A Royal home and fortress for over 900 years, Windsor Castle, the largest occupied castle in the world, remains a working palace today. The Queen uses the Castle both as a private home, where she usually spends the weekend, and as an official Royal residence at which she undertakes certain formal duties.
Every year The Queen takes up official residence in Windsor Castle for a month over Easter (March-April), known as Easter Court. During that time The Queen hosts occasional 'dine and sleeps' events for guests, including politicians and public figures. Her Majesty, supported by other members of The Royal Family, also preside over Investiture ceremonies at Windsor Castle throughout the year.
The Queen is also in residence for a week in June, when she attends the service of the Order of the Garter and the Royal Ascot race meeting. The Order of the Garter ceremony brings together members of the senior order of chivalry for a service in St George's Chapel. Beforehand, The Queen gives a lunch for the Knights of the Garter in the Castle's Waterloo Chamber.
Any new Knights of the Garter are invested by The Queen in the Garter Throne Room. On the walls are portraits of monarchs in their Garter Robes, from George I to the present Queen, whose State portrait by Sir James Gunn was painted in 1954.
Windsor Castle is often used by The Queen to host State Visits from overseas monarchs and presidents. Foreign Heads of State enter the Castle in horse-drawn carriages through the George IV Gateway into the quadrangle in the Upper Ward, where a military guard of honour is drawn up. The traditional State Banquet is held in St George's Hall (55.5m long and 9m wide), with a table seating up to 160 guests.
St George's Chapel remains an active centre for worship, with daily services open to all. The Chapel is a Royal Peculiar, that is, a chapel which is not subject to a bishop or archbishop but which owes its allegiance directly to the Sovereign. The Chapel, together with the remainder of the College of St George (a school for 400 children and St George's House, a consultation centre), is governed by the Dean and Canons of Windsor, who, with their officers and staff, are independent of the Royal Household.
Many Royal weddings have been celebrated in St George's Chapel, including Prince Edward and Miss Sophie Rhys-Jones in June 1999, Prince Harry and Ms Meghan Markle in 2018, and Princess Eugenie and Mr Jack Brooksbank also in 2018. In 2005 a service of dedication and prayer was held in the Chapel following the marriage of The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall. Funerals such as those of The Duke of Edinburgh, Princess Margaret and Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, have also taken place there. Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother lies buried in the Chapel with her husband, King George VI, and Princess Margaret, her younger daughter.
Various departments of the Royal Household are based at Windsor Castle. The ancient Round Tower houses the Royal Archives and the Royal Photograph Collection. The Print Room and Royal Library house precious drawings, prints, manuscripts and books in the Royal Collection.
Those who live and work within the Castle include the titular head of the Castle community, the Constable and Governor of Windsor Castle; the Dean of Windsor, Canons and other staff who run the College of St George; the Military Knights of Windsor; the Superintendent of Windsor Castle and his staff, who are responsible for day-to-day administration; the Housekeeper and her staff; and soldiers who mount a permanent military guard in the Castle.
Windsor Castle is also a busy visitor attraction. Many parts of the Castle are open to the public, including the precincts, the State Apartments, Queen Mary's famous dolls' house, St George's Chapel, and the Albert Memorial Chapel. Changing the Guard takes place regularly in the Castle Precincts. When the Queen is in official residence, the parade provides a colourful spectacle in the quadrangle.
History of Windsor Castle
Over a period of nearly 1,000 years Windsor Castle has been inhabited continuously, and altered and refurbished by successive monarchs. Some were great builders, strengthening the Castle against uprising and rebellion; others, living in more peaceful times, created a palatial Royal residence.
William the Conqueror chose the site, high above the river Thames and on the edge of a Saxon hunting ground. It was a day's march from the Tower of London and intended to guard the western approaches to the capital. The outer walls of today's structure are in the same position as those of the original castle built by William the Conqueror in the 1070s. So too is the central mound supporting the Round Tower and the Upper Ward, where successive monarchs have had their private apartments since the fourteenth century.
The Round Tower in 1790
In the 1170s Henry II rebuilt - in stone instead of wood - the Round Tower, the outer walls of the Upper and most of the Lower Ward, and the Royal apartments in the Upper Ward.
In the 1360s Edward III, who was born at Windsor, extended the Castle. He created the immense St. George's Hall for the use of the Knights of his newly founded Order of the Garter. Ten British monarchs now lie buried in the chapel: Edward IV, Henry VI, Henry VIII, Charles I, George III, George IV, William IV, Edward VII, George V and George VI.
During the Civil War the Castle was captured by the Parliamentarian Colonel John Venn in 1642 and became the headquarters for various Parliamentarian commanders. From 1643 the Castle was used as a prison and was used as such throughout the Wars.
In 1648 Charles I was held there before his trial and execution in London; his body was brought back for burial in St. George's Chapel during a snowstorm. Oliver Cromwell took over in 1650 and when he was made Lord Protector in 1653 it became one of his official residences.
Following the Restoration, Charles II was determined to make the Castle as splendid as possible. He created a new set of State Apartments in the 1670s, using the skills of the architect Hugh May, the artist Antonio Verrio for murals and ceiling paintings, and the famous wood-carver Grinling Gibbons.