Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle has a long and rich history dating back to the time of William the Conqueror in the late eleventh century. William the Conqueror started building Windsor Castle in 1070 and work was completed in 1086. The great castle was built as a means to defend and secure the western path towards London. The castle was built on an earth mound which supported a keep. The castle has an Upper and Lower Ward. Initially the walls around the castle were made of timber but King Henry II changed this and rebuilt the outer walls using stone. 

Over the next several hundred years the castle of Windsor was rebuilt and developed. The initial keep built by William the Conqueror was replaced with the Round Tower in 1170. Edward III transformed Windsor Castle from a defence castle to a grand Gothic Palace. Under the guidance of Edward III, William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester oversaw the building of many new structures within the castle including an inner gatehouse with cylindrical towers and the building of royal apartments on the north side of the Quadrangle. 

Looking up at the Round Tower (photo by me).

Edward III also founded ‘The Order of the Garter’, the oldest surviving order of chivalry in the world. In addition to this he founded the College of St George, St George being the patron saint of the Garter. Edward IV, great, great grandson of Edward III began the building of the St George chapel in 1475 and it was within this chapel that he was buried. 

St George’s Chapel (photo by me).

The Tudor monarchs also left their print upon Windsor Castle. Henry VII continued the work that Edward IV had begun upon St George’s Chapel and also rebuilt Albert Memorial Chapel. Henry VII’s son Henry VIII added a large stone gate at the bottom of the Lower Ward which to this day bears his name. He also oversaw the building of a wooden oriel window within the Quire of St George’s Chapel so that his first wife and Queen Katherine of Aragon could view the church services. In 1533/34 he also had added the terrace which was made of wood along the north side of the external wall in the Upper Ward. From this terrace Henry VIII could watch men hunting in the forest or practice shooting.  By the time Henry VIII’s daughter Elizabeth I was Queen of England the terrace was in great ruin and was rebuilt with stone. 

Henry VIII’s Gate (photo by me).

Henry VIII was buried next to his third wife Jane Seymour, in a vault underneath the middle of the Quire in St George’s Chapel. In his will he had planned for a large monument to be created in his memory within St George’s Chapel but unfortunately this never eventuated and all that remains to remind us of where this great King rests is a marble slab bearing his name on the floor of the Quire. 

During the reign of Charles II the English King oversaw the refurbishment of the royal apartments. Charles II appointed Hugh May to complete the refurbishment and he hired a skilled team of painters, artists and craftsmen to modernize and bring Windsor Castle back to life. The refurbishment was finally completed in 1674 and Windsor Castle quickly became one of Charles II favourite palaces. 

George III also oversaw to the modernizing of Windsor by appointing James Wyatt to restore the eternal facades and to create a new grand staircase within the State Apartments. George IV continued his father’s work by heightening Henry II’s Round Tower, creating a gallery between the apartments on the south and east sides of the castle and building a new entrance and staircase in the State Apartments on the north side of the castle. George IV went on to spent nearly £300 000 on his gothic transformation of Windsor Castle. 

In 1848 Queen Victoria declared that the State Apartments would be opened regularly to the public. 

In 1992 a fire started in Queen Victoria’s private chapel. It is believed to have started from the heat of a spot light igniting a curtain. The fire swept through the roof spaces of Windsor Castle destroying the ceilings of St George’s Hall and the Grand Reception room. It destroyed the private chapel, State Dining Room, Crimson Drawing Room and many other smaller rooms. It took fifteen hours and two hundred fire fighters to eventually put out the fire. Thankfully many of the great works of art within the Castle had been moved previously and they were not affected by the fire. Repair and restoration work was started immediately and was finally completed on 20th November 1997. Although the repair work cost a staggering £37 million it was greatly needed to protect and restore the magnificent and ancient Windsor Castle. 

Windsor Castle is one of the official residences of Queen Elizabeth II and the Queen is in residence at Windsor twice a year, in Easter and in June when the annual Garter Service is held at St George’s Chapel. Whenever the Queen is in residence at Windsor the Royal Standard flag is flown above the Round Tower. Other members of the Royal family use Windsor Castle throughout the year for various celebrations. 

