Built at the end of the 11th century, Windsor Castle is the oldest castle in the world that is still occupied. Of course, it holds many secrets. For example, did you know that the queen would have slept in a dungeon?
Windsor Castle was not meant to be a royal residence
When William the Conqueror built Windsor Castle at the end of the 11th century, the place must have been a fortress. The sovereign erected the castle in order to be strategically well located on the Thames, while ensuring Norman domination around London.
At the time, the royal family resided in the former palace of Edward the Confessor in the village of Old Windsor. In 1110, Henry the 1st became the first member of the royal family to use Windsor Castle as his principal residence.
It’s really huge!
The place is officially one of the greatest mansions on the planet. The chateau has 1,000 rooms and spans 484,000 square feet. Set on 13 acres of land, it has two towers that can be seen from afar, 360 degrees.
It is the oldest castle in the world
Or at least, it is the oldest continuously occupied castle in the world. It has been the residence of the British royal family for almost 1000 years, and no less than 39 monarchs have resided there.
Queen Elizabeth slept in the dungeons
During the Second World War, when London and Buckingham Palace were constantly bombarded, the royal family decided that Windsor Castle was the safest place for young Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret.
When Windsor is in turn in danger, the young girls must take refuge in the underground dungeons. “A bell rang when enemy aircraft were above us; the signal to go to one of the beetle-infested dungeons,” ex-royal nanny Marion Crawford wrote in her book The Little Princesses. “We lived in a dark underworld with no central heating.”
Adapt during the war
In order to save the precious antiquities furnishing the place, the fortress was partially reorganized during the war. “All the chandeliers were removed, the glass furniture was turned against the walls, the paintings removed from the walls and the majority of the furniture ended up under sheets to protect them from dust”, adds Marion.
The hiding place of the royal jewels
It’s no surprise to learn that the royal family has shown ingenuity in hiding their jewels. “One rainy day [during the Second World War] the Royal Librarian, Sir Owen Morshead, let us explore the vaults beneath the castle.
“Would you like to see something interesting,” he asked. “He led us to a pile of very ordinary hatboxes, which seemed to contain nothing but old newspapers. By taking a closer look, we realized that we were unpacking the royal jewels, hidden here during the entire period of the conflict,” says Marion.
Its largest room is a chapel
With enough seats to seat around 800 people, St. George’s Chapel is the largest room in the castle. Built in the 14th century by King Edward III, the chapel was regularly enlarged until the 15th century.
The place is considered one of the best examples of Gothic architecture in England.
MANY royal weddings have been celebrated there
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle tied the knot here in May 2018, but they’re just the latest in a long line of family members who have chosen the spot to exchange vows. Several of Queen Victoria’s children got married there, including Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles.
Don’t let the spoils bother you…
St. George’s Chapel is also where 10 monarchs are buried. As the publication Newsweek indicates, they do not all rest in peace… “Some were beheaded, others poisoned, some died of natural causes”
In any case, we find the tombs almost everywhere: near the altar, the alley, the western door, in an underground vault… watch where you step.
Does this place scare you? You might be brave enough to spend the night in one of these haunted places.
The castle has some good ghost stories
When a castle has stood for nearly 1000 years, it’s hard to escape the good ghost stories. Among those who haunt Windsor Castle, King Henry VIII is probably one of the most infamous ghosts, because everyone fears him. After all, he had two of his six wives beheaded.
Guests have claimed to have heard the sovereign’s laments, and have even seen the silhouette of a corpulent, anxious and angry man, hanging around the corridors. His second wife, Anne Boleyn, beheaded in the Tower of London, is said to haunt Deans’ Cloister in Windsor. Maybe the ex-couple finally got along after 500 years…
The kitchen is really, really old
Windsor’s Great Kitchen is the oldest functioning kitchen in the country, and has served 32 of the 39 monarchs who have resided at the castle. Did you know that the kitchen clocks are always five minutes ahead, to ensure that the queen always gets her food at the right time.
The castle is one of the queen’s favorite places
Queen Elizabeth holds the place close to her heart, having spent the vast majority of her childhood there.
When she acceded to the throne in 1952, she decided that the castle would become her main residence during the weekend. The private apartments are renovated for the Queen, her husband and their two daughters.
How do you know if the queen is present?
If the royal standard flies in the wind above the castle, the queen is present. Otherwise, the English flag flies.
Don’t need blue blood to live there
Hundreds of people work at the castle to ensure its proper functioning. About 150 of them live there.
It is possible to visit the oldest parts
The mound on which the round tower is installed is the oldest section of the castle. It was created from the earth amassed when a trench was dug around the building.
It was Henry II who did it in 1170. Today visitors can climb the 200 steps to admire the view once at the top.
There are 379 clocks
It is the watchmaker curator of the castle, Robert Ball, who takes care of it. “The two annual time changes are very busy for us, as we have to adjust all the clocks in two days,” he told the Royal Collection Trust.
“The royal collection has extraordinary pieces with complex mechanisms. We must therefore take care of each of them with great care”.
… and 300 households
Each of the 300 homes is under the care of a family of “tendersmiths”, workers who have held this position for decades. Needless to say, maintaining traditions is essential at the castle.