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Victoria’s great palaces: 5 of the queen’s grandest and most significant homes

Victoria Arbiter and Paul Bloomfield explore five of the monarch's most significant homes, from her childhood home at Kensington Palace to the island retreat created by her beloved husband, Prince Albert…

The marble statue of Queen Victoria at Kensington Palace, designed by her daughter Princess Louise in 1893. (Image by Alamy)
Published: May 4, 2019 at 9:05 am
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Kensington Palace

Victoria’s childhood home


In 1689, newly crowned monarchs William III and Mary II chose Nottingham House as a new retreat close to, but pleasantly removed from, urban London. It was rapidly redeveloped into Kensington Palace, and the royal couple were installed in December that year. The palace was enlarged during the reign of George I; his successor’s wife, Queen Caroline of Ansbach, shaped the design of the gardens.

George III disliked the palace, but granted apartments to royal family members including Edward, Duke of Kent, whose wife Victoire gave birth to the future Queen Victoria here in 1819. Kept largely secluded in the palace by her mother, Victoria was still living here in 1837 when her uncle King William IV died and she ascended the throne.

Victoria departed to live in Buckingham Palace shortly after her accession, but two of her daughters later lived here: the youngest, Beatrice, and Louise, a talented sculptor who created the statue of Victoria at the West Front. The palace has since been home to a number of royal families, including the current Prince of Wales, Diana and their sons William and Harry.

Plan a visit to Kensington Palace with Hampton Court Palace


Buckingham Palace

A capital idea

King George III bought Buckingham House, as it was then known, for his wife Queen Charlotte in 1761 as a family home. But it was his son George IV who commissioned architect John Nash to transform it into a grand palace in the 1820s. Queen Victoria moved into the palace in 1837, becoming the first British monarch to use it as their official London residence. The balcony has become famous as the focus of celebrations including royal weddings and jubilees; it was Victoria who first used it to make a public appearance in 1851 during the opening of the Great Exhibition, in nearby Hyde Park, co-organised by Prince Albert.

Plan a visit to Buckingham Palace

Queen Victoria's private sitting room in Buckingham Palace, c1870–1900. (Photo by English Heritage/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
Queen Victoria's private sitting room in Buckingham Palace, c1870–1900. (Photo by English Heritage/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Windsor Castle

The honeymooners’ hideout

Construction of the world’s oldest and largest occupied castle was begun by William the Conqueror in 1070. Over the following nine and a half centuries it has been home to 40 British sovereigns.

Describing it as “prison-like”, Victoria preferred to light the castle with candles rather than newfangled electrical lighting, and famously kept it cold and draughty. Nonetheless, it was a favoured family home – indeed,
Victoria and Albert spent their
honeymoon here. In 1861, Albert succumbed to illness, possibly typhoid, in the Blue Room (also called the Albert Room). He was buried in a mausoleum at Frogmore Estate in Windsor Home Park, near the castle.

There are many reminders of Victoria’s time in Windsor, including the imposing statue on Castle Hill commemorating her golden jubilee, and the marble statue in the castle’s vestibule depicting the queen with her favourite collie, Sharp – one of no fewer than 88 dogs she had during her lifetime.

Plan a visit to Windsor Castle



Island hideaway

Victoria and Albert bought the Osborne estate on the Isle of Wight in 1845, demolishing the existing house and replacing it with a grand Italianate ‘palazzo’ built under Albert’s supervision. The Pavilion provided a royal retreat for Victoria, Albert and their growing family. Further additions were made after Albert’s death in 1861, most notably the richly decorated Durbar Wing, inspired by Indian style; the Durbar Room, with its extravagant peacock overmantel, was designed by Lockwood Kipling, father of the poet and author Rudyard.

Plan a visit to Osborne


Balmoral Castle

Scottish retreat

Balmoral Castle, designed by Scottish architect William Smith was built of local granite from 1853. (Image by Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images Plus)
Balmoral Castle, designed by Scottish architect William Smith was built of local granite from 1853. (Image by Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images Plus)

Victoria and Albert bought the Balmoral estate by the river Dee in Aberdeenshire in 1852, and the following year began building a grand Scottish baronial castle to replace the smaller existing building, landscaping the grounds and adding a model farm. After Albert’s death, Victoria spent increasing periods at Balmoral, often staying at Glas-allt-Shiel lodge, her “widow’s house”; here, a close relationship with ghillie John Brown burgeoned till his own death in 1883. Subsequently, her later favourite Abdul Karim also stayed with her at the lodge. The current Queen, Prince Philip and the Prince of Wales often stay at Balmoral, with the Duke of Edinburgh in particular taking a keen interest in the running of the estate and gardens.

Plan a visit to Balmoral


This article first appeared in the Victoria Collector's Edition, from the makers of BBC History Magazine


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