From historic British trivia to interesting stories about the Royal Family, these fascinating facts about Windsor Castle will surprise you!
Steeped in centuries of royal history, Windsor Castle is one of the most popular attractions in the UK. The imposing fortress dates back almost a thousand years, and there are plenty of royal secrets hidden behind its thick stone walls! This is the place that dozens of British monarchs have called home over the centuries, and each one of them has left their mark.
With such a long and chequered history, it’s no surprise that Windsor Castle is filled with amazing stories. From strange rumours about the haunted forest, to the real reason the castle’s kitchen clocks are always just a little bit fast, there are plenty of weird, wonderful and truly fascinating facts about Windsor Castle.
15 Fun and Interesting Facts About Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle dates back to the time of William the Conqueror
Windsor Castle is one of the oldest Norman fortifications in the country, dating back to the reign of William the Conqueror himself. The castle formed part of William’s defensive strategy for the city of London – a ring of nine fortresses, built in the Norman motte-and-bailey style – that would protect the city from any unwelcome visitors.
Boasting a strategic position close to the city, overlooking the River Thames, Windsor was an obvious choice. The stone structure that we see today, however, including the iconic Round Tower, dates from the twelfth century, when William’s grandson Henry I transformed Windsor into the spectacular royal castle that it is today.
The road leading to Windsor is over two and a half miles long
Ever seen an aerial picture of Windsor Castle? If so, you’ll have seen the beautiful, 2.65-mile Long Walk, a tree-lined drive leading straight up to the castle. This long promenade was originally designed by Charles II, inspired by his love of French architecture and gardens.
The Long Walk is surrounded by Windsor Great Park, with oak trees originally planted by William the Conqueror. Today the park is also home to a herd of over 40 deer, managed by the Duke of Edinburgh, the official Windsor Park Ranger!
Elizabeth I took shelter at Windsor during the plague
Windsor Castle isn’t just an impregnable fortress that can repel invaders, it’s also been used by English monarchs as a refuge from disease. During a particularly bad outbreak of plague at the end of the 16th century, Queen Elizabeth moved the royal court to Windsor and hid herself away in the castle. To prevent contagion, she reportedly erected a gallows behind her, with a warning that anyone who entered Windsor without permission would be instantly executed.
During the recent COVID-19 pandemic, Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh both used Windsor Castle to weather out the lockdown safely, showing that little has changed in the past few centuries!
Over 150 people live and work at Windsor Castle
One of the most surprising facts about Windsor Castle is that so many people live and work within its walls. Keeping a castle of this size in good working order requires a lot of help.
As well as butlers, footmen, stewards and cooks, the castle also employs a specialist wine butler, skilled conservationists and archivists, and even a fendersmith to tend more than 300 fireplaces around the castle and estate!
It’s the birthplace of English chivalry
One of the most important parts of Windsor Castle is the magnificent St George’s Chapel, the spiritual home of the Order of the Garter and an iconic symbol of English chivalry. The Order of the Garter is actually the oldest order of chivalry in the world and was founded by King Edward III in 1348.
Located in the Lower Ward of the castle, St George’s Chapel dates from the 15th century and is a beautiful example of late medieval Gothic architecture, as well as an important piece of Windsor Castle history. It is also the site of the spectacular annual Garter Service, when the knights process in full ceremonial dress from Windsor Castle to St George’s Chapel.
The clocks in the Great Kitchen at Windsor are five minutes fast
Windsor Castle is famous for its clocks. In fact, there are around 450 clocks across the estate, all of which require careful attention to keep them ticking. When the clocks change by an hour in spring and autumn, it takes around 16 hours to reset them all! However, the clocks in the Great Kitchen are always set exactly five minutes fast, to ensure that the Queen gets her food on time.
It’s the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world
Windsor Castle has been a major royal residence since the days of Henry I, making it the oldest occupied royal castle in the world. What’s more it’s also the largest occupied castle in history, often described as a town rather than simply a royal residence, as the huge grounds of Windsor Castle cover a massive 13 acres (52,609 square metres).
Queen Victoria was known as the ‘widow of Windsor’
Queen Victoria, one of England’s most famous monarchs, had a particularly special relationship with Windsor. She loved spending time in the castle with her beloved husband Prince Albert, and often wrote in her diaries of the happiness she felt with him in their royal home.
