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Windsor Castle

( Originally Published 1915 )



Windsor Castle stands on a commanding ridge above the Thames, twenty-four miles westward from the Tower of London; and, with its three wards, or courts, forms an oblong area measuring nearly fifteen hundred feet from east to west, and covering more than twelve acres.

William H. Dixon says : " The Castle hill is crowned and mantled by the Norman keep, the royal house, the Chapel of St. George, and the depending gardens, terraces, and slopes. Trees beard the slope and tuft the ridge. Live waters curl and murmur at the base. In front, low-lying meadows curtsey to the royal hill. Outward on the flanks, to east and west, run screens of elm and oak, of beech and poplar; here sinking into Clough and dell ; there mounting up to smiling sward and wooded knoll. Far in the rear lie forest glades."On this site, tradition shows, in dreamy indistinctness, poetic visions of the court of Arthur and the early age of chivalry, and history tells us that William I was so pleased with the spot that he built and fortified a hunting-seat upon it, " where he held his court in 1070." He also increased the area of the surrounding forest and arranged the parks. The hunting-seat was afterwards made a palace and Henry I enlarged it in 1110. Of course the present building is new in many parts, but the original dates back nearly 900 years. It had many victims of torture, imprisonment, vengeance, and death, in the early days particularly.

Elizabeth's chief addition was the famous north terrace. Pepys said in 1665: " It is the most romantic castle in the world." We can have little idea of the vast sums spent there for kingly luxury, but we learn that the House of Commons in 1677 granted 70,000pounds to defray the expenses of a solemn interment for the late king. When Cromwell was in power, hesometimes resided there, and is credited with preserving well the castle and its contents. Charles II first planted the long walk, and during his reign, the great apartments were remodeled under Sir Christopher Wren. Queen Anne did much for the gardens, spending 40,000 upon them.

As it now stands, it is not a medieval castle, but a modern palace, built in castellated and civil varieties of the pointed style. The result is one of the most appropriate majestic and picturesque palaces in the world. It crowns a height with an enormous diadem of battlemented towers, strong with their pale gray stone, but cheerful with their traceried windows, and rising from a garland of fresh oaks and elms that add their grace to its imperial dignity. Created by the Middle Ages, and with marked features of its origin, it has grown to a stately form that nothing fashioned only by them could have equaled.

Windsor Castle has at least six chief features : the wards, the keep, the chapels, the state apartments, the North Terrace, and the entrance by the long walk. The lower ward, first entered from the town, has a long irregular area. From one end rises a huge circular stone keep, and to the top of the flag-staff it is 203 feet. The number of rooms in the castle is great. Those occupied by the sovereign are numerous and luxuriously furnished and command charming views. The state apartments form a vast and noble suite that shows a great diversity of style. There are dark oak casings and rich carvings by Gibbons, and ceilings painted by Verrio. The valuable pictures are numerous.

STORY AND ANECDOTE

Edward III was fond of Windsor, where he was born, and rebuilt most of the castle near the middle of the fourteenth century, leaving the chief part of the present structure except as it was changed by remodeling in the reign of George IV. The story goes, that, as he was walking with his two captives, the kings of France and Scotland, they remarked on the advantages of the site, and suggested he should build a new palace there. I will," said Edward with a smile, " and you gentlemen shall pay for it."

William of Wykeham, the famous architect, and several hundred workmen, were employed by Edward IV. The most beautiful and sumptuous part then built was the collegiate chapel of St. George.

Here the great round table, in imitation of Arthur's, was revived in the fourteenth century, and here also, the famous Order of the Garter was established in 1348. During this century the court had the reputation of being the gayest in Europe. Pageantry and splendor abounded. One chronicle of the time says : that in the threshold:

Come every day
Ten thousand folk, by his messes told
And in the kitchen three hundred servytours.

Other sovereigns successively made additions or alterations, and resided in the castle. It was strengthened by Charles I, but was seized by Parliament, and held through the Civil War. In 1648, Prince Rupert made an ineffectual attack upon it; one of the few warlike events of which it has been the scene.

Windsor has had its famous prisoners :

In 1347, David Bruce, King of Scotland, who had been taken prisoner in battle, was brought to Windsor, and confined in one of the towers of the upper ward, where he remained for eleven years, until his poor country was able to pay the ransom demanded, equal to about seven million dollars.

Elizabeth's was the reign of the most brilliant ceremonial. In Windsor, Raleigh told her of the new world in America. There Shakespeare discussed his new plays with her, and there " The Merry Wives of Windsor " was first acted. Elizabeth came there in 1601, and great sums were spent on the scenery and costumes of the plays. In her reign literary associations began to cluster about Windsor. She herself wrote and translated, and was the first sovereign who established a stage in the castle for regular drama. Many of the plays were performed by the children of Windsor village, and by others from a distance.

Victoria spent the happiest years of her life at Windsor, and her son, the late Edward VII, did much for the palace. Electric lights and modern improvements in general were brought in, and the King held splendid court.

The view is regal, reaching over parts of twelve counties. English dale and hill, green fields, and luxuriant forests, quiet hamlets, noble homes, the graceful, winding river, the dome of St. Paul's, and stately Eton, all are included in the outlook.

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