Windsor Castle

Facts about Windsor Castle

We found 36 facts about Windsor Castle

A thousand-year-old royal residence

Windsor Castle embodies almost a thousand years of architectural history. It is strongly associated with the English and later British royal family.

It was built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century, and since the time of Henry I it has been used by the reigning monarch. It is the longest-occupied palace in Europe.

Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle is a royal residence in the city of Windsor, in the English county of Berkshire.

It was built between 1070 and 1086 by William I the Conqueror, also known as William the Bastard, King of England and Duke of Normandy.

William the Conqueror ordered the construction of several castles to defend the roads leading to London. It was important that the distance between them and the capital could be covered in less than one day (about 32 km) so that the messengers could notify the royal army of the enemy's entry.

The site for the construction of the fortress, which was later transformed into Windsor Castle, was chosen on a steep, limestone hill, where the first wooden building existed as early as 1070.

Windsor Castle was strategically important due to its proximity to both the Thames, a key medieval route to London, and Windsor Forest, a royal hunting park (the private hunting ground of Windsor Castle) south of the town of Windsor, previously used by the Saxon kings.

The initial wooden castle consisted of a tower and an outer ward protected by a small wall, which was located on a cliff rising 30 m above the river.

A second wooden outer ward was also built, followed by the outer ward from the west. It created the basic shape of the modern castle.

Windsor was not used as a royal residence from the beginning.

The kings of that time preferred to use the former palace of Edward the Confessor (one of the last Anglo-Saxon English kings) in the village of Old Windsor for this purpose.

The first king to use Windsor Castle as a residence was Henry I, who celebrated Whitsunday at the castle in 1110.

The king's wedding to Adela, daughter of Godfrey of Louvain, took place there in 1121.

Windsor was expanded by subsequent rulers.

Henry II, who came to the throne in 1154, replaced the wooden palisade surrounding the upper castle with a stone wall interspersed with square towers and built the first Royal Gate.

The castle was one of Henry III's three favorite residences.

He invested a considerable amount in its development, spending more money in Windsor than on any of his other estates.

After marrying Eleanor of Provence, a French noblewoman who became Queen of England as the wife of Henry III, Henry built a luxurious palace at Windsor between 1240-63.

A number of buildings were built in the lower courtyard, including a 21 m-long chapel, later called the Chapel of Our Lady. It was the most magnificent of the numerous chapels built for the ruler's use, comparable in size and quality to the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris.

The architectural concept of Henry III was characterized by a religious overtone of rich decorations, which were one of the most outstanding elements of English medieval art.

There was also a division into the Upper Castle, more private, and the Lower Castle, dedicated to the public face of the monarchy.

In 1296, a fire destroyed the Great Hall, which was not rebuilt.

In the 14th century, King Edward III (also known as Edward of Windsor) was born at Windsor Castle and used it throughout his reign.

In 1344, he announced the establishment of a new Order of the Round Table in the castle, which, however, was soon abandoned by the king. He established the Order of the Garter, based in Windsor, with the Poor Knights of Windsor.

Edward also decided to rebuild the castle to make it a symbol of royal power and chivalry. He spent £5.000 for this purpose, and it was the largest amount spent by a medieval English monarch on a single construction operation - it was more than one and a half times the king's annual income, amounting to £30.000.

Before Edward III began to expand Windsor, it was already a very large building.

Edward made it even more impressive, and most of the expenses went to furnishing the castle. The castle was the most expensive secular building project of the entire Middle Ages in England.

Around the eastern and southern ends of the Upper Court, Edward ordered the construction of luxurious, self-contained apartments for his court, creating a modern quadrilateral shape.

In 1354, the earliest mechanical clock in England, powered by weight, was installed in the Round Tower.

The castle was also used to hold French prisoners taken after the Battle of Poitiers in 1357.

Among the prisoners was the King of France, John II, for whom a significant ransom was expected.

In the 15th century, King Edward IV began building the current chapel of St. George.

It is a chapel built in the style of late medieval Perpendicular Gothic. It is both a church under the direct jurisdiction of the monarch and a Chapel of the Order of the Garter.

From the 15th century, the Chapel of St. George and nearby Frogmore Gardens replaced Westminster Abbey as the chosen burial place of the British royal family.

During the reign of Henry VII, Windsor Castle began to be used for international diplomatic events.

