If we think about castles in England then this one is most probably the first that comes to mind. In this post, you’ll discover the ultimate list of facts about Windsor Castle.
1. The castle is located just west of London
Windsor Castle is located in the town of Windsor directly south of the River Thames and in the county of Berkshire in England, UK. The castle is located just east of the town and a few miles west of the outer suburbs of London.
It’s also pretty close to the main airport of the city, Heathrow airport, which is also located just west of London.
2. It was built by William the Conqueror
The Castle was one of the dozens of castles that were built shortly after the Norman Conquest of England in the year 1066. Windsor Castle particularly formed a defensive ring around the city of London.
This ring was very significant because each of these castles was just 20 miles (32 kilometers) apart from each other and the same distance away from the city, covering each other perfectly in case of an attack.
The original castle that was built by William the Conqueror was a motte and bailey castle made of wood with a keep built on top of a man-made mound that was rising about 100 feet (30 meters) above the river.
3. It’s the longest-occupied royal castle in Europe
One of the most fascinating facts about Windsor Castle is that it has been the longest-occupied royal castle in Europe, this for the simple reason that it’s still used as a royal residence today!
4. It wasn’t originally used as a royal castle
The original purpose of Windsor Castle was to simply serve as one of the defensive fortresses around the city of London. The Norman Kings used another castle initially, which was built by Edward the Confessor in the Old Town of Windsor, as their royal residence in the area.
Henry I (1068-1135) was the first King of England to use the castle as a royal residence. Henry married Adeliza of Louvain at the castle in January of the year 1121 and turned the wooden structure into a stone building.
5. It combines nearly 1,000 years of architectural history
Starting off as merely a wooden keep protected by a bailey wall on a mound, Windsor Castle has seen a lot of changes over the centuries.
It was built in the decade following William I’s Conquest of England in 1066 and was expanded and improved by numerous Kings and Queens of England in a period of nearly 1,000 years, each with their own tastes and architectural preferences.
This makes Windsor Castle one of the most fascinating castles in the world!
6. The Middle Ward is the heart of the castle
The Middle Ward is the area that the original wooden keep was built on top of a mound, also referred to as a “motte.” This motte is about 50 feet (15 meters) high and was made of chalk excavated in the area.
7. The Round Tower dates back to the 12th century
At the moment, this area is occupied by a building referred to as the “Round Tower,” a structure that was originally built by Henry II in the 12th century.
The Round Tower was significantly remodeled in the 19th century and moved upward. This means it now stands about 30 feet (9 meters) higher than the original structure on its location.
8. The castle played a major role in the First Barons’ War
The castle was besieged for the first time in the year 1214 when the First Barons’ War broke out. The Magna Carta, a royal charter of rights, was signed by King John in 1215 at Runnymede, which is just near Windsor.
Neither side held to its obligations signed in the charter and the castle was besieged again in 1216, resulting in the peace treaty agreed at Lambeth.
9. 3 new towers were constructed shortly after the First Barons’ War
The castle was severely damaged after the war and was instantly repaired. The siege apparently made the King freak out and Henry III, King John’s successor, ordered to rebuild the walls of the Lower Ward in stone and include a gate.
He also commissioned the constructions of 3 towers which were built between 1224 and 1230, the Curfew, Garter and the Salisbury towers.
10. Henry III made the division between the Upper and Lower Wards
Henry III was the first King who really made significant changes to the castle. He didn’t just strengthen its defenses, he also improved the royal accommodation and made the division between the Upper and Lower Wards. This would provide the King and his Queen, Eleanor of Provence, along with their children more privacy.
All the decorations and buildings added between 1240 and 1263 have been described as “one of the high-water marks of English medieval art” and cost about £10,000 total, which is the equivalent of nearly £15,000,000 today!
11. The order of the garter as established in 1348
Edward III was very fond of Windsor Castle and was even born there. In 1344, he wanted to establish the Order of the Round Table at the castle. This story has been made popular by the King Arthur legend.
He suddenly decided to abandon the newly created order and started the “Order of the Garter” instead, a different order of chivalry which was founded in 1348. It’s the oldest order of knighthood in the British honors system.
The order is dedicated to Saint George, the patron saint of England.
12. The Chapel is considered to be the epitome of the English Gothic style
The Order of the Garter has its own chapel called the “Saint George’s Chapel” and is found in Lower Ward of the Castle. It was originally constructed by Edward III in 1348 but was seriously expanded in the 15th century.
