Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are set to marry in ‘the most romantique castle that is in the world’, according to Samuel Pepys. Katie Russell explores Windsor’s history
venue for the Royal nuptials
Over a million tourists flock to the Castle each year
Windsor is the perfect setting for the wedding of the year on Saturday 19 May. Thousands of well-wishers are expected to flood the pretty market town to glimpse the royals and their guests, and Harry and Meghan have made it clear that they want as many members of the public as possible to share their special day.
Windsor Castle itself is a stunning structure with almost a thousand years of history, and its situation, high on a hill above the
Thames in Berkshire, enhances its grace and elegance.
The marriage ceremony will take place at midday in St George’s Chapel, regarded as one of the most beautiful church buildings in England.
Royal ups and downs
The Queen’s love of Windsor Castle is well known. Officially her second residence after Buckingham Palace, she spends most weekends at the Castle, as well as a month over Easter and a week in June for the Royal Ascot races. With over 1,000 rooms, the Castle is ideal for hosting important guests on the Government’s behalf. The Queen welcomed then President Barack Obama for lunch in 2016, to celebrate her 90th birthday.
Last year, as every year, over a million tourists flocked to the historic building, contributing £19 million in ticket sales.
As the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world, Windsor has been home to no less than 39 monarchs since its founding by William the Conqueror at the end of the 11th century.
Henry I – the Conqueror’s son – was the first royal to make the Castle his home. Over 100 years later, Henry III built an indoor palace, which was added to by Edward III.
Henry VIII transformed the Castle from a home into a royal Court. He didn’t stint on expense either, splashing out the modern-day equivalent of £380 million! His daughter Elizabeth I beautified the Castle still further.
Scandal and shocks
Scandal followed with Elizabeth I’s successor James I, who used the Castle mainly for socialising with friends, including
Danish King Christian IV.
Their decadent drinking sessions and affairs with the ladies of the court made them infamous throughout Europe. But the English
Civil War saw Windsor used for more sinister purposes, with
Cromwell locking up royalist prisoners within the fortress – including King Charles I, who was held there in 1647 before his beheading in 1649.
In 1660, King Charles II inherited the Castle after it had been looted of treasure. Later, George I and George II let the building fall into disrepair, and George III spent the 2018 equivalent of £127 million refurbishing it. His son spent a further £310 million on it.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert made Windsor
Castle their principal home – and the
Prince died there in 1861. Following his death, Victoria kept the building in a state of mourning, earning her the title ‘the Widow of Windsor’. George V literally brought light back to the Castle, installing electric lighting, and it was the childhood home of our Queen today.
Windsor was the backdrop to Edward VIII’s abdication speech, when he stepped down to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. During the Second World War, George VI officially lived at Buckingham Palace to boost public morale, but often slept secretly at Windsor, where his children had been sent.
Perhaps the most dramatic event was the fire of 1992 after a lamp set a curtain alight. Prince
Andrew worked with staff to save furniture and artworks, but it cost £36.5 million to repair the damage to the building.
Nuptials then and now
The first royal wedding at the Castle was in 1121, when 53-year-old Henry I married 18-year-old Adela of Louvain.
Queen Victoria’s son Edward wed Princess Alexandra of Denmark there in 1863, and his siblings, Arthur, Leopold, Helena and Louise followed suit.
More recently, Prince Edward wed Sophie Rhys-Jones in St George’s Chapel in June 1999 and, in 2005, Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles had a civil ceremony at Windsor.
The most recent royal wedding there was in 2008, when Prince Harry’s cousin Peter Phillips married Canadian Autumn Kelly. And later this year, on 12 October, Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank will marry in St George’s Chapel.
Harry and Meghan are including members of the public in their big day
St George’s Chapel and, left, Prince Charles at his wedding to Camilla Parker Bowles