The Royal property is of two types: the occupied Royal residences and the private estates.
Occupied Royal Residences
The state owns the occupied Royal residences and held in trust for use by future generations. They’re used by The Queen as Sovereign while fulfilling her role as Head of State and serve many purposes including State and official events.
Each year The Queen is hostess to approximately 80,000 guests at events including receptions, garden parties and Investitures, occupied Royal residences held all of these.
The palaces are also used for ceremonial entertaining whenever overseas diplomats and foreign ambassadors visit the United Kingdom. State banquets and audiences are also held regularly.
Occupied Royal residences attract approximately 1.7 million visitors yearly with Buckingham Palace, unsurprisingly, being the most famous Royal residence even though visits to the staterooms are restricted to periods when there is not any official capacity.
Private estates are palaces, castles and stately homes that have been built, bought or otherwise acquired by previous generations of the Royal family and are now owned by The Queen. Past monarchs owned far more properties than Queen Elizabeth as most private estates having disappeared over the years.
Many of those in use today are places of relaxation for the Royal family when spending time away from their official duties.
A Brief History Lesson
One question that’s often asked is why the Royal family has access to so many homes. Most of us, after all, manage perfectly well with just one.
To explain this, we need to look back at the way the monarchy existed in the past.
Until the middle ages, the king would regularly move around the country thus necessitating the availability of suitable properties in different areas. Some were used to rule from while the king’s family uses others for homes. Eventually, the centralised monarchy government in London and many of the original old castles and palaces fell into disrepair.
Although it appears that today’s Royal family has many homes available to use, what’s left today is, in fact, nothing but a handful of what former king’s and queen’s enjoyed. Those that are left are heritage sites, and it is an investment for the future.
Fondly known by the locals as “Buck House,” Buckingham Palace has been the premier London residence of Britain’s Royal family since 1837 although its Royal connections go back much further.
Formerly a townhouse situated close to St James’ Palace; it was bought by George III in 1761 as a private residence for his wife, Queen Charlotte and quickly became known as the Queen’s House.
Extensive remodelling work was carried out to the tune of £73,000 — an unbelievable amount of money almost 250 years ago. The money came directly from the public purse.
Almost sixty years later, George IV wanted the house reconstructed yet again, this time it was to be transformed into a palace. He spent another £450,000 of public money, but as the work took longer than expected, King George IV never got to live there.
The first sovereign to use Buckingham Palace as her London residence was Queen Victoria in 1837. Shortly after making the palace her home, Victoria found that the building lacked adequate sleeping facilities for guests and the lack of nursery space meant raising children would be difficult. To solve these problems, they built a new wing. To spare the taxpayers from more building expense, they sold the George IV’s Royal Pavilion at Brighton, and the money raised used to fund the improvements.
Today the palace has probably one of the most recognizable facades in the world. It’s also the administrative headquarters of the Monarchy and venue for Royal ceremonies and State visits.
Part of Queen Victoria’s new wing held the “ballroom.” At the time, this was the enormous room in London and was first used to celebrate the end of the Crimean War. Today it’s used for State banquets and the annual Diplomatic Reception. They held the Investitures here(an occasion where the Queen or The Prince of Wales meets recipients of British honours and gives them their awards, including knighting who has the knighthood award).
They rarely use the Throne Room except to receive loyal addresses on rare occasions and as the setting for formal wedding photographs.
Garden parties are held annually in the formal gardens and have been part of Palace tradition since their introduction by Queen Victoria in 1868.
You can combine the visits to Buckingham Palace with visits to The Queen’s Gallery and the nearby Royal Mews.
This beautiful 900-year-old castle is The Queen’s official residence in England and the most massive occupied castle in the world.
Built by William the Conqueror in circa 1070, its position high above the river Thames where it could guard the western approaches to the capital was the reason for choosing the place. It was also just a day’s march from The Tower of London.
Having been inhabited by a succession of monarchs, a plethora of changes have been made, each reflecting the needs of the time. Some strengthened the castle against rebellion and attack while others, lucky to have lived in peaceful times, gave the castle a touch of luxury.
During the Civil War, Oliver Cromwell captured the castle and used it as a prison and headquarters of parliament. Charles, I was held in the castle before his execution in London and was subsequently returned to be buried in St. George’s chapel where nine other sovereigns, including Henry VIII and George VI, now lay buried.
The Queen Mother, wife of George VI, and their daughter Margaret are also interred within the chapel.
Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret made the castle their home during World War II while their parents remained in London supporting the war effort. The Queen, having fond memories of her childhood and a soft spot for Windsor, spends most of her weekends at the castle.
Sadly, a fire destroyed approximately one-fifth of the castle’s area in November 1992 when a spotlight came into contact with a curtain causing a blaze in the Private Chapel. The fire spread quickly and took 15 hours to extinguish. However, over the course of the following five years and as a result of the most extensive historic restoration project ever undertaken in Britain, the castle was restored to its former glory at no additional cost to the taxpayer.
The castle is often used to entertain visiting Heads of State and other diplomats as well as being the main venue for Royal weddings and, more sadly, Royal funerals. It’s also the Queen’s official residence during Easter and for the weekend of the Royal Ascot Races.
Visitors have access to the State Apartments, and for part of the year, it’s also possible to visit the Semi-State rooms, the treasures from the Royal Collection including Rubens and Van Dyck, splendid tapestries, porcelain and fabulous sculptures are used to furnish the rooms.
The Palace of Holyroodhouse
Founded in 1128 and situated in Edinburgh at the end of the Royal Mile, The Palace of Holyroodhouse is The Queen’s official residence in Scotland. Formerly the site of an Abbey, in 1501 James IV cleared the surrounding ground and built a palace for himself and his bride, Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII.
