Windsor Castle

Windsor castle entrance

Windsor Castle is the principal residence outside of London of the British Royal Family. The castle stands in Windsor, 21 miles (34 kilometers) west of London.

Windsor Castle is located in the Home Park, a private royal park. The Home Park joins another royal park, the Great Park, south of Windsor. Queen Victoria and her husband are buried in the Home Park.

Windsor Castle History

Windsor castle

The early history of Windsor Castle

One of a series of castles that William I (1066–1087) established around London, Windsor occupied the nearest strong point in the Thames Valley to the west of the city. From William’s reign date the motte and also the distinctive elongated arrangement of lower, middle, and upper baileys that exploits the lie of the land at the top of a great chalk cliff south of the river.

By the reign of Henry I (1100–1135) the creation of a large hunting forest, together with the proximity of London, made this a favored royal residence as well as a fortress. The Round Tower, the stone shell-keep on the motte, may date from this time. The systematic replacement of timber defenses by stone walls with rectangular interval towers was begun by Henry II in 1165, but work on the lower bailey was unfinished at his death in 1189.

Statue Windsor Castle

The completion and partial refashioning from 1221 to 1230 of the south and west parts of the lower Bailey were both a reparation for damage sustained during the French siege of 1216 and a political gesture substantiating the young Henry III’s authority. The interval towers, among the earlier English examples of the standard 13th-century type, are half-cylindrical to the outside and larger and more massive than Henry II’s towers.

After Henry III’s marriage in 1236, the modernization began of his grandfather’s residential buildings, that is, the more accessible and ceremonially important apartments on the north side of the lower Bailey and the more private ones (the ‘King’s Houses) against the north wall of the upper bailey.

The building accounts suggest that the upper bailey works were as uncoordinated in their layout and as luxurious in their decoration as Henry III’s other major houses at Clarendon (Wilts) and Havering (Essex).

The most important work of his reign was a new set of apartments built in 1240–48 east of the hall and lodgings in the lower bailey: chambers for the King and Queen north of a cloister and a large chapel of St Edward to the south.

The arcading on the north side of the wall separating the chapel and cloister preserves a number of French Gothic features new to England; and the lost windows of the chapel may well have incorporated bar tracery some five years before the architect of the chapel, Henry of Reyns (d 1253), employed it at Westminster Abbey. In overall design, the chapel was not French, for its plan was rectangular and it had a timber vault, which the King had ordered should imitate masonry and resemble the vault over the ‘new work’.

Windsor castle way

The small west portal is closed by doors with splendid scrolled ironwork signed by Gilebertvs. Two heads from wall paintings of kings (in situ) in the cloister and west porch and a fragment of a richly carved Purbeck marble font in the chapel are the only other surviving decorative elements.

Edward III built more of Windsor than any other medieval king. From 1350 Henry III’s chapel was refitted as the collegiate chapel of the Order of the Garter (founded in 1348) and dedicated to St George.

The adjoining cloister and chambers were rebuilt to accommodate the canons. The entrance porch (completed by 1352) to this complex has a traceried vault of an ashlar-shell construction that comes closest to the classic form of a fan vault than any other example of this date.

The cloister tracery combines elements derived from the two earliest Perpendicular buildings, the cloister and chapter house of Old St Paul’s Cathedral and the south transept of Gloucester Abbey Church (now Cathedral). The transferral of the lower bailey lodgings to the college of St George suggests the intention to rebuild the ‘King’s Houses’ on the upper bailey as a self-contained palace, although this was not actually carried out until 1357–1368.

Windsor castle walls

Edward III’s new upper bailey lodgings were the most costly work of domestic architecture undertaken by the English crown before the reign of Henry VII. The aim was to create a fixed base for the royal household equal in capacity to the Privy Palace at Westminster.

As most of Edward’s work was rebuilt in the late 17th century and the early 19th, the disposition and functions of all but a few of the rooms are unknown, as is the appearance of all the main first-floor rooms save one.

Also unknown is the extent to which the retention of 12th- and 13th-century masonry affected the layout around three courtyards, which, from east to west, were given over to services, major public rooms, and the private apartments of the royal family. Along with a degree of coherent planning and consistent execution virtually unprecedented in English palace architecture, the most important innovation was the extent to which the main south front was treated as a unified and regular façade despite the disparate functions of the spaces behind.

