Windsor Castle dominates the town. It was described by Samuel Pepys as “the most romantic castle in the world”. There was a Saxon palace at Old Windsor but William the Conqueror decided to build a castle on top of a hill overlooking the river about two miles away.
By 1086 the castle was listed in the Domesday Book. Since then it has continued to play its part in the history of the country.
History of Windsor Castle
At nearby Runnymede, in June 1215, King John, who is said to have loved the castle above all others, put his seal to the Magna Carta. Although the barons, who had forced this on him, were principally concerned with their own interests, Magna Carta enshrined, for the first time, a citizen’s rights before the law.
The 39th article stated:
“No free man shall be arrested or imprisoned or dispossessed or outlawed or harmed in any way save by the lawful judgement of his equals under the law of the land. Justice will not be sold to any man nor will it be refused or delayed.”
The castle continued in royal use. Edward III made it his principal residence, building the Round Tower in 1348 and making alterations in other parts of the castle. As well as the residence of the Kings of England, Windsor Castle was used for keeping eminent prisoners, for example, David Bruce, King of Scotland, and John, King of France in the 14th century.
During the Civil War, the castle was held by Parliament and many of its treasures were melted down. The Parliamentarians also used the castle for prisoners including the most famous of all, Charles I, kept here just before his execution and returned to the castle in his coffin.
After the Restoration, Charles II did much work to restore it to its former glory as it had deteriorated badly in the years of the Commonwealth (Cromwell’s time). The Sovereign Apartments were rebuilt and redesigned in lavish style with wood carvings by Grinling Gibbons and twenty ceiling paintings by Antonio Verrio, only three of which survived George IV’s redecoration unfortunately.
George III was the first king to die at Windsor Castle. He was the monarch who suffered from porphyria which made people think he was mad. One of these ‘mad’ episodes occurred in the grounds of the castle when he stopped the carriage he was in and got out to shake an oak tree’s branch, thinking he was shaking the hand of the King of Prussia.
George IV made many great changes to the castle including restoring its medieval splendour using the architect Jeffry Wyatville. Although some of Wyatville’s work, particularly Gothic additions and alterations to the Upper and Middle Wards, have not been greatly admired, he did bring a sense of unity to the castle.
It is the world’s biggest inhabited castle and the oldest to be continuously occupied. The home of the monarch for 900 years, today, Windsor Castle is one of the Queen’s three official residences.
Now some areas of the castle are open to the public:
1. The famous State Apartments (only when the Queen is not in residence),
2. Queen Mary’s Doll’s House
3. Exhibition of the Queen’s Presents
4. Exhibition of Royal Carriages
5. St George’s Chapel, finished in the early 16th century, is a building of particular note with a magnificent perpendicular structure displaying fine fan vaulting. As the chapel for the Most-Noble Order of the Garter, Britain’s highest order of chivalry founded by Edward III in 1348, the choir contains stalls and brasses of Garter Knights.
There are also many royal tombs including those of Henry VIII, Charles I, and Edward VII. Also nearby is the Albert Memorial Chapel, originally built by King Henry VII but now used to commemorate Queen Victoria’s beloved Albert.
6. The magnificent State Apartments are open to the public and are well worth visiting with superb furniture, paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, and Holbein, tapestries, porcelain, armor, and sculpture.
More beautiful art may be found in the Drawings Gallery where a variety of work from the Royal Library is shown. Don’t miss Queen Mary’s Doll’s House, a perfect little mansion designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, on a scale of 1 to 12 of normal size.
If you want to see the Changing of the Guard at Windsor Castle, this ceremony takes place daily, except Sunday, at 11am between April to June, the rest of the year, it only occurs on alternate days.
In the Home Park of Windsor Castle stands Frogmore House, also open to the public at certain times (check before visiting). Built-in the latter part of the 17th century, it was the home of Queen Charlotte and Queen Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent. Now it has been restored and many of the original contents returned.
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