So, where to start? The title of this post says it all… Windsor Castle is a British History Lover's Wonderland. You can't go wrong with the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world, can you? Well, even I, who had high expectations of the visit, was incredibly impressed by the grandeur and statement of the castle and its beautiful grounds.
I was happy to receive an audio guide from the main ticketing center, with a very warm welcome recording from Prince Charles. As my mom and I walked up to the main entrance of the castle, I think we were both in awe. Our audio guides told us about the arrow loops in the walls, used by defenders of the castle, and explained the many interesting sights we would be visiting. I was especially excited to view the Royal Apartments from across the courtyard, where Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II still spends many of her weekends.
Now, before I get carried away, let's take a look at some of the history of the castle… Windsor is the product of about one thousand years of development - beginning with William the Conqueror, who founded and established the outline for the castle, and including Edward III, who rebuilt it in the Gothic style architecture, Charles II who refurbished the existing style into the fashionable Baroque, and George IV, who restored the romantic ideals of castle architecture and sumptuously furnished many rooms in the rich, impressive 'modern' style within those ancient walls. I think this is one of the things I liked most about Windsor - every room tells a different story and allows you to view the personal tastes of different monarchs. And those tastes span hundreds of years! While you may prefer Gothic to Baroque, or ancient to modern, you get a taste of everything at Windsor, and that is so special in a building so old.
In 1549, King Edward VI complained of Windsor Castle: "Methinks I am in a prison; here be no galleries, nor no gardens to walk in." Clearly, he was not a fan of the castle as his father was, but his life and reign were both too short to have any impact on the design. His half-sister Queen Mary I, however, was able to incorporate her coat of arms - together with her Spanish husband King Philip II's - on the belfry tower (known now as the Mary Tudor Tower). By the time Queen Elizabeth I came to the throne, Windsor was in need of repair, and in the 1570s a campaign of work was undertaken. Henry VIII's terrace walk was described as "in verie great ruyn" and the western end of St. George's Hall was "very ould ruinous and far oute of order redie to fale downe." Thankfully, all was renewed, remodeled, and refitted.
But the main focal point for me in my visit to Windsor was St. George's Chapel, seen on the left. This impressive church is where several notable historical figures (including our very own Henry VIII) are buried, and to stand so close to their graves is an awe-inspiring experience. Those who have already seen pictures of Henry's gravesite know that it is nothing special… nothing like the grand sarcophagus he had planned to be erected in his honor in the Henry VII chapel at Westminster. In fact, those plans fell through and were never completed, so he now lies underneath a subtle black marble slab, sharing tomb space with his beloved wife Jane Seymour, the beheaded King Charles I, and one of Queen Anne's infant children. This marble slab, found in the quire of the chapel, would be easy to miss, but it was the very reason I wanted so much to visit Windsor. I couldn't allow myself to step over it as so many other visitors did while walking through the chapel… to do so seemed too irreverent for a king who - for all of his wrongdoing - is still such an important, influential, and special part of Britain's history. Instead, I sat a moment and looked at it, thinking what an ironic twist of fate it is that his grave marker is no more regal than Anne Boleyn's in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London.
But this spot in the chapel is not the only exciting Tudor area. Above the quire there is a wooden oriel window that was built for Queen Katherine of Aragon, so that she could view services taking place below. (If you look at the picture to the left of the chapel, the window is situated at the far end above the alter and on the left side). How interesting that Katherine's window is situated so near to where her royal husband now rests.
Along the quire there are stalls for the Knights of the Order of the Garter, and of course Henry VIII's stall plate can be spotted towards the back. A very kind guide let me through the roped off area so I could have a closer look. The stall plate is from when Henry was still a young boy, and his name reads "The Duke of York." A stained glass portrait of King Henry VIII can be seen in the South Quire Aisle, and his coat of arms hangs in the ceiling above the organ loft, as well as the intertwined initials "HK" for Henry and Katherine. There is Tudor history ALL over this chapel!
I could probably go on and on about how wonderful Windsor Castle was, but this post is already quite long enough. I hope I've given some good insight as to why this location is such a treat for any Tudor Enthusiast, and if you haven't already visited in the past, I hope you'll consider it for the future. While much of the castle itself has been modernized through the centuries (and perhaps little of the Tudor footprint still stands within the main castle walls), have no doubt that the Tudors did leave their mark all over this place, and the stones of the castle themselves tell a most interesting history of the many monarchs who have called Windsor home.
All in all, another amazing trip for the Tudor Enthusiast. I'm so happy to share my experience with you and I'm already looking forward to wherever my Tudor travels lead me next. Now I suppose I should return to my assigned reading about the Elizabethan Aristocracy… but I will leave you to reading and daydreaming about this British History Lover's Wonderland, the incredible Windsor Castle.