Thursday, June 23, 2011

The One With the Queen



After leaving Kenilworth, lunch was McDonalds in the car (the only time we ate fast food during our whole trip) and it was a good thing we did since there was a big accident on the motorway going to London which meant we arrived at our next destination – Windsor Castle – later than planned. But maybe it wasn’t totally a bad thing since by the time we arrived the day had turned cloudy and cool and there weren’t that many people there.



Founded by William the Conqueror at the end of the eleventh century, Windsor has been the home of thirty nine monarchs and is the oldest royal residence in the British Isles to have remained in continuous use.
Located on a site 100 feet above the Thames River, building for the castle began around 1070 and was completed by 1086 and the original “footprint” of the castle has not changed since. Although first walled in timber, in the late twelfth century Henry II began to replace the outer fortifications with stone and in 1170, the original Norman keep was rebuilt as The Round Tower.



During the reign of Edward III (1327-77), Windsor was transformed from a military fortification to a Gothic palace, reflecting his ideal of a Christian, chivalric monarch. Fifty thousand pounds were spent rebuilding Windsor, including royal apartments which remained virtually unchanged for 300 years.



When the English Civil War broke out and royal palaces were commandeered by Parliamentary forces, troops were order to “take some especial care” of Windsor. It frequently served as headquarters for Oliver Cromwell and as a prison for royalist officers, as well as for the king who was buried in St. George’s Chapel following his execution in 1649.



With the restoration of the monarchy, Charles II reinstated Windsor as a royal palace and over the next eleven years, the palace was modernized with the grandest baroque State Apartments in England – England’s own “Versailles”. The State Apartments will be covered in a separate post with pictures from the guidebook.



Over the next hundred years or so, successive monarchs preferred the palaces at Hampton Court and Kensington and it wasn’t until the reign of George III (r.1760-1820) that Windsor again became the focus of the court. In the early 1800’s, the external facades were restored and a large staircase to the State Apartments built (the plaster ceiling still exists).



When George IV came to throne in 1820, he continued the gothic transformation of the castle and sought to also create comfortable royal apartments. Keeping in mind the symbolic importance of Windsor, the intent was to give the structure an imposing “castle-like” appearance. In addition to the extensive exterior changes, a new suite of rooms was added and furnished in the latest French Empire style combined with antiques. His improvements cost 300,000 pounds.



Windsor’s golden age was during the reign of Queen Victoria (r1837-1901) as the queen spent the majority of her time here and it was used for family and state occasions. Queen Victoria opened the State Apartments up regularly to the public in 1848 with 60,000 visitors each year.



For most of the 20th century, Windsor remained relatively unchanged (except for the addition of modern amenities - electric lighting, central heating and bathrooms), even surviving the bombing raids of WWII unharmed. But 50 years later in 1992, a fire broke out in the Queen’s private chapel and quickly spread. The ceilings of St. George’s Hall and the Grand Reception Room were destroyed and several rooms were completely gutted. Two hundred firefighters worked for 15 hours and damage was confined to one corner of the castle. Fortunately, many of the rooms were empty due to electrical work that was going on at the time – otherwise many valuable works of art and the contents of the Library would have been destroyed.
Restoration work began immediately and took five years to complete at a cost of 37 million pounds. Most of the funds came from the admission proceeds as well as admissions to Buckingham Palace which was opened to the public for the first time in 1993.



The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh spend most of their private weekends at Windsor and whenever Her Majesty is in residence, the Royal Standard, rather than the Union flag, is flown on the Round Tower. This fact proved to be an important one for our visit:

Below is the Round Tower before we went into St. George’s Chapel:


And this was the Round Tower when we came out of St. George's Chapel:


The Queen was in the house – somewhere…

Which might explain the appearance of a small group of these fine looking gentlemen at the gate. They looked rather amused when Chip asked if he could take their picture.


We didn’t see Her Majesty, but we did some people rolling suitcases behind them so they must have been some of the lucky people invited to stay for the weekend. Apparently my invitation had gotten lost...

*all information is from the guidebook

Cheers!

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