Saturday, 9 September 2017

Windsor Castle - part one - a brief history of the Castle in Mediaeval and Renaissance times.

Throughout its millennium plus history, Windsor Castle has always been a 'work in progress'. Four monarchs of England have made the most impression on it: William I, known more often as William the Conqueror, chose the location, founded the castle and established its rough outline and plan; Edward III rebuilt much of it in a Gothic style and established the royal apartments; Charles II transformed it into a Baroque Palace and lastly George IV, who restored a considerable amount of the exterior, altering it to conform with the then modern desire for a romantic castle ideal.

The two eras of history I will be concentrating on in this article are the ones within the time frame of the Mediaeval and Renaissance eras of English history. 

William I began building at Windsor around 1070 and his work was finished by 1086. The castle is one of a chain of fortifications around London and is situated in the only naturally occurring defensive position in this part of the Thames river valley, being 30 metres -  (almost 100 feet) - above the water. Windsor is the only one of this ring of castles to survive the assault of time.
Slightly later than our time frame, this is a model of defensive fortifications and lines of communication around London in the English Civil War.

Norman castles were built to a standard plan. An artificial earth mound supported a keep (motte),
the entrance of which was protected by a fenced yard (bailey). At Windsor, unusually, there were two baileys, an upper and a lower one, known today as the Upper and Lower Wards, one either side of the motte. The outer walls of the castle were surrounded by a ditch which only partially survives.

The moat as it is today
Although the castle was built to keep secure the western route to London, the proximity to a royal hunting forest and to London, made it an ideal residence. As early as 110, Henry I had living quarters there and his grandson, Henry II, built two sets of apartments, a state residence in the lower Ward and a small family lodging in the Upper Ward.

Fine examples of the Bagshot Heath Stone and yellow Bath stone in situ.
When first built, the castle was made from timber but Henry II began to replace the timber with durable stone. Much of it is built of Bagshot Heath stone and the Gothic details in yellow Bath stone. The interior is mostly finished with Bedfordshire stone.

The outer walls are punctuated by towers. Those ordered by Henry II are square whilst those from Henry III are D shaped.

Henry II towers 

The 'Warrior King,' Edward III spent £50,000 transforming the castle from a place of fortification to a Gothic Palace, reflecting his ideal of a chivalric, Christian monarchy. The Lower Ward was transformed by buildings for the College of St. George, founded in 1348. The Chapel that had been built there a century earlier had been dedicated to St Edward the Confessor, but it was Edward who first associated the Castle and the College with St. George, who was the patron saint of the new Order of the Garter.
(I will be writing about St George very soon

Part of the Quadrangle as it is in September 2017
William Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester directed the extensive building works taking it to a level that was way and above that necessary for a purely defensive edifice. One particularly impressive example of this is the Great Range, overlooking the Quadrangle, accommodating the King's Great Chamber, St George's Hall and the Royal Chapel. This was lit by 17 tall arched windows and matching fortified entrance towers. This was intended to form a magnificent back drop for the spectacular tournaments and jousts held within the Quadrangle and also functioned as the castle's tilt-yard.

Moving on to the time of Henry VIII, at the time of his death, the king owned over 60 houses and palaces, travelling between his many residences. It was here at Windsor in 1522 that he received the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, to conclude an alliance against France. The only really significant addition to the fabric of the castle ws his addition of a gate that bears his name at the bottom of the Lower Ward, through which visitors leave. 
A gate wide enough for King Henry VIII

Henry is buried in St. George's Chapel together with his favourite wife, Jane Seymour. It was a strange sensation to be standing at the grave of the king... I had very damp eyes 
often in that chapel.
Probably wise, but I would so much have
liked a photograph of my own.

Photo from 'Find a Grave'

Edward VI did not like Windsor and probably would have gone on to bring galleries and gardens to it had he lived long enough, but Mary I refaced many of the of the houses for the Military Knights in the Lower Ward  and her arms, together with the arms of her Spanish husband Philip, can be found hanging on the old belfry tower, known today as the Mary Tudor Tower, the residence of the Governor of the Military Knights.

By the time the first Elizabeth came to the throne, many parts of the castle were in drastic need of repair and a major building campaign was started in the 1570s. Henry VIII's terrace walkway was described as a 'verie great ruyn' and the Western end of the chapel was 'verie ould ruinous and far oute of order redie to fale down, ' (we all have days like that :-) ) The terrace walkway was completely renewed in stone with a very elaborate ornamented balustrade and the Royal Chapel was remodelled and fitted with stalls, a gallery and a panelled ceiling.

Elizabeth also added a long gallery in which to walk and admire the far off view to the north during poor weather  as she loved to be out in the air but hated to be 'russled by the wind'.

I will now conclude with some random shots of the castle....


Unless otherwise attributed, all photos in the blog together with the blog itself are by Diana Milne September 2017 © 
Image of Edward III from English Monarchs