Queen Elizabeth II is the latest in a very long line of British Monarchs who have called the town of Windsor ‘home’.
Her family name is Windsor after all. However this is a comparatively recent contrivance. Britain has had a number of different royal family names and Windsor was only adopted as a family name during the First World War. This was because the line of male decent (which is where the family name is traditionally carried) went back to Albert Saxe-Coburg Gotha, husband of Queen Victoria. To have such a Germanic sounding name for the royal family was considered inappropriate at a time when British and German soldiers were killing each other in such numbers on the battlefields of France and Belgium. George V changed the family surname from Saxe-Coburg to Windsor in 1917.
However the town of Windsor’s association with Royalty goes back much further than this.
We belive that there was a Saxon palace at old Windsor (a mile or so downstream from the present town) around 800AD onwards. However little is known about this and no archaeological remains of such a palace have yet been found.
In 1066 William of Normany successfully invaded, killed the Saxon King Harold and was crowned King in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day. For more on this see the Bayeux tapestry.
He ordered a defensive ring of forts to be built around London. On the Clewer hill near old Windsor an earthwork and wood Motte and Bailey was set up. The name Clewer relates to an old name for cliff and as seen from the River thames there is indeed a cliff face with the castle perched on top.
However, we are pretty sure that William did not make Windsor his home. In fact the first king to reside at Windsor Castle was William’s fourth son Henry I, who was living at the castle in early summer of the year 1110. A decade later in 1121 the first of many Royal weddings occured at Windsor when Henry married Adela of Louvain.
Henry II carried out extensive remodelling of the castle walls, replacing wooden pallasades with stone.
King John based his forces at Windsor during his disputes with the Barons. This led to Windsor Castle being besieged in 1214. The following year the King signed Magna Carta at Runnymede, just a couple of miles downstream from the castle, but bad blood continued and Windsor was again under siege the following year.
John’s successor Henry III rebuilt the siege-damaged walls creating the basis of the exterior we see to this day. he also famously imprisoned Thomas Fitzthomas the mayor of London and 40 merchants in Windsor’s dungeons after Londoners supported the rebellion of Simon de Montfort. The merchants were released after a ransom of 20,000 marks (around £15,000) was handed over. Sadly for Fitzthomas, he was not relaeased and was never seen again.
Edward I made Windsor a Free Borough and granted the town its Charter in 1276.
Edward III (son of Edward II) was born at Windsor Castle on 13 November 1312.
Henry VIII built the main gateway we still see at the Castle entrance. Above the gateway you can see the Tudor Rose on the left and a pomegranate on the right. This was the family symbol of Henry’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon. Henry VIII was buried at Windsor on 16 February 1547.
Following Henry’s death his nine year old son and heir Edward was too young to rule and so his uncle the Duke of Somerset controlled a regency. However Somerset had some serious opposition and in 1549 in an attempt to retain control, took the young King to the fortress of Windsor Castle. The boy Edward wrote, “Methinks I am in prison”, and he was probably right in thinking that.
Henry VIII’s daughter Elizabeth I added the North Terrace, replacing a wooden version that her father had added.
Charles II added the Long Walk which stretches south from the Castle to Snow Hill. In 1647 Charles was arrested and bought to Windsor by parlimentarian forces. He would later be tried and executed in London.
In 1710 Queen Anne added the path to the centre of the Long Walk wich until that time had simply been lawn, kept short by grazing animals.
So, as we can see, many royals have come to Windsor over the years and left their mark, but court life was generally always moving from one castle to another, so none would have been permanent residents all year round till well after the Tudor period.
In fact the first monach to ‘live permanently’ at Windsor was George III.
Since his reign all the Monarchs have been very much at home in Windsor Castle. It was George’s son George IV who had the enormous statue of his father on horseback erected at the far end of the long walk. The statue is known as ‘The Copper Horse’.
Queen Victoria made Windsor her home and following her husband Albert’s death lived for many years closed away from the outside world. She was named by Rudyard Kipling as “the Widow at Windsor“.
Although Queen Elizabeth the Second still lives at Windsor, her office is in London.
Her Majesty The Queen
London SW1A 1AA