The Robinson Library >> General and Old World History >> Great Britain >> England >> Other Cities, Towns, Etc.
Windsor Castle

the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world

Windsor Castle as seen from the Long Walk
Windsor Castle as seen from the Long Walk

Windsor Castle occupies 13 acres of a Saxon hunting ground above the south bank of the river Thames in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead in Berkshire, England. The site was chosen by William the Conqueror because it was only a day's march from London, making it ideal for guarding the western approaches to the capital. Construction began about 1070, and the original structure was completed 16 years later.

location of Windsor Castle
location of Windsor Castle

The outer walls of today's structure are in the same position as those of the original castle built by William the Conqueror in the 1070's. So too is the central mound supporting the Round Tower and the Upper Ward, where successive monarchs have had their private apartments since the fourteenth century.

The first king to use Windsor Castle as a residence was Henry I. When it was first built, the Castle was walled in timber, but in the late 12th century Henry II began to replace the outer fortifications in stone. Windsor was also one of the favourite residences of Henry III, and he invested heavily in the royal accommodation at the Castle. Edward III made Windsor the center of his court and government, and the seat of the newly founded Order of the Garter. He spent 50,000 in the process, more than any other medieval English king spent on any other single building. The work was not completed by the time of Edward III’s death, and continued for another six years into the reign of his grandson and successor Richard II.

By the time Elizabeth I took up residence at Windsor, many parts of the Castle were badly in need of repair, and major improvements were made throughout the 1570's.

Captured after the Battle of Edgehill in 1642, Windsor served s the headquarters of the parliamentary forces for the rest of the Civil War. In 1648, Charles I was held there before his trial and execution in London; his body was brought back for burial in St. George's Chapel. Following the Restoration, Charles II was determined to make the Castle as splendid as possible, so he hired architect Hugh May to design a new set of State Apartments and noted artists of the day to create works of art for them. He also laid out the Long Walk leading due south from the Castle into Windsor Great Park.

George IV was a great lover of art and fine decoration, and much of Windsor Castle's present appearance is due to the alterations he instigated in the 1820's with architect Sir Jeffry Wyatville. The buildings were refashioned in the Gothic style, with the addition of crenellations, turrets and towers. One of George IV's most remarkable additions was the Waterloo Chamber, which was created to show portraits commissioned from Sir Thomas Lawrence to commemorate the defeat of Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were devoted to Windsor, where they spent much of their time. It was during the reign of Queen Victoria that, in 1845, the State Apartments were first opened to the public. Prince Albert died of typhoid at Windsor in 1861 and was buried in a spectacular mausoleum that Queen Victoria constructed at Frogmore in the Windsor Home Park.

During the Second World War, Windsor Castle was home to Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose while their parents supported the war effort in London and around the country. The Queen still uses the Castle regularly, spending most of her weekends there.

On November 20, 1992, a fire broke out in the Private Chapel when a spotlight came into contact with a curtain and ignited the material. It took 15 hours to put out the fire, by which time over 110 rooms, approximately one-fifth of the Castle, had been damaged or destroyed. Restoration began almost immediately, and was completed five years later. Total cost of the restoration was 37 million (US $59.2 million), 3 million below budget. Seventy per cent of the necessary revenue was raised from opening Buckingham Palace's State Rooms to visitors in August and September. The remaining 30 per cent of the cost was met from savings in the annual Grant-in-Aid funding from Parliament for the maintenance and upkeep of the occupied Royal Palaces. The restoration was undertaken at no additional cost to the taxpayer.

Windsor Castle from above
Windsor Castle from above

layout of Windsor Castle
layout of Windsor Castle

A The Round Tower
B The Upper Ward, (aka The Quadrangle)
C The State Apartments
D Private Apartments
E South Wing
F Lower Ward
G St. George's Chapel
H Horseshoe Cloister
K King Henry VIII Gate (principal entrance)
L The Long Walk
M Norman Gate
N North Terrace
O Edward IV Tower
T The Curfew Tower

The Official Website of The British Monarchy
Royal Collection Trust

Elizabeth I
Charles I
Charles II
Napoleon Bonaparte
Queen Victoria
Second World War
Elizabeth II
Princess Margaret
Buckingham Palace

Questions or comments about this page?

The Robinson Library >> General and Old World History >> Great Britain >> England >> Other Cities, Towns, Etc.

This page was last updated on July 21, 2017.