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HistoryPalaces & Buildings

Royal Residences: A brief history of Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle
Diliff / CC Wiki Commons

Where is it located?

Windsor Castle is located in the town of Windsor in Berkshire, England. The site occupies 13 acres of land and features a fortification, a palace and a small town. It is perhaps most recognisable by the castle’s Round Tower.

When was it built, and when was it used as a royal residence?

The original castle was built during the 11th century after the Norman invasion of England by William Conqueror. It is the longest-occupied palace in Europe – having been lived in by the reigning monarch since the time of Henry I. As it was designed as a fortress to protect Norman dominance and was built as a motte-and-bailey castle. 

Several monarchs have made additions to Windsor Castle, such as King Henry III who built a grand royal palace in the middle of the castle. King Edward III went further and expanded the palace into a set of luxurious buildings. The castle was next remodelled during the reign of King Charles II who had ornate Baroque interiors designed which remain to this day.

The castle was largely neglected until the reigns of King George III and King George IV. During the 18thcentury, the palace which had been designed by King Charles II was entirely renovated at huge expense to their current state. 

Who has lived there?

Every monarch has lived in or used Windsor Castle at some stage since King Henry I (1068-1135). It is believed one of the biggest draws was the space for shooting and other sports, such as wrestling – a favourite of a young Henry VIII. Whilst some kings, such as George I and George II took very little interest in Windsor, some, such as the latter’s successor George III, were enamoured with the castle and made great advances to it.

If ghost stories are to be believed, it seems that King George III has not left the castle. An officer explained that one day the guards were passing the late king’s window on their duties and the commanding officer saw his distinctive figure standing in his usual place, watching the parade. Instinctively he gave the order “Eyes right,” and as they swung round each soldier saw the figure and watched as the late king returned their salute.

Queen Victoria had a great love for Windsor Castle, despite some reservations in her early reign when she described it as “dull and tiresome”. Her beloved husband, Prince Albert died at Windsor Castle in the Blue Room on December 14, 1861. The Queen then went into a deep period of mourning and kept the castle in the same state for several years, so much so that she became known as the Widow of Windsor.

When George V came to the throne, he continued the castle’s modernisation started by his father Edward VII. Due to anti-German feeling during the First World War, the last name of the Royal Family was changed by the King in 1917 from Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to Windsor due to its undeniably British connection.

During World War Two, the castle was the home of Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, who both made their inaugural radio broadcast wishing the evacuated children a good night from the castle. Throughout the war, the windows were blacked out, the chandeliers were lowered, the ceilings were strengthened, and the Crown Jewels were hidden in a biscuit tin in the basement. 

Which key events have happened here?

Windsor has been the site of hundreds of royal events, from the births of monarchs such as Edward III and Henry VI to the weddings of most of Queen Victoria’s children, as well as the modern-day weddings of the present Queen’s grandchildren, such as Prince Harry, Peter Phillips and Princess Eugenie. Several monarchs have died at the castle, including George III, George IV, William IV but many more are buried there in the royal tombs, including King Henry VIII. 

Other notable events to occur at Windsor Castle are King Edward VIII’s abdication speech on December 11, 1936, and the damaging fire on November 20, 1992. 

Who is it used by today?

The castle is part of the Occupied Royal Palaces Estate and is owned by the monarch by right of the Crown. 

Windsor is well-known to be a favourite home of Queen Elizabeth as she spends many of her weekends there. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Her Majesty has stayed in Windsor, rather than return to London. She has carried out appointments and meetings with dignitaries and officials digitally from Windsor. 

There are a handful of times the queen has been seen this year at Windsor, first in June for the altered Trooping the Colour ceremony, twice in July to knight Captain Sir Tom Moore and for her granddaughter, Princess Beatrice’s wedding to Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi and finally alongside her family members in December.

The appearance of the ‘New Firm’ – as they have become known – saw the Queen standing outside at a social distance alongside the Earl and Countess of Wessex, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Princess Royal. It is thought that the eight senior royals will play a pivotal role in the future of the monarchy when carrying out official duties.