Currently both the oldest and largest still occupied castle on the globe, Windsor Castle, located in Old Windsor is of extreme historical significance, encapsulating almost a thousand years of British monarchy and social history. The palace, with its ornate fairy tale turrets and towers, was originally built by William the Conqueror in the years following the Norman Conquest, and occupied by his son Henry I, Windsor Castle has long been one of the major seats of the British Royal Family, and still enjoys the distinction of being used as the Queens weekend home, as well as playing host to varied state and diplomatic functions throughout the year. Currently employing over 500 staff, the castle is an important feature of local life.
The castle would have originally been built to a traditional motte and bailey design with a central mound; with stone foundations and architecture slowly replacing the early layout. After the First Barons War in the 13th century, when the castle withstood 2 months of siege by Louise VIII of France, properly fitting luxury apartments were created within the castle by Henry III. He restored much of the damage done by the siege, and began refortifications with strong, defensive curtain walls. This work was continued throughout the Middle Ages, notably by Edward III who continued a palatial building project, creating a fittingly grand royal residence within the castle.
The English Civil War, in the 1640’s, had a significant affect on the castle, as it was used by Cromwell’s parliamentary forces as a military headquarters, and at one point served as the deposed King Charles I’s prison after his capture. Only after the restoration of his son, Charles II, after 11 years of republican rule, was the castle again refurbished and restored beyond its early grandeur. It has since suffered years of both neglect and restoration, finally reaching its current state after a terrible fire in 1992 which sadly destroyed or damage some historical as well as more modern parts of the building. Architecturally speaking, Windsor Castle is fascinating. A medieval structure is at it heart, set within some 13 acres; but constant updating and refurbishment, much of which done in what would today be seen as a ’retro’ style, gives the castle a notably gothic, picture perfect appearance.
The State Apartments are open to the public, and feature an extensive part of the Royal Collection, including work by Rembrandt, Gainsborough and Rubens, as are the Semi State Rooms, George IV’s beautifully extravagant private residence.
St George’s Chapel dates back to 1475, and is one of the most stunning examples of late medieval gothic architecture in the country. It was completed by Henry VIII, who is buried here alongside the mother of his only son, his much beloved third wife, Jane Seymour, and houses the remains of 8 other monarchs besides.
Queen Mary’s Dollhouse is also on display here for visitors. Built in the 1920’s for Queen Mary, the dollhouse is a fascinating toy of epic proportions, featuring running water, flushable toilets, electricity and even working lifts. The house is more than 3 feet tall, and houses a variety of model versions what were considered to be the best modern innovations of the day.
If you haven’t already been for a visit, there is a lot to see in the castle and grounds, and much of it is open throughout the year – check the website for details.
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