Windsor Castle | The Queen’s Favourite Home & Final Resting Place

Windsor Castle’s been part of 1000 years of British History, and is still a centre of Royal life. It was the Queen’s favourite home (apart from, perhaps, Balmoral).

windsor castle

However you’d be forgiven for thinking that the castle, with its fairytale turrets, ivy-clad towers and cobbled streets, is the fictional home of Harry Potter.

However, the castle is a very real historical landmark that has been with us for nearly a thousand years.

It’s also still very much part of the current Royal Familty’s activities. It was the location of Prince Harry and Megan Markel’s wedding, and the final resting place of Queen Elizabeth II.

Here’s our guide:


Where Is Windsor Castle?

where is windsor castle?

Windsor Castle is on the Western fringes of London, near Heathrow airport, in the town of Windsor, England.

Indeed it dominates this town and can be seen for towns of miles around.

About Windsor

Windsor is a pretty town on the River Thames, paired with Eton on the opposite bank, home to the UK’s most famous school: Eton College.


A History of Windsor Castle

The first Windsor Castle was built in the 10th century by William the Conqueror. The castle was constructed to guard the crossing of the River Thames, and was also used as a hunting lodge. In 1070, William II built a new castle, making use of the existing structure.

In the 12th century King Henry II married one of the most powerful women in the world, Eleanor of Aquitaine. She was the Duchess of both Aquitaine and Poitou, and the Countess of a number of other French territories.

She was also famous for being Henry’s favourite wife. The royal couple spent a lot of their time at Windsor Castle, which became their preferred residence.

During the reign of King Edward III (1327 – 1377), Windsor Castle was the centre of government, hosting Parliament often.

Windsor Castle has been the monarch’s favoured residence ever since. Edward III added a significant amount of space to the castle, including the Round Tower and the State Apartments.

Here’s more:

1066 – The Domesday Book

King William II built a large wooden tower, the Great Tower at Windsor in 1089. A wooden tower would have been a temporary structure that was used while the stone tower was being built.

The Great Tower was built from wood and has a limestone core, which would have made it very unpopular with the king. Even though William II built the Great Tower, he never actually stayed there.

It was not until 1124, over 100 years later, that a stone tower was finally built.

During the reign of King Edward III, Windsor Castle was the location of the Domesday Book. The Domesday Book was a survey of all land in the country, commissioned by King William the Conqueror, created as a record of land ownership, as well as assets and livestock held by households.

1170 – Henry II is born at Windsor Castle

King Henry II was born in 1133, at Windsor Castle. He was the eldest surviving son of King Henry I, and the grandson of William the Conqueror.

In 1170, Henry II married one of his many mistresses, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Windsor Castle has been the favoured royal residence ever since.

The couple rebuilt the castle, and made it the centre of their administration. Henry II expanded the castle by constructing a new royal court, extending the royal apartments.

The new court was built on the edge of the Upper Ward, connecting it to the gardens below. He also built the Round Tower, and constructed the State Apartments. A round tower was a rarity in the 12th century, and the Round Tower is a great example of Henry II’s architectural skills.

1248 – Rebuilding begins

During the reign of King Henry III, the Great Hall was rebuilt, using the existing foundations.

The eastern side of the Upper Ward was extended to build a new wall, defending the rest of the castle. King Edward II continued rebuilding the castle. In 1319, Edward II built the Gateway to the Upper Ward.

The Gateway connected the Upper Ward to the Lower Ward, and included the Water Gate. The Gatehouse was built in the next year. Around the same time, Edward II began building the State Apartments.

1483 – Richard III’s birth at Windsor Castle

King Edward IV ruled between 1461 and 1483, and he continued to expand the castle. Edward IV built the Curtain Walls to the west of the Great Hall, connecting them to the western Gateway.

The Curtain Walls allowed the Upper Ward to be divided into three parts. Edward IV built the Stone Gateway, connecting the Curtain Walls to the rest of the Lower Ward. Edward IV also built a new royal apartments, which included the Bushy House.

In 1483, Edward IV’s son Richard III was born at Windsor Castle, and christened in the Chapel. Richard III hated Windsor Castle, and did not enjoy living there. He preferred to live at Middleham Castle in Yorkshire, or his house in York.

1520-1680 – More Rebuilding

King Henry VIII ruled from 1509 to 1547, and he continued to expand the castle. Henry VIII built a new porter’s lodge and a new bridge, both of which can still be seen today.

Henry VIII’s son Edward VI ruled from 1547 to 1553. Edward VI was only 10 years old when he became king, and his mother Jane was the effective ruler.

During Edward VI’s reign, the Great Hall was largely destroyed by fire. Windsor Castle was used as a military base at this time, and the Great Hall was used as a military courtroom.

The Great Hall was also used as a place where soldiers could eat, and was not a good place to store gunpowder. The Great Hall was destroyed in a fire, that may have been caused by a soldier’s careless use of gunpowder.

King Charles II ruled from 1660 to 1685, and he continued to rebuild the castle. Charles II built the Round Tower as it is today, along with the present-day State Apartments. Charles II also built the Stone Gateway, connecting the Upper and Lower Wards.

18th Century to Present Day – Royal Residence and Military Base

George III

King George III continued to expand the castle. HeI built the Manor House and the Royal Library, as well as the terraced gardens. He also built the Royal School.

During the First World War, Windsor Castle was used as a military hospital. A huge number of wounded soldiers were treated at the castle, with thousands of beds in use at one time.

The castle was also converted into a military barracks, with soldiers living in the State Apartments.

Windsor Castle saw more action in the Second World War, with the Royal Library being used as a lookout post. The castle also kept its role as a military hospital.

After the war, the castle was repaired and restored to its former glory.

1992 fire and recent repairs

In 1992, a huge fire broke out at Windsor Castle.

The fire started in the historic, wooden State Apartments which had been recently renovated, and the renovation work may have led to the fire’s quick spread.

The fire destroyed or damaged many historic items and relics, including the priceless George III Throne.

The State Apartments were completely closed off for three years, as the fire damage was being repaired. The work was complicated by the need to preserve the castle’s historic look.

The refurbished State Apartments were reopened in 1997, and the rest of the castle was soon open to the public.

The Windsor Castle fire was the most destructive fire at a British heritage site since the Second World War. The fire caused an estimated £37 million worth of damage. The repairs have been estimated to cost around £78 million.


Visiting Windsor Castle

windsor castle

The castle is open to the public, except during official events (such as Royal weddings and funerals).

Here are the directions, opening times and entrance fees (Source: Windsor Castle).

Directions

Opening Times

Entrance Fees


Conclusion

The castle is both a wonderful place to visit, especially if you’re interested in British history, and an important part of the current Royal set up.

Indeed, it’s the perfect day trip from central London.