Queen of Great Britian
Menu dated: circa 1850s – 1880s
Dinner at Balmoral Castle, Scotland, for Her Majesty Queen Victoria and His Royal Highness The Prince-Consort Albert of the United Kingdom.
When Queen Victoria first visited Balmoral Castle and its estates in 1848, she found “a pretty little castle in the old Scottish style”, she wrote in her diary, where “there is a picturesque tower and garden in front, with a high wooded hill; at the back there is a wood down to the Dee, and the hills rise all round”.
Four years later Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert bought this ‘pretty little castle’ for themselves at a cost of £32,000. In the coming years Prince Albert would design and build a new castle on the site; and Balmoral, without question, would become Queen Victoria’s favourite residence with the monarch spending four to five months there, each year.
Indeed, Victoria was so besotted by her husband’s architectural and artistic flare on Balmoral, that she noted in October 1856:
“... every year my heart becomes more fixed in this dear Paradise, and so much more so now that all has become my dearest Albert's own creation, own work, own building, own laying out, as at Osborne; that his great taste, and the impress of his dear hand, have been stamped every where."
The ‘impress of Albert’s dear hand’ extended to the dining room which was draped in curtains and carpeted in fabrics all decorated with the Stuart tartan or Queen Victoria’s own personal adaptation which became known, fittingly, as the Victorian Tartan. After Albert’s death, however, the widowed Queen ceased using the dining room and instead had her personal meals laid out in the library.
The estates of Balmoral were reserved for hunting with not a sheep or cow in site. To highlight this hunting theme the Queen’s menu-cards at Balmoral were especially designed with a stag’s head proudly decorating the mast of the cards which were printed in gold-lead with ornate borders decorated with thistles. In the bottom corners, shields bearing the Cross of Saint Andrew appeared; unlike menus from the Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace dining tables which carried the Cross of Saint George.
While the royal chefs were responsible for pleasing the royal taste-buds, it was left to the Queen’s chief piper to please the royal ear. During a visit to Scotland in 1842, the then 23 year-olds, Victoria and Albert stayed at Taymouth Castle as guests of Lord and Lady Breadalbane where they became quite taken by the routine playing of the bagpipes.
In her journal, Queen Victoria remembered how:
“... there were nine pipers at the castle; sometimes one and sometimes three played. They always played about breakfast-time, again during the morning, at luncheon, and also whenever we went in and out, again before dinner, and during most of dinner-time. We both have become quite fond of the bagpipes”.
Indeed the royal couple were so fond that they adopted the practice themselves of having a piper playing outside their own window at Balmoral during breakfast, lunch and dinner. Victoria even had a small solid-gold statuette made of her favourite piper, a Mr Ross.
Although undated, this menu predates 1887 as only the letters VR appear in the top corners; after 1887 Victoria’s initials were expanded the include the letter “I”, for the Latin Imperatrix, after she became Empress of India.
A curiosity on this menu is the appearance of a rice dessert written in German, not French, indicating it was likely a homely dish especially prepared to please Prince Albert.
From the private Royal Menu Collection of © Jake Smith
A welcome for Queen Victoria (seated) as she arrives back to Balmoral to take up residence.
Dining Room at Balmoral Castle circa 1890s