Prince Albert, titled as Prince Consort after his Germanic origins caused a scandal in Parliament of the time, married Victoria in 1840. Not to mention, he came from dubious parentage – and entering the most exclusive family in the United Kingdom brought more than a few whispers to the court of Victoria. But, famously, Albert was the greatest love of Victoria’s life – and despite his title as prince consort, he had a key role in modernising the monarchy. And it was under his instruction that the castle of Balmoral – the Scottish estate that acts as a royal residency – was purchased.
Seeing how much his wife adored the Scottish countryside following her first visit in 1842, Albert bought the property a decade later after years of renting it, working with an architect to expand and modernise the property for the royal family. He tore down the old-fashioned, rusting buildings and replaced them with cosy yet secluded cottages, expanding further into the lush woodland of the surrounding estate. For their remaining years together, Victoria and Albert saw Balmoral and Scotland as the place where their happiest memories lay.
It was upon the purchase of Balmoral that its first iconic ‘cairn’ was constructed – known as the ‘purchase cairn’. Built on Craig Gowan, it was built to show ownership of the surrounding lands to anyone who might be passing. Victoria lay the first stone. Albert laid the last. Further cairns were also built across the grand estate to celebrate the marriages of their children – Victoria, the Princess Royal, Alice, Helena, Louise, Leopold and Beatrice, whose cairn was constructed close to Albert’s.
When Albert died suddenly in 1861, Victoria retreated to the secluded privacy of Balmoral to mourn. Though she would eventually return to London, the estate cairns remained a symbol of both celebration and desolation; an immoveable memory to those the Queen had loved and lost.
On the cairn today lies this inscription:
‘To the beloved memory of Albert the great and good Prince Consort. Erected by his broken hearted widow Victoria R. 21st August 1862.’
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