This is probably my favourite of all the castles in the UK. We used to live not too far away from Windsor and used to visit the town and castle often.
Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world. Its history spans almost 1000 years and it is still a working royal palace today, with 150 people calling this home.
The building of the castle began in 1070 with William the Conqueror, who we met in my previous posts on the Tower of London and the British Royalty. It only took him (well, not him personally) 16 years to complete the castle. As always with these Norman buildings they were not originally built as royal residences but were fortresses. In this particular case it was built to secure the western approach to London, but turned quickly into a royal residence thanks to its easy access from London and the royal hunting forest. However, the true conversion to a palace took place thanks to Henry II (r. 1154-1189), who built two sets of royal apartments. Henry II was also the one responsible for replacing the outer timber fortifications with stone.
Further changes were made by each succeeding king, but Edward III (r. 1327-1377) was the biggest spender of all the medieval kings with £50,000 being spent on this one building. (I wonder how much that would be in today’s money?) By the time Elizabeth I (r. 1558-1603) came to the throne many parts of the castle were badly in need of repair, so an extensive renovation programme took place in the 1570s.
George IV (r. 1820-1830) added two new large spaces to Windsor Castle – the Waterloo Chamber (celebrating, yes you guessed it, the defeat of Napoleon in 1815) and the St George’s Hall. By the time George IV had finished remodelling and refurnishing the castle in the latest French Empire style, he had spent almost £300,000. His restorations were so comprehensive that Queen Victoria (r. 1837-1901) had very little to change.
In 1992, on 20th November a fire broke out in Queen Victoria’s private chapel. It destroyed the ceilings of St George’s Hall and the Grand Reception Room, as well as gutting the private chapel, the State Dining Room and the Crimson Drawing Room. It took 15 hours and 1.5 million gallons of water to put the fire out. Five years after the fire, the extensive restorations were complete. The cost of the restoration and who would pay for it caused some controversy in the UK at the time. To pay for the restorations The Queen opened Buckingham Palace and the proceeds raised paid for 70% of the £37 million cost (which was actually under budget would you believe), meaning that no taxpayers money was used.
Windsor Castle is not just a Royal residence, but it also is the seat of the Order of the Garter; St George’s Chapel being its spiritual home. It is the most senior and oldest British Order of Chivalry and was founded in 1348 by Edward III. The Order consists of the Sovereign and 25 knights (including Princes Charles and William), and honours those who have held public office, who have contributed in a particular way to national life or who have served the Sovereign personally. For more information on the Order of the Garter I highly recommend visiting the official website of the British Monarchy (http://www.royal.gov.uk/monarchUK/honours/Orderofthegarter/orderofthegarter.aspx).
Windsor Castle has been home to 39 monarchs, is the permanent resting place of 10 of those monarchs and The Queen also calls this home. The castle has had many important visitors, from the Holy Roman Emperor in 1417 to the upcoming historic visit of Irish President Michael D Higgins. It was also home to some famous prisoners; King John II of France, King David II of Scotland, Prince James (later James I of Scotland) and King Charles I to name but a few.
The reason I love this castle is the fabulous Dolls’ House, which was built for Queen Mary between 1921 and 1924 by the leading British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens (Queen Mary was an adult when this was presented to her, she was apparently a lover of miniatures). This is a most amazing replica of an aristocratic home and the furniture that fills this house is on the tiny scale of 1:12. The most striking features are the library, which is full of original works by the literary names of the day and written personally by them, a fully stocked wine cellar, a garden created by Gertrude Jekyll, fully working electrics including working lifts, and hot and cold water with flushing lavatories! Over 1,500 artists, craftsmen and manufacturers worked on this doll’s house. These days the dolls’ house is on display behind glass, but is still my favourite part of a visit to Windsor Castle. To explore the famous dolls’ house go to the following site http://220.127.116.11/queenmarysdollshouse/home.html
The best time to visit the castle is between October and March, as you get to visit the Semi-State Rooms, which are only open during those months. The rooms are used by The Queen for official entertaining and are splendid with all their rich decorations and wonderful art.
The castle is also home to the Royal Archives, the Royal Photograph Collection, the Print Room, and the Royal Library.
And as always, I like to finish with some interesting, and perhaps lesser known facts:
– The oldest glazed window in the castle dates back to around 1236. It is thought to have been a wedding gift from Henry III to his wife Eleanor of Provence.
– St George’s Hall is the biggest room in the castle at 55.5m long and 9m wide; it can sit up to 162 people for a state banquet.
– Windsor’s Great Kitchen is the oldest working kitchen in the country and has served 32 monarchs, including The Queen.
– 33 kitchen staff, 20 chefs and sous chefs, 3 pastry chefs and 10 porters ensure the kitchen runs smoothly.
– All the clocks in said kitchen are set 5 minutes fast to ensure Her Majesty The Queen receives her food on time – always.
– The kitchen has a whisk than can hold up to 250 eggs at one time!
– The wine cellar contains 18,000 bottles.
– The Round Tower was raised 30ft by George IV to improve the castle’s skyline.
– Edward III and Henry VI are the only monarchs born at Windsor Castle.
– In 1649 a bill, in the English parliament, to demolish Windsor Castle was defeated by just one vote!
– The castle contains around 1,000 rooms and occupies 13 acres of land.