Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle

Location: Castle Hill
Tel 020-7766 7304
Open: 9:45m- 5:15pm daily
9:45am- 4:15pm Nov- Feb
Last admission: 1hr 15min before closing
Closed: Good Fri, Dec 25- 26


Description of Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle is located in the English town of Windsor in southern England in the county of Berkshire. It is the largest continuously inhabited castle in the world. Windsor Castle's origins date back to the times of William the Conqueror. The castle, along with the entire Windsor estate, is owned by the British Crown and administered by the Royal Household. It is part of the Royal Collection while the Windsor estate is part of the Crown Estate.

Along with Buckingham Palace in London and Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, Windsor Castle is one of the British monarch's main official residences. Below the castle flows the Thames on its way east to the capital, London, 35 km away. Windsor Castle is also known as "English Versailles".

Windsor Castle was the official weekend residence of Queen Elizabeth II. It was used by her for a month each year at Easter while she spent the Christmas holidays at her private estate, Sandringham House, and August and September at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. The Queen took up permanent residence at Windsor Castle on the occasion of her 80th birthday and has since spent only three days a week (usually Tuesday to Thursday) at London's Buckingham Palace for work. Their presence was recognized by the royal heraldic standard atop the Round Tower, while the Union Jack was flown in their absence.

Most of the kings and queens of England had a direct influence on the construction and development of the castle, which in their time served them as a garrison, fortress, residence, official palace and sometimes prison. Today the buildings serve both as a museum and for state events as well as for the private purposes of the king. The history of the castle and that of the British monarchy are inextricably linked; it can be traced chronologically through the reigns of the monarchs who owned it. In times of peace, large and sumptuous rooms were added to the castle. In times of war, the castle was fortified more strongly. This pattern continues to this day.


Windsor Castle

Ground plan of the castle

Throughout its thousand-year history, the castle has changed and evolved according to the preferred architectural styles, tastes, needs and financial capabilities of successive monarchs. The most important buildings of the castle are shown on the adjacent plan. Today's castle is still grouped around the motte (A), an artificial mound. Wilhelm the Conqueror built the first wooden castle on it. This is where the round tower made of stone stands today, the castle's landmark that can be seen from afar. Despite its name, the round tower is not exactly cylindrical, but somewhat irregular in shape.

The floor plan of the castle developed from the medieval fortifications. The round tower divides the castle into two different areas, the so-called courtyards. In the Lower Court (F) is St George's Chapel (G), while in the Upper Court (B) are the private Royal Apartments (D) and the State Apartments (C). St George's Chapel is one of the finest examples of the Perpendicular Style in England. The St. George Hall is one of the state rooms. This is a very large room, the ceiling of which is decorated with the coats of arms of the former and current Knights of the Garter. The entrance to the state apartments is via the north terraces. In the exhibition of paintings you can see works by Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci and in the vestibule knight's armor and the bullet with which Admiral Nelson was mortally wounded in 1805 during the victorious Battle of Trafalgar against Napoleon's fleet. In the Queen's Ball Room, visitors will find valuable paintings by Rembrandt, Peter Paul Rubens and Van Dyck. Next to Windsor Castle is Home Park, where Frogmore stands with the mausoleum of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

Remains of the 13th-century prison can be seen in the Curfew Tower (T). A carillon sounds from the tower every three hours.

The Albert Memorial Chapel was originally built by Henry VII as a burial church, but he was buried in Westminster Abbey. After the death of her husband Prince Albert in 1861, Queen Victoria had the chapel converted into a memorial to him.


History of the castle

William the Conqueror bought the property from the monks of Westminster Abbey and had a wooden castle built from 1078. Under Heinrich I, his son, the first stone houses were built.

Henry III caused the construction of the first modern fortifications, including the Tattoo Tower ( " Curfew Tower "). The 24 m high Round Tower was built in the reign of Edward III. built, who was born here in 1312. He had the old castle that had been built under William the Conqueror demolished and had the castle expanded into a residence, the layout of which has remained unchanged to this day.

Windsor Castle from 1350
King Edward III. was born at Windsor Castle in 1312. He was therefore often called Edward of Windsor. From 1350 he began a 24-year renovation program in which he had the existing castle demolished except for the bell tower (T) and some smaller outdoor facilities. He hired William of Wykeham to remodel and remodel the castle. The keep of Heinrich III. (the Round Tower) was replaced by the currently preserved tower. It only got its current height in the 19th century. The fortifications were also further strengthened. The castle chapel was significantly expanded. However, plans to build a new church were not implemented. This was presumably due to a lack of manpower and funds after the Black Death broke out. The Norman Gate (M) also dates from this period. This great and awe-inspiring gate at the foot of the Round Tower is the last fortification before the Upper Court (B) around which the royal apartments are grouped.

