- The Crown -Is The Balmoral Test On ‘The Crown’ Real? Consider This The (Unofficial) Royal Stamp Of Approval
Meeting the family is already a tricky business. But when it's the royal family, making a good impression is a different minefield entirely.
Season 4 of The Crown introduces two formative women into the fold, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Lady Diana Spencer. In the second episode, aptly titled "The Balmoral Test," both ladies are invited one after the other to Balmoral Castle in Scotland to holiday with the royals over one summer weekend.
Thatcher, who views blood sports as frivolous, neglected to even bring outdoor shoes, and is aghast when she and her husband Denis are shown separate rooms. She chafes at the rules and customs of the privileged elite. In fact, she leaves early to handle a "crisis," which Princess Margaret and Queen Elizabeth II see right through. She would rather work than relax off the clock. Princess Margaret scoffs, "Life in post-war Britain has been one long, painful, uninterrupted crisis. But no matter how bad things got, no other Prime Ministers left early."
Conversely, Diana shines when Charles invites her up at Camilla Parker Bowles' behest. Raised in a similar fashion to Charles, she only thought to bring outdoor shoes and even spotted a coveted stag when out stalking with Prince Philip one early morning. She is such a success that the family implores Charles to propose and put an end to the "whole Parker Bowles saga."
In essence, one side of the coin passes with flying colors, while the other properly fails and dismisses the test. One strolls through the pearly gates, and the other would be content with staying locked outside the door, key in her own hand.
Well, we at The Dipp decided to conjure a test of our own and decipher the nature of this so-called "Balmoral Test," including who has soared and who has sunken.
Why Does the Royal Family Treasure Balmoral?
Balmoral Castle up in Aberdeenshire is considered an idyllic escape for the royal family, and Queen Elizabeth II, in particular. In the BBC Four documentary, Balmoral, the Queen is described as a countrywoman at heart, embracing all the outdoor pursuits the holiday home since Queen Victoria's day has to offer, from hunting to fishing to barbecuing. Victoria's presence is still keenly felt and revered in the 1980s epoch on The Crown, as Princess Margaret balks when Margaret Thatcher unknowingly sits in Queen Victoria's chair to get some work done. No one sits in that chair.
The 50,000 acre estate "replenishes the royal family's identity," the Balmoral documentary's narrator espouses. It's a place where the prittle-prattle of city life drifts away and the most hot topic ideas are what's on the lunch menu. Olivia Colman (Queen Elizabeth II) perhaps enjoyed the weeks shooting in Scotland more than any others, much in line with her character.
According to Netflix, she recalled how "it was so breathtakingly beautiful, so friendly, filming outside by those lochs and on those hills was thrilling. I normally start to fade by 3 p.m., but there I never had that feeling. I loved it. I loved the dogs, and the land rovers! And who knew a silk headscarf actually does keep your ears warm?"
Frequent visits to Balmoral are also an avenue for the royals to bolster Scottish morale and identification with the monarchy. King George VI adored the outdoors of Scotland when he would come to visit, appreciating the predictability and stability of Balmoral. And Queen Elizabeth II's mother, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, was no exception, fitting right in as the daughter of the Earl of Strathmore and a Scot herself.
In Balmoral, Professor Richard Finlay, a historian of Strathclyde University, emphasized the importance of King George VI marrying a Scot. Because Scots tended to be very inquisitive about who they defined as Scottish, their union "effectively meant they could claim the heir to the throne was effectively half-Scottish." An insult to the pastimes at Balmoral is an insult to the Crown, essentially, and a special invite to their home away from home should be treated as such.
So What Exactly is the Balmoral Test, Then?
Murmurings of the Balmoral Test are forewarned early on in the episode. As Thatcher and her husband Denis fly up to Balmoral, he fills her in on a worrisome call he received from his friend, Malcolm Muggeridge, who cautioned him of "the infamous Balmoral tests," where the "royal family routinely subject all of their guests to secret tests to find out whether someone is acceptable or not acceptable." Further cementing their polarized perspectives, Diana shares with Charles at the end of the episode that her family scrutinizes newbies the same way as the royals. "Everyone tortures them trying to catch them out."
So, how would one even try to pass this exam, if you don't know what or how to study? Well, if trekking the hills of the Scottish Highlands is not your forte, you might as well take a hike right on back to London.
Speaking to The Daily Record, former butler to the royal family Grant Harrold offered his suggestions to "make sure you can pass the muster." For one, you are going to want to "dress the part, speak the part, and play the part," so find out what you need to bring and know the dress code. "Don't turn up with pink fluffy wellies when everyone else will be wearing Hunters."
This stark friction is best exemplified when Margaret Thatcher shows up in a bright blue coat wearing heels, bemused at the idea of waking up early to go hunting with the Queen. As they head out onto the moors, the Queen doesn't protest when Thatcher offers to go back and change.
We see a parallel when Philip takes Diana out hunting at 5:30 in the morning, both donning complementary outerwear as she makes the right assessment that the wind was coming from the left, clinching the perfect shot for Philip to hit the stag.
Harrold also advises to know the social etiquette of Balmoral, which would include not keeping the Queen waiting. Follow the royal family's lead, that way you're less inclined to take a false step. But crucially, always be nice to the dogs.
So aside from Thatcher and Diana pre-princess title, who else from The Crown famously sought to make the grade?
You're Either In or You're Out
Well, Wallis Simpson did not fare well under the protocols of Balmoral, as she brushed up against the castle's countryside lifestyle as a modern metropolitan acolyte dressed to the nines at all times. Simpson, who we briefly saw recur on The Crown, was the American woman who King Edward VIII, later the Duke of Windsor, abdicated the throne for, and as she was a divorcee, we all know that marriage dissolutions did not coincide with the Establishment.
But before she and King Edward VIII broke away from the family, they hosted the Duke and Duchess of York, a.k.a., Edward VIII's younger brother, who would become King George VI, and his wife Elizabeth Bowes-Lyons, at Balmoral.
As the Balmoral documentary relays, the Duchess of York was so dismayed at finding Simpson the ringleader of the night's festivities that she "swished past her" and went to look for His Majesty, an unequivocal "slap in the face" to Simpson. Ingrid Seward, Majesty magazine editor, boiled the twosome down into "chalk and cheese." Safe to say, the family dynamic was never the same after that fateful visit and King Edward VIII and Simpson did not return to Balmoral.
On the other hand, when Prince Philip came to curry favor with King George VI and earn Queen Elizabeth II's hand in marriage, he used his sense of humor to his advantage and wore a kilt to impress the monarch, tartan and all. This enthusiasm was much different than Simpson's, who reportedly in 1936, walked into Balmoral and was horrified at the Tartan furnishings, claiming "This tartan has to go." And obviously, that visit worked out in his favor, as he and Queen Elizabeth II married in 1947.
Basically, the "Balmoral Test" is a litmus to gauge whether you're up to snuff, a coming out or "meet the parents" of society, deeming whether or not the Establishment will invite you in, like Diana, or cast you out, like Margaret Thatcher. The ultimate decider of to have and have nots.