This near-regularity was of hierarchical significance, for the rooms behind the façade—the great hall, household chapel, and king’s great chamber—were the most important in the ensemble.

Other advanced features were the two-story cloister-cum-corridor around the central courtyard and the architecture of the hall roof, where the pierced Perpendicular screenwork above the principals anticipated the great roof of Westminster Hall. Against the east and south sides of the upper bailey were built long ranges of standardized lodgings for household officers. These and the end-to-end arrangement of the hall and chapel in the palace block influenced New College, Oxford, the founder of which, William of Wykeham, had been Clerk of Works at Windsor from 1356 to 1361. The master mason in 1350–68 was John Sponlee, and the carpentry was directed by the King’s Chief Carpenter, William Herland.

Windsor castle guard

In June 1475 work began on clearing a site for a new St George’s Chapel immediately west of the old one. Integral to this scheme were lodgings and a cloister for the vicars opposite the site of the future west front of the chapel. The horseshoe plan alludes to Edward IV’s Yorkist fetterlock badge.

The curvilinear trusses anticipate 16th-century timber framing. Edward’s concern that the Order of the Garter be as splendid as the Order of the Golden Fleece, headed by his brother-in-law Philip the Good, 3rd Duke of Burgundy, clearly influenced his decision to embark on this project, and his new chapel was the most ambitious work of church architecture undertaken by any western European monarch in the late 15th century. The aim was evidently to build a chapel in the guise of a minster, like that which some Arthurian romances place at Camelot, the seat of the prototypical chivalric society.

Hence the basilican format, the consistent use of stone vaulting, the long choir and nave, the square ambulatory linking up with the old chapel, the transepts, and (unexecuted) lantern tower over the crossing, and the basing of the internal elevations on the two grandest works of Perpendicular cathedral architecture of the previous century, the choir of Gloucester Abbey (now Cathedral) and the nave of Canterbury Cathedral.

Windsor garden

In its extreme flatness, the lierne vault prepared for but not executed by the original architect Henry Janyns is comparable only to that planned at Eton College Chapel, where Janyns had been apprenticed about 1453–1454. The fan vaulting in the aisles has the flattened profile and refined decoration characteristic of the many fan vaults built in Janyns’s native Oxfordshire from the 1440s.

The chaste, polished architecture of Janyns’s choir was offset by the exuberant yet controlled architectural fantasy of the choir stalls (1478–1483). Although made by English craftsmen and conceived within the distinctive English traditions of stall design, the detailing of the tall, spired canopies is so heavily influenced by Netherlandish architecture and church furnishings that Edward IV, who was in Holland and Flanders in 1471, may well have been involved.

The King’s two-story chantry-cum-oratory, integrated into the north side of the chancel, seems to have no exact counterpart elsewhere. Henry VII’s contributions include most of the choir aisle vaulting, the apsidal Lady Chapel (c. 1494–1501) intended to house his tomb and the shrine of Henry VI, and perhaps the apsidal and distinctly bay window-like transepts.

Windsor castle clock

The bulk of the nave was built c.1503–6 with money bequeathed by Henry VII’s confidant, Sir Reginald Bray. The design conforms closely to that of the choir, and although one bay longer than first intended, the nave does not detract from the precocious near-symmetry that the south front of the chapel displays towards the lower bailey.

The only important later medieval alteration to the palace block was the addition at its northwest corner of a short-range containing well-lit rooms on both the first and second floors.

Work was complete by 1501, but since the starting date is not documented it cannot be known whether its fantastic star-plan bay windows could have influenced those of Henry VII’s Richmond Palace. Either Richmond or Windsor was the source of the similar bays on Henry VII’s chapel (1503–1509) in Westminster Abbey. In the lower Bailey Henry III’s gatehouse was replaced around 1510–1516. The broad proportioning of its towers was no doubt a piece of contextually inspired conservatism.

The later history of Windsor Castle

After the completion of St George’s Chapel, few major changes or additions were made to Windsor Castle until 1675. The Restoration of the monarchy (1660) may be linked to the restoration of Windsor Castle itself. Glorification of monarchy as well as the influence of the château of Versailles explain the major rebuilding (1675–1683) undertaken for Charles II by Hugh May (1622–1684).

