The Untold Truth Of Windsor Castle

The Untold Truth Of Windsor Castle

04/14/2021

Life as a British royal family member looks a lot like grand events, traditional ceremonies, tiaras and jewelry for days, and, of course, castles. These grandiose backdrops play almost as large a role in royal life as the people themselves — after all, what’s a queen without a castle?

Of course, if you’re part of the British royal family, then you know that castles come with the job description. There’s the most photographed, London-based castle of them all, Buckingham Palace, but the royal family isn’t limited to just one location. There’s Kensington Palace, Balmoral Castle, and the Sandringham Estate, just to name a few, and while the royals have spent their time living in these majestic properties, they also make sure to maintain the history of the properties. And, perhaps, the grandest castle of them all, with a rich history to go with it, is Windsor Castle.

Windsor, located about 20 miles outside of London, has served as an escape from the city life for the British royal family for decades. But, as you may have guessed, the castle and grounds have a rich history all their own that dates back centuries. Here’s the untold truth of Windsor Castle.

Many British royals are buried at Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle is not only a residence for the Queen of England, but it serves as a working castle, open to the public and home to some of England’s most storied locations. One such place within the castle is St. George’s Chapel, and while we know the chapel for its grand royal weddings, St. George’s serves as a final resting place for many kings and queens of Great Britain. 

As noted by the College of St. George’s website, the chapel features what is called the Royal Vault, established by George III. After any royal funeral takes place, the casket in question is lowered into the vault, joining the kings and queens of the past. Such funeral proceedings aren’t the only options that Windsor Castle provides. The property is also home to the royal family’s private burial ground, which has been used in more modern times for royal funerals.

As of this publication, Prince Philip has passed away at the age of 99, but has yet to be buried due to the United Kingdom’s tradition of a mourning period. His funeral is set to take place at Windsor Castle on April 17, as noted by PBS.

Windsor Castle has been an operational hub for the royals for over 900 years

While many think of Buckingham Palace as the grandest royal castle, Windsor Castle is actually the central hub. As noted by the official royal website, Windsor is the “largest occupied castle in the world,” and has been a home, a fortress, and an operational castle for more than 900 years. 

Throughout her reign, Queen Elizabeth has used Windsor Castle primarily as her weekend home, but she has a royal residence that can be used for any formal responsibilities. The castle also serves as a central location for Royal Household departments and is home to historical artifacts belonging to the royal family. Such departments include the Royal Archive and the Royal Photograph Collection, as well as the Print Room and the Royal Library — which holds priceless books, prints, drawings, and manuscripts belonging to the royal family. 

We’ll dive into the history of the castle later, but you should know that the original castle — built by William the Conqueror in the 1070s — is still partially intact. The walls of Windsor are that of the original building, so when we say that the castle has a rich history, we really mean it.

Edward VIII gave his abdication speech to the British nation at Windsor Castle

King Edward VIII’s abdication from the throne is really up there in memorable royal events, and, interestingly, Edward gave his abdication speech, via radio, from Windsor Castle. After taking the throne in 1936, Edward realized that he would not be able to marry his love, Wallis Simpson, as she had been married and divorced before (the crown and the British public looked down on it). So Edward did what he thought was best, and he abdicated, handing the crown and the royal succession to the throne to his brother, Prince Albert (who would become King George VI). 

As noted by the BBC, Sir John Reith, the director general of BBC radio, informed his staff that Edward would be announcing his abdication live from Windsor and would interrupt an episode of the popular show, Comic Opera. Edward was the first royal to ever use the power of broadcast radio, so the choice to take to the airwaves for such an occasion made a lot of sense. But if the walls of Windsor Castle could talk — we wonder what was said on that day.

Queen Elizabeth and sister Princess Margaret were sent to Windsor Castle during World War II

London was the target of German bombings during the second world war, which led to a mass evacuation of children, and Windsor Castle was a place of refugee for two of these children. Thousands were sent to live outside the city, including Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret. While their parents stayed in London, the two young princesses were sent to Windsor Castle — about 20 miles outside of the city — for safety. 

This decision made a lot of sense, as Buckingham Palace was attacked a number of times. As noted by the National World War II Museum, a bombing of Buckingham Palace on Sept. 13, 1940, damaged the royal chapel and left several workers injured. But instead of running to safety, the King and Queen stayed put. Of course, sending their daughters to Windsor was a good call, and it was at the castle that Princess Elizabeth made her first address to the nation via radio.

From the drawing room of Windsor, Elizabeth spoke to the children of Great Britain, hoping that her words would positively impact listeners. Of course, the young princess would go on to become Queen Elizabeth II.

