'The castle makes Windsor' – the extraordinary history of the Queen's residence

As crowds line the streets for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations this week in Windsor, some might be unaware of some extraordinary history lying in a famous old building just a few yards away.

Many kings and queens have been and gone during the Royal Family’s long past, but few would have spent as much time at Windsor Castle as Her Majesty.

Not just throughout her unprecedented 70 years of service as our Queen – the monarch also spent the war years at the castle before she was crowned.

Windsor Castle dates back to the early 1100s, with the first Royal Wedding held there on April 24, 1121, when Henry I tied the knot.

But it was not until more than 700 years later when the next wedding took place in Berkshire as Prince Albert married Danish Princess Alexandra in March 1863.

The reason for this was due to Windsor Castle often being used for other purposes over the centuries; this included becoming a space to house the military troops and their families.

It has also survived a number of attacks over the years, most notably in the 1200s when the barons tried to destroy the building.

Originally built out of wood in the 1100s, the castle has evolved and been lived in differently by monarchs, or not lived in at all in the case of George I and George II.

These are the only two kings who have not chosen to occupy Windsor Castle during their reign, and are also the only two monarchs without a portrait inside the building today, which commemorates Royals who have called the town home.

“Windsor was a bit ramshackle and was not in good condition after the Civil War – it [the castle] was not really restored until George IV [in the 1700s],” said Windsor historian Brigitte Mitchell.

William the Conqueror was behind the building of Windsor Castle about 1,000 years ago, when he was establishing a line of defences around London shortly after the Norman Conquest in 1066.

“There was a very large and extensive palace at Old Windsor which William initially used,” explained Brigitte.

“He wanted something different because the royal palace was quite low down near the river.

“William got all of his best men in place and got them to build a castle.”

When it was initially built out of wood, Windsor Castle became one of the first castles to be built in England. It later underwent a refurbishment by Henry II who ordered stone structures to be constructed.

Fast forward to the early 20th century when Her Majesty was welcomed into the world by George VI and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in April 1926.

Her Majesty spent the war years in Windsor, said Brigitte, alongside the Crown Jewels, which were stored inside a biscuit box.

Following her coronation on June 2, 1952, Elizabeth II has spent much of her time in Berkshire away from the hustle and bustle of Buckingham Palace just 22 miles away.

“They say it is her favourite residence,” added Brigitte. “The castle makes Windsor – that is why people come here.

“Very large parts of Windsor were complete slums up until the 1960s and it [poverty] was right under the nose of the castle.

“Windsor is quite prosperous now – the town is wealthy, but it was not always.”

In June 2022 Windsor will now be having the international spotlight shone on it as Her Majesty celebrates a feat never achieved by any Royal before her: 70 years on the throne.

Brigitte – founder of the Windsor Museum in High Street – has met the Queen on several occasions.

“She really is a wonderful lady, a very genuine person and easy to get on with. People feel very nervous when they meet the Queen but she has got a knack of making you feel you are welcome,” she said.

Brigitte is still involved as a volunteer at the Windsor Museum having been on hand to escort Her Majesty around the new venue when it opened ten years ago.

The historian has already written a book – Windsor in the Great War – which documents the devasting effects of the First World War on the town.

Brigitte is now in the process of writing a second book about Windsor’s experiences during the Second World War, before taking a well-earned break from researching.

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