Windsor Castle: Royal Residence and a Symbol of British Heritage
Windsor Castle is one of the most famous and historically significant landmarks in the United Kingdom. This grand castle is located in the town of Windsor, just 20 miles west of London. It is not only the largest inhabited castle in the world, but it is also one of the oldest and most iconic, having served as the residence of British monarchs for over 900 years. The castle attracts visitors from all over the world, who come to explore its grand interiors and learn about its fascinating history.
A Brief History of Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle has been a prominent feature of the English landscape for over 900 years, with a history that spans from the medieval period to modern times. As a royal residence, the castle has been expanded, renovated, and rebuilt numerous times by various monarchs, each adding their own unique touches to the castle’s architecture and design. If you want to take a brief look at the history of the castle, the table below contains important events that took place throughout the castle’s history.
|1070||William the Conqueror builds a timber motte-and-bailey castle on the site|
|1170||Henry II replaces the timber castle with a stone keep|
|1216||Henry III expands the castle, adding a chapel and a royal residence|
|1348||Edward III begins building the current castle, including St. George’s Chapel|
|1415||The Order of the Garter is established by Edward III at Windsor Castle|
|1485||Henry VII uses Windsor Castle as a base during the Battle of Bosworth Field|
|1660||Charles II begins a major renovation of the castle, including the State Apartments|
|1804||George III establishes the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle|
|1917||During World War I, the Royal Family changes the name of the castle from “Windsor” to “Windsor Castle” to avoid anti-German sentiment|
|1940||During World War II, the castle is bombed by the German Luftwaffe, causing significant damage to St. George’s Chapel and the State Apartments|
|1992||A fire breaks out at Windsor Castle, causing significant damage|
|1992||In response to the fire at Windsor Castle, Queen Elizabeth II agrees to pay income tax for the first time in her reign|
|1997||The funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales is held at St. George’s Chapel|
|2018||Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are married at St. George’s Chapel|
|2020||Windsor Castle is closed to visitors for several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but reopens with new safety measures in place|
Medieval Period (11th-15th century)
The origins of Windsor Castle date back to the Norman Conquest in 1066, when William the Conqueror built a wooden fortress on the site to defend against potential rebellions. Over the centuries, the castle was expanded and fortified by various monarchs, including King Henry II and King Edward III. During the medieval period, the castle was primarily used as a defensive stronghold, with the Middle Ward serving as a residential area for the royal family and their servants.
Tudor Period (16th century)
During the Tudor period, the castle underwent a significant transformation under the reign of King Henry VIII. The Upper Ward was constructed during this time, which included the impressive King’s Apartments and Queen’s Apartments. These lavish rooms were decorated with fine tapestries, paintings, and sculptures, showcasing the wealth and power of the Tudor dynasty. The Lower Ward was also built during this period and was used as a military barracks and storage area.
Stuart Period (17th century)
The Stuart period saw the castle’s defensive capabilities being tested once again during the English Civil War. In 1642, the castle was captured by Parliamentary forces and used as a prison for Royalist soldiers. It wasn’t until the Restoration in 1660 that the castle was restored to its former glory under the reign of King Charles II. During this period, the castle’s interiors were redecorated with fine art and furnishings, reflecting the opulence of the Baroque style.
Georgian and Victorian Era (18th-19th century)
During the Georgian and Victorian era, the castle was renovated and rebuilt once again under the guidance of famous architects such as Sir Jeffry Wyatville and Sir Aston Webb. The castle’s State Apartments were redesigned and decorated in the Georgian and Victorian style, with opulent furnishings and artwork. The castle’s park and landscape were also redesigned during this period, with the addition of the Long Walk and other impressive features. Queen Victoria, in particular, was fond of Windsor Castle and spent much of her time there during her reign.
Modern Times (20th-21st century)
In modern times, Windsor Castle remains an important royal residence and tourist attraction. It was the site of many royal weddings, including the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in 2018. In 1992, a disastrous fire broke out in the castle, causing extensive damage to some of its most historic parts, including St. George’s Hall. The castle was closed to the public for five months during the restoration, which cost an estimated £40 million.
In conclusion, Windsor Castle is a testament to the rich history and cultural heritage of England. Its long and varied past has seen it evolve from a wooden fortress to a magnificent royal residence, with each monarch adding their own unique touch to its architecture and design. Today, it stands as a symbol of Britain’s enduring monarchy and continues to be a beloved landmark for visitors from around the world.
The Architecture and Design of Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, with a rich and varied history that is reflected in its design. The castle is made up of a series of buildings, each built during a different era, which gives it a unique character and charm.