In 1348 Edward III. the Order of the Garter, whose annual gathering is celebrated in St George's Chapel, the main chapel of the castle.

During the reign of Richard II in 1390, St. George's Chapel was found to be in acute danger of collapsing. That's why it was renewed. The director of the works was one of Richard II's favorites, Geoffrey Chaucer. He served the king as a diplomat as well as in charge of royal building projects. Their close bond lasted throughout the reign of Richard II. In the decade before Chaucer's death, Richard gave him several gifts and annuities, including a lifetime payment of £20 a year in 1394 and an annual supply of 955 liters (252 gallons) of wine in 1397. Chaucer died on October 25, 1400. Whatever his skills as a technical surveyor and builder, within 50 years the chapel was again in disrepair.

King Edward IV (1461-1483), the first king of the House of York, was said to have been addicted to the promotion of vain pomp. He began building St George's Chapel in its present form. In fact, the chapel, built in its current form from 1475, is more of a miniature version of a cathedral and royal mausoleum. It is built in Perpendicular Style. During the reign of Henry VII, part of the chapel was demolished to make room for the Lady Chapel, construction of which was later canceled by the king. The building of the chapel was one of the first magnificent architectural works on the castle grounds.

The erection of the chapel marked a turning point in the castle's architecture. The more stable political climate after the end of the Wars of the Roses meant that later expansions and conversions focused more on design and comfort than on stronger fortifications, as had been the case before. In this way the character of the castle changed from a royal fortress to a royal palace. An example of this is the 1480 Horseshoe Cloister, built near the chapel to house the clergy. This curved brick building is said to be in the shape of a horse's manacle. This was an Edward IV badge. Restoration work was undertaken in 1871 which eliminated most of the original building materials.


From the fortress to the palace

Edward III. was the monarch who started the conversion of the castle from a fortress to a comfortable palace. However, compared to royal residences such as Whitehall and Nonsuch, Windsor remained unassuming. King Henry VIII (reign 1509–1547) rebuilt the main entrance to the palace (K) around 1510. It was placed in such a way that an attacker had to fight uphill after storming the gate. The coat of arms above the archway and portcullis shows the pomegranate coat of arms of Henry VIII's first queen, Catherine of Aragon.

Henry VIII's son and successor, King Edward VI, wrote as a boy while staying at the castle: "I think I am in a prison here, there are no galleries or gardens to walk here."

Edward VI's half-sister, Queen Elizabeth I (reigned 1558-1603) spent most of her time at Windsor Castle, believing it to be the safest place in her kingdom. In times of stress she retreated here. She assumed that the castle could also withstand a siege if necessary. Although she apparently still regarded the castle as a fortress, she also contributed to its transformation into a comfortable residence. So she had the north terrace prepared as a place for physical training and had a covered gallery built above it. This is an early example of a conservatory. The building has largely been preserved in its original form. It contains a massive Tudor fireplace and now houses the Royal Library.


English Civil War

After Elizabeth I, James I succeeded to the throne. After that, the rule passed to his son Charles I. Neither of them undertook significant alterations to the castle. After Charles I was deposed, the castle became the headquarters for Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army. Windsor Castle fell to Parliamentary troops shortly after the outbreak of the Civil War. This was thanks to the cunning of Colonel John Venn. Prince Ruprecht of the Palatinate arrived in Windsor a few days later to retake the town and castle, but although he badly damaged the town in the bombardment, he was unable to take the castle. Venn remained governor of the castle until 1645.

Under the control of Parliamentary troops, the castle suffered, but not as badly as might be expected for an iconic symbol of the monarchy. However, the garrison stationed there was underpaid and allowed to plunder the royal treasures. During the Commonwealth period, the castle remained a military headquarters as well as a state prison for important royalist prisoners. Charles I was briefly imprisoned at Windsor Castle before his execution in 1649. By today's standards, this detention was more like house arrest. After the king's execution, Britain was ruled by Cromwell until the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. The body of Charles I was smuggled into Windsor during a snowstorm on a dark night, to be buried without ceremony in a vault under the choir of St George's Chapel, alongside the coffins of Henry VIII and his wife Jane Seymour.


