Inside The Crown season four: the spectacular locations standing in for Balmoral and Buckingham Palace

Discover the UK filming locations that play a starring role in season four of The Crown, from Scottish estates and rolling acres in Hertfordshire to gothic castles, stately homes and Grade II listed, gilded interiors in London

20 November 2020

Audiences the world over have been captivated not only by The Crown’s costumes, hairstyles and elaborate sets but also the remarkable real-life locations to which the production team has gained access – four seasons in and the Netflix masses show no sign of tiring at the sight of the impressive palaces, grand castles and stately homes that can be found across the UK.

The latest series of The Crown continues to trace the life of Her Majesty The Queen from her wedding in 1947 to the present day. Season four covers 1977 to 1990, including Margaret Thatcher’s tenure as Prime Minister (portrayed by Gillian Anderson), and introduces not only Lady Diana Spencer (Emma Corrin), who marries Prince Charles in this season (Josh O'Connor), but also Princes William and Harry. Written by Peter Morgan, The Crown’s fourth season welcomes yet more stars to its already glittering cast: Olivia Colman as The Queen, Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret, Erin Doherty as Princess Anne, Emerald Fennell as Camilla Parker Bowles and Charles Dance as Lord Mountbatten.

While historians have critiqued the accuracy of the plot (and reports suggest the royal family is less than thrilled with it), there’s no denying the authenticity of the new backdrops that feature in this series, including Charles and Diana’s country and city residences, Highgrove and Clarence House respectively. While the set crews at Elstree Studios are evidently capable of a huge amount of visual wizardry, only 25 per cent of filming took place there; also needed were a staggering 90 filming locations, many of which stand in for key royal residences. Here are the most impressive, some of which you can plan to visit when Lockdown 2.0 finally ends…

Balmoral Castle

Filmed at: Ardverikie House in Kinloch Laggan, Scottish Highlands, Knebworth House, Hertfordshire

Knebworth House, Hertfordshire
Ardverikie House, Scottish Highlands

In episode two of the new series, Margaret Thatcher and her husband Denis holiday with the royal family at Balmoral for the first time and are subject to the ‘Balmoral Test’, the complicated and unspoken code of conduct for visitors to the Scottish estate. Balmoral Castle, in Royal Deeside, Aberdeenshire, has been a royal residence since 1852 and is owned by The Queen, who is known for her love of spending summers there. Its exteriors were captured at the splendidly Victorian Ardverikie House in Kinloch Laggan in the Scottish Highlands, although eagle-eyed viewers may have already spied the house in season two of the show. Gothic mansion Knebworth House in Hertfordshire, owned by Lytton Cobbold family, was used as the entrance to Balmoral.

Buckingham Palace

Filmed at: Lancaster House in St James's, Goldsmith’s Hall in the City of London and Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, Wilton House in Wiltshire, Wrotham Park in Barnet and Moor Park in Rickmansworth

Lancaster House, St James's
Wilton House, Wiltshire

Does this need any introduction? Hashtagged nearly 1.3 million times on Instagram, Buckingham Palace is recognised worldwide as the British monarch’s official residence – which it has been since 1837 – and it even features in the book spawned from the cult @accidentallywesanderson Instagram account thanks to its photogenic qualities and aesthetic appeal.

No single location could possibly replicate this unique building, so for interiors, the production team turned to St James’ Grade-I listed Lancaster House (tour it online here), the magnificent, gilded Goldsmith’s Hall in the City, Wrotham Park and Wilton House in Wiltshire. Wilton House is particularly proud of its period-perfect appearance – it has featured in everything from Emma and The Young Victoria to Antiques Roadshow and Blackadder. First opened in 1544, it has been the country home of the Earls of Pembroke for more than 400 years. It was rebuilt in the Palladian style in 1647 by Inigo Jones and John Webb and its gilded interiors are considered among the most lavish in England, with Rococo mural paintings, furniture by William Kent and portraits by Rembrandt and Van Dyck.

Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich

Exterior shots, rather harder, took place at the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich Peninsula and the Grade-II listed gardens of Moor Park in Rickmansworth, both of which you can visit (in non-pandemic times).

Gatcombe Park

Filmed at: Wrotham Park, Hertfordshire 

Wrotham Park, Hertfordshire 

Wrotham Park has the honour of standing in for the country residence of Anne, Princess Royal, but you could have spotted it in Bridget Jones’ Diary, Gosford Park, Vanity Fair or Jane Eyre. It’s not open to the public – which is a shame as it’s a mere 17 miles from Hyde Park Corner – but you can admire the Palladian mansion and estate in all its glory in The Crown season 4. Should the Royal family want to retreat somewhere secluded, they could hire the grand estate, which dates back to 1754, for one hell of a party – it’s surrounded by 300 acres of parkland so privacy would be guaranteed.

