|The Long Walk, a double lined avenue of trees, runs for 5km (3 miles) south of the castle, and is 75m wide.|
The castle was built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century, and is the longest occupied palace in Europe. Over 500 people live and work here today. It is Elizabeth II's preferred weekend home, but parts of the castle are open for visitors. The structure is medieval, consisting mainly of Georgian and Victorian design with Gothic features. It occupies a site of more than five hectares.
Windsor was strategically important because of its proximity to both the River Thames, a key medieval route into London, and Windsor Forest, a royal hunting preserve previously used by the Saxon kings. The first king to use Windsor Castle as a residence was Henry I.
In 1461 Edward IV seized power. When he captured Henry VI's wife, Margaret of Anjou, she was brought back to be detained at the castle. Edward began to revive the Order of the Garter, and held a particularly lavish feast here in 1472, three years later he began the construction of the present St. George's Chapel, resulting in the dismantling of several of the older buildings in the Lower Ward, completed by Henry VII. Throughout the Tudor period, Windsor was also used as a safe retreat in the event of plagues occurring in London.
Elizabeth I increasingly used the castle for diplomatic engagements, but space proved a challenge as the property was simply not as large as the more modern royal palaces. The absence of space at Windsor continued to prove problematic, with James' English and Scottish retinues often quarrelling over rooms.
|Windsor Castle Entrance|
James I used Windsor primarily as a base for hunting, one of his favourite pursuits, and for socialising with his friends. Many of these occasions involved extensive drinking sessions; including one with Christian IV of Denmark in 1606 that became infamous across Europe for the resulting drunken behaviour of the two kings!
By the 1740s, Windsor Castle had become an early tourist attraction; wealthier visitors who could afford to pay the castle keeper could enter, see curiosities such as the castle's narwhal horn, and by the 1750s buy the first guidebooks.
In 1840, by the end of a long-term project to rebuild and refurbish the castle, the total expenditure had soared to the colossal sum of over one million pounds (£817 million). Queen Victoria and Prince Albert made Windsor Castle their principal royal residence, despite Victoria complaining early in her reign that the castle was "dull, tiresome and prison like".
The castle was famously cold and draughty in Victoria's reign; she disliked gaslight and electric lighting was only installed in limited parts of the castle. But when Edward VII came to the throne in 1901 he set about modernising Windsor Castle with enthusiasm. Many rooms were de-cluttered and redecorated for the first time in many years. Electric lighting was added to more rooms, along with central heating, telephone lines were installed, along with garages for the newly invented "automobiles" ;)
During World War II many of the staff from Buckingham Palace were moved to Windsor for safety, security was tightened and windows were blacked-out. Because there was significant concern that the castle might be damaged or destroyed during the war, the more important art works were removed from the castle for safe keeping, and the valuable chandeliers were lowered to the floor in case of bomb damage. The castle was untouched, however, the most severe damage occurred in November 1992 when a spotlight set fire to a curtain by the altar in the Private Chapel during renovations. The fire spread quickly, lasted for fifteen hours and caused widespread damage to over 100 rooms in the Upper Ward and State Apartments along the north of the ward. Some valuable items were saved by staff, but the castle was fully repaired over the next few years at a cost of £36.5 million. It is believed that the water used to put it out, caused more damage than the actual fire.
At the heart of Windsor Castle is the Middle Ward, a bailey made from chalk formed around a 15m high motte. The Round Tower, on the top of the motte is based on a 12th-century building, extended in the 19th century by 9m to produce a more imposing height and silhouette.
On the north side of the Lower Ward is St George's Chapel. This building is the spiritual home of the Order of the Knights of the Garter and dates from the 15th and 16th century. The ornate wooden choir stalls are of 15th-century design, having been restored and extended at the end of the 18th century, and are decorated with a unique set of brass plates showing the arms of the Knights of the Garter over the last six centuries. The chapel has a grand Victorian door and staircase, used on ceremonial occasions. The east stained glass window is Victorian, and the oriel window to the north side of it was built by Henry VIII for Catherine of Aragon. The vault in front of the altar houses the remains of Henry VIII, Jane Seymour and Charles I, with Edward IV buried nearby.
On the opposite side of the chapel is a range of buildings including the lodgings of the Military Knights, and the residence of the Governor of the Military Knights, originating from the 16th century and are still used by the Knights. On the south side of the Ward is King Henry VIII's gateway, which bears the coat of arms of Catherine of Aragon and forms the secondary entrance to the castle.
The Home Park includes parkland and two working farms, along with many estate cottages mainly occupied by employees and the Frogmore estate.
|Queen Mary's Dolls' House, a masterpiece in miniature, was built in the 1920s and is one of the highlights of visits to Windsor Castle. It is one of the largest doll houses in the world.|
Here are some photos of the interior of the castle:
My next post will feature some very old, now demolished, palaces of York, Lancaster & Tudor monarchs in the London area.