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