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Queen Victoria's Scotland: interview with Dr Lucy Worsley


Nowadays we’re used to the idea of the royal family holidaying in Scotland, but in the mid 19th century, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert broke with convention when Albert commissioned a holiday home at Balmoral. In this exclusive extract, Dr Lucy Worsley explains the appeal Scotland held for the Victorian royals.

Do you think Victoria was able to be a different wife, mother and widow in Scotland rather than in her more formal life in London?

Yes! Very much so! Her family and household commented on how relaxed, easily pleased, and happy she was in Scotland. She’d been obsessed with Scotland from her teens, when Sir Walter Scott’s had been the first novels she’d been allowed to read (novels, of course, being possibly dangerous to a young girl’s morals.) She loved his The Bride of Lammermoor, a desperately dramatic and romantic story. In it, for example, a fearsome Scottish lord feasts on the human flesh of his tenants, shocking observers when he throws back ‘the tartan plaid with which he had screened his grim and ferocious visage.’ Victoria got herself a tartan velvet dress to match, which she loved so much that she was probably wearing it on the day she first set eyes on Albert, her future beloved. 

He meanwhile had been devouring Scott’s novels in his native Germany, and it was one of the things they had in common. Pretty soon after getting married, they set off to see for themselves this romantic and dramatic country they’d read so much about, and it was everything they expected. Being typical tourists, they liked the picturesque history, and the beautiful landscape, and they had the dreamy idea that Scottish people were somehow simpler, more straightforward, than the English.

They showed their love for Scotland by renting then buying their Highland estate at Balmoral, and there they would spend all day outside. Albert loved stalking, Victoria riding her pony, or paying unexpected visits to local villagers. She also bagpipe music, dancing reels, and drinking whiskey. They only had one policemen to guard them at Balmoral and it was all very low key. Albert’s new-built castle there was entirely designed as a holiday home and the government ministers who were forced to go with them hated it because it was dreadfully cold, and there was no nowhere for them to work on their correspondence except in their own chilly bedrooms. That, to Victoria and Albert, was the point! One of Victoria’s ladies in waiting was highly aware of the queen’s ‘passionate admiration for the Highlands. Leaving them is always a case of actual red eyes.’

Read more of the interview and follow our Victoria travel trail in Celebrate Scotland: download now!

Lucy Worsley

Dr Lucy Worsley is the author of Queen Victoria: Daughter, Wife, Mother Widow, published by Hodder & Stoughton. Find out more here.

(Lucy Worsley image copyright Historic Royal Palaces)

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