SUPPORT OUR JOURNALISM: Please consider donating to keep our website running and free for all - thank you!

Palaces & Buildings

The story behind one of the Royal Family’s favourite residences, Windsor Castle

Located in the English county of Berkshire is Windsor Castle, a long-time favourite residence of the British Royal Family. Hundreds of years old, the castle has withstood some of Europe’s most challenging times and some of the happiest moments for the Royal Family.

The original castle was built in the 11th century after the Norman invasion of England by William the Conqueror. Since the time of Henry I, who reigned from 110 to 1135, it’s been used by the reigning monarch and is the longest-occupied palace in Europe. Stretching over 13 acres, the castle was built as a motte-and-bailey. This means it was built with a wooden or stone keep situated on a raised ground area known as a motte. A walled courtyard or a bailey then accompanied it.

Over time, the motte-and-bailey was replaced with stone fortifications. This helped the castle withstand a prolonged siege during the First Barons’ War (English civil war between landowners) at the start of the 13th century. Henry III built a royal palace within the castle grounds in the middle of the century. Edward III would take things further when he rebuilt the palace, making it even grander. This was “the most expensive secular building project of the entire Middle Ages in England.”

Edward’s design lasted through the Tudor period. During this time, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I began to use the castle more frequently as a royal court and centre for diplomatic entertainment. The castle survived the English Civil War when it was used as a military headquarters. This isn’t the only time it has been involved in war; it was also used as a refuge by the Royal Family during World War II.

Embed from Getty Images

Throughout the years, Windsor continued to get renovated and modernised. Edward VIII did not spend much time there, but his successor, George VI, preferred Windsor over his original home, the Royal Lodge in the Great Park. During World War II, the castle was readied for wartime conditions. Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret remained at the castle as the King and Queen Elizabeth went back and forth between Windsor and Buckingham Palace.

When Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne in 1952, Windsor became her principal weekend retreat. By the early 1990s, there was marked deterioration in the Upper Ward, particularly in the State Apartments. Thus, repair work began in 1988 to replace heating and wiring in the Upper Ward.

Embed from Getty Images

On 20 November 1992, a major fire happened at the castle and lasted 15 hours. This caused widespread damage to the Upper Ward. It’s believed a spotlight being used in the work to renovate the Private Chapel had started the fire. The fire spread quickly, severely damaging more than 100 rooms and destroying nine principal state rooms.

Embed from Getty Images

Following the fire, there was debate over who should pay for the repairs. Per tradition, as property of the Crown, Windsor was maintained and repaired as necessary by the British government in return for profits made by the Crown Estate. At the time of the fire, the British press argued in favour of The Queen being required to pay for the repairs from her private income. Ultimately, it was helped paid for with profits from Buckingham Palace’s opening to the public. The restoration was completed in 1997 for a total cost of £37 million.

Embed from Getty Images

Windsor Castle’s St George’s Chapel has held several royal weddings, including that of the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh, Princess Eugenie and Mr Jack Brooksbank, and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. King Charles III and Queen Camilla had a Service of Prayer and Dedication at the chapel following a civil wedding ceremony at Windsor Guildhall. It also was where Prince Philip’s funeral was in April 2021. Philip and Queen Elizabeth II are buried there.

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.