With a history stretching back almost 1,000 years, Windsor Castle is one of the foremost British royal residences and the longest-occupied palace in Europe.
William the Conqueror began building the castle in 1070, located on the edge of a Saxon hunting ground. It took 16 years to build and was designed to protect the Western approach to London. Originally a wooden motte-and-bailey fortification, this was gradually replaced with stone to provide greater resistance from attack.
In the late 12th century, Henry II converted the castle into a palace with the addition of two sets of royal apartments. Henry III continued the evolution by adding a chapel and a cloistered courtyard alongside improved living quarters.
The most substantial changes to the castle were overseen by Edward III from the 1350s until his death in 1377. He intended to create one large palace for official and private use, adding an inner gatehouse with cylindrical towers as well as individual rooms for the king and queen.
By 1684, the state apartments had been given a grand Baroque re-imagining under the reign of Charles II and his designs would endure until George III opted for a neo-classical design approach. Work also began on the Gothic transformation of the exterior of the palace and would continue after George IV came to the throne. No expense was spared with the addition of battlements, a heightened round tower, the Grand Corridor, and Waterloo Chamber. Aside from the restoration work following a fire in 1992, the vast scale of George IV’s additions meant that the palace has remained largely unchanged to this day.
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Although Buckingham Palace is the Queen’s primary residence, she often spends her weekends at Windsor Castle. She also takes up official residence for a month over Easter, known as ‘Easter Court’, as well as a week in June to coincide with Royal Ascot and the Order of the Garter service at St George’s Chapel. When in residence, her standard can be seen flying from the Round Tower.
With around 1,000 rooms, approximately 150 staff are required to keep the castle ticking over. Although much of the castle is private, members of the public can tour the State Apartments and drawing rooms, as well as seeing inside St George’s Chapel.
The Great Kitchen at Windsor is the oldest working kitchen in the country and is run by 33 kitchen staff. In an effort to never keep the monarch waiting, the clocks in the kitchen are intentionally set five minutes fast.
After the Windsor Castle fire in 1992, there was a widespread public outcry when it was suggested that the taxpayer should meet the £60 million repair bill. Although not obliged to pay tax, the media scrutiny resulted in the Queen’s decision to start paying income, capital gains, and council tax.
During World War II, the castle was home to the Queen and Princess Margaret in an attempt to protect them from the bombing raids inflicted upon London. Windows were blacked out, chandeliers removed and the basements were reportedly repurposed as shelters. Watch this Royal Family documentary for more information.
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