Windsor Castle suffered immense damage after a fire in 1992

We’ve all had our bad years, but 1992 was a rough one for Queen Elizabeth. To top off personal anguish (three of her four children were getting divorced), Windsor Castle caught on fire. As noted by The History Press, the fire at Windsor started around 11:30 on the morning of Nov. 20, 1992. It originated in the Queen’s private chapel and rapidly spread to the Brunswick Tower nearby. It continued to ignite and spread, engulfing St. George’s hall banquet space and the eastern wing of the building, home to private apartments. Despite the efforts of responders, the fire burned for about 12 hours. 

So what caused the fire to break out in the first place? Windsor was under renovations at the time, and some of the structures were being rewired. Due to a 1,000-watt spotlight used by the renovation crew, a curtain got too close to the light and caught on fire. The rest, of course, went down with the flames. Luckily, due to the renovations, much of the paintings and furniture at Windsor had been vacated. But, still, not a good time for the Queen.

Windsor Castle has been the venue for 17 royal weddings

Royal weddings aren’t to be missed — the dress, the flowers, the tiaras, the castles, it all seems straight out of a fairytale — so it really should come as no surprise to learn that Windsor Castle, specifically St. George’s Chapel, has served as the venue for 17 royal weddings in modern British history, the first dating back to the 1863 wedding of the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra of Denmark. The full timeline of weddings can be found on the official royal website, but, for our purposes, we’re going to look back at some of the more high-profile royal weddings to take place at Windsor. 

Dating back to 1999, Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones married at St. George’s Chapel. Edward, the Queen’s youngest child, became the Earl of Wessex, while Sophie became the Countess of Wessex, after the ceremony. Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles married at Windsor in 2005, and, of course, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle got married on the property in May of 2018. The last royal wedding, as of publication, to be held at Windsor was the October 2018 wedding of Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank.

Prince Charles proposed to Diana Spencer at Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle has been the spot of many consequential royal decisions, including marriage proposals. As noted by Town and Country, Prince Charles asked Diana Spencer to marry him while the two were standing in the nursery at Windsor Castle — she, of course, said yes. In his book Diana: Her True Story, biographer Andrew Morton wrote that the Prince “asked her simply to marry him.” She reportedly giggled, under the impression that he was kidding. “The Prince was deadly serious, emphasizing the earnestness of his proposal by reminding her that one day she would be Queen,” Morton wrote. 

Of course, castles provided the backdrop for much of the couple’s first interactions. As noted by Biography, while Diana was proposed to at Windsor Castle, she met much of the royal family for the first time at Balmoral Castle, and her engagement to Charles was announced outside Buckingham Palace. Rather the gorgeous setting for a marriage, yes? Nope, because the castles could not mend the rift that was already forming between the couple. “Are you in love?” the couple was asked at their engagement announcement. “Of course,” Diana said. “Whatever ‘in love’ means,” her fiancé chimed. Ouch.

Historical royal ceremonies are often held at Windsor Castle

One aspect of British royal life that is so interesting is the historical ceremonies that take place. Some events held for the royal family honor past battles and wartime, while others are purely ceremonial, and, as you may have guessed, some of them take place at Windsor Castle. 

As noted by Royal Central, one such event is the Waterloo Ceremony, a purely symbolic event that takes place at Windsor every year. The event marks when the Duke of Wellington pays his rent for his Hampshire home to the British royal family, and while no money is actually exchanged, the event is carried out every June 18. It dates all the way back to 1815, when the first Duke of Wellington led his troops and defeated Napoleon and the French army at Waterloo (ABBA, where are you?). Since then, the Duke has paid rent on his Hampshire home and presents the “money” to the royals at Windsor every year. 

What other ceremonies take place at Windsor? Well, the Knights of the Round Table gather there every year for the Order of the Garter, which recognizes knights for their “public service.” Why doesn’t every country have knights?

Windsor Castle is one of the Queen's primary residences

When the Queen wants to have a change of pace from her 775-room castle that is Buckingham Palace, she retreats to Windsor Castle, her 1,000-room castle with 13 acres of land to spare. As noted by British Heritage, Windsor is one of the Queen’s primary residences, and while she typically spends most of the year at Buckingham Palace, she has been known to venture to Windsor for weekends and special events. 

So what exactly do the castle grounds consist of? We’ve got all the information you need to know. As noted by Britannica, Windsor Castle is set on 13 acres of land, situated above the Thames River. The main building is made up of two complexes, also known as courts, that are distanced from each other by the aptly named Round Tower, “a massive circular tower” that can be seen from miles away. The castle and its grounds are surrounded — on the south, east, and north sides — by Home Park, consisting of about 500 acres of land. To top off the property, the mausoleum belonging to Queen Victoria sits within the park grounds.

