April 9, 2014

Royal Castles of Britain - Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle in the county of Berkshire is not located within the borders of Greater London, however, it is one of the most important royal residences still standing in the vicinity of London, and it's still habited by the British Royal family! Unfortunately I have not visited this caste, although it was not very far from where I was living when I was still at Uni. I looked up guided tours, but this was at the time of the anticipated wedding between William and Kate, and the Queen's jubilee, and it was booked up for two months! The famous Eton College is located within about half a mile of the castle, across the River Thames. For those who are interested in visiting, an adult ticket is £18.50. 

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 Curfew Tower, one of the oldest surviving parts of the Lower Ward and dating from the 13th century contains a former dungeon, and the remnants of a sally port, a secret exit for the occupants in a time of siege. The upper storey contains the castle bells placed there in 1478, and the castle clock of 1689. 

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. 

March 29, 2014

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

"When something is bothering me, I seek refuge. No need to travel far; a trip to the realm of literary memory will suffice. For where can one find more noble distraction, more entertaining company, more delightful enchantment than in literature?"

"If you want to understand my family, all you have to do is look at the cats."

I read a book last year with so many fantastic quotes I could have phrased myself. I had borrowed the book from the library, but recently found it at the local second hand shop for only 2€! The book is called The Elegance of the Hedgehog, written by Muriel Barbery. Barbery is a French professor of philosophy. The story is set in Paris, revolving mainly around Renée and Paloma who live in an upper middle class apartment building, in an elegant neighbourhood. Renée is a widow who has supervised the building for nearly 30 years. She owns a cat, and likes to conceal the fact that she adores Tolstoy, Kant and opera, and that she's highly class conscious. I think she despises the borgeois families living in the building, who treat her as if she was invisible. 

"To be poor, ugly and, moreover, intelligent condemns one, in our society, to a dark and disillusioned life, a condition one ought to accept at an early age."

Paloma, the 12-year-old intelligent girl who lives with her snobby family is the only resident who takes an interest in Renée. She likes Japanese anime and manga. Paloma has decided to commit suicide on her 13th birthday by setting their apartment on fire, unless she can find something worth living for. The two main characters befriend a Japanese businessman who has moved into the building, and together they share philosophical thoughts. A drastic plot twist at the end of the book opens to Paloma an amazing new truth; beauty, that provides meaning to our lives. I won't tell you what happened, you're going to have to read the book and find out yourself. 

"What I dread more than anything else in this life is noise...silence helps you to go inward...anyone who is interested in something more than just life outside actually needs silence.” 

Many reviewers thought it was pretentious and snobby, but as a person who usually despises every French film and book written by ostentatious French authors I was pleasantly surprised. "Cynical", is how a reviewer for The Telegraph described it. Well, duh. Maybe I am as arrogant as the characters in the book (they have the right to be arrogant though), but I really understood them and their emotions. What the young Paloma thinks of her sister and her ignorant friends, is exactly what I've been saying for the past few years. 

"A teenager who acts like a grown-up is still a teenager. How can you believe that you are somehow magically developed into a fully grown up  person by sleeping around and getting high, the most destructive things adults can do. They think they will turn into grown-ups by imitating grownups who have remained children." (Marry me, Paloma!) 

The book has been adapted for the screen in the form of a French film from 2009. Perhaps I should lay aside my scepticism towards French cinema and watch it. There is a cat in it, after all. 

I have shared with you some of my favourite quotes. 

"People aim for the stars, and they end up like goldfish in a bowl. I wonder if it wouldn't be simpler just to teach children right from the start that life is absurd."

"Madame Michel has the elegance of the hedgehog: on the outside she is covered in quills, a real fortress, but my gut feeling is that on the inside, she has the same simple refinement as the  hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary--and terrible elegant."

"Politics," she says. "A toy for little rich kids that they won't let anyone else play with."

"If you fear the future, it is because you cannot handle building up the present."

"Colombe Josse is also a sort of tall blond leek who dresses like a penniless Bohemian. If there is one thing I despise, it is the perverse affectation of rich people who go around dressing as if they were poor, in second-hand clothes, ill-fitting gray wool bonnets, socks full of holes, and flowered shirts under threadbare sweaters. Not only is it ugly, it is also insulting: nothing is more despicable than a rich man’s scorn for a poor man’s longing."

"The rich seem to believe that regular people have a less developed emotional life and are thus unaffected by difficulties. As concierges we were expected to see death as a natural part of life while it was experienced as highly unfair and tragic to our wealthy neighbours." 

