CHRIST­MAS FES­TIV­I­TIES AT WIND­SOR CAS­TLE

A visit to Queen Vic­to­ria's favourite cas­tle makes a per­fect start to the fes­tive sea­son.

Exclusively British - - CONTENTS - Words | Diana Woolf

A visit to Queen Vic­to­ria's favourite cas­tle makes a per­fect start to the fes­tive sea­son.

ANY­ONE LOOK­ING FOR in­spi­ra­tion on how to do a tra­di­tional Christ­mas in the grand style should look no fur­ther than Wind­sor Cas­tle. This De­cem­ber its mag­nif­i­cent state apart­ments will be given a fes­tive makeover with gi­ant Christ­mas trees, glit­ter­ing dec­o­ra­tions and din­ing tables laid out for royal feasts. There will also be a se­ries of im­mer­sive per­for­mances of Charles Dick­ens’ clas­sic, A Christ­mas Carol, with visi­tors be­ing es­corted through the cas­tle by Ebenezer Scrooge to the state apart­ments where they will watch his vi­sion of Christ­mas Past, Christ­mas Present and Christ­mas Yet to Come un­fold. Wind­sor Cas­tle, which was founded in 1070 by William the Con­queror, is the old­est royal res­i­dence in the Bri­tish Isles to have re­mained in con­tin­u­ous use and, over its long his­tory, has been home to 39 mon­archs. It was a par­tic­u­lar favourite of Queen Vic­to­ria who chose to spend the great­est por­tion of her year here mak­ing it a set­ting for fam­ily gath­er­ings and en­ter­tain­ments in ad­di­tion to grand state oc­ca­sions. She and her Ger­man-born con­sort Al­bert are cred­ited with pop­u­lar­is­ing many of the tra­di­tions we now as­so­ciate with Christ­mas - Christ­mas cards and trees in par­tic­u­lar - and it’s the fes­tive at­mos­phere of a tra­di­tional Vic­to­rian Christ­mas that cu­ra­tors are re­cre­at­ing at Wind­sor this win­ter. This year also marks the 25th an­niver­sary of the restora­tion of the Cas­tle af­ter the ter­ri­ble fire of Novem­ber 1992 which se­ri­ously dam­aged the state apart­ments in­clud­ing the vast St Ge­orge’s Hall, built by the ar­chi­tect Jef­fry Wy­atville for Ge­orge IV in the early 1820s. Dur­ing the restora­tion the hall was given a new ham­mer-beam roof, made us­ing me­dieval car­pen­try tech­niques, and now looks as good as new. Over 55 me­tres long, it’s of­ten used for state ban­quets of up to 160 guests. For the Christ­mas sea­son the 47 me­tre-long din­ing ta­ble has been re­moved and in­stead a huge Christ­mas tree, taken from Wind­sor Great Park and dec­o­rated with gor­geous gold dec­o­ra­tions, dom­i­nates the hall. And it’s be­side this Christ­mas tree that the fi­nale of A Christ­mas Carol takes place, as Scrooge cel­e­brates his new-found fes­tive spirit. Five other Christ­mas trees dec­o­rated with gilded gar­lands, fruits and ivy add to the fes­tive at­mos­phere in neigh­bour­ing rooms and the Water­loo Gallery – a space long

as­so­ci­ated with Christ­mas at Wind­sor as it was here that the young Princesses Eliz­a­beth and Mar­garet per­formed Christ­mas pan­tomines dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. While in the Water­loo Gallery, visi­tors should take time to look at the paint­ings by Sir Thomas Lawrence dis­played along the walls. Th­ese are por­traits of the gen­er­als, states­men and mon­archs as­so­ci­ated with the Bat­tle of Water­loo com­mis­sioned by Ge­orge IV to cel­e­brate the al­lied vic­tory over Napoleon; nat­u­rally the Duke of Welling­ton’s por­trait is in pride of place. As well as ad­mir­ing the Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions in the state apart­ments, visi­tors should look out for the many trea­sures from the Royal Col­lec­tion on dis­play. High­lights in­clude paint­ings by a starry cast of artists such as Pi­eter Bruegel the El­der, Gio­vanni Bellini and Rem­brandt van Rijn dis­played in the King’s Dress­ing Room and King’s Closet (rooms orig­i­nally cre­ated for Charles II). The Queen’s Draw­ing Rooms, de­signed for Charles’ wife, are dec­o­rated with a se­lec­tion of Tudor and Stu­art royal por­traits by the likes of Hans Hol­bein and Robert Peak. Although Ge­orge IV gave th­ese rooms a se­ri­ous makeover, some of the orig­i­nal Baroque ceil­ings painted for Charles II in the 1670s still sur­vive, in­clud­ing the fine ex­am­ple by An­to­nio Ver­rio in the King’s Din­ing Room, ap­pro­pri­ately de­pict­ing a ban­quet of the gods. Visi­tors in­ter­ested in old master draw­ings should stop off at the Print Room of the Royal Li­brary: look out for draw­ings by Re­nais­sance su­per­stars such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelan­gelo and Raphael amongst oth­ers. St Ge­orge’s Chapel in the Lower Ward of the cas­tle is a marked con­trast to the gold and crim­son op­u­lence of the state apart­ments. This ar­chi­tec­tural gem was be­gan un­der Ed­ward IV in 1475 and is a won­der­ful ex­am­ple of the Per­pen­dic­u­lar Gothic style. It’s fa­mous for its elab­o­rate fan vault­ing which seems to grow out of the slen­der pil­lars to cre­ate a roof of in­tri­cately carved stonework punc­tu­ated by colour­ful wooden bosses. Ten Bri­tish mon­archs are buried here, but per­haps the chapel’s most un­usual trea­sure is Ed­ward III’S long sword (an im­pres­sive two me­tres long) in the south aisle of the chapel. Ed­ward III founded the Or­der of the Garter in 1348, and the chapel is the spir­i­tual home of his fa­mous or­der of chivalry, hous­ing the ban­ners of the 24 Knights and host­ing an an­nual ser­vice for them on Garter Day. Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House is also a must-see site at Wind­sor. This ex­tra­or­di­nary cre­ation is a per­fect scale model of a royal man­sion and was com­mis­sioned by Princess Marie Louise in the 1920s as a gift for Queen Mary, who loved all things minia­ture. The ar­chi­tect Ed­win Lu­tyens de­signed the house, while the in­side was metic­u­lously fur­nished by a range of crafts­peo­ple, many of whom were royal war­rant hold­ers. The lav­ish in­te­ri­ors are fit for a king: the sheets are em­broi­dered with the royal ci­phers, there are a pair of thrones in the Sa­loon and a set of crown jew­els in the strong room - although a mini Fabergé mouse has been al­lowed to creep in amongst all the tiny trea­sures. Per­haps it’s search­ing for some Christ­mas treats?

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