Windsor Castle
The Royal Palace at Windsor, 1751.

Windsor Castle

WINDSOR (properly NEW Windsor), a municipal borough of Berkshire, England, and a parliamentary borough extending into Buckinghamshire. The town, which is famous for its royal castle, lies on the west (right) bank of the Thames, 214 m. W. of London Here the Thames, from an easterly course, sweeps first nearly northward and then south-eastward.

The castle lies at the north-eastern edge of the town, on a slight but commanding eminence, while the massive round tower in the centre, on its artificial mound, is conspicuous from far over the flat land to the east, north and west. The site of the castle is an irregular parallelogram measuring about 630 yds. by 180. On the west the walls enclosing the "lower ward," with the Clewer, Garter, Salisbury and Henry III towers, overlook Thames Street and High Street, from which the "hundred steps" give access to the ward on the north, and the Henry VIII gateway, opening from Castle Hill, on the south. This ward contains St George's Chapel in the centre, with the Albert Memorial Chapel on the east and the Horseshoe Cloisters on the west. To the north are the deanery and the canon's residences, for the foundation attached to the royal chapel has the privileges of a "royal peculiar," the dean being exempt from episcopal jurisdiction. To the south are the guard-room and the houses of the military knights, or pensioners.

The round tower occupies the "middle ward"; on its flagturret the Union Jack or the Royal Standard is hoisted according as the sovereign is absent or present. The buildings in the "upper ward," east of this, form three sides of a square; the state apartments on the north, the private apartments on the east and the visitors' apartments on the south. Along the north side of the castle extends the north terrace, commanding, from its position above a steep slope, splendid views across the river to Eton on the Buckinghamshire side, and far over the valley. The east terrace, continuing the north, overlooks the gardens in front of the private apartments, and the south terrace continues farther, as far as the George IV gateway. The Home Park lies adjacent to the castle on the south, east and north. The Great Park extends south of Windsor, where the land, rising gently, is magnificently timbered with the remnant of the old royal forest. The village of Old Windsor (in distinction from which the name of New Windsor is given to the borough) lies by the river, south of the Home Park. To the west of Windsor itself the village of Clewer has become a suburb of the town.

As early as the time of the Heptarchy a stronghold of some importance existed at Windsor, the great mound, which is moated, circular and about 125 ft. in diameter, being a remnant of this period. William the Conqueror was attracted by the forest as a hunting preserve, and obtained the land by exchange from Westminster Abbey, to which Edward the Confessor had given it. Thereafter the castle became what it remains, the chief residence of the English sovereigns. The Conqueror replaced the primitive wooden enclosure by a stone circuit-wall, and the first complete round tower was built by Henry III about 1272, but Edward III wholly reconstructed it on a more massive scale, about 1344, to form a meeting-place for his newly established order of Knights of the Garter. He selected this spot because, according to a legend quoted by the chronicler Froissart, it was on the summit of the mound that King Arthur used to sit surrounded by his Knights of the Round Table. The bulk of the existing round tower is of Edward's time, but its walls were heightened and the tall flag-turret added by the court architect, Sir Jeffrey Wyatville, in the reign of George IV.

In addition to the Round Tower, Henry III had constructed long lines of circuit-walls, crowned at intervals with smaller towers. He also built a great hall (the present chapter library) and other apartments, together with a chapel, which was afterwards pulled down to make room for the chapel of St George. The beautiful little dean's cloister preserves a portion of Henry's work in the south wall, a contemporary portrait of the king appearing in distemper on one of the arches. Another chapel was built by him and dedicated to his favourite saint, Edward the Confessor. This graceful building, with an eastern apse, is now called the Albert Memorial Chapel; some of Henry III's work still exists in the lower part of its walls, but the upper part was rebuilt in 1501-1503 by Henry VII, who intended it as a burial-place for himself and his line, before he began the chapel which bears his name and contains his tomb at Westminster Abbey.

