21 December 2000, Thursday
We slept late—’til eight o’clock. (Do you spot a trend here? I normally get up at four in the morning to get to work, and my body is trained to that—so I was waking up and reading for a bit, then falling back asleep until the household was up.) Then while Eoin went off to work again (it’s dirty work, but someone’s got to do it …), Anna drove Jesse and I to the town of Windsor (in the royal country of Berkshire), where we visited Windsor Castle. (This is a really pretty picture of it, from an angle we didn’t really see, as the tourist parking is to the left in this photo.)
We had a ball!
An official residence of the Queen of England, the existing vast structure of the castle “has evolved over many centuries from its origin as a Norman fortress” (it was one of a chain of fortifications around London), the official guidebook tells us. “Windsor Castle is the oldest royal residence to have remained in continuous use by the monarchies of Britain”—for more than 900 years!—“and is in many ways an architectural epitome of the history of the nation. The castle covers an area of about thirteen acres and contains, as well as a royal palace, a magnificent collegiate church and the homes or workplaces of a large number of people, includig the constable and governor of the castle, the military knights of Windsor, and the dean and canons of St. George’s Chapel.”
The compound roughly divided into three geographical sections: the upper ward, which is the Quadrangle surrounded by three castle walls; the middle ward, which is the Round Tower and the mound it sits on; and the lower ward, which is walled in and contains, among other outbuildings, St. George’s Chapel.
It is hard to believe that this large estate is actually someone’s home, and yet the clues are there if one looks. St. George’s Chapel is where the last of the Windsor sons, Edward, was married, a year or so ago. He considered it his “home church,” and felt comfortable marrying there, as any of us would at the church in which we were raised. (Of course, it is unlikely that your home church serves as the final resting place of ten British sovereigns—including Henry VIII.)
Also, from the top of the castle walls one can look out over the English lowlands to see Eton in the distance; this, of course, is where the Princes William and Henry go to school. (Well, William just graduated.) It’s really not so far away at all, and its proximity to the castle softens the notion I have of “sending the child off to boarding school.” And when the disastrous fire of November 1992 broke out, the Queen herself stood outside and watched with tears in her eyes as the fire spread rapidly at roof level (by great good fortune, the rooms worst affected were empty at the time, as they were in the process of being rewired). Members of the royal family, including Andrew and Charles, helped with the cleanup effort during the next days.
So, as you can see, people live here; they care about the place. This is very much a home.
We spent several hours wandering the castle, which is filled with art treasures, just unbelievably beautiful stuff (the castle holds the Royal Collection, which includes works by DaVinci and Michaelangelo and is considered one of the finest art collections in the world). A highlight for me was Queen Mary’s dollhouse, which was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens on a scale of 1 to 12 and presented to Queen Mary in 1924. The guidebook says “it was intended as an accurate record of contemporary domestic design. The mechanical and engineering equipment—including the water system, the electric lights, and the two lifts”—elevators to us Americans—“was made to work. The gramophone plays and the bottles in the wine cellar contain genuine vintage wines. The furniture and other contents were made by the leading manufacturers of the day. The paintings were commissioned from then well-known artists and the books on the shelves of the library were written by prominent authors, some in their own hand. Rudyard Kipling, G. K. Chesterton, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Thomas Hardy, and J. M. Barrie are among the writers represented.” Astonishing, huh?
Today, nine centuries after its foundation, the castle continues to perform its primary role as an official residence of the Queen. The state apartments are the formal rooms used for ceremonial, state, and official occasions. They range from the smaller, intimate rooms of Charles II’s apartments to the vast scale of the Waterloo Chamber, built to commemorate the famous victory over Napoleon in 1815. These are what tourists are allowed to see, if they’re not in use. Here’s the official video:
Later we strolled through the town and shops. I bought a Christmas ornament as a souvenir, although we had to ask in a lot of shops before we found one. You can find souvenir Christmas ornaments year ’round in the States, of course, but that particularly American craze hadn’t found its way to Windsor.
We’d decided to go catch a movie (Meet the Parents) when we returned to Barkham, but had a one-hour wait until showtime. So we wandered through a grocery store, where I bought tea, biscuits (cookies), and chocolate. And we laughed ourselves silly at the movie, which was a marvelous juxtapostion to the pomp and circumstance of Windsor.