A Brief History of Windsor Castle

·4 min read

Today, Queen Elizabeth was interred at Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world. The castle, located in Windsor, England, was built in the 11th century and has been home to 39 British monarchs, and now, it will serve as the final resting place for Elizabeth II.

Here's everything you need to know about the history of Windsor Castle—including the fateful 1992 Windsor Castle fire.

William the Conqueror built Windsor Castle around 1070.

Photo credit: Archive Photos - Getty Images
Photo credit: Archive Photos - Getty Images

William the Conqueror, the first Norman king of England, chose Windsor Castle's location, "high above the river Thames and on the edge of a Saxon hunting ground." The construction of the castle began in 1070, four years after his invasion of England. By 1086, Windsor Castle was complete, made of timber.

During the reign of King Henry II (1154 - 1189), he started to replace Windsor Castle's walls with stone, and converted the castle into a palace, and added royal apartments. Under King Edward III (1327 - 1377), Windsor Castle was transformed "from a military fortification into a gothic palace." According to the Royal Collection Trust, Edward III spent £50,000 transforming Windsor transforming the castle, "more than any other medieval English king spent on a single building."

King Edward IV started the construction of St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle, and it was completed under King Henry VIII.

Photo credit: WPA Pool - Getty Images
Photo credit: WPA Pool - Getty Images

Construction of the chapel, a famous part of Windsor Castle, started in 1475 by Edward IV and was completed by Henry VIII in 1528. It was built in "Perpendicular style," a style of late Gothic architecture.

In the 15th century, Windsor Castle was a "favored royal residence," home to Henry V, Henry VII, and Henry VIII who all stayed there regularly. During the English Civil War (1642 - 1651), Charles I was held at Windsor under arrest before he was executed. When the monarchy was restored and Charles II came to the throne, "he was determined to establish Windsor as his principal country residence and an important symbol of the restoration of the monarchy itself."

King George IV restored Windsor Castle in the 1800s.

Photo credit: Paul Almasy - Getty Images
Photo credit: Paul Almasy - Getty Images

Under King George IV, the Royal Collection Trust explains, "the gothic transformation" of Windsor Castle continued: "George IV and his artistic adviser Sir Charles Long wanted the exterior of the Castle to have a more imposing appearance."

His restoration of Windsor Castle was "so comprehensive" that his successors did little to change anything of the building. Indeed, he is the monarch "most closely associated with the appearance" of Windsor Castle today, per the Royal Collection Trust.

Queen Victoria, who reigned from 1837 to 1901, spent the majority of her time at Windsor Castle, making it her principal palace. When King George VI succeed to the throne after the abdication of his brother King Edward VIII, he was already living at Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park.

Photo credit: Lisa Sheridan - Getty Images
Photo credit: Lisa Sheridan - Getty Images

His daughters, Princesses Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, were raised at Windsor. Even before moving to Windsor, Queen Elizabeth spent many weekends at Windsor throughout her reign.

The Windsor Castle fire in 1992.

Photo credit: Tim Graham - Getty Images
Photo credit: Tim Graham - Getty Images

On November 20, 1992, a fire broke out in Windsor Castle, beginning in Queen Victoria's Private Chapel, "where a faulty spotlight ignited a curtain next to the altar." Quickly, the fire became unstoppable, and burned for 15 hours, destroying 115 rooms, including nine state rooms. Two works of art were lost in the fire—a rosewood sideboard and a painting by Sir William Beechey. Restoration efforts began swiftly, and were completed five years later.

The present-day Windsor Castle is open to visitors year round.

Photo credit: BEN BIRCHALL - Getty Images
Photo credit: BEN BIRCHALL - Getty Images

Windsor, just a 35-minute train ride from London, is a popular tourist destination.

Get tickets to Windsor Castle here

It's famous for its history, but it has also been the site of momentous royal weddings over the years, including some big ones in the past few decades: Meghan Markle and Prince Harry married at St George's Chapel in May 2018, and Princess Beatrice and Jack Brooksbank married there in October 2018. Queen Elizabeth's youngest son, Prince Edward, married Sophie Rhys-Jones at St George's Chapel in 1999, and Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles had a civil ceremony at Guildhall in Windsor in 2005.

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