The Saint George’s Chapel is considered to be the ultimate example of the English Gothic architectural style.
13. Edward III spent an enormous amount on expanding the castle
If you think Henry III spent a lot on Windsor Castle, then that’s little compared to what Edward III spent. He integrated 3 large courts into the castle called the Little Cloister, King’s Cloister, and the Kitchen Court.
He also integrated two major gatehouses called “Spicerie Gatehouse” and the “Kitchen Gatehouse,” as well as a new tower called the “Rose Tower.”
The total cost of his project, which included a lot more expansions and was completed between 1350 and 1377, was about £51,000 or the equivalent of nearly £59,000,000 today!
14. Henry VIII built a gateway and a tennis court at Windsor Castle
Henry VIII is another English King who enjoyed his time at Windsor Castle. Apart from using it as his own personal playground, he also made quite a few changes.
The most notable changes were the main gateway and a tennis court at the base of the motte with the Round Tower. After all, tennis was gaining a lot of popularity these days in royal circles.
15. It was the most favorite location of Elizabeth I
The first queen who enjoyed her time at the castle was Elizabeth I, the last of the five monarchs of the House of Tudor. She mostly saw it as a safe-haven when there as trouble and bought 10 huge canons to strengthen the castle’s defenses.
She also made a huge number of small changes and used the castle to entertain foreign guests.
16. Large amounts of gold and silver were looted during the English Civil War
The English Civil War broke out in 1642 and shortly after the Parliamentarians took control of Windsor Castle. The result was instant looting by the troops that took over the castle.
A total of 101 kilos (3580 oz) of gold and silver were stolen from the castle and just about all other valuables suffered the same faith. On top of that, numerous sections of the castle were destroyed, leaving the castle in ruins at the end of the Civil War in 1651.
17. The restorations were heavily influenced by a famous French castle
During the years of the Interregnum between 1651 and the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, squatters had occupied the castle causing further damage to the castle that was already ruined by the war.
King Charles II instantly ordered the restoration of the castle and was heavily influenced by the famous Palace of Versailles near Paris, the home of Louis XIV at the time and which was the epitome of extravagance.
It’s in this period that extravagant Baroque interiors were integrated into the castle’s design by architect Hugh May.
18. A lot of money spent on Windsor Castle in the 17th 18th century
The castle was neglected for multiple decades in the 18th century until King George III came to the throne in the year 1760. He spent about £150,000 on various renovations and expansion projects, the equivalent of over £100,000,000 today!
This apparently wasn’t enough for spendthrift King George IV who managed to secure another £300,000 in the early 1820s, the equivalent of almost £250,000,000 today!
The result as a mix of various architectural styles including Gothic and French Rococo which shaped Windsor Castle to the enormous structure it is today.
19. The castle was used as a hide-out for the royal family during World War II
A great secret during World War II was that the King and Queen were living at Windsor Castle, but pretended to live at Buckingham Palace, their official residence at the time. They slept at Windsor Castle in strengthened rooms to ensure nothing would happen to them if the castle was bombed.
The King and Queen did, however, drive to Buckingham Palace every day to enhance the morale of the population.
20. A huge fire destroyed most of Windsor Castle in 1992
Restoration works were ongoing in one of the castle’s chapels in 1992. It’s assumed that a light used during these works fell and a curtain in the chapel caught fire, after which it quickly spread to other areas of the castle.
The result was devastating as the fire raged on for 15 hours, destroying 9 of the main State Rooms and over 100 other rooms of the castle.
Over 200 firefighters were needed to put the fire out and they used a total of 1.5 million gallons of water, seriously increasing the damage caused by the fire itself.
The restoration project was started instantly and completed in 1997 at a cost of £37 million, the equivalent of nearly £70 million today!
21. Windsor Castle is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the UK
Over 500 people live and work at the castle and not much has changed since the days of Elizabeth I because the castle is still used to entertain important foreign guests as well. Some of the notable guests over the years were President Mbeki of South Africa, King Abdullah II of Jordan, and President Obama of the United States.
The castle is owned by Queen Elizabeth II in right of the Crown and is managed by the Royal Household of the United Kingdom.
Today, Windsor Castle has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United Kingdom. Over 1 million people visit the castle every year and a £27 million project was opened in 2019 consisting of completely renovating the original entrance hall for visitors.
This concludes the ultimate list of facts about Windsor Castle, one of the most famous and most popular royal castles in England!