The most famous feature of the castle is the Round Tower, which stands 65 metres high and offers stunning views of the surrounding countryside. The castle’s State Apartments are also a highlight, with their opulent decor and impressive collection of artwork and antiques. Other notable features include St. George’s Chapel, which is the final resting place of many British monarchs, and the Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, a stunning miniature replica of a grand house that was built for Queen Mary in the 1920s.
Middle Ward – The Oldest Part of the Windsor Castle
The Middle Ward is the oldest part of Windsor Castle and was originally built in the 11th century by William the Conqueror. It includes the impressive Round Tower, which is one of the most iconic features of the castle. The Middle Ward was used as a residential area for the royal family and their servants during the medieval period.
The Round Tower stands at 65.5 meters tall and offers panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. It was used as a lookout and defense tower during the medieval period, and today it houses a museum showcasing the castle’s history and its many royal residents.
Upper Ward – A Showcase of Tudor and Georgian Architecture
The Upper Ward was built during the Tudor period and includes the King’s Apartments and Queen’s Apartments. These apartments were renovated and redecorated in the Georgian and Victorian style, with opulent furnishings and artwork. The Upper Ward also includes the impressive St. George’s Chapel, which is the final resting place of many British monarchs.
The King’s Apartments are a stunning example of Tudor architecture, with intricately carved ceilings and oak-panelled walls. The Queen’s Apartments were redesigned in the Georgian style, with lavish furnishings and decor that reflect the opulence of the era. The St. George’s Chapel, built in the 15th century, is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture and features intricate carvings, stained glass windows, and an impressive fan-vaulted ceiling.
Lower Ward – A Military Barracks Turned Museum
The Lower Ward was also built during the Tudor period and was used as a military barracks and storage area. Today, it is home to the castle’s museum, which features an impressive collection of artwork and antiques. The museum showcases the castle’s rich history and the many royal residents who have lived within its walls.
Visitors can view the Royal Collection, which includes paintings, sculptures, and furniture from the 15th century to the present day. The collection also features rare manuscripts, photographs, and other historical artifacts that provide a glimpse into the lives of the British monarchs who have called Windsor Castle home.
Park and Landscape – A Picturesque Oasis
The castle’s park and landscape were redesigned during the Georgian and Victorian era. The park covers over 5000 acres and includes the Long Walk, a beautiful avenue of trees that leads to the castle. The Long Walk is a popular spot for tourists and locals alike, who come to enjoy a leisurely stroll or a picnic on the expansive lawns.
The castle’s park also features stunning gardens, including the impressive Savill Garden, which is home to over 35 acres of ornamental gardens and woodland. Visitors can enjoy the sights and smells of the many varieties of flowers and plants, as well as explore the many paths and trails that wind through the gardens.
Visiting Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle is open to visitors all year round, except for a few days around Christmas and New Year. Here are some important things to know before you visit:
- Admission tickets can be purchased online in advance or on the day of your visit.
- The castle can be very busy, especially during the summer months, so it is recommended to arrive early to avoid long queues and crowds.
- Visitors are not allowed to take photographs or use mobile phones inside the castle.
- There are guided tours available for an additional fee, which provide a more in-depth look at the castle’s history and architecture.
- St. George’s Chapel may close for services at certain times of the day, so it is important to check the schedule before your visit.
- The castle has several cafes and restaurants where visitors can grab a bite to eat or enjoy a cup of tea or coffee.
- The castle is also wheelchair accessible, with ramps and lifts available throughout the site.
Visitors can explore the castle’s grand interiors, including the State Apartments, which are adorned with priceless artwork and furnishings. The castle’s museum features an impressive collection of paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts from the royal collection. St. George’s Chapel is another must-see attraction, with its stunning architecture and historical significance.
In addition to the castle itself, visitors can also explore the castle’s park and gardens, which offer breathtaking views of the castle and the surrounding countryside. The Long Walk is a popular walking route, which takes visitors through the park to the copper horse statue of King George III.
Overall, a visit to Windsor Castle is a unique and unforgettable experience, offering a glimpse into the rich history and grandeur of the British monarchy.
The Round Tower, which stands at 65 metres tall, is the largest and most iconic tower at Windsor Castle. It is used as a viewing platform for visitors and provides breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape.
Charles Dickens was buried in the Poet’s Corner of St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle in 1870. Dickens was a great admirer of the castle and its history, and even included it in his novel “Barnaby Rudge”.
The Queen’s Dolls’ House at Windsor Castle is a miniature replica of a royal residence, complete with working lights, running water, and even a tiny library with miniature books. It was built in the 1920s as a gift to Queen Mary and is considered one of the finest examples of a dolls’ house in the world.
Yes, Windsor Castle has a long history of being attacked and besieged, dating back to the 12th century. One of the most famous attacks occurred during the English Civil War, when the castle was held by Royalist forces and was besieged by Parliamentarian troops for several months.