"When I saw these images I wondered what it is that makes a kid want to burn a car. What is going on in their heads? And then this thought came into my mind: what about me? Why do I want to set fire to the apartment?...Maybe the greatest anger and frustration come not from unemployment or poverty or the lack of a future but from the feeling that you have no culture, because you've been torn between cultures, between incompatible symbols. How can you exist if you don't know where you are? What do you do if your culture will always be that of a Thai fishing village and of Parisian grands bourgeois at the same time? Or if you're the son of immigrants but also the citizen of an old, conservative nation? So you burn cars, because when you have no culture, you're no longer a civilized animal, you're a wild beast. And a wild beast burns and kills and pillages."

Royal Palaces of Britain - Hampton Court Palace

"When he died in 1547 Henry VIII had more than 60 houses, but none were more important to him, nor more sumptuously decorated, than Hampton Court Palace."

I chose Hampton Court Palace for this entry because I have visited the beautiful place myself. Unfortunately only once, and the day was quite short due to bus delays and my friend and I were not sure how long it would actually take to get there. The bus ride there felt longer than the way back, because I was so excited! Finally I was going to see the famous, favourite palace of Henry VIII and some of his wives!  There was a lot to explore at the palace, if you're like me, and want to take in every detail of every room and corridor. The gardens are fantastic, and huge! So if you plan to visit, make sure you get there early. I regret not taking more photos, I think in my enthusiasm I had forgotten to charge my camera battery...

Welcome to Base Court!
Cardinal Thomas Wolsey
(Note: This is not intended as a history lesson, some facts may not be accurate)


Located in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames (south west London), right next to the Thames and near Kingston upon Thames, the Tudor buildings as we know them today were originally built for and by Thomas Wolsey, who served as a cardinal of the Catholic church and as a political figure in England. Wolsey was criticised by many of his peers for his extravagant lifestyle, epitomised by his ostentatious palace. One of the best surviving parts of Wolsey's Hampton Court is Base Court, the vast outer courtyard he built to house his guests. He chose to build in red brick, because it was highly fashionable and expressed his wealth and status. 

Inside Wolsey's rooms
He rose to prominence as a trusted, influential advisor of King Henry VIII, but fell out of favour after failing to annull the King's marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and Hampton Court (along with his other residence, York Place) was passed on to the King and became a favourite residence of the King and his court. Wolsey fell ill on the way to London after being accused of treason, and he died before he entered the city. 

Wolsey had transformed the little manor and the site into a magnificent palace, little of which has been unchanged. The King made sure the kitchens were quadrupled (!) in size, to enable them to house the thousand people who made up his court. 

Henry added the important Great Hall and a tennis court, and spent generous amounts of money to create apartments fit for his new queen Anne. Unfortunately she never got to see the finished result, as she couldn't give him the son he wanted and was beheaded in 1536. Keep an eye out for her falcon badge and the carved "H&A" initials, which Henry wanted to replace with his third wife Jane Seymour's phoenix badge. In the rush to erase every memory of Anne Boleyn, some were missed! 

It was here that his son Edward was born, and Jane Seymour died a couple of weeks later, of childbed fever. It was also here where he was informed of his fifth wife's infidelity, and where he married his sixth wife, Katherine Parr. Both of his daughters enjoyed the palace during their reign. Edward did not survive to adulthood. 

The Great House of Easement was
once in this part of the palace
There was also a big hunting park and a chapel. And how about a multiple garderobe (or lavatory), known as the Great House of Easement, which could sit 28 people at a time. Water flowed to the palace from Coombe Hill in Kingston, three miles away, through lead pipes, but everything that came out of the Great House of Easement flowed into the Thames...

The large window is that of the Great Hall of Henry VIII. Look at the decorated chimneys!
The stairs leading to the Great Hall

The handcarved ceiling took 5 years to complete; Henry had the poor workers work day and night with the help of lit candles. Back then it would have been brighter, in blue and red and gold.

The Great Hall would be accessible to most members of court and visitors, the floor would have been made up of green tiles. The door opening leads to the Great Watching Chamber. 

The tapestries are hundreds of years old, carefully preserved by skilled people.
Adjacent to the Great Hall is the horn room, the waiting
room of the servants. The horns date back to the 1600s. 

Throughout the 1520s, Hampton Court hosted important European delegations. These were occasions for flamboyant displays of wealth and conspicuous consumption, but also for doing deals and signing treaties that would help improve England’s position in Europe. In August 1546 Henry feasted and fêted the French ambassador and his entourage of two hundred gentlemen, as well as 1,300 members of his own court, for six days. A "camping area" of gold and velvet tents surrounded a smaller replica of Hampton Court Palace for the occasion. Imagine what went on; a music festival of the 1500s?!