Among those accepted there were: Philip I of Castile in 1506.

During the reign of Henry VII, Yorkist William de la Pole, one of the pretenders to the throne, was imprisoned in Windsor before his execution in 1513.

The tradition of Garter Feasts was maintained and became more extravagant during the reign of Henry VIII.

Henry VIII rebuilt the main castle gate and built a tennis court. He also built a long terrace, which was designed to provide an impressive view of the Thames.

Edward VI did not like Windsor Castle.

He used to say about it: "Me thinks I am in prison."

Elizabeth I, on the other hand, spent a lot of time at Windsor Castle and used it as a safe haven in crises.

It became one of her favorite places and she spent more money on this property than any other. She carried out several modest reconstruction works in the palace. She transformed the existing terrace into a permanent, huge stone terrace with statues, sculptures, and an outdoor banquet house.

She used the castle for diplomatic purposes, although it did not have as much space as more modern royal palaces. This stream of foreign visitors was captured in William Shakespeare's play "The Merry Wives of Windsor."

In the 17th century, James I used Windsor Castle primarily as a base for hunting, one of his favorite activities, and for socializing with friends.

These meetings were often heavily infused with alcohol. One of them became infamous throughout Europe due to the drunken behavior of two kings, James I and Christian IV, king of Denmark and Norway.

In 1642, the English Civil War broke out, dividing the country between supporters of the Royalists of Charles I and the Parliamentarians.

Windsor Castle was converted into the seat of the Earl of Essex, the senior general of Parliament. The monastery was taken over as a prison for captured royalists, and the local canons were expelled from the castle. The Chapel of Our Lady was turned into a warehouse. In Windsor Great Park, 500 king deer were killed and the fence was burned as firewood.

Charles I was also imprisoned in the castle for the last three weeks of his reign.

The civil war and interregnum years caused enormous damage to the royal palaces of England.

The restoration of the monarchy in 1660 brought many significant changes to Windsor Castle. It was the only royal palace that was fully modernized by Charles II.

Charles II was heavily influenced by the style of Louis XIV and imitated French design. In Windsor, he created the most baroque interiors ever created in England.

The North Terrace was rebuilt and a new building was built, called the Starry Terrace because Charles II placed a huge gilded Garter star on its side. The castle was expanded, increasing its area.

In the 18th century, Queen Anne created the Ascot Racecourse and began the tradition of the annual Royal Ascot Procession from the castle.

Gregory I was not interested in Windsor Castle, preferring his other palaces. George II also rarely used Windsor, preferring Hampton Court.

Many of the apartments within the castle were given away as privileges for use by prominent widows or other friends of the Crown.

In the 1640s, Windsor Castle became a tourist attraction. Wealthier guests who could afford to pay the castle caretaker could enter and see curiosities, such as a narwhal horn. Later, the castle could be visited by the general public.

In the 1750s the first guidebooks to Windsor, produced by George Bickham and Joseph Pote, were available for purchase.

When George III came to the throne in 1760, he reversed the trend in Windsor.

Initially, the atmosphere in the castle remained very informal, local children played there, and the royal family was often seen walking around the grounds. Over time, access to the castle for visitors became more limited.

George III began transforming the castle in the Gothic style. Conservation work was undertaken inside and several new rooms were built, including a new Gothic staircase.

New paintings were purchased for the castle, and the king transferred collections there from other royal palaces. The cost of the work amounted to over £15.000 (in 2008 it was £100 million).

The king also undertook extensive work in the castle park, establishing new Norfolk and Flemish farms, creating two dairies, and restoring Virginia Water Lake.

At the end of the 18th century, Windsor Castle became the retreat of King George III.

In 1788, the king first fell ill while dining at Windsor Castle. He was diagnosed with a mental illness. After several relapses, in 1810 the king was confined to the royal chambers.

In 1820, George IV came to the throne of Great Britain.

He intended to create a complex of royal palaces that would reflect his wealth and influence as the ruler of an increasingly powerful Britain. He began rebuilding Windsor Castle to modernize it. The Parliament allocated £300.000 for this purpose (£245 million in 2008).

The castle was rebuilt, including numerous new towers, and the southern ward was intended for private quarters for the king.

The reconstruction of the castle was completed by the death of the main architect in 1840. Total investment costs rose to over one million pounds (£817 million in 2008).