The restoration of the monarchy in 1660

After the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Windsor Castle, which had remained unchanged for many years, underwent another major transformation. Charles II put a lot of effort into repairing the damage done to the castle during the civil war and refurnishing it. It was around this time that the Palace of Versailles was being built in France, and it was with this in mind that Charles II had The Long Walk (L) laid out. The avenue branches off south of the castle and is 4.8 km (3 miles) long and 80 m wide. Originally planted by the king, the elm trees along the sides have since been replaced by sweet chestnut and plane trees. The Long Path isn't the only part inspired by the Palace of Versailles. Charles II commissioned the architect Hugh May to remodel the royal apartments and St George's Hall. May replaced the original Plantagenet period chambers on the North Terrace with the cube-shaped Star Building. These chambers were decorated with ceiling paintings by Antonio Verrio and carvings by Grinling Gibbons. The king also acquired tapestries and paintings to furnish the rooms. These works of art formed the basis for today's royal collection, the Royal Collection. Three of the rooms have remained largely unchanged: the Queen's sitting room and audience room, both designed for Charles II's wife, Catherine of Braganza, and the King's dining room. Both the ceiling paintings by Verrio and the wall paneling by Gibbons survive in these rooms. Originally there were twenty rooms in this configuration. Some of Gibbon's work has been saved when changes were made as a result of remodeling or restoration. In the 19th century, these carvings were incorporated into the new interior of the Throne Room of the Order of the Garter and the Waterloo Chamber.


The 18th and 19th centuries

After the death of Charles II in 1685, the preservation of the castle was neglected over time. Although there were a number of inhabited royal buildings within the palace grounds and park, the monarchs themselves preferred to live elsewhere. During the reign of Wilhelm III. and Mary II (1689–1702), Hampton Court Palace was enlarged and transformed into a vast modern palace. Queen Anne later preferred to live in a small house near the walls of the castle. Only in 1804 did King George III. as a father of 13 children, a larger residence that could not be found elsewhere, so that the castle was fully inhabited again. The conversions from the time of Charles II reflected the classical architectural style that was popular at the time. Inigo Jones had introduced Palladianism to England at the time of Charles I. George III did not find this architectural style appropriate for an ancient castle and had many of the windows from the time of Charles II fitted with Gothic pointed arches. In this way, the castle regained its medieval appearance. During this period, Windsor Castle once again became a place of royal house arrest. In 1811 George III fell. into a state of permanent mental derangement and had to be locked in the castle for his own safety. During the last nine years of his life he seldom left his chambers at Windsor Castle.

During the reign of George IV between 1820 and 1830, the most far-reaching renovations in the history of the castle took place. George IV, known for his extravagant buildings during his reign, Carlton House and the Royal Pavilion, persuaded Parliament to grant him £300,000 for the restoration. Architect Jeffry Wyatville was chosen and work began in 1824.

Renovations took twelve years and included a complete remodeling of the Upper Court, the Private Apartments (D), the Round Tower (A) and the exterior of the south wing (D). This gave the castle its almost symmetrical facade, as seen from the avenue of the Long Corridor.

Wyatville was the first architect to consider the castle as a whole, rather than a collection of different buildings from different eras and different architectural styles. As an architect, he preferred impressive symmetries, while the castle, the product of centuries of development, initially lacked any unity. Wyatville imposed a certain symmetry on this ensemble of buildings in the Upper Court, raising some towers to match others. He also gave the buildings in the Upper Court a crenellated Gothic facade to match the medieval buildings. St George's Chapel in the Lower Court was also redesigned in the same way. The Round Tower had always been a squat building, and this impression was now reinforced by the new height of the Upper Court buildings. Wyatville overcame this problem by providing the Round Tower with a hollow stone crown, a kind of mock upper floor. This dummy is 10m high and gives the entire castle its dramatic silhouette which can be seen for many kilometers.

Most of the interior of the castle was also revised, as was the exterior. Many of the state apartments from the time of Charles II, which were renovated under George III. were left over were now re-equipped in the Gothic style. This particularly affected the St. George Hall, which was doubled in length. Wyatville also roofed a courtyard to create the Waterloo Chamber. This massive hall, lit by clerestory, celebrated the victors of the Battle of Waterloo and was decorated with portraits of the allied monarchs who had defeated Napoleon Bonaparte. 150 people can be seated at the large table in the middle of the chamber.

The work was unfinished when George IV died in 1830, but it was completed almost at the same time as Wyatville died in 1840.


Victorian era

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert made Windsor their main residence. Many of their changes affected the surrounding parking areas rather than the buildings. In particular, an Act passed by Parliament in 1848 permitted the closure and diversion of old routes which previously ran through Windsor Park towards Datchet and Old Windsor. These changes allowed the royal family to close a large part of the park to the public and create a private park. A mausoleum was built in the grounds of the park near Frogmore House, where Victoria and Albert are buried.

Queen Victoria retired to seclusion at the castle after the death of her husband in 1861. From that point until her death in 1901, the castle was her main place of residence and she seldom visited Buckingham Palace. The prince's chambers were left exactly as they were when he died. And although a certain atmosphere of melancholy thus descended on the castle for the remainder of the 19th century, some improvements and restorations were nonetheless carried out. In 1866, Anthony Salvin created the Grand Staircase in the State Apartments. The hall it is in is furnished with arms and armor, including armor made by King Henry VIII in 1540. The upper steps are flanked by life-size statues of horses with mounted knights in armor. This theme of decoration continues into the Chamber of the Guard and the Queen's Antechamber. Salvin also added the chateau-style cone-shaped spire to the bell tower (T).