Some years later the unfinished chapel was given by Henry VIII to Cardinal Wolsey, and for long after it was known as "Wolsey's tomb-house." Wolsey engaged a Florentine sculptor named Benedetto, probably a son or nephew of Benedetto da Maiano (d. 1497), also a Florentine artist, to make him a costly tomb of marble and gilt bronze, with a recumbent effigy at the top, no doubt similar in design to Torrigiano's tomb of Henry VII at Westminster. The rich bronze work of Wolsey's tomb was torn off and melted by order of the Commonwealth in 1642, and the metal was sold for the then large sum of £600. In 1805 the black marble sarcophagus, stripped of its bronze ornaments, was moved from Windsor and used as a monument over Nelson's grave in the crypt of St Paul's. Though Wolsey's tomb-house was roofed in and used for mass by James II, the stone vaulting was not completed until the whole chapel was fitted by Sir Gilbert Scott as a memorial to Albert, Prince Consort. Its internal walls were then lined with rich marbles, and decorated with reliefs by Baron Triqueti. The cenotaph of the Prince Consort stands before the altar, with the tombs of Prince Leopold, duke of Albany, and the duke of Clarence; the last erected by King Edward VII, who was himself buried here in May 1910. In a vault beneath the chapel George III and members of his family are buried.

The chapel of St George is one of the finest examples of Perpendicular architecture in England, comparable with two other royal chapels, that of King's College at Cambridge and that of Henry VII at Westminster, which are a little later in date. The building was begun by Edward IV, who in 1473 pulled down almost the whole of the earlier chapel, which had been completed and filled with stained glass by Edward III in 1363. The nave of St George's was vaulted about the year 1490, but the choir groining was not finished till 1507; the hanging pendants from the fan vaulting of the choir mark a later development of style, which contrasts strongly with the simpler lines of the earlier nave vault. In 1516 the lantern and the rood-screen were completed, but the stalls and other fittings were not finished till after 1519.

The chapel ranks next to Westminster Abbey as a royal mausoleum, though no king was buried there before Edward IV, who left directions in his will that a splendid tomb was to be erected with an effigy of himself in silver. Nothing remains of this except part of the wrought iron grille which surrounded the tomb, one of the most elaborate and skilfully wrought pieces of ironwork in the world, said to be the work of Quintin Matsys. The next sovereign buried here was Henry VIII,who directed that his body should be laid beside that of Jane Seymour, in a magnificent bronze and marble tomb. The tomb was never completed, and what existed of its metal-work was probably melted down by the Commonwealth. No trace of it remains. Charles I was buried here without service in 1649. Above the dark oak stalls hang the historic insignia of the Knights of the Garter, their swords, helmets and banners. On the stalls themselves appear a remarkable series of enamelled brass plates commemorating knights of the order. Many tombs and memorials are seen in the chantry chapels.

The deanery, adjoining the dean's cloister, is dated 1500, but the Winchester tower to the north-east of it is the work of the famous prelate and architect William of Wykeham, who was employed by Edward III on the greater part of this extension and alteration of Henry III's work. The Horseshoe cloisters were restored in Tudor style by Sir Gilbert Scott. The Norman gate on the north side of the round tower was rebuilt by Wykeham.

The site of the upper ward was built upon by Henry II, and, to a greater extent, by Edward III, but only in the foundations and lowest storey are remains of so early a period to be found. The buildings were wanting in homogeneity until their reconstruction was undertaken by Sir Jeffrey Wyatville under the direction of George IV, for King Charles II was unable to carry out a similar intention, perhaps fortunately, as Sir Christopher Wren proposed drastic alterations. Charles, however, completed the so-called Star Building, named from the representation of the star of the Order of the Garter on the north front. Here the state apartments are situated. They include the throne room, St George's Hall, where meetings of the Order of the Garter are held, the audience and presence chambers, and the grand reception room, adorned with Gobelins tapestries, and the guardroom with armour. All these chambers contain also splendid pictures and other objects of art; but more notable in this connexion are the picture gallery, the Rubens room or king's drawing-room, and the magnificent Van Dyck room. The ceilings of several of the chambers were decorated by Antonio Verrio, under the direction of Charles II. In the royal library, which is included among the private apartments, is a fine collection of drawings by the old masters, including three volumes from the hand of Leonardo da Vinci. Here is also a magnificent series of eighty-seven portraits by Holbein, highly finished in sepia and chalk, representing the chief personages of the court of Henry VIII. There are, moreover, examples by Michelangelo and Raphael, though the series attributed to these masters are not accepted as genuine in their entirety.

