Presiding over 13 acres of land above the south bank of the River Thames, Windsor Castle has evolved over nearly 1,000 years to become the longest-occupied castle in the world that remains the home of royalty to this day. Having evolved over the years through several phases of restructuring, the castle is now one of the most popular tourist destinations in the UK.
Tours are open to the public throughout the year, allowing a glimpse into royal life across lavishly decorated apartments and ceremonial rooms inside, while Windsor Great Park, the Long Walk and the chance to witness the Changing the Guard combine to create a quintessential British day out.
After victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, William the Conqueror set about to make his mark on England after defeating its Saxon army and seizing the throne.
With a plentiful hunting spot and proximity to the River Thames making sense strategically from both a wartime and trading perspective, William commissioned the initial work of Windsor Castle that would form part of a defensive circle of fortresses around London.
Starting life as a motte-and-bailey, as many similar projects were constructed at this time, the royal family quickly took to the pleasant surroundings of the castle and set up residence once domestic dwellings were added.
From Castle to Palace
By the time King Edward III was appointed to the throne in the 14th century, what was previously a wood-turned-stone cladded imposing structure observed from the outside was undergoing an incredible transformation of its interior.
With significant Gothic influence in its design and the addition of a series of royal apartments, it was considered that the castle was now in keeping with palaces of the modern age. It soon became the centre of all formal court proceedings and England’s Order of the Garter, which was the early adoption of Britain’s senior order of knighthood and honours system for public service.
For grand occasions and celebrations, the Great Kitchen was built to accommodate lavish banquets as the castle was increasingly used for pleasure as well as business.
Arrival of Elizabeth I and English Civil War
Aside from the erecting of St. George’s Chapel within the castle, there wasn’t too much in the way of evolution structurally until the 17th century and the Tudor period.
With the castle in state of disrepair, Elizabeth I oversaw a major renovation which included a long galley section allowing for lengthy walks through the palace unaffected by the weather outside. The long galley would eventually become part of Windsor’s Royal Library.
Given that the castle was so close to the capital, it was inevitable that it would come under threat of attacked during any large-scale invasion from abroad. However, in the mid-17th Century, it was Oliver Cromwell and the Parliamentarians who seized the castle and used it as a prison for supporters of the royal family, although Charles II would eventually restore order and take back the monarchy.
Baroque Influence and the Long Walk
Much like many established royal and religious residences found across the continent at the time, Charles II added a sense of illustrious grandeur to the décor and interiors of Windsor Castle through placing intricate tapestries and textiles throughout palace rooms.
As you will observe in many iconic images of the castle, the Long Walk - straddled by chestnut trees and deer either side of a 2.5 mile path up to the dramatic entrance - was commissioned by Charles II as a further showcase of royal living.
When touring the castle today, much of the exquisite attention to detail and decadent aesthetic is owed to the vision of George IV, with chambers dedicated to momentous battles such as that of Napoleon’s defeat against the British at Waterloo also preserving the castle as an intriguing time capsule of historic significance.
Windsor Castle Today
The castle has long been cherished by the British royal family with Queen Elizabeth often claiming the palace was her favourite residence and enjoying extended breaks there during Easter and other significant holidays.
For a horse racing enthusiast, the palace is ideally located for the Royal Windsor Horse Shows and other events at Royal Windsor Racecourse and the Queen was also known to frequent Royal Ascot in June.
Visit the link below to find out more about visiting the castle during your stay at our Windsor Hotel – just a short walk away.