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The Royal palace.
The Royal palace.
Buckingham Palace
King George III bought Buckingham house in 1761 for his wife Queen Charlotte to use as a comfortable family home close to St. James' Palace, where many court functions were held. George IV, with the assistance of his architect John Nash set about transforming the house into a palace. Nash retained the main block, but doubled its size, the external style reflecting the French neo-classical influence favored by the King. The remodelled rooms remain virtually unchanged since Nash's time. The north and south wings of Buckingham House were demolished and rebuilt on a larger scale with a triumphal arch -- the Marble Arch -- as the centerpiece of an enlarged courtyard, to commemorate the British victories at Trafalgar and Waterloo.

Queen Victoria was the first monarch to take up residence in July 1837, just three weeks after her accession, and in June 1838, she was the first British sovereign to leave from Buckingham Palace for a coronation. Her marriage to Prince Albert in 1840 soon illustrated the Palace's shortcomings. A serious problem for the newly married couple was the absence of any nurseries and too few bedrooms for visitors. The only solution was to move Marble Arch -- it now stands at the northeast corner of Hyde Park -- and build a forth wing, thereby creating a quadrangle.

Blore, the architect in charge, created the east front and, thanks largely to his builder, William Cubitt, the costs were reduced from 150,000 to 106,000. The work was completed in 1847. By the turn of the century, the soft French stone used in Blore's east front required replacing, largely due to London's notorious soot. The present forecourt of the palace, where changing the guard takes place, was formed in 1911, as part of the Victoria memorial scheme.

Balmoral Castle
Built in the 15th Century, Balmoral castle was purchased for Queen Victoria by Prince Albert in 1852. Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone of the new building on 28th September 1853. The castle was built from granite from the neighboring quarries of Glen Gelder, which produce a near white stone. The original castle was demolished and a plaque on the front lawn marks the position of the front door of the old castle. The building was finally completed in 1856.

After Albert's death in 1861 (aged 42), Queen Victoria increasingly spent more of her time at Balmoral, famously befriending her gillie John Brown. When Queen Victoria died in 1901, Balmoral Estates passed, under the terms of her will, to King Edward VII, and from him to each of his successors.

Improvements continue to this day, notably by the current Duke of Edinburgh, who has enlarged the flower and vegetable garden, and created the water garden. Originally consisting of over 11,000 acres, over the years further land has been acquired, bringing the total to around 50,000 acres. As most of the land is mountainous, at present only about 450 acres are farmed.

The estate houses many important species of plants and animals, and is monitored closely by the ITE (Institute for Terrestrial Ecology). The 2,500-acre Ballochbuie forest, originally purchased by Queen Victoria in 1878 to save it from a timber merchant, contains one of the largest remnants of Caledonian Pine forest left in the country. Twenty-five years ago, a small area known as the "tennis court" was enclosed in a regeneration trial suggested by the Duke of Edinburgh. In 1979, when the success of the experiment became clear, a further 50 acres was enclosed, and in 1992, a further 750 acres. In addition to this, nearly 5,000 acres of the estate have been planted with trees, providing shelter for red deer.

Osborne House
For Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Osborne House was a haven of tranquillity, far from the formality of court life at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. When they bought the building in 1845, it was a relatively small Georgian house. It was modified to accommodate the regent by Thomas Cubitt (see Buckingham Palace), who redesigned it in an Italianate style, contrary to the more common gothic style of the time. The gardens too were styled similarly by both Cubitt and Prince Albert. The completion of Osborne in 1851 coincided with the Great Exhibition, Prince Albert's greatest achievement, held in the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park.

The young royal couple, with their many children, embodied the family ideal and helped restore respect for the monarchy after the low esteem in which it was held under George IV and William IV. Although of necessity State affairs took place at Osborne, it was essentially a family holiday home. Shortly after her death, Edward VII gave Osborne House to the nation, one of the most evocative memorials to Britain's longest reigning monarch.

Windsor Castle
Originally, Windsor was a village on the edge of a forest that was visited from time to time by Saxon kings, who used the nearby woods to hunt. William the Conqueror chose Windsor as his home because of the forest and its closeness to water. Also, it was close enough to London to ensure safe control. By 1272, the castle at Windsor had taken the shape that it is known for today (as it's remained for 700 years), a castle on a hill, a round tower on a mound, two wards with walls and towers round them, all for power and prestige.

By the time of Victoria, Windsor had become a symbol for the Empire, and was used as such. State visits were held there. It was a mix of regal and private family life. Victoria lived there on and off for 64 years, longer than any other monarch. It was in the Private Apartments that she first laid eyes on Albert when he was at Windsor in 1839, and it was in the same apartments that he died on December 14, 1861, in the room where George IV and William IV had also died. The room was kept as a shrine until her own death in 1901.

While Osborne and Balmoral were his and the Queen's private homes, which they had created together, Windsor was the official residence of the monarch, and the Queen dominated it even Prince Albert's lifetime. Life as lived by the Queen at Windsor was divided into two parts -- the everyday life in the Private Apartments and the occasional event in the State Apartments. The Queen occupied the rooms in the Southeast (soon known as the Victoria) Tower. Prince Albert used George IV's rooms, but seems to have slept with the Queen until his final illness. The nurseries were over the Queen's rooms; and the happy family life of the Royal couple was much celebrated by her subjects.

The Queen gave private audience to her Prime Ministers and other public figures in the Private Audience Room, a little high-ceilinged room in the south range, close to her tower, which had been decorated with some richness under Prince Albert's direction. She gave unofficial audiences, or saw her family or friends, in her sitting-room, and it was here that she sat at her desk writing her multitudinous, heavily underlined letters and reading the unofficial papers that came to her in mounting numbers of red boxes, until she was sometimes starting work at six in the morning.

State visits gave the whole castle a new function. Such visits were a new development. As in earlier centuries, kings and queens had not left their kingdoms, except in war, and did not entertain other kings or queens except as prisoners or by accident. Their palaces had no accommodation for them. By the turn of the 18th century, royalty had become more mobile. The first proper state visits to England were those of the Emperor of Russia and the King of Saxony to London in 1814. But Windsor Castle was an ideal venue in which to entertain and impress visiting royalty, and state visits to it became a feature of Victoria's and all subsequent reigns.

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