The castle in the 20th century

After the succession of King Edward VII in 1901, the castle often remained uninhabited for long periods as the king preferred his other palaces. The King came to Windsor during Ascot racing week and Easter. Laying out a golf course was one of the few changes he had made. Edward VII's successor, George V, who ruled from 1910 to 1936, also preferred his other mansions. However, his wife, Queen Mary, was a great art lover. Not only did she try to reacquire old pieces of the castle's furnishings that had been sold on, but she also bought many new works of art to decorate the state apartments. She also reformed the use of the palace, abandoning the Baroque notion that a grand succession of state rooms on the ground floor were reserved for important guests. Instead, she had comfortable bedrooms set up upstairs, so that the previously reserved downstairs spaces were now available for entertaining and court functions. The state bedroom itself has been retained, but more out of historical interest. It has not been used as a bedroom since 1909.

During World War I, the royal family saw the need to change their dynastic name. The German House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha has now been renamed House Windsor after the castle. Queen Mary was known as a lover of miniaturized things. Therefore, on the initiative of a cousin, a so-called doll's house was made for her in 1921-24, which was modeled on a large aristocratic house. It was created by architect Lutyens. The furniture and pictures were made by leading craftsmen and designers of the 1920s. Queen Mary's Dolls' House is now one of the castle's many tourist attractions.

King George VI ascended the throne in 1936 after his brother's abdication. Edward VIII delivered his radio-broadcast speech of abdication to the British Empire in one of the castle's rooms. During his brief reign, however, he had preferred to live in his home at Fort Belvedere in Windsor Castle Park. George VI and his consort Queen Elizabeth also preferred their former home at the Royal Lodge in Windsor. At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the castle resumed its role as a royal fortress and the royal couple and their children, Crown Princess Elisabeth and Princess Margaret, lived at the castle for security reasons. The King and Queen drove to London daily and returned to Windsor for the night's rest. At the time, however, this was a well-kept secret, as it was reported for propaganda purposes and public morals that the King was staying at Buckingham Palace at all times. After the end of hostilities in 1945 the family left Windsor Castle and returned to the Royal Lodge.

Queen Elizabeth II decided in 1952 to make Windsor her weekend retreat. To this end, she had the private chambers (D), which had not been continuously inhabited since the time of Queen Maria, renovated and further modernized.


Fire 1992

On November 20, 1992, a fire broke out in the Queen's private chapel and spread rapidly. It was triggered by a halogen spotlight igniting a curtain. It raged for fifteen hours, destroying nine of the most important state rooms. Another 100 rooms were badly damaged. The buildings at the Oberer Hof were badly damaged overall. A fifth of the building area of the castle was damaged, a total building area of 9000 m². The renovations took five years to complete. Seventy percent of the cost was met by opening Buckingham Palace's State Apartments to the public for the first time. The total cost of the repair was £37 million (€50 million). The restoration has been done in such detail that it is difficult to tell the difference between old and new. The private chapel, the lantern lobby and the new ceiling of St. George's Hall have been redesigned in a historical style. The hall was furnished with green oak, a technique that was already used in the Middle Ages. What is less apparent is that the restoration led to significant technical improvements, particularly in the layout of the public and service areas. Only a small information board at the site of the outbreak of the fire draws the visitor's attention to the fire.



The palace's security is mainly provided by the Thames Valley Police and a branch of the London Metropolitan Police, which is responsible for protecting the royal family and diplomats. In addition, battalions of the Foot Guards of the Household Division and the Victoria Barracks in Windsor perform guard duty as part of the Windsor Palace Guard.


Important events

Marriage of Henry I and Adelheid of Louvain, his second wife (1121)
Birth of King Edward III (1312)
Marriage of Edward of Woodstock and Joan of Kent (1361)
Funeral of King Edward IV (1483)
Marriage of King Edward VII and Alexandra of Denmark (1863)
Death of Canadian Prime Minister John Thompson (1894)
Castle Fire (1992)
Marriage of Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex and Sophie Rhys-Jones, Countess of Wessex (1999)
Death of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (Queen Mum) (March 30, 2002)
Marriage of Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles, Duchess of Cornwall (9 April 2005)
Marriage of Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex (May 19, 2018)
Death of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Consort to Queen Elizabeth II (9 April 2021)
Funeral of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (17 April 2021)
Funeral of Queen Elizabeth II (September 19, 2022)