Windsor Castle has stood where it has with its glorious walls and bricks for a major part of European history. It has witnessed history being forged in its hallowed halls. It’s one of the largest occupied castles in the world for a reason. Through this article, let us learn where is Windsor Castle and take a tour of this magnificent castle.
1. Where Is Windsor Castle?
Windsor Castle is located in the market town of Windsor, which resides in Berkshire, a county in South East England. It serves as the royal residence and as a working royal palace for the British Royal family. It’s the second most iconic palace after Buckingham Palace.
Originally built in the 11th century, it has housed over 39 monarchs and now is also where Queen Elizabeth II rests forever.
2. History of Windsor Castle
To make the very long history of this place a little more interesting than your average history lesson, let’s divide it into a few subcategories.
2.1. The Beginning of Windsor Castle
The castle as a royal residence was the idea of the first Norman king of England, William the Conqueror. He had defeated the last king of Saxon and to ensure his reign, he wanted to build fortifications around London, at the time.
It was, at the time, strategically close to the River Thames. Construction began in the year 1070 and was finished by 1086. Since then, Windsor Castle continued to undergo various transformations and renovations according to the ruling monarch’s whims.
King Henry II added royal private apartments in the castle for himself and another as an official residence for other public dignitaries.
King Henry III was the one responsible for converting what had once been just a castle, into a luxurious palace.
King Edward III, added to the luxury of it all and rebuilt the palace to include even more grand buildings and architecture. He reportedly spent £50,000 in transforming the castle. With this renovation, the castle became more of a magnificent Gothic piece of architecture. He also founded the Order of the Garter. This is England’s highest order of chivalry, reserved for the most chivalrous of all humans.
Henry VIII rebuilt the Principal castle gateway, for what his architectural ventures are worth.
The basic design that King Edward III created, lasted through the Tudor period which lasted until the 17th century and during which the castle was used extensively for diplomatic entertainment purposes.
King Edward IV began work on the St George’s Chapel which we will talk about in greater detail in a while.
King George III, the one who became “mad” was also confined in the castle for his safety. Being locked in this huge castle could make one go even crazier, I would argue.
2.2. The English Civil War
After Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, during the turbulent English Civil War, the palace wasn’t really all that glamorous and was used as a military headquarters and Charles I was also held as a prisoner there. Wasn’t the location too good for a prisoner?
Charles II was involved with the restoration of the palace with the help of architect Hugh May, together they created some exquisite Baroque interiors. Post this, there weren’t many changes to the castle, until of course tragedy and the fire struck in 1992.
3. Slightly Random Facts about Windsor Castle
Adolf Hitler really liked Windsor Castle. So Queen Elizabeth II and her sister Princess Margaret used to hide there during the bombing in World War Two, knowing Hitler wouldn’t bomb the castle.
Security is a little lax here given that an intruder gate crashed a birthday party for Prince William once.
4. The Architecture of Windsor Castle
There’s a lot to cover if we were to really go in-depth into the entire blueprint of Windsor Castle. Most of the castle including the King’s Dining Room has a Baroque style of architecture.
Let’s summarize what we know about the royal palace in a few points.
- The entire castle is spread over about 13 acres of land.
4.1. The Middle of the Castle
You can probably guess, is the Middle Ward which is built around the motte (an artificial hill). It also consists of a Round Tower which is anything but cylindrical. Not like the British to assign names to buildings, which don’t actually reflect it anyway but oh well.
4.2. Upper Ward
This is the part of the castle that has the state apartments and the private royal apartments plus the King George IV gateway and the Edward III tower. The state towers are embellished with the finest artworks from the Royal Collection. The Royal Library is also located here.
The western end of the apartments has the influence of Hugh May and the eastern end reflects the design of Jeffry Wyatlline (who worked under George IV).
4.3. Lower Ward
This consists of the St George’s Chapel and the places of residence of the Military Knights along with those of the Governor of the Military Knights. St George’s Chapel is one of the greatest pieces of evidence of brilliant English Perpendicular Gothic architecture.
This chapel also has a tribute to King Henry VIII built for the first of his many wives, Catherine of Aragon- an oriel window. Can’t ask too much of men, anyways.
4.3.1. More about the St. George’s Chapel
- Henry VIII, also completed the construction of the chapel by 1528. The St. George’s Chapel has witnessed a lot of important events though. The marriages held here include that of (Ex) Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and that of Princess Eugenie of York to Jack Brooksbank. Prince Charles (now the king) and his wife Camilla Parker Bowles also had a civil ceremony here after he remarried.
- St George’s Chapel also serves as an important royal mausoleum (after Westminster Abbey) where many members of the Royal family remain from King Henry VI, and King George VI to the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret.
- The integral annual ceremony of the Order of the Garter takes place here. The Garter Throne Room is where the Knights and Ladies are invested by the present King or Queen. It was initially the Throne room for Queen Victoria.
