Architecture, European History, Guest Posts

Balmoral Castle, Tourism, and Cultural Icons

Margot Maley–


Balmoral Castle

A few weeks ago, Queen Elizabeth began her summer holiday at Balmoral, the royal family’s Scottish estate. Located in the northeast of Scotland about an hour west of Aberdeen, Balmoral has been a privately-owned vacation residence for the royal family since Prince Albert purchased the property for Queen Victoria in 1852.

Taken by the rugged scenery of the highlands and the charm of its Scottish inhabitants, Victoria and Albert were fond of Balmoral and the surrounding area. It is also from Balmoral Castle that the term Balmorality stems. Coined by David C. Thompson in his 1932 book Scotland in Quest of its Youth, Balmorality describes a version of Scotland built of stereotypes – think tartan, bagpipes, haggis and heather – which became widespread during the Industrial Revolution. Because the harsh realities of technological advancement were unappealing, upper class Brits turned to an idyllic, pastoral version of Scotland as a symbol of a simpler time.

Through methods such as the ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe, which was common for young men to complete in the 18th century, Scotland and the cultural symbols we know it by today were popularized and disseminated. In some cases, such as in the isle of St. Kilda in the Hebrides, these aspects of culture were exaggerated for the sake of tourism. Sea bird hunting, which was a dangerous activity done on the shoreline cliffs of St. Kilda, was documented and circulated through souvenir postcards long after inhabitants of the island stopped this practice.


St. Kilda

Images of St. Kilda’s soaring cliffs, similarly to the rugged grandeur of Balmoral, were used to create a story about Scotland that wasn’t necessarily accurate. However, because it is so easy to latch onto icons like these, they become a part of the general public’s conception of Scotland as both a nation and identity. Subsequently, buildings like Balmoral have an importance in Scottish cultural history that cannot be ignored.

For more information on Scottish architecture from all periods of history, pick up any of the volumes in the superb Buildings of Scotland series.  Aberdeenshire: South and Aberdeen, compiled by Joseph Sharples, David W. Walker, and Matthew Woodworth,  surveys the architecture of the northeast council area of Aberdeenshire. Their text includes well-known buildings, such as the Balmoral Estate, as well as less familiar structures such as rural churches, mills, forts, and townhouses, and is a thorough investigation of the noteworthy structures that make up the architectural landscape of Aberdeenshire. Other recent books in the series include Aberdeenshire: North and Moray by David W. Walker and Matthew Woodworth, Ayrshire and Arran by Rob Close and Anne Riches, and Dundee and Angus by John Gifford.

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More books on Scottish art and artists:



The Arts and Crafts Movement in Scotland: A History by Annette Carruthers





Elizabeth Blackadder by Philip Long




The Architecture of the Scottish Medieval Church, 1100-1560 by Richard Fawcett




And for a full understanding of all things Scottish,

The Invention of Scotland: Myth and History by Hugh Trevor-Roper


Margot Maley is a senior Anthropology major and English minor with a concentration in Women and Gender Studies at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. A former publicity intern at Yale University Press, she currently works as a Kenyon Review Associate and as a writing consultant at the Kenyon College Writing Center. 

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