Windsor Castle became the main royal residence for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, although early in her reign Victoria complained that the castle was boring and tiring, resembling a prison.

The growth of the British Empire and Queen Victoria's close dynastic ties with Europe made Windsor the center of many diplomatic and state visits.

The queen managed the castle very carefully and was interested in all the details of the castle.

In 1861, Prince Albert died in the Blue Room at Windsor Castle. He was buried in the Royal Mausoleum built at nearby Frogmore, within the royal park.

The prince's rooms were preserved exactly as they were at the time of his death, and Victoria kept the castle in a state of mourning for many years. She was then nicknamed "The Widow of Windsor".

Victoria did not consent to the introduction of era inventions to Windsor Castle.

The Queen did not like gas lighting, she preferred candles. At the end of her reign, electric lighting was installed only in some parts of the castle.

During the reign of Queen Victoria, the castle was known for being cold and drafty, but for the first time it was connected to a nearby reservoir, and water was supplied inside.

During Victoria's time, many changes to Windsor concerned the parks and surrounding buildings. The park area was fenced off to create a private park with no public roads passing through it anymore.

Under Edward VII, who took the throne in 1901, the castle was also modernized.

In addition to renovating and clearing unnecessary equipment from existing rooms, electric lighting and central heating were introduced in subsequent rooms. A telephone line was installed and garages were built to house the newly invented cars.

During the 1908 Olympic Games, the marathon started at Windsor Castle.

In 1911, pioneering aviator Thomas Sopwith landed on the castle grounds for the first time.

King George V continued the process of gradual modernization of the castle.

He was helped in this by his wife, Queen Mary, who was mainly interested in furniture and decorations and purchased many new works of art with which she furnished the staterooms.

Queen Mary was a lover of everything miniature. A famous doll's house was created for her, designed by the architect Edwin Lutyens and furnished by leading craftsmen and designers of the 1930s.

King George was interested in maintaining a high standard of court life at Windsor Castle. He adopted the motto that everything should be the best. The castle had a large staff - about 660 servants worked there at that time.

During the reign of George V, the dynastic name of the German Royal House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha also changed.

King George decided to take the name from the castle and the royal family became the House of Windsor in 1917. This change was dictated by anti-German sentiments during World War I.

King Edward VIII did not spend much time at Windsor Castle.

His reign was short and in December 1936 he broadcast his abdication speech to the British Empire from the castle, assuming the title of Duke of Windsor.

His successor, George VI, and his wife Elizabeth lived in Windsor Castle. He revived the annual Garter Service.

When World War II broke out, the castle was prepared for war conditions.

Various security measures were introduced and the windows were darkened. Important works of art were removed from the castle for safekeeping, valuable chandeliers were lowered to the floor. Paintings were also commissioned to capture the appearance of the castle.

The royal family lived in the part of the castle where the roof was reinforced. In the basement of the castle, next to the crown jewels, heavy water rescued in France and transported to Windsor was stored.

In February 1952, Elizabeth II came to the throne. After her coronation, she lived in Buckingham Palace, but she never liked this palace, preferring Windsor Castle.

She made Windsor Castle her weekend destination.

In 1992, there was a great fire at Windsor Castle.

It lasted 15 hours and caused extensive damage. The fire spread quickly and destroyed nine main state rooms and severely damaged over 100 others. It caused significant damage, but much more was caused by the water used to extinguish it (over 7 million liters were used).

Windsor Castle is the largest inhabited castle in the world and the longest-used castle in Europe.

In 2006, approximately 500 people lived and worked in the castle.

Queen Elizabeth increasingly used the castle as a royal palace, as well as her weekend home. Nowadays it is as often used for state banquets and official meetings as Buckingham Palace.

Much was done during the reign of Elizabeth II, not only to restore and maintain the castle but also to transform it into a major tourist attraction in Britain.

The castle contains a significant part of the Royal Art Collection. In 2007, Windsor Castle was visited by 993.000 tourists.

Since March 2020, Queen Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, have been sheltering in place at Windsor Castle during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They were accompanied only by a small staff. During the pandemic, Christmas was celebrated at Windsor Castle rather than at Sandringham House for the first time since 1987. While the Queen was in Windsor on Christmas Day 2021, an intruder armed with a crossbow entered the royal gardens. He couldn't get into any buildings because he was arrested.

On April 9, 2021, Prince Philip died at Windsor Castle.

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