Windsor Castle is the site of many state visits, including a meeting with this former leader

Windsor Castle may be the Queen’s weekend residence, but it has also been used to host foreign leaders. For example, Windsor Castle was used to host former U.S. President Barack Obama in 2016, and the photos are just to die for. 

As noted by CNN, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama traveled to Windsor to commemorate the Queen’s 90th birthday. The First Couple landed on the greens at Windsor in Marine One, and in her plucky spirit, the Queen ventured out onto the grass to greet them. Obama, Michelle, the Queen, and Prince Philip all then got into a Range Rover — which Philip drove — and entered the castle through the Sovereign’s Entrance. It was quite the sight, especially considering that Obama was in the passenger seat (anyone in the U.S. can tell you that the president always sits in the backseat).

When the foursome stopped for a photo op within the castle walls, the Queen and Obama had an enduring exchange. “Where do you want me?” Obama asked. “Just here, don’t you think?” the Queen said, pointing to the sofas. We love to see it.

The Queen landed in hot water when taxpayer money was used to restore Windsor Castle

Even people who don’t consider themselves fans of the royals know that it takes a pretty penny from taxpayers in Great Britain to fund their lifestyle. For the most part, it seems as though the British taxpayers accept the responsibility of funding the royal family, but the Queen got into some serious hot water when she called on taxpayer money to fund a restoration of Windsor Castle. 

As noted by Express, then-Prime Minister John Major announced that money from the British public would be used to restore the castle, “only to face a public revolt.” Dickie Arbiter, the former press secretary, said that “the Queen and Prince Philip were dropped into it beyond their necks, right up to their eyebrows.” The public backlash clearly impacted the Queen, and her decorum was a point of conversation on broadcast news. Jennie Bond, a commentator for the BBC, said while appearing on Channel 5 that the Queen “seemed like a rather sad, old lady at that moment. But things got worse because the Government said that they would pay.” Windsor Castle would’ve cost about $50 million to restore.

Meghan Markle reportedly set her sights on living with Prince Harry at Windsor Castle

Few people have the option to request what castle they’d prefer to live in, but this was reportedly an area of contention between the Queen, Prince Harry, and Meghan Markle. As noted by Express, Meghan reportedly “had her heart set” on living in one of Windsor Castle’s residential wings, but things were put on hold due to the “friction” between her and Kate Middleton, as they were all living at Kensington Palace at the time.

Roya Nikkhah, a royal author, wrote that the couple approached the Queen and asked her if “living quarters [at Windsor Castle] could be made available after their marriage.” Apparently, the Queen was not for the idea. “The Queen politely but firmly suggested Frogmore Cottage on the Windsor estate, which is said to be her favorite home,” the report from Nikkhah read. It was also reported that Meghan told Harry to “have a word” with his grandmother about their living arrangements, but the Queen “turned down the request.” Windsor Castle will, at some point, belong to Prince Charles.

Windsor Castle served as a backdrop for this very telling royal family photo op

2020 was a rough year for everyone. We all retreated indoors due to the restrictions of the coronavirus pandemic, and for the royals, that meant suspending their public lives and schedules. So when it became safe enough for senior royals to reignite their public duties, they absolutely did so, and they went on a “royal train tour” across the country. As noted by Harper’s Bazaar, their 2020 tour came to an end at Windsor Castle, and the senior royals posed for their first 2020 portrait. The castle in the background was a beautiful scene, and it really did look regal. 

So who gathered at Windsor for said portrait? Along with the Queen were Prince Charles, Camilla Parker-Bowles, Prince Edward and Countess Sophie, Princess Anne, and Prince William and Kate Middleton. It looked like the “core” group was there, but, as noted by Mercury News, the photo op was very telling. After a year of turmoil, the first royal family photo op of 2020 did not include Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, nor did it include Prince Andrew, who has been pretty much in exile since allegations of child abuse on his part emerged.

The Queen stayed at Windsor Castle in the wake of Prince Philip's passing

While Queen Elizabeth has been known to stay at Windsor Castle for weekend trips, it was her primary place of residence in the wake of her husband’s passing. As noted by Harper’s Bazaar, the Queen and Prince Philip had been staying at Windsor Castle for the majority of the coronavirus pandemic, and while they were there, Philip passed away, carrying out his final wish. As such, the Queen stayed at Windsor, and other members of the royal family, including her son and heir to the throne, Prince Charles, traveled out to the castle to see her.

Just four days after her husband passed, Queen Elizabeth returned to royal duties and held a retirement ceremony for Lord Chamberlain at Windsor — while she stayed on the castle’s grounds, she went back to her life as a ruler very quickly. “Her family will step up and be by her side, but she will carry on,” a former palace aide told People. “She understands that she has a job to do, and [Philip] would have wanted her to crack on. She did do so when he retired from public life.”

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