Queen Victoria was the first monarch to live at Buckingham Palace. When she came to the throne in 1837 it was in many ways still incomplete. In 1825 her uncle, George IV, had commissioned the architect John Nash to develop the former Buckingham House, but, after the King's death in 1830, the government put an end to the work.
After the Queen’s accession, work was carried out to install kitchens and domestic quarters and furnishings were brought from Windsor Castle, and from the King’s London residence, Carlton House, which had been demolished in 1827. Nash’s scheme for Buckingham Palace had included bright scagliola panels and columns, but much of the work had deteriorated. In 1844, Prince Albert and his Adviser in Art, Ludwig Gruner, set about renovating these features. Today, the original schemes are known only through contemporary watercolours by artists such as Eugène Lami.
In 1845, with a growing family, Queen Victoria approached the Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel for help to enlarge the Palace. Proposals for a further wing across the open East side of the Palace forecourt were approved in April 1846. The new wing would include many new features, including a new Ballroom. The New Ballroom and its adjacent rooms were designed by Sir James Pennethorne. One of the royal couple’s finest achievements, the vast new space of the Ballroom blended perfectly with the existing State Rooms, with identical mirrored and glazed doors. The project was Prince Albert’s final project with Gruner, who returned to Germany in 1856.
The Ballroom’s decorative scheme celebrated Prince Albert and Gruner’s shared enthusiasm for the works of Raphael. Silk hangings covered the lower parts of the wall, while a lunette based on the Italian artist’s Parnassus took pride of place above the dais. Ten enormous gilt-bronze torchères and two chandeliers were made by Ferdinand Barbedienne in France and delivered to the Ballroom just in time for the Inaugural Ball on 9 May 1856.
Windsor Castle was a favourite residence of Queen Victoria, perhaps. The couple met for the second time at Windsor, when the Prince returned to Britain in 1839 with the purpose of receiving the Queen’s proposal of marriage. They spent a month at the Castle, getting to know one another before news of their engagement was made public.
Windsor had been extensively refurbished by George IV in the years just before his death in 1830, so very little needed to be done during Queen Victoria’s reign. The royal mews and riding school were completed, and a new private chapel was added to the State Apartments.
Numerous artists and sculptors, including Edwin Landseer and Franz Xaver Winterhalter were received at Windsor throughout the 21 years of the couple’s married life. Prince Albert reorganised the Royal Library and created the Print Room, classifying and re-ordering its contents and assembling a collection of reproductions of the works of Raphael. The Castle was used for many musical and theatrical entertainments by both visiting artists and musicians, and the royal children.
In 1858 Prince Albert commissioned new dairy buildings in the Home Park to replace the 18th-century facilities. John Turnbull, Clerk of Works at Windsor, was responsible for the design of the building, and the interior was planned and executed by John Thomas. The also complex included a creamery in the most up-to-date and scientific fashion.
Prince Albert died at Windsor Castle in 1861. The Queen employed the architect A.J. Humbert to construct a richly decorated mausoleum in the grounds of Frogmore House. As a more public memorial, she renamed the Wolsey Chapel in the Castle’s Lower Ward the Albert Memorial Chapel, where an effigy of the Prince was installed.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert paid their first visit to Scotland in 1842, travelling to Perth, Stirling and Edinburgh. This visit engendered a deep love of the country – the Prince wrote to his grandmother, ‘Scotland has made a highly favourable impression on us both’ – and led to the purchase of Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire as a Highland holiday home.
The royal couple undertook a major renovation of the Palace of Holyroodhouse, which had been neglected in the 18th and early 19th centuries. The Palace was seen as a strategically placed stop on the long journey north to Balmoral and during Queen Victoria’s reign it was gradually reinstated as Scotland’s foremost royal residence. In the 1850s the spectacular plasterwork ceilings in the Royal Apartments were cleaned and repainted in rich colours. The scheme by the decorator David Ramsay Hay was short lived, but was captured in a series of watercolours by the Scottish artist George Greig.
Balmoral Castle was first leased by Prince Albert in 1848 and subsequently purchased in November 1851. The 15th-century house was soon regarded as inadequate and was replaced by an entirely new, larger building. Prince Albert helped with the design, and Queen Victoria wrote proudly, ‘all has become my dearest Albert’s own creation, own work, own building, own laying out’.
The interiors of Balmoral were given a strong Scottish flavour. The carpets, curtains and upholstery were in a range of tartans, including ‘Hunting Stuart’ and ‘Balmoral’, designed by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Wallpaper incorporated patterns of thistle and heather, and the walls were hung with drawings by Edwin Landseer and prints of his paintings, mostly Highland scenes. In the Drawing Room there was a remarkable set of 12 candelabra in the form of Highlander figures holding deerstalking trophies, a collaboration between two British manufacturers, Minton and Winfield. Furniture was made by the London firm of Holland & Sons to simple but high-quality designs, mostly in light woods, such as satin birch or pine. Pieces for the most important rooms were embellished with silvered mounts, decorated with the royal couple’s ciphers or Scottish symbols.
Every year the Queen and the Prince travelled north for their autumn Highland holiday, enjoying the home of their own making and the freedom they found there. Prince Albert made his final visit to Balmoral in 1861, just months before he died. The Queen continued the tradition of the annual Highland stay following Prince Albert’s death, making her last visit to the Castle in 1900.
In 1843 Queen Victoria and Prince Albert decided that Brighton Pavilion no longer afforded them the privacy they required. With a growing young family, they wanted to retreat from London to a more comfortable home.
The Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, was charged with finding a suitable place and enquired on the Queen’s behalf about two houses on the Isle of Wight – Norris Castle and Osborne House. Prince Albert visited Osborne in 1844 and was struck by its potential as a family home. The Queen bought the house the following year.
Osborne remains the single most important example of the shared tastes of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The Queen valued it for its privacy and, for Prince Albert, it allowed him to act without interference from the government.
At Osborne, Prince Albert largely acted as his own architect. The Solent reminded him of the Bay of Naples and inspired his plans to construct a new Italianate villa, surrounded by terraced gardens. The Pavilion was built first, and the family moved in during 1846.
The new Osborne House was intended for a family home, but it was also designed to display art. Here the Prince displayed works such as Christian Daniel Rauch’s Victory (c.1851) and a version of John Gibson’s statue of Queen Victoria. In 1847 the Prince’s Dressing Room was hung with two dozen early-Italian paintings. The adjoining Queen’s Sitting Room was dominated by Winterhalter’s Florinda and surrounded by works by other contemporary artists. A significant number of the works of art at Osborne also represented the life the Queen and Prince Albert enjoyed in Scotland.
The royal family established a pattern of visiting Osborne in March, May, part of July and August and late November and early December. Following Prince Albert’s death in December 1861, the Queen retreated to Osborne for three months. She stayed at Osborne for Christmas and for almost every anniversary of her wedding for the rest of her life. Queen Victoria died at Osborne House on 22 January 1901, aged 81.