A Glimpse Of Windsor Castle
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
THE vast change that King Edward made in Windsor Castle before making it his home, caused wide-spread comment and a general hope that the so-called improvements would not disturb those sumptuous old rooms of other sovereigns whose historic memories can never be successfully replaced by modern splendor.
Windsor Castle, one of the largest and most magnificent royal residences in the world, has been, during the seven hundred years of its existence, prison, fortress and palace. Its dungeons proved foul and fatal to many an agonized captive; its drawbridges, portcullis, and thick walls made it an impregnable feudal fortress, while even today its wells and under-ground passages make ,it quite independent of the outside world, and it could accommodate an army that would be able to withstand there a long seige. As a birthplace of English princes, the last resting-place of kings, the scene of the origin of the Order of the Garter, and Queen Victoria's constant home, it has been the background of English history for centuries.
The name comes from Windleshore, an old Saxon word, suggesting there the winding of the Thames river. Edward the Confessor gave the whole estate to the monks of Westminster, from whom William the Conqueror bought it when he determined to build a mighty castle. Norman kings then hunted the wild boar in its forests that time and the gardener's skill have now changed into a quiet Italian park. Here Edward III. celebrated his splendid tournaments, Oueen Elizabeth gave her gay fetes, and Queen Anne was here when the welcome message came from Marlborough announcing his victory of Blenheim; while at Windsor too a poor Scotch king sighed for his freedom for many a long year, when imprisoned in its boundaries.
It is about an hour's distance by train from London, and the most conspicuous part of the enormous building is the round tower, or massive keep, that was used as a dungeon until 1660. From the battlements there is a most remarkable view enabling one to see into dozens of other shires.
The east front is the least familiar part of the castle, be-cause it contains the private apartments, and is rarely shown a visitor, while only a royal carriage is allowed through the gateway on that side. Consequently the entrance best known is by the porter's lodge, and by visiting it on certain days during their Majesties' absence, the state apartments are shown sightseers.
On assuming control, King Edward commanded that the suite of his father, closed since the day of his death, be at last thrown open and refurnished, so that the gloom that hovered over these locked doors has now vanished. Queen Alexandra occupies several of the rooms known formerly as Queen Vic-.toria's private apartments, which she has had done over in a lighter and more modern style, and as she is noted for her exquisite taste, her possessions are always well chosen. She has now for her own use the curious silver toilet service which belonged to Queen Anne over two hundred years ago, in which is included a long silver-framed cheval glass of unusual workmanship and beauty.
In the Audience Room hang valuable old tapestries of Esther and Mordecai, which are continued on the walls of the Presence Chamber, and Janet's old portrait in this room of Marie Stuart is as familiar to us from prints as is the face of an old friend.
In the Guard Room are the weapons of all ages, and a shield of gold and silver presented on the Field of the Cloth of Gold by Francois T. to Henry VIII. Of course it is said to be the work of that master goldsmith, Benvenuto Cellini, but had he done all the pieces attributed to him in Europe, he would have put to shame the busy bees, and the industrious ants could well be reproached for laziness.
In the Guard Room too are England's three great heroes, Marlborough, Nelson, and Wellington, and Nelson's statue stands on a pedestal made from the mast of the ship on which he said, "England expects every man to do his duty," and then paid with his own life the price of her victory.
St. George's Hall is over two hundred feet in length, with a table down the center hospitably long enough to seat the unexpected. The walls and ceilings are paneled, while the latter is richly emblazoned with the arms of every knight who ever belonged to the Garter, and fine portraits of its presiding sovereigns alternate between the windows, with spears, helmets and shields. Banners are hung all along the hall, for it was intended especially for the use of the Order of the Garter.
In the Grand Reception Room is the tapestry of Jason and Medea, the finest Gobelin that Charles X. of France could find to send to George IV. in acknowledgment of the English monarch's hospitality to the two unfortunate brothers of Louis XVI. The room is quite French in style, with Louis XVI. furniture of gilt and tapestry. A great malachite vase, sent by a Czar of Russia, has for a rival in one's interest the two immense granite vases given by Queen Luise's husband, Frederick William III. of Prussia. At Windsor too is treasured the finest example of Sevres china in existence, a dessert service made for Louis XVI.
