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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Windsor Castle

The Long Walk, the road leading up to the entrance, totaling some 2.64 miles in length.
I've visited several major palaces in Europe, but, except for Cinderella's, I've never visited a castle. I Suppose Alhambra in Spain is the closest I've ever come to a castle and it's more of a palace complex than a castle. Actually, despite its name, Windsor Castle, in the County or Berkshire, England, (some 22 miles west of London), is in the same category, though that's not always been the case. Windsor Castle is the oldest, continually occupied castle in the world, having started as a fortified outpost built by William the Conqueror shortly after his conquest of England in 1066. That makes it 1010 years old. Initially, it was just one of several wooden fortification ringing London at the time. Far from being the palace it is today it was hardly worthy of the name "castle," more of a stockade with earthworks and a few canons. It wouldn't quite be accurate to say they've been reinforcing, building, rebuilding, remodeling, embellishing, and restoring the place ever since, but it wouldn't be far off the mark either. It wasn't even a royal residence until some fifty years after it was built until Henry I took a liking to it. It was he, and his son, Henry II, who began building it into a true, stone castle sometime after 1110.

Windsor Castle as seen from the air with the Thames off to the upper left corner. The round tower on the small mound in the center marks the site of the original fortification.
Windsor Castle is, in essence mostly Georgian and Victorian architecture based on a medieval structure, with Gothic features reinvented in a modern style. Since the 14th century, castle architects at have attempted to produce a contemporary reinterpretation of older fashions and traditions, repeatedly imitating outmoded and antiquated styles. Architecturally, that's quite a pedigree. It's entirely appropriate, though, in keeping with the thousand-year-old pedigree of England's royal family with all its unruly branches, scandals, spats, intrigues, and outright wars pockmarking the history of England. Physically it covers some thirteen acres, not on the River Thames but on a hill overlooking it. The castle complex is divided into three wards as indicated in the map below. The Queen is quite partial to the Upper Ward. The Middle Ward is the most historic area, while the Lower Ward features the St. George Chapel and various offices, apartments, and service facilities. Tourists enter through the Middle Ward, though not all that much of the castle is open for tours, especially when the Queen is there.

A castle fit for a king (or Queen).
The Upper Ward: No ramparts, no moats, not even a ceremonial canon. This is the palace area, built piecemeal over a period of eight-hundred years. The State Apartments run along the north of the side with a range of buildings along the east wall containing the private royal apartments and the King George IV Gate to the south, with the Edward III Tower in the south-west corner. The motte (a manmade hill) topped by the Round Tower form the west edge of the ward. Queen Elizabeth II uses Windsor Castle as a weekend retreat. She does not, however, sleep in the State Apartments (which are more a museum than living quarters), but around the corner in a block of equally lavish (but far more comfortable) private apartments overlooking the formal gardens of the North Terrace.

Living large in a large museum.
The Middle Ward is dominated by the fifty-foot high artificial hill topped by the Round Tower (or keep). If you know anything about castles, you know that this is the heart of such structures. Windsor Castle is no exception, though in recent years this massive pile of stone has been used more for storage and as a museum than in "holding the fort." If you're into medieval lore, this is the place to go. This part is open to the public most of the time inasmuch as the Queen doesn't go there very often. Admission is £17.00 for adults, £15.50 if over sixty, and Children under seventeen, £10.20. Children under five are free. When the Queen is in residence, (and the State Apartments closed) prices are about half those listed above.

St George's Chapel, begun in 1475 by Edward IV.
The Lower Ward is to the west of the Round Tower, entered through the Norman Gate. Originally of mostly medieval design, it was renovated or reconstructed during the mid-Victorian period by Anthony Salvin and Edward Blore, to form a "consistently Gothic composition." The Lower Ward consists of St. George's Chapel and most of the buildings associated with the Order of the Garter dating from 1348 (an honorary club whose members are chosen by the monarch--England's third highest order of chivalry). The chapel was begun by Henry IV in 1475 and is said to be of "Perpendicular Gothic" design. I have to admit, that's a term I've never seen before. I'm familiar with the gothic style, especially with regard to religious structures; and from what I've been able to tell, they all look pretty perpendicular to me. The Chapel suffered a great deal of destruction during the English Civil War. Parliamentary forces broke into and plundered the chapel and treasury in 1642. Further pillaging occurred a year later when the fifteenth-century chapter house was destroyed, lead was stripped off the chapel roofs, and elements of Henry VIII's unfinished funeral monument were stolen. Following his execution in 1649, Charles I was buried in a small vault in the center of the choir. St George's Chapel also contains the coffins of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour. A program of repair was undertaken at St George's Chapel following the Restoration of the monarchy.

St. George's Hall after the 1992 fire restoration efforts.
(Compare this photo to the one below.)
On November 20, 1992, a major fire broke out at Windsor Castle, lasting for 15 hours and causing widespread damage to the Upper Ward. The Private Chapel in the north-east corner of the State Apartments was being renovated as part of a long term restoration program. It's believed that one of the spotlights being used in the work set fire to a curtain by the altar early that morning. The fire spread quickly and destroyed nine of the principal state rooms, while severely damaging more than a hundred others. Many of the rooms closest to the fire had been emptied as part of the renovation work, which contributed to the successful evacuation of most of the art collection. The fire spread through the attics with efforts continuing through the night to contain the blaze. More than 200 fire-fighters were involved. It was not until late afternoon the following day that the blaze was brought under control. Along with the fire and smoke damage, there was the considerable water damage to the castle as more than 1.5 million gallons of water were used to extinguish the blaze. In many ways the water damage caused more complex restoration problems than the fire.

The upper photo is St. George's Hall after the fire. The lower photo
gives some idea of the general destruction caused by the 1992 fire.
During Queen Elizabeth II's tenure much has been done, not only to restore and maintain the fabric of the building, but also to transform it into a major British tourist attraction, containing a significant portion of the Royal Collection of art (below). Archaeological work has continued at the castle, following limited investigations in the 1970s, the work on the Round Tower from 1988–92, and investigations stemming from the fire. During 2007, 993,000 tourists visited the castle. This has had to be achieved in co-ordination with security issues inherent with the castle's role as a working royal palace.

Windsor Tower Bailey, 1848, Joseph Nash

The North Terrace at Sunset
ca. 1790, Paul Sandby


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