- On the east side of the St. George’s Chapel, there is the Lady Chapel which was originally built by Henry III but was later renamed to Albert Memorial Chapel. Nothing for the ladies, I guess. As the new name suggests, it was renamed to celebrate the life of Prince Albert.
- The Parks- Windsor Castle is surrounded by a lot of greenery. To the east, there is the Home Park which just includes a whole lot of parkland and cottages (for employees), the Frogmore estate, and the Windsor Great Park.
- Fun fact about the Windsor Great Park, Edward VIII had preferred to live in the Fort Belvedere located here during his short reign, before his abdication. While King George VI along with his family was living in the Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park when all the abdication drama began.
5. The Windsor Castle Fire
5.1. What Caused the Fire?
As portrayed in the fifth season of the Netflix show, The Crown, on the 20th of November, 1992, a fire occurred at Windsor Castle. Apparently, one of the spotlights being used for some renovation work in the State apartments was the cause of the fire. Nine principal state rooms were destroyed.
Thankfully, many of the rooms close to the renovation work had already been cleared out due to the ongoing work and this prevented the loss of precious artwork from the Royal Collection. The fire is believed to have started in Queen Victoria’s Private Chapel and spread to St George’s Hall.
5.2. The Renovation
Now, the renovation work came down to two questions, first who would pay for the Windsor Castle fire, and second, how would it be renovated? To answer the first, we need to know that Windsor Castle is the property of the Crown and hence its repair is maintained by the British government. But we also need to be aware of the fickle nature of the British public and media toward the Royal family.
At the time, the British press was very vocal about wanting Queen Elizabeth II to pay for the damages from her income. Of course, she didn’t.
Instead, they came up with another solution wherein, Buckingham Palace and the gardens surrounding Windsor Castle would be opened to the public for a specific time and the damages would be paid by charging the public for these visits. You don’t have to pay the price for anything if you have a few castles in your pocket, I guess.
Regarding the second question, the architecture remained mainly as it was pre-fire with some changes to reflect ‘modernity’. Prince Philip too contributed some ideas for the stained glass windows in the castle. Joseph Nuttgen helped with that.
6. The Widow of Windsor
I would be the last person to romanticize any member of the royal family, but here I am. Earlier in her reign, Queen Victoria likened Windsor Castle to a prison, but later, she along with her husband Prince Albert, made it their principal royal residence.
It is said that Windsor Castle reached its social peak during her reign, with many political figures coming and going like people at a train station.
Out of all the miserable royal marriages, theirs was the one that seemed to be the most grounded and real. But it did not last for long. He had been plagued by stomach cramps for a long time and on December 9th, 1861, he was diagnosed with Typhoid fever.
Five days later, Prince Albert died in the Blue Room of Windsor Castle with his wife, the Queen, and their children beside him. His remains were then kept at the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore where Queen Victoria also eventually joined him.
Queen Victoria did not recover from his death, until her own death. The grief took her husband’s place beside her. His room at Windsor Castle remained as if he were still alive, with fresh linen being brought in every morning. She wore black for the rest of her days, in a period of mourning forever, and led a life of as much seclusion as a queen can afford. That life doesn’t seem all that enviable right now.
7. The Windsor Castle, Today
The Windsor Castle is owned by Charles III, after the Queen’s passing. It has hosted the Obamas, Trump, Biden, and many other political figures in recent years. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Queen and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, celebrated Christmas there instead of their traditional Christmas country house, Sandringham House, for the first time in a long while.
Prince Philip also spent his last days in the Windsor Castle.
I’m no tour guide but should you ever find yourself in the United Kingdom, do give this castle a visit along with nearby attractions such as the Hampton Court Palace.
As we conclude this article, Windsor Castle will remain throughout history as more than just some huge well-constructed buildings. The royal apartments will house future monarchs and its windows will continue to witness the world moving forward, while it holds pieces of history in its sacred halls for as long as it stands.
If you want to delve into the ever-raging topic, of why the British Royal family still exists, even with its diminished capacity.
9. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
9.1. Where exactly is Windsor Castle located?
Windsor Castle is located in England, UK. It lies near the bank of the river Thames.
9.2. Where is Windsor Castle in relation to London?
Windsor Castle is approximately 40 km or 25 miles from the city of London. From London, one can take a train, car, or bus to the castle. The stations nearest to it are ‘Windsor & Eton Central ‘and ‘Windsor & Eton Riverside’.
9.3. Where is Windsor Castle in relation to Buckingham Palace?
Windsor Castle lies west of the Buckingham Palace. It is 32 km or 20 miles away from it.
9.4. Why does the Queen prefer Windsor Castle?
Well to preface this answer with the fact that Queen Elizabeth is now dead so no question of what’s her preference now. But when she was alive she may have had a particular liking to this castle since she did spend a lot of her childhood days here, with her sister Margaret and her family. So this place probably held a special place in her heart.