Windsor Castle has been home to many Queens and Kings over the years. It was built by William the Conqueror in 1070 but he did not live there and the castle was originally used as a defensive base, not a residence. Blue Badge Guide Debbie Keenan takes a look at the past residents of Windsor Castle.
The first king of the castle
The first king to use the castle as a residence was Henry I and his marriage to Adeliza was the first in the castle in 1121. The first Plantagenet King Henry II lived at Windsor Castle and built extensively between 1165-79 replacing the wood with stone, in particular the Round Tower and the North Walls.
The castle was a favourite residence of Henry III and he invested in royal accommodation from 1216. He was responsible for the rebuilding of the West Walls in 1227 plus the building of the first chapel in 1240.
Shaping the castle
The greatest period of building work took place during the reign of Edward III. In fact, it was the biggest building project of the entire 14th century. From 1358-68 he spent £50,000 on shaping the castle as you see it now as he intended it to be the centre of his court and government plus the seat of the Knights of the Garter.
St George’s Chapel was started in 1475 during the reign of Edward IV. The castle continued to be favoured as a royal residence in the 15th century and Henry VII was a regular visitor to the castle and held a feast in 1488 for the Knights of the Garter. These feasts continued during the reign of Henry VIII – St George’s Chapel was completed in 1528 and Henry extended the North Terrace.
Edward VI disliked the castle but his sister Mary spent her honeymoon there in 1554. By contrast, Elizabeth I enjoyed time at the castle and used it constantly for diplomatic receptions. She extended what is now the Royal Library, previously the Tudor family’s bedrooms.
A hunting ground
In 1603, James I used Windsor Castle primarily for hunting, one of his favourite pursuits. Charles I was a great connoisseur of art and was responsible for the foundation of what is now the Royal Collection. During the Civil War of the 17th Century, Charles was imprisoned in the castle in December 1648 and after his trial and execution in January 1649, his body was brought back to Windsor for burial in St George’s Chapel next to Henry VIII.
Charles II loved Windsor Castle, particularly for hunting and horse racing at Datchet. He is responsible for restoring the State Apartments in the baroque style of which three rooms remain. William III preferred Kensington Palace or Hampton Court but his daughter Anne had affection for the castle and lived a lot of the time in the Queen’s Garden House.
George I/II preferred Hampton Court or Kensington Palace but George III made the castle an important centre of court life. He enjoyed being part of the town and was nick-named ‘Farmer George’ due to his great interest in farming techniques used in the Great Park.
The State Rooms
George IV furnished the State Rooms and gardens to the highest standard, which can still be seen today. Queen Victoria spent the majority of the year at the castle and it became the centre of the British Empire plus royal Europe, many of whom were related to her. Many royals and ambassadors from Europe visited the court at Windsor Castle. During her reign, the old chapel of 1240 was redesigned as the Albert Memorial Chapel and a barracks was built for the guard in the Lower Ward.
Edward VII found the castle dark so re-hung silk damask in the principal State Rooms and rearranged the contents in a number of rooms. George V and Queen Mary continued the trend and made alterations in the castle.
The castle today
George VI and the Queen Mother had been living at Royal Lodge so Windsor was important to them. During WW2, they remained in London but the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret spent their time in Windsor Castle with their parents joining them there at weekends. Queen Elizabeth II spends most private weekends at the castle.
Debbie Keenan is a Blue Badge Guide working in Southern England and specialising in tours of Windsor.