Windsor Palace Engraving

South of the castle, beside the Home Park, is the Royal Mews. Within the bounds of the park is Frogmore, with the Royal Mausoleum and that of the duchess of Kent, and the royal gardens. An oak-tree marks the supposed site of Herne's Oak, said to be haunted by "Herne the hunter" (Shakespeare, Merry Wives of Windsor, IV. 4.). A splendid avenue, the Long Walk, laid out in the time of Charles II and William III, leads from George IV's gate on the south side of the castle straight into the heart of the Great Park, a distance of 3 m. Another fine and still longer straight avenue is Queen Anne's Ride, planted in 1707. Among various buildings within the park is Cumberland Lodge, built by Charles II and taking name from the duke of Cumberland, who commanded the victorious royal troops at the battle of Culloden in 1746, and resided here as chief ranger. At the southern boundary of the park is a beautiful artificial lake called Virginia Water, formed by the duke. Windsor Forest formerly extended far over the south of Berkshire, and into the adjacent county of Surrey, and even in 1790 still covered nearly 60,000 acres. It was disafforested by an act of 1813.

A few old houses remain in the town of Windsor, but the greater part is modernized. The church of St John the Baptist was rebuilt in 1822, but contains some fine examples of Grinling Gibbons' wood-
carving. There are statues of Queen Victoria, unveiled in the first Jubilee year, 1887, and of Prince Albert (1890). The town hall was built in 1686 by Sir Christopher Wren, who represented the borough in parliament. The town was formerly celebrated for the number of its inns, of which there were 70 in 1650. The most famous were the "Garter" and the "White Hart," the first of which was the favourite of Shakespeare's Sir John Falstaff, and is frequently mentioned in The Merry Wives of Windsor.

The political history of Windsor centres round the castle, at which the Norman kings held their courts and assembled their witan. Robert Mowbray was imprisoned in its dungeons in 1095, and at the Christmas court celebrated at Windsor in 1127 David of Scotland swore allegiance to the empress Maud. In 1175 it was the scene of the ratification of the treaty of Windsor. The castle was bestowed by Richard I, Lionheart, on Hugh, bishop of Durham, but in the next year was treacherously seized by Prince John and only surrendered after a siege. In 1217 Ingelram de Achie with a garrison of sixty men gallantly held the fortress against a French force under the count de Nevers. It was a centre of activity in the Barons' War, and the meeting-place of the parliament summoned by Henry in 1261 in rivalry to that of the barons at St Albans; two years later, however, it surrendered to Simon de Montfort. The appeal of high treason against Thomas Mowbray, duke of Norfolk, was heard by Richard II in Windsor Castle in 1398. During the Civil War of the 17th century the castle was garrisoned for the parliament, and in 1648 became the prison of Charles I, who spent his last Christmas within its walls.

      Excerpted from:

      Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th Ed. Vol XXVIII.
      Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1910. 715.

Other Local Resources:

Books for further study:

Robinson, John Martin. Windsor Castle: The Official Illustrated History
            London: The Royal Collection, 2006.

Rowse, A. L. Windsor Castle in the History of the Nation
            London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1974.

Thurley, Simon. The Royal Palaces of Tudor England:
           Architecture and Court Life, 1460-1547.
           Paul Mellon Center, 1993.

Windsor Castle on the Web:

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Created by Anniina Jokinen on December 1, 2006. Last updated January 24, 2007.