Edward III’s buildings in the upper ward (formerly upper bailey), including St George’s Hall, were demolished, and a new palace was created. Little survives of May’s austere façades, which represented a stylistic compromise between contemporary classicism and the surviving medieval structure. The Baroque interiors were far richer than the exteriors suggested.

Windsor castle statue

The chief artists involved were Antonio Verrio, Grinling Gibbons, and the gilder René Cousin. Only three of Verrio’s twenty ceilings, the King’s Dining Room, the Queen’s Audience Chamber, and the Queen’s Presence Chamber, survive. Their iconography, glorifying Charles II and Queen Catherine of Braganza (1638–1705), has been described as ‘fulsomely and unrealistically propagandist in the manner accepted throughout Europe in the seventeenth century’.

By contrast, Gibbons’s carvings have always been admired, and many were recycled during the next major rebuilding of 1824. Another important addition that directly emulated Versailles is the Long Walk, a 5 km avenue, originally of elms, forming a southern approach from Windsor Great Park.

Few further changes were made until the late 18th century. It was a reflection of burgeoning Gothic Revivalism that James Wyatt ‘Gothicized’ several of the state apartments. He removed many of May’s round-topped windows and reconstructed the apartments, providing a new state staircase and the surviving grand vestibule.

The latter’s attenuated proportions and fan vaulting resemble Wyatt’s work at Fonthill Abbey, Wilts. George III’s insanity from 1811 and Wyatt’s death in 1813 delayed progress until, in 1824, Parliament voted £150,000 for Jeffry Wyatville’s rebuilding program, a sum eventually exceeded seven times over.

walls Windsor Castle

George IV, like Charles II, saw the reconstruction of Windsor Castle in symbolic terms—as an affirmation of the continuity of the monarchy. In accordance with fashionable, picturesque Gothic Revivalism the intention was to revive the spirit of Edward III without neglecting the comfort or elegance of a royal residence.

Wyatville’s rebuilding won Walter Scott’s admiration for evoking ‘much Gothic feeling’. Important in this respect was the raising of the Round Tower by 10 m to give stronger central emphasis and to offset the enlarged state and private apartments.

Rebuilding necessitated the destruction of much 17th-century work including May’s Royal Chapel (1684–1686), possibly the finest Baroque interior in England. St George’s Hall, with Verrio’s paintings of the Black Prince and the Apotheosis of Charles II, was replaced by an arid Gothic hall lacking scale and grandeur.

Nevertheless, Wyatville’s stylistic consistency in the progression from the great staircase, through the guard chamber to St George’s Hall itself must be recognized. An open courtyard was transformed into the Waterloo Chamber, a picture gallery. The Grand Reception Room (destr. 1992), furnished and decorated in French Rococo style, reflected George IV’s Gallomania.

Windsor castle tower

The castle’s furnishings by Morel & Seddon fuse effectively with the architecture and are comfortably eclectic in their Rococo, Louis XVI, Empire, and Gothic Revival styles. The last is apparent in the State Dining Room furniture, probably made in 1827 from the designs of the 15-year-old A. W. N. Pugin.

While Wyatville’s Gothic soon became outmoded, his asymmetrical skyline influenced Charles Barry in the Houses of Parliament. But Wyatville’s Windsor was not merely picturesque; it reconciled ceremony with ease of circulation, comfort, and privacy.

The only important Victorian addition was Anthony Salvin’s anticlimactic grand staircase. In the 1980s restoration began on the Round Tower, and in 1992 the northeast corner of the castle, including St George’s Hall, the private chapel, and the State Dining Room, were badly damaged by fire.

Windsor Castle Opening Hours

Windsor Castle is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the UK. It is the Official Residence of Her Majesty The Queen. Rich in history, Windsor is the oldest and also the largest occupied castle in the world.

For more information about tours, opening hours and tickets visit the official website.

Windsor Castle Location

Windsor Castle Castle Address: Windsor, Berkshire, SL4 1NJ. Get help with directions using the map provided below:

Windsor Castle Map

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