As one of the most iconic standings in the British Isle, Windsor Castle is not only the oldest, but also the largest occupied castle in the entire world, serving as a home to approximately 150 people.
Located in Berkshire and spread across 13 acres, Windsor Castle has been the family home of Kings and Queens throughout British history for almost 1,000 years. It serves as the location of Royal ceremonies and state occasions on a frequent basis, including visits from Presidents and Monarchs from all over the world.
In the midst of her private weekends, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II can often be found on the castle grounds and in the Spring, Windsor Castle plays home to Her Royal Highness for a month for Easter Court, and then again in June while she attends prestigious horse racing event, The Royal Ascot, and the ceremony celebrating The Most Notable Order of the Garter, the highest order of chivalry and the third most prestigious honour in the United Kingdom, which has been awarded to aristocrats and monarchs throughout history, most recently sitting on the lapel of Mervyn King, Baron King of Lothbury , Governor of the Bank of England, and Eliza Manningham-Buller, Director General of MI5 between October 2002 and April 2007. This brotherhood extends to the Queen, The Prince of Wales and 24 specifically chosen Knights.
Initially built by William the Conqueror around 1070, the location of Windsor Castle was chosen due to its high lodgings, situated high above the River Thames, allowing for a crystal clear view of any potential oncoming attacking forces, and because it sat on the cuff of a Saxon hunting ground. A day’s march from the Tower of London, Windsor Castle was intended to secure the Western approach to London. Building of the castle began around 1070, and after 16 years of building, craftsmanship and labour, Windsor Castle was complete.
Today, the outer walls of Windsor Castle are in the same place as they stood under the watchful eye of Normandy king, William the Conqueror. The central mound which supports the Round Tower and the Upper Ward also finds itself in its original location, an embodiment of medieval British history. This is where successive reigning monarchs over the years have had their private apartments, a trend which has ran in the castle’s blood since the fourteenth century.
In 1154, Henry II ascended the throne and in the thirteen years he spent on the throne in England, opting to spend the other 21 in territories across France, made drastic changes to the structuring of Windsor Castle, rebuilding the Round Tower, the outer walls of the Upper and the majority of the Lower Ward in stone instead of their former timber counterpart, as well as Royal apartments in the upper ward. Almost two centuries later, Windsor Castle underwent further renovation. Windsor born Edward III sculpted the breathtaking St George’s Hall to house his newly established order, the aforementioned Order of the Garter.
In the course of his successor, Edward IV’s reign, who sat on the throne between 1461 and 1470, St George’s Chapel began construction, a building which was built commemorating the saint of the Order of the Garter. St George’s Chapel is still highly ranked as one of the finest examples of late medieval architecture in Western Europe. This Chapel serves as a burial ground for the corpses of several infamous monarchs, including Henry VIII, whose ghost is believed to roam the halls and corridors of Windsor Castle as well as his wife Anne Boleyn, Edward VII and George V to name just three.
In 1642, Parliamentarians and Royalists clashed, evoking the English Civil War, during which Oliver Cromwell captured Windsor Castle at the Battle of Edgehill. In turn, Windsor Castle served as both a prison for Cromwell’s army and the headquarters of Parliamentary forces.
With a desire to bring Windsor Castle back to its former beauty after its renovation, Charles II utilized the artistic abilities of architect Hugh May, artist Antonio Verrio and infamous wood carver Grinling Gibbons to create a new set of State Apartments in the 17th century, with Verrio responsible for the building’s decor which included murals and ceiling paintings, with the King’s Dining Room and The Queen’s Audience Chambers retaining many of these features to this day.
Following in his predecessor’s footsteps, George IV is responsible for the majority of Windsor Castle’s traditional aesthetic which it still embodies today, when he collaborated with architect Sir Jeffrey Wyatville in the 19th century when the castle was dressed in a Gothic manner, with the addition of crenellations along the top of barricaded walls, which allowed the shielded fire of guns and arrows, turrets and towers. One of George’s most celebrated additions to the castle is the Waterloo Chamber, dressed in portraits commissioned from Sir Thomas Lawrence, depicting various battle scenes from the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815. These paintings also serve as a homage to monarchs, statesmen and soldiers present in the defeat and the aftermath.
With the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Windsor Castle’s many windows were blacked out to avoid any essence of life from the Germans flying overhead during the Blitz, and as a precaution, priceless works of art were moved away, and royal bedrooms were strengthened. No stranger to attacks, just over 60 years later, a huge fire infamously broke out in Windsor Castle, with over 100 rooms taking damage from the fire, or by the 1.5 million gallons of water it took to extinguish, which destroyed 20% of the castle area. The restoration costs totaled almost £40 million pounds.
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