In the Throne Room stands the Ivory throne from India which is carved just as finely as those little ivory card-cases one usually sees choicely guarded under glass. The portraits by Lawrence and Gainsborough, the glistening crystal chandeliers and the rich brocaded blue velvet walls make this room one of the most royal in the castle.
In the long corridor stands the life-size statue of the Prince Consort, with that pathetic figure of the Queen clinging to him, and underneath arc graven these words: "Allured to brighter worlds and led the way." All along this passage are placed the gifts sent her late Majesty at the Jubilee, including rare embroidery from the Emperor of China, monstrous feather fans from Africa, and such priceless ornaments as are considered worthy a monarch's acceptance.
The Waterloo Salon which is nearly one hundred feet long, serves frequently as a banqueting-hall, and could be quickly changed into a theatre for any performance the Queen desired to hear. On the walls are the portraits, mostly by Sir Thomas Lawrence, of the sovereigns and generals who fought in the war that ended in the battle of Waterloo. In that hall Queen Victoria once danced with Napoleon III., the nephew of the man whose crushing defeat by the English a while before had occasioned the naming of the room.
Windsor has an unrivaled collection of paintings, the Rubens Room contains eleven of this artist's masterpieces, and in the Van Dyke Room hang the best examples of that Dutch master, including the well-known portraits of the children of Charles I., and of his Queen, Henrietta Maria.
In the Council Room are the old painters, Andrea del Sarto, Holbein, Hogarth, Rembrandt, etc., while in the King's Closet hang the best works of the Dutch school. Beyond the Green Drawing-room are the Crimson and the White; the magnificent Library abounds with rare editions and priceless manuscripts, and one walks on forgetting in the beauty of the last room the wonders of the one before.
The Oak Room was often used as a small dining room and it is most attractive with its Gothic oaken panels, richly ornamented with gold, while the wall tapestry, a present from Louis Philippe, recalls the day when the late Queen went down the great stairway here to meet him, the only time an English monarch ever welcomed a French king to England.
Luther's old Bible is carefully preserved, the edition of Shakespeare owned by Charles I. and also his collection of miniatures which, with recent additions, ranks first in the world. There are hundreds of other relics handed down from monarch to monarch, and the rich furniture, buhl cabinets, rare ornaments encrusted with jewels, the priceless tapestries and old gold plate, make Windsor a veritable storehouse of valuables.
Not the least of these was the old guest-book of Oueen Victoria, where the signatures now call forth memories of dynasties that have been overthrown, and of kings without kingdoms, yet the Queen's long reign continued without interruption. Four Czars of Russia, an Emperor of Mexico, a King of Prussia, and three Emperors of Germany, Louis Philippe and Napoleon Ill. of France, the Prince Imperial, Pedro of Portugal, the Mad Ludwig of Bavaria, and nearly all the reigning families of Europe, have written their names in that book with their own hands, and looking it through now recalls stories of assassination, war and tragedies in striking contrast to their happy visits at different times to her late Majesty, when these royal personages were fortunately blinded to their future fates.
St. George's Chapel at Windsor has a roof of such unsurpassed stone fan tracery that even were the chapel empty of all else, one should go far to see it. Besides the royal tombs of Henry VI., Henry VIlI., and Jean Seymour, and that of Charles I., St. George's is famous as the place of installation of the Knights of the Garter, the most ancient and honorable order of chivalry in England. It was formed in King Edward III.'s time with but twelve members and the sovereign, but has steadily grown since, and now one sees all great personages whom England wishes to honor, wearing its broad blue ribbon across the shoulder. At St. George's many great events have been celebrated, including King Edward's wedding and her late Majesty's own impressive funeral in 1901.
The Albert Chapel, rich in mosaics, porphyry, alabaster, lapis lazuli, and malachite, and the great marble statues of Life and Death, contains the tombs of the Duke of Albany, and of the King's son, the Duke of Clarence, who died a few years ago. From its name many expect to see, in this Albert Chapel, the grave of the Prince Consort, but this was only intended to be a memorial to him, for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert now lie side by side at Frogmore, a. mile beyond Windsor, thus united during life with a never-ending devotion, in death they are no longer separated.