The Great Watching Chamber, for the more important, high status courtiers. On Sundays and great feast days, Henry VIII and leading members of his court liturgically processed to the Chapel Royal through the Great Watching Chamber and along the galleries. The door at the end would have led to the King's private apartments and bed chamber, but unfortunately those were lost during the renovations. 
"The Haunted Gallery", through which the fifth wife, Katherine Howard was said to run screaming after being accused of adultery. She had apparently struggled free from the guards, and was on her way towards the chapel to plead with Henry. She was executed in February 1542.
The ghost of Katherine Howard? 
The richly adorned chapel ceiling
The Clock Court; the astronomical clock was installed in 1540 and is still functioning! It does not only display the time of the day, but also the signs of the zodiac, phases of the moon and when you can expect high water at London Bridge. 


Various Jameses and Charleses (unfortunately I have not focused on this part of British history - yet) followed Elizabeth's death and continued to use the palace as a country retreat away from the hustle and bustle of London, but in the late 17th century people had begun to see Hampton Court Palace as antique and outdated, especially compared to the French Versailles.

Mary II and her husband William were responsible for the massive rebuilding project of the palace, and they added a whole new Baroque palace behind the Tudor building. They hired the famous architect Christopher Wren, whose original plan was to demolish the Tudor palace, all of it, except the Great Hall. It's a good thing for us that they didn't have sufficient funds at the time! Unfortunately, parts of the original Tudor castle were indeed demolished and replaced. Henry VIII's apartments were lost. The King's and Queen's new state apartments now faced the new Fountain Court, each suite accessible by a large staircase. 

I wouldn't mind living here; entrance to William III's apartments
And the Queen's staircase
The Fountain Court
The palace served as a venue for plays, dances, banquets and court masques and amongst the assembled guests was William Shakespeare. He was booked as one of the newly liveried ‘King’s Men’ to produce his plays in front of a royal audience. Later, Queen Anne and her successor George I continued the renovations and completed more rooms, although progress was slow. George II who died in 1760 was the last monarch to reside here.

There are many beautiful works of art and furniture to be found at Hampton Court, and collections of Asian ceramics. Decorated mirrors, royal beds, canopies of state, detailed paintings, original Tudor tapestries, chandeliers, oak tables. I am personally not much for art, but the images and decorations on the walls and in the ceilings are amazing. You cannot help but feeling "royal" when you walk up the grand staircase to William III's apartments, or when sitting in a bay window of Mary II's apartments with a view of the vast garden and the fountains.

This is where the 17th century Kings and Queens would have greeted their visitors
The echoing Orangery, with its fabulous floor and statues! 

Mary II's bed chamber (the chandelier is from 1700) 
I wouldn't mind dining here (I loved the portraits on the walls!) 
Communication Gallery (leading from Haunted Gallery & the Queen's Staircase) 
Queen's Gallery (between Mary's closet and the Queen's Bedroom), with a view of the gardens
Cartoon Gallery (connects the Communication Gallery, Presence Chambers and Georgian private rooms)


The gardens are even bigger than the palace itself, and made up of fountains, avenues, geometric systems of paths and flowers, bushes and trees. The maze on the grounds was planted in 1690. 

From the 1760s onwards, the palace was divided up for ‘grace-and-favour’ residents who were granted rent-free accommodation (!!) because they had given great service to the Crown or country. They lived, often with their own small households of servants around the state apartments. The whole palace was divided up into a labyrinth of apartments of varying size and quality. Some apartments had no more than four rooms, while the largest had nearly 40. 

Although Hampton Court had ceased to be a royal home, antiquarians and architects showed increasing interest in the surviving parts of the historic Tudor palace. Enthusiasm and support grew to restore the building to something of its original glory. The Great Hall and the Great Gatehouse were ‘re-Tudorised’. In the 1970s and 80s, more attention was given to visitors. Exhibitions were introduced and some improvements made, but this was interrupted in 1986 by a fire that severely damaged a large part of the King's apartments. Repairs took six years and led to the largest series of restorations at the palace since the 1880s. 

Conservation and restoration of Hampton Court Palace continues. The majority of the palace buildings are now open to the public or used as office space and store-rooms, although a small group of grace-and-favour residencies remain. (I would very much like to be one of the very special grace-and-favour residents...!

When I visited it happened to be Mother's Day, 

and the palace was decorated with flower sets

Ground and first floor plans of Hampton Court, this ought to give you an idea of how big it is, and how many rooms there really are...it's a labyrinth!
That's me in March 2010 in the gardens :) 
I hope you have enjoyed reading about Hampton Court Palace, for some reason my summary of its history was not as "brief" as I intended it to be. I haven't decided yet which castle is up next, but it's probably another London residence!