In Victoria series two episode seven, we take a trip to Scotland with Queen Victoria. She’s fed up with people trying to assassinate her in London – so she heads to the Highlands, where events get even more dramatic.
But what is the real history of Victoria’s visit to Scotland?
Did Queen Victoria visit Scotland?
Yes – many times. Queen Victoria made a royal visit to Scotland for the first time in 1842 and toured the country with Prince Albert, spending several days in the capital at Edinburgh.
Then in September 1844 she returned to Scotland with Prince Albert and her young daughter Vicky at her side. This time she visited Blair Castle in Perthshire, where episode seven of the ITV series was actually filmed. The royal family spent a blissful three weeks walking, riding, fishing, hunting, shooting and even planting trees.
Victoria and Albert loved Scotland so much they inspired a trend for tartan and tweed across the kingdom. They returned over and over again, and after taking possession of Balmoral in 1848 they actually built a castle of their own.
Did Victoria and Albert get lost in the Scottish Highlands – and stay in a poor couple’s cottage?
No. Or if they did, she certainly never mentioned it in her journal.
Queen Victoria was a keen diarist and kept detailed records of her stays in Scotland, writing exhaustively about what happened each day: whether Albert’s hunting trips had been successful, who they dined with, her thoughts on the landscape, Highland pony riding, plans for scenes to sketch, details of the people she met, whether she liked them…
But she certainly never mentioned getting lost in the forest alone with Prince Albert on horseback, as depicted in ITV’s Victoria. She never mentioned being forced to seek shelter with a kindly poor couple who cooked delicious trout over an open fire and let them stay the night, and there’s no record of her hiding her identity as Queen and learning to darn a sock like a “normal” person.
Still – you can see where this fanciful storyline came from. What we do see in her journal is that, for her, the wild Scottish Highlands were an escape from reality.
“After the constant trying publicity we are accustomed to, it is so pleasant & refreshing, to be able, amidst such beautiful surrounding, to enjoying such complete privacy & such a simple life,” she wrote in her diary.
And while and Albert avoided getting lost, they did have an idyllic pony ride accompanied by only one servant – as close to privacy as the monarch could really get.
“When I awoke the sun was shining brightly & it lit up the mountains so beautifully,” she wrote. “At 9, we set off, both, on ponies, attended only by Lord Glenlyon’s excellent servant, Sandy McAra, in his Highland dress, to go up one of the hills.
“We went through a ford, Sandy leading my pony, & Albert following closely, & then went up the hill of Tulloch straight over a very steep cabbage field, afterwards going round zigzag to the very top, the ponies scrambling up over stones & heather, & never once making a false step. The view all round was splendid & so beautifully lit up. From the top it was quite like a panorama.
“We could see the Falls of Bruar, the Pass of Killiecrankie, Ben y Gloe, & the whole range of hills behind, in the direction of Tay mouth. The house itself & the houses in the village looked like toys, from the height at which we were. It was very wonderful. We got off once or twice, & walked about. There was not a house or creature near us, only pretty Highland, black faced sheep.”
She added: “It was the most delightful, & most romantic ride & walk, I had ever had.”
Another time they cut it fine on a pony ride, with the Queen suddenly becoming worried about nightfall – “Got alarmed at seeing the sun sinking, for fear of our being benighted, & we called anxiously for Sandy to give a signal to Albert to come back. At length we got on the move, skirting the hill & the ponies went as safely & securely as possible.”
But they made it home just in time: “A long day indeed, but one which I shall not easily forget.”
And as for visiting a couple of unsuspecting-yet-kindly Highlanders at their cottage?
The only mentions of a “cottage” make clear this is no poor man’s house: “We got out at the Cottage, which is pretty & beautifully situated. There are some good Landseers in the room we went into.” With paintings by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer on the walls this is not exactly a poor man’s hut…
As she prepared to leave at the end of September, Victoria reflected on her time in Scotland: “I am so sad at thinking of leaving this charming place, & the quiet, liberty, & the pure air we have enjoyed. The action life we have been leading, peculiar in its way, has been so delightful.”
Victoria season two airs on Sundays, 9/8c on PBS Masterpiece