She was devastated when Prince Albert died at Windsor at the age of just 42 following a bout of typhoid fever and a long period of ill health. She plunged the castle into a state of mourning and wore black for the rest of her days, earning her the nickname ‘the widow of Windsor’.
Hitler planned to live at Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle is an iconic British landmark (and let’s face it, not that difficult to find), so you may be wondering why it wasn’t targeted by German bombers during World War II. The answer is that Hitler was a big fan of the castle, and had supposedly planned to make it his official residence in the event that his invasion of Britain was successful.
Although the Germans did target other royal palaces and governmental buildings, including Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle was never bombed. For this reason, the young princesses Elizabeth and Margaret took shelter in the castle during the war, sleeping in the dungeons for extra protection.
The British Royal Family is named after Windsor (not the other way around!)
The British royal family is known as the House of Windsor, and although the royal lineage stretches back for centuries, this name is actually a recent adoption. The Royals decided to change their name from the ‘House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha’ to the ‘House of Windsor’ in 1917 as anti-German sentiment was on the rise during World War I.
It was considered unwise to flaunt the royal family’s close German connections so explicitly, and so George V decided to take the name of Windsor Castle, an enduring symbol of the English monarchy for 900 years.
The 1992 fire at Windsor Castle damaged or destroyed around 20% of the castle area
Queen Elizabeth II once described 1992 as her annus horribilis, because so many catastrophes occurred for the royal family in the space of just a few short months. In addition to the breakdown of the marriages of three of her children, Windsor Castle was badly damaged in an enormous fire that consumed nearly 20% of the castle area.
It took 15 hours and 1.5 million gallons of water to put it out. Luckily, many of the most valuable objects and artefacts that were stored in the State Apartments in the Upper Ward had been moved away for safe-keeping during the renovations that caused the blaze.
Windsor Great Park is haunted by a strange spirit who appears when the death of a monarch is near
According to a legend dating back to the late medieval period, Windsor Great Park is haunted by Herne the Hunter, a spirit with antlers, who rides an ethereal black horse. Herne was originally one of the keepers of Windsor Forest during the reign of Richard II and once rescued the king from being injured by a stag. He was fatally wounded in the process, but was ultimately revived by a strange spirit, who cured him by attaching the stag’s antlers to his head!
Herne miraculously recovered but later killed himself after being the victim of an unfortunate plot to discredit his name. Legend says that Herne the Hunter can still be see haunting Great Windsor Park, riding a black steed. He is said to appear as an omen when the monarch is about to die.
It’s home to one of the most amazing doll’s houses in the world
One of the most fascinating attractions at Windsor Castle is a magnificent doll’s house, specially designed by leading British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens for Queen Mary in the 1920s. It’s known as one of the most elaborate and detailed doll’s houses in the world, with some truly special touches that set it apart from the rest.
Peek inside and you’ll find a fully stocked wine cellar with over 20,000 bottles, a library filled with specially commissioned books, and a fully functional plumbing system! When you turn on the taps, water fills up the baths, and all the wine bottles contain real wine. This intricately detailed work of art is one of the most beautiful and unique treasures in Windsor Castle.
Ten kings are buried in Windsor Castle
A total of ten English monarchs are buried at Windsor, a popular resting place for the kings and queens of England in both life and death. The castle is the location of the remains of Charles I, executed for treason in 1649. He is buried in the vault of Henry VIII in St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, along with Henry VII and Edward IV.
It contains plenty of royal secrets
As a royal residence for so many centuries, Windsor contains plenty of intriguing royal secrets. The castle archives are stored in the Round Tower, and contain several important sources for Windsor Castle history.
There you’ll find the private correspondence of George III, Queen Victoria’s private diaries, and hundreds of thousands of letters, memos, annotated books and royal doodles. Windsor is a treasure trove for anyone who wants to uncover the real stories behind all the royal glamour and spectacle.
We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Windsor Castle’s incredible history. It’s an incredible landmark, and somewhere we’d definitely recommend visiting, especially if you’re keen to learn more about the Royal Family.
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