I was fortunate enough to visit Windsor Castle on the 7th of November 2009. I do not even know how I can begin to describe the castle! It’s just… breathtaking.. and HUGE! It is SOOO much bigger than I had initially anticipated. I thought that it was just one castle with a chapel and some interesting rooms, but it is SO much more than that!

I caught the train to the castle and I have to admit that I was a little nervous. I had to catch one train from Paddington to Slough and then another from Slough to Windsor. I was nervous about the changeover but in the end I had no reason to be. I stepped off the first train walked about three feet and got onto the second train, simple as that!

You can see Windsor Castle from the train and immediately it takes your breath away! It’s just magnificent and so old! I did not realise that it was hundreds upon hundreds of years old consisting of huge old towers and gateways and long brick walkways – it really is quite spectacular. I would say that only about a third of the entire castle is open to visitors – and even just to look around the third took me three hours!

First I went to St George’s Chapel. Now if you want an old, majestic chapel then this is certainly the place to go. It’s over six hundred years old with high ceilings and the most intricately carved walls and decorations. I spent about an hour in the chapel just looking around, trying to see every small detail. It really blew me away. There is an awe about the place and you cannot help but respect and be mesmerized by the history and splendour of the chapel.

I was also quite taken by Henry VIII’s grave, at least the marble slab that marks the spot of his grave. Henry VIII was buried with his third wife Jane Seymour within a vault under the middle of the Quire. I am absolutely fascinated with Henry VIII and his tumultuous reign and am always eager to learn anything I can about this fascinating man and the life during his reign. It was really quite chilling to be standing there, only a few feet above where the body of one of the famous and interesting men in all of history lies. I honestly do not know how long I stood there, being so close to the body of Henry VIII sent shiver down my spine. 

Marble slab marking the resting place of Henry VIII and his third wife Jane Seymour. Photo from the St George's Chapel Windsor Castle handbook.

There are stained glass windows all around the Chapel and on one section there are the Tudors – Henry VIII, Edward his son, Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. I was taken aback by the beauty of the stained glass portraits, but what really blew me away was what the stained glass portrait of Anne was wearing. She was wearing a rich crimson dress with a gold quarter skirt and gold trimmings. It was the exact same dress that I wore for my Tudor photo shoot! Coincidence? I do not know but it was certainly a little freaky! I had no idea about this stained glad portrait of Anne, and yet we wore the same clothes……

There was an interesting exhibition on display in the Drawing Room of the Castle to celebrate Henry VIII’s 500th anniversary of his succession as King. They had a huge display of portraits and drawings of Henry, his son and of his wives and family. There was also a hand drawing portrait of Anne Boleyn by Hans Holbein. I just saw it and started to cry. It was very simple and yet she looked so beautiful. Especially her eyes, they were so beautiful……

It really sent chills down my spine to be able to see these portraits and miniatures that were nearly five hundred years old! It was also spectacular to see Henry when he was a young man right up to the year of his death. He was (I am quite sure) an extremely handsome man in his youth, but as he aged time was not good to him and he turned into a hideously fat haggard old man. Very sad indeed.

I had a long walk around the state rooms, which are just huge and seem to go on forever! I think I probably walked around there for about an hour looking at all the portraits and intricate decorations. I would absolutely love to live in some of those rooms! Having my tea in the Queen’s chamber, looking out across the beautiful gardens, the detailed furniture and spectacular walls and roof… now that would be lavish! There was a stunning portrait of Queen Elizabeth I that was painted when she was thirteen. It really is incredible how much she looked like her mother Anne Boleyn. She certainly had Henry’s bright hair colour, but her eyes and facial structure was all Anne…. Simply beautiful!

A view from the Lower Ward looking up towards the Round Tower (photo by me).

I really loved the castle and would defiantly go again if I had a chance. It is one of those places that I think every time you went you would find something different and beautiful to explore. I am so glad that I went and certainly it was an experience of a life time. 

If you are interested you can view the offical website for Windsor Castle here:  

 The photos which were taken by me please do not copy or redistribute without permission.

Marsden, J and Winterbottom, M 2009, Windsor Castle Official Souvenir Guide, Royal Collection Enterprises Ltd, St James's Palace, London.

The Dean and Canons of Windsor 2008, St George's Chapel Windsor Castle, Scala Publishers Ltd, London.


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