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Windsor Castle: from retirement home to heart of a dynasty

During the reign of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Windsor Castle was made their primary royal residence despite the Queen complaining early on in her reign that the castle was “prison-like” and “dull and tiresome.” She would often prefer Osborne and Balmoral as holiday residences.

The growth of the British Empire and the Queen’s dynastic ties to Europe would make Windsor the hub for many diplomatic and state visits. Those visits would be assisted by the building of new railways and steamships. It was during the Victorian era that Windsor was considered to reach its social peak. Victoria would take a close interest in how the castle was run including the running of social events.

Following Albert’s death in 1861, in the Blue Room at Windsor, the prince’s chambers were left exactly how they had been left at the moment of his death and Victoria kept the castle in a state of mourning for many years, giving her the nickname of “Widow of Windsor.” For any official business near London, Victoria used Windsor Castle as her residence rather than Buckingham Palace. Towards the end of her reign, plays, operas, and other entertainment started to be slowly be held at the castle again, accommodating Victoria’s desire for entertainment.

As Edward VII came to the throne in 1901, he immediately set out to modernise Windsor. Many of the rooms in the Upper Waard were decluttered and redecorated for the first time in many years. These renovations included the adding of electric lighting, central heating, telephone lines, and garages for newly invented automobiles.

George V would continue the process of modernising the castle with the assistance of his wife, Mary. Mary was a lover of all things miniature and a famous dolls house was created for her. George was committed to maintaining a high standard of court life and was determined that everything in the castle had “to be the best.”

Edward VIII did not spend much of his time at the castle. Instead, he created a small aerodrome at the castle on Smith’s Lawn which, today, is used as a golf course. His reign was short-lived but his links to the castle went down in history as it was from here that he broadcast news of his abdication in December 1936. His brother, George VI preferred his own original home, the Royal Lodge in Great Park but moved into Windsor Castle.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, in 1939, the castle was prepared for war-time conditions. Many of the staff at Buckingham Palace were moved to Windsor. During this time, security was tightened and windows were blacked-out. The King and Queen, as well as Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, would often live at the castle for safety during this time.

In February 1952, Elizabeth II came to the throne and decided to make Windsor her principal weekend retreat. Spending time there throughout the years, the castle became the main residence of The Queen and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh during the height of the COVID-19 health crisis. The pandemic meant Christmas in 2020 was celebrated at Windsor Castle rather than Sandringham House for the first time since 1987.

The Duke of Edinburgh dies at the castle on 9 April 2021 at the age of 99. Since his death, The Queen has spent much of her time at the castle and has now made it her primary residence.

About author

My name is Sydney Zatz and I am a University of Iowa graduate. I graduated with a degree in journalism and sports studies, and a minor in sport and recreation management. A highlight of my college career was getting the chance to study abroad in London and experiencing royal history firsthand. I have a passion for royals, royal history, and journalism, which led me to want to write for Royal Central.