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The Fascinating History of Windsor Castle: A Royal Residence for the Ages

Windsor Castle

For over 950 years, Windsor Castle has stood as a powerful symbol of the British monarchy, a fortress that has weathered war and rebellion, hosted diplomatic gatherings that shaped the course of history, and served as the beloved home of generations of kings and queens. Today, it holds the distinction of being the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world. Let‘s take a closer look at the fascinating history of this royal residence and uncover some of the untold stories hidden within its ancient stone walls.

The Early Years: From William the Conqueror to Henry II

The story of Windsor Castle begins in the aftermath of the Norman Conquest of England. Shortly after his victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, William the Conqueror built a wooden motte-and-bailey fort on a strategically important site overlooking the River Thames. The location allowed William to guard the western approach to London and assert his dominance over his newly conquered territory.

In the late 12th century, William‘s great-grandson Henry II became the first monarch to use Windsor as a royal residence. He rebuilt the castle in stone, adding the iconic Round Tower that still dominates the skyline today. Henry‘s goal was to create an impregnable fortress that would serve as a symbol of royal power and might.

The Middle Ages: Edward III to Henry VIII

The 14th century saw major developments at Windsor under Edward III, who was born at the castle in 1312. He founded the Order of the Garter, the world‘s oldest national order of knighthood, and built St George‘s Hall to serve as the meeting place for the knights. The grand hall, which measures 180 ft long and 29 ft wide, features intricate woodcarvings and colorful shields representing the arms of the Knights of the Garter.

In the late 15th century, Edward IV began construction on St George‘s Chapel, one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in England. The chapel was later completed by Henry VIII, who lies buried there alongside his third wife Jane Seymour. In total, 11 monarchs have been laid to rest within the chapel, which remains an active place of worship to this day.

The Tudors and Stuarts

During the tumultuous years of the English Reformation, Windsor Castle played host to some of the most significant events in British history. It was at Windsor that Henry VIII first met his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, in 1540. The meeting was a disaster, with Henry famously describing Anne as a "Flanders Mare." The marriage was quickly annulled and Anne was sent away with the title of "King‘s Sister."

In the early 17th century, Windsor became a focal point of the English Civil War. In 1642, Parliamentary forces seized the castle and used it as a military headquarters. The following year, the castle was besieged by Royalist troops loyal to King Charles I. Although the Royalists ultimately prevailed, the castle suffered extensive damage during the conflict.

The Georgians and Victorians

The Georgian and Victorian eras saw extensive renovations and additions to Windsor Castle. In the 1820s, George IV commissioned the architect Jeffry Wyatville to transform the castle into a grand palace fit for a king. Wyatville‘s renovations included the addition of the famous Long Walk, a 2.6-mile tree-lined avenue leading up to the castle.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were particularly fond of Windsor and spent much of their time there. Following Albert‘s death in 1861, Victoria went into a deep mourning and rarely left the castle. She built a mausoleum on the grounds where Albert was laid to rest, and she herself was buried there alongside him after her death in 1901.

20th Century to Present Day

During World War II, Windsor Castle became a symbol of British resilience in the face of adversity. The royal family took shelter there during the Blitz, and the castle‘s grounds were used to grow vegetables to help feed the local population.

In November 1992, disaster struck when a fire broke out in the castle‘s Private Chapel. The blaze quickly spread, ultimately destroying 115 rooms and causing over £35 million in damage. It took five years to fully restore the castle, with some of the work still ongoing to this day.

More recently, Windsor Castle served as the final resting place for Queen Elizabeth II, Britain‘s longest-reigning monarch. Following her death in September 2022, the Queen‘s coffin was brought to Windsor for a committal service in St George‘s Chapel attended by 800 guests. She was later buried alongside her husband Prince Philip in a private ceremony in the King George VI Memorial Chapel.

Visiting Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle Gardens

Today, Windsor Castle is open to the public and welcomes over 1.5 million visitors each year. Highlights of a visit include:

  • The magnificent State Apartments furnished with treasures from the Royal Collection
  • Queen Mary‘s Dolls‘ House, the largest and most famous dolls‘ house in the world
  • The Gothic splendor of St George‘s Chapel, the final resting place of 11 monarchs
  • The Changing of the Guard ceremony, a colorful display of British pageantry (weather permitting)

Visitor Information

  • Location: Windsor, Berkshire, SL4 1NJ (21 miles west of London)
  • Getting there: Train from London Paddington or Waterloo to Windsor & Eton Central (5 minute walk from castle). By car, exit M4 at Junction 6 onto A332 Windsor relief road.
  • Opening hours: Thursday-Monday, 10:00-16:15 (last admission 15:00). Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
  • Admission: £26.50 for adults, £14.50 for children under 17. Discounts available for families, groups, disabled visitors and seniors. Tickets must be booked in advance.

A Symbol of Monarchy

Few buildings embody the rich history and enduring legacy of the British monarchy quite like Windsor Castle. As historian Anna Keay notes:

"Windsor Castle is more than just a building; it is the definitive symbol of monarchy, and the history of the castle is in many ways the history of England itself."

For over 900 years, this ancient fortress has stood watch over the English countryside, bearing witness to the triumphs and tribulations of Britain‘s kings and queens. From William the Conqueror to Elizabeth II, each monarch has left their mark on Windsor, whether in the form of grand halls and chapels or priceless works of art and treasures from the Royal Collection.

At the same time, Windsor is more than just a showcase of royal power and wealth. As the historian John Martin Robinson points out:

"What makes Windsor so fascinating is that it is not simply a museum piece, but a living, breathing residence that continues to play a central role in the life of the monarchy and the nation."

Indeed, in recent years Windsor has been the backdrop for some of the most significant events in modern royal history, from the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in 2018 to the funeral of Prince Philip in 2021. As the British monarchy enters a new era under King Charles III, Windsor Castle is poised to remain at the heart of royal life for generations to come.


From its humble beginnings as a wooden fort built by William the Conqueror to its current status as the world‘s oldest and largest occupied castle, Windsor has been a witness to and participant in some of the most pivotal moments in British history. Its walls have housed kings and queens, hosted diplomatic gatherings that helped shape the course of world events, and stood as a symbol of resilience in the face of adversity.

For those interested in delving deeper into this fascinating history, a visit to Windsor Castle is an absolute must. With its blend of ancient and modern, public spectacle and private spaces, Windsor offers a unique window into the life and legacy of the British monarchy. As historian Tracy Borman sums up:

"To visit Windsor Castle is to step back in time and immerse yourself in a world of royalty, chivalry, and centuries-old tradition. It is a reminder of the enduring power and relevance of the monarchy, and a testament to the remarkable resilience of this ancient institution."

Whether you‘re a history buff, a royal watcher, or simply someone who appreciates a great story well told, Windsor Castle is a destination that should be on every traveler‘s bucket list. So what are you waiting for? Book your ticket today and start exploring one of Britain‘s most iconic and beloved landmarks!