September 21st 1844
Prince Albert's deer hunting exploitsPrince Albert was very fond of Scotland. He was also extremely fond of shooting things and being a meticulous sort of man he faithfully recorded all his more successful exploits in his game book.
The game book, which was a magnificently bound volume with deep blue calf colours and heavy gold tooling, gave details of all the animals shot by him. It is an interesting and somewhat revealing book. No mention was made of deer heads, or even the number of points, but the weight of all animals shot was carefully recorded, even those youngsters of five or six stone which most hunters would be ashamed to recall. All in all it must be said that Prince Albert’s attitude to shooting was unorthodox and not particularly attractive.
At Blair Castle, where the Queen and Prince Albert were staying there was a herd of semi-tame stags in the park beside the Castle. Lady Canning, a lady in waiting to the Queen takes up the story in her diary. “The Prince was to shoot a fat stag from the window. A few of these were caught when young and put into a sort of park, the others came to them and there is a spot they jump down and cannot get back from and the park now has a very good herd in it. They are at peace there, no one ventures amongst them and they bellow all night in a variety of sounds like bulls and roar sometimes almost like a lion. The rifle was brought into the dining room and a fat stag chosen. The Queen went to a window of another room and looked out. I saw the poor beast catch up its legs for an instant and then look round surprised and walk a few steps and then die.
The other stags walked quietly away very little startled and the dead hart was brought round to the door on a horse for the Queen to look at him.”
According to Lady Canning, the shooting made the Queen, “shake and be very uncomfortable.” However the whole process was repeated the next day and again “She (the Queen) was looking on when the stag was killed. He dropped down dead the instant he was struck.” Significantly neither of these incidents are mentioned in Queen Victoria’s own diary of the visit. She adored Prince Albert and preferred not to mention episodes which she felt did not resound to his credit.
In her Journal of Our Life in the Highlands, there were a number of accounts of expeditions into the hills to watch from a discreet distance the stalking of the deer. Unfortunately Prince Albert was not the best of shots and there were various entries recording his failures. “Albert returned much vexed at having failed to get the finest stag in the forest after an excellent chance.” “Albert had a shot at the big stag and thinks it was wounded, but so far no trace of it, which is very vexing.” “Albert much vexed to have shot a fine stag and lost it again.”
But it hardly mattered whether the Prince was a good or bad shot. What was important was that both the Scottish Highlands and deer stalking received the royal seal of approval.
For better or worse we still reap the harvest of that royal love affair with Scotland.