Highgrove

Filmed at: Somerley House, Hampshire

Somerley House, Hampshire
Olivia Colman and Josh O'Connor as Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles, outside Somerley House 
The West Library at Somerley House

If the Luxury London team could pick a Royal residence in which to really live, rather than reside, feeling anxious about damaging a centuries-old antique or disrupting ghosts of Christmas past, Highgrove in Gloucestershire would be our pick. It has been HRH The Prince of Wales’ home for 30 years and, when it came to a location for Highgrove scenes, the location team needed to find a striking house with creeping ivy and beautiful gardens. Enter Somerley, a magical, quintessentially English country estate that, yes, you can hire for private parties and events. If Glastonbury is cancelled next year, we’ll be very tempted…

Kensington Palace

Filmed at: Brocket Hall in Hertfordshire, Harefield Grove in Hillingdon, Wellington College in Berkshire

Josh O'Connor and Emma Corrin as Prince Charles and Princess Diana (courtesy of Netlfix)
Brocket Hall, Hertfordshire

Kensington Palace, the birthplace of Queen Victoria and designed by Sir Christopher Wren, plays a key part in series four: it’s the home of Prince Charles, Princess Diana and Princess Margaret and, like Buckingham Palace, there wasn’t a single location that could do it justice. Adequate to stand in for at least part of Kensington Palace’s grandeur was Harefield Grove, a Grade-II listed house in Hillingdon. The gardens were first landscaped by J. B. Papworth for W. Flower in 1826 and are currently not open to the public. The red-bricked boarding school Wellington College in Berkshire had already been used in series two and three, so has been pressed into service again.

Brocket Hall also acts as a lavish backdrop for Kensington Palace. No stranger to the limelight, it has appeared in as many TV shows and films as some of The Crown’s stars; The Queen, the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and… Eastenders. The 18th-century stately home was previously the stomping ground for many a historical figure, including King George IV, Queen Victoria and prime ministers Lords Melbourne and Palmerston. Set in 543 rolling acres of Hertfordshire countryside, it is a popular wedding venue with impressive Grade-II listed gardens.

Sandringham

Filmed at: Somerleyton Hall in Somerleyton

Sandringham House is located in Norfolk and is the private home of the royal family. The Queen’s county estate is where the royals traditionally celebrate Christmas, and in The Crown, it’s where the entire family gather for the final scene of season four. In reality, the cast recreated festivities at Suffolk’s Somerleyton Hall instead, a grand stately home owned by Hugh Crossley, the fourth Baron Somerleyton.

The Jacobean manor was built by John Thomas, the favourite architect of Prince Albert, who worked extensively on the Houses of Parliament. Considered one of the finest Victorian stately homes in the country, Somerleyton Hall has been modified over the years and as a result is home to a pastiche of designs, from a Victorian-style chintz ballroom to a Jacobean-era oak parlour. Set over 12 acres, the striking gardens date back to the mid-17th century and are home to a sweeping arboretum, a walled garden and the Somerleyton Maze, an 800-yard route that was planted back in 1846. Both the house and the gardens are open to the public during non-pandemic times, with the main hall available for exclusive hire (the 12 bedrooms can sleep up to 24 people). It’s even available to rent for Christmas, should you wish to recreate your own Royal family festive scene.

Windsor Castle

Filmed at: Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire and Burghley House in Stamford

Belvoir Castle, Leicestershire
The gothic Guard Room at Belvoir Castle, photography by Will Pryce
The Elizabeth Saloon at Belvoir Castle, photography by Will Pryce

Built by William the Conqueror, Windsor Castle – The Queen’s weekend home and a suitably regal option for holding engagements – enjoys the accolade of being the oldest working castle in the world. That also probably made it pretty hard when it came to finding places with a weathered-enough feel for Windsor Castle scenes. Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire, home to the Duke and Duchess of Rutland, has appeared in all three seasons of The Crown so far, both inside and out, and with good reason: lavish Louis XIV-style interiors and dramatic gothic stonework create the perfect Regency setting for the Windsors.

Burghley House, one of the largest and grandest surviving houses of the 16th century, is equally breathtaking and no doubt the production team rubbed their hands with glee when they found it. Enjoy a wander around the Capability Brown-designed gardens and imagine yourself as a member of the Royal family visting Windsor for the weekend. An appealing thought? Watch the latest series of The Crown and decide for yourself if living in one the Royal residences would make the rest of the regal palaver worthwhile.

Honourable mentions:

Winchester Cathedral, Hampshire

This medieval cathedral in Hampshire has a starring role in one of season four’s most anticipated scenes – Charles and Diana’s 1981 wedding at St Paul’s Cathedral.

Hedsor House, Buckinghamshire

This splendid Georgian stately home in Buckinghamshire, with 100 acres of land and 800 years of history, doubles as Downing Street in the new series. While not acting as the home of the Prime Minister, it is a popular wedding venue, which sleeps up to 26 guests.

The Savoy, London

This is one of few locations that features as itself; London’s iconic five-star hotel acts as a backdrop when Diana arrives in the capital.

Lyceum Theatre, London

The Lyceum in Covent Garden, which opened in 1841 and (in non-Covid times) is The Lion King’s domain, provides the set for a gala attended by The Queen and Prince Philip.