Mary, Queen of Scots, is the most famous Royal associated with The Palace of Holyroodhouse, who lived in the palace between 1561 and 1567, a dramatic time for the Queen whose secretary, David Rizzio, was murdered by her husband who believed Mary and Rizzio were having an affair. The murder took place in her private rooms.
Following Mary’s residence, the palace fell into disrepair as turbulence within the monarchy caused Royalty to stay away from Scotland, and it wasn’t introduced until Queen Victoria’s reign that the custom of visiting at Holyroodhouse, inspiring the Scottish people to undertake a massive renovation program.
King George V and Queen Mary continued the restoration work on what they came to regard as a family home. The addition of bathrooms and electricity brought Holyroodhouse into the twentieth century.
Palace garden parties became a tradition that The Queen still upholds by inviting around 8,000 guests from all walks of Scottish life to the palace gardens during Holyrood week.
Today the palace is used for State receptions, Investitures, and other official occasions. Any member of the Royal family having official engagements in Scotland would generally choose to stay at Holyroodhouse, a Royal home that’s busier today than at any other time in history.
The Queen’s private residence in Scotland, Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire comes to life during August and September when the Queen gathers her family for a late summer holiday.
The castle is situated on a large estate and employs fifty full-time staff and twice as many part-time workers thus being a significant contributor to the local economy.
The estate is partly farmed and is home to the Queen’s stock of Highland Cattle. Due to the nature of the landscape, much of the area is woodland offering shelter for red deer that you can see during the hunting season. Grouse shoots and salmon fishing also employ the estate. The estate also renders indirect employment for the 4,000 people who are engaged in the tourist industry as Balmoral is one of the major attractions of the area.
Following a holiday in the Scottish Highlands, Queen Victoria and her consort, Prince Albert, decided to buy a private home in the area to use during holidays. Drawn by the beauty of the surrounding mountains, Prince Albert purchased an old fifteenth-century castle in 1852 but being small and dark, a new fort was erected about 100 yards from the original building and stood ready for the couple to enjoy about five years later.
Royal descendants of Victoria and Albert have made a variety of improvements to both the buildings and the grounds with the latest addition being a water garden designed by The Duke of Edinburgh.
The estate gardens and the Castle Ballroom are open to visitors between April and July with about 85,000 people visiting annually.
Another of the Queen’s private homes, Sandringham House in Norfolk has been owned by the Monarchy for four generations.
The Queen takes up residence at Sandringham during December and remains until February, during which time the entire family is invited to join the Royal Christmas celebrations.
Like Balmoral, Sandringham is a commercial estate offering employment to 100 staff from the local community. Initially bought for the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, in 1862, the house was of stable Georgian structure but was then rebuilt and, despite a severe fire in 1891, expanded to accommodate the Princes’ growing family.
Subsequent members of the Royal family have found Sandringham to be the perfect holiday retreat, and it was on the estate that King George VI, The Queen’s father, died in 1952.
The estate covers over 600 acres of woodland and heath and has two camping and caravan club sites within its boundaries. The estate hosts a variety of craft fairs and country shows throughout the year.
When members of the Royal family are not in residence, Sandringham House is open to the public.
St. James’ Palace
Although many believe that Buckingham Palace is the official residence of the Sovereign, it is, in fact, the lesser known St. James’ Palace. Official letters are addressed to St. James’ Palace and ambassadors are still formally accredited to the Court of St. James.
Situated in central London, King Henry VIII built the palace on the site of St. James’ Hospital. While much of the original red-brick building remains, the succession of kings and queens that have made it their home over the past 300 years have made various structural changes.
Often used for official functions, St. James’ Palace has been the setting for some of the significant events in Royal history. It was there that Mary Tudor signed the treaty surrendering Calais and it was from St. James’ Palace that Elizabeth I set out to address her troops at Tilbury during the threat of an invasion by the Spanish Armada. Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in the Chapel Royal within the palace in 1840. The chapel remains an active place of worship for the Royal family today.
The Palace is now the London residence of Anne, Princess Royal, and Princess Alexandra.
Standing beside St. James’ Palace, Clarence House was the London home of The Queen Mother from 1953 until 2002. Built-in 1825 by the Duke of Clarence, later to become King William IV, the house has been a Royal residence for over 170 years and is now the official London home of The Prince of Wales and his wife, The Duchess of Cornwall.
The Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh, later to become Queen Elizabeth II, also lived at Clarence House following their marriage in 1947 and before Elizabeth’s accession to the throne in 1952. Clarence House is very much a home rather than a place of State entertaining and still houses many pieces from the Bowes-Lyon’s art collection brought to the house by The Queen Mother.
Parts of the building are open to the public during summer months.
As home to The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, The Duke and Duchess of Kent, and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent, Kensington Palace has a central role within the Royal family. Princess Margaret, Diana, Princess of Wales and Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester have all lived in and had their offices within the palace.
During his engagement to The Queen, then Princess Elizabeth, The Duke of Edinburgh stayed at Kensington Palace at his grandmother’s apartment.
The palace was also Queen Victoria’s birthplace and childhood home. However, following her accession in 1837, she moved to Buckingham Palace and never again stayed at Kensington Palace.
The palace is home to the Royal Ceremonial Dress collection, and some parts are open to the public.
So there you have eight of the most beautiful homes in Great Britain, all of which is a social investment for the future of both the Monarchy and the nation.
Although the House of Windsor has lost some of its previous respect, the Monarchy has a firm place in British history and will undoubtedly continue to feature long into the foreseeable future.