sleeved lace dress this season. Cast in a rich new-season palette in embroidered lace with flesh tone lining, the sophisticated look is completed with a simple round neckline and a scallop-edged hem.'

Sophie completed the look with nude heels and wore her hair tied back. Keeping her hair and accessories minimalistic allowed the dress to shine.


It's always a treat to see Sophie and I very much admire her choice of patronages and the selected organisations and charities she supports.

Spain's Royal Couple Attend Cervantes Institute Meeting at Royal Palace El Pardo

King Felipe VI and Queen Latizia of Spain today attended Royal Palace of El Pardo to talk with members of the Cervantes Institute during the group's annual meeting.


The Cervantes Institute is named after the famous Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, and strives to promote the study of the Spanish language and Spanish culture.


The institute is overseen by the board of trustees known as the Patronato, which includes the king of Spain and the prime minister among its members. Below we see Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in discussion with His Majesty at the meeting.


Queen Letizia looked professional in a Felipe Varela Jacket, burgundy dress and matching clutch and shoes. We very much liked this ensemble from the queen. Did you? :)

Luxembourg's Hereditary Grand Ducal Couple Visit Japan

Guillaume, Hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg and his wife Hereditary Grand Duchess Stéphanie visited Tokyo, Japan today to meet with fellow royalty, and government and business leaders.


Guillaume and Stéphanie were greeted by Crown Prince Naruhito at Akasaka Palace, formerly the residence of the Crown Prince and now the official accommodation for visiting dignitaries.

Yasu - Creative Commons

The Hereditary Grand Ducal Couple also met with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzō Abe.


The visit also included lunch with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, and a visit to the Meiji Shrine, which honours the late Emperor Meiji and his late wife Empress Shōken.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The King and Queen of Spain Attend University and Greet the President of Honduras

King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia of Spain attended the opening of university courses at Castilla-La Mancha University in Toledo on Tuesday, where they met with staff and faculty members.


During his speech, the King reiterated his belief in the power of higher education to help Spain through its difficult economic time, noting the university's "essential contribution to building a better Spain" and saying it "can count on the support of the Crown at all times". His Majesty added, "universities are a window of hope for younger generations and, therefore, for the future of our country."

Casa Real

The King and Queen also unveiled a plaque dedicated to the opening of the courses.

Casa Real

The royal couple finished the engagement by attending a lecture by the university's Professor Pedro Cesar titled "The Power of Literature" before signing the Book of Honour.

The Queen looked effortlessly stylish in a plum Felipe Varela dress.

On Wednesday, King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia held a reception for the President of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández, and his wife, Ana Rosalinda Garcia, at the Royal Palace in Madrid.


The President is currently undertaking an official visit to Spain where he is holding talks with Spanish government and business leaders and discussing business opportunities in Honduras, along with development plans for his country. It is hoped the visit will strengthen ties between the two countries and encourage Spanish investment for a logistics centre connecting Atlantic and Pacific trade.


Letizia was pretty in pink dress with a black belt.
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