17 Wild Secrets You Never Knew About Windsor Castle
Wait, the Queen has slept in the dungeon?!
It wasn’t intended to be a royal residence
When William the Conqueror originally built Windsor Castle in the late 11th century, it was intended as a fortress. William erected the castle to oversee a strategic part of the River Thames, and to help protect Norman dominance around London. The royals of the time lived in the former palace of Edward the Confessor in the village of Old Windsor. In 1110, Henry I became the first royal to use the castle as a residence. Confused about the royal family tree? This chart explains everything you need to know.
It’s really (really!) big
Windsor Castle is officially one of the biggest residences in the world, with around 1,000 rooms and 484,000 square feet. It sits on about 13 acres of land, and its imposing towers are visible from every approach.
It’s the oldest castle in the world
Or at the very least, it’s the oldest continuously occupied castle in the world. Windsor Castle has been in the royal family for almost 1,000 years and 39 monarchs have graced its halls.
Queen Elizabeth has slept in its dungeons
When London, and Buckingham Palace, was bombed relentlessly during World War II, the royal family decided Windsor Castle was a safer place for Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret to wait things out. And when there was a bomb scare at Windsor, the girls would head to the underground dungeons. “A bell rang when enemy aircraft were overheard: the signal to go to one of the beetle-infested dungeons,” wrote Marion Crawford, a former royal nanny, in her book The Little Princesses. “We seemed to be living in a sort of dimly lit underworld — again, with no central heating.”
There were other adjustments during the war, too
In order to keep the castle’s antiques safe and sound, the fortress underwent a bit of a redesign during the war. “All the chandeliers had been taken down, the glass-fronted cabinets were turned to the wall, the paintings had been removed and much of the furniture was under dust-sheets,” wrote Crawford. This is the job Queen Elizabeth held down during World War II.
It’s hidden the crown jewels
To no one’s surprise, the royal family has employed some unusual hiding places. “One rainy day [during World War II], the King’s librarian, Sir Owen Morshead, let us explore the vaults under the castle. ‘Would you like to see something interesting?’ he asked.” writes Crawford. “He took us to a stack of ordinary-looking hatboxes, which seemed merely to contain old newspapers. But when we examined them more closely, we were soon unwrapping the Crown Jewels—hidden there for the duration.”
Its biggest room is a chapel
With enough pews to seat some 800 people, St. George’s Chapel is the largest space in Windsor Castle. The chapel was established in the 14th century by King Edward III, and was continuously expanded upon throughout the 15th century. It’s considered to be one of the best examples of Gothic architecture in England.
It’s seen a LOT of royal weddings
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle plan to tie the knot at St. George’s Chapel in May, but they’re hardly the first royal couple to choose the famous location. Many of Queen Victoria’s children were married here, as were Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles.
Don’t mind the bodies…
St. George’s Chapel is also the burial place to ten monarchs. And as Newsweek points out, not all those royals are resting in peace—”some were beheaded, some poisoned, some killed by natural causes.” Regardless, royal tombs are scattered all over the place: in tombs near the altar, aisle, quire, and west door, as well as in an underground vault. Watch your step.
It has a few ghost stories
When a castle’s been around for nearly 1,000 years, there’s bound to be a few ghost stories attached to it. King Henry VIII is perhaps the most infamous of the alleged ghosts, possibly because everyone is terrified of him. He did, after all, behead two of his six wives. Guests say they have heard the King’s moans and groans, and have even seen the apparition of a large, anxious, angry man, pacing and shouting in the halls. His second wife, Anne Boleyn, who was beheaded at the Tower of London, is also reported to haunt the Dean’s Cloister at Windsor. Maybe, after nearly 500 years, the doomed duo has finally worked it out. These are the royal ghosts that still haunt Britain today.
The kitchen is really old
The Great Kitchen at Windsor is the oldest working kitchen in the country, and has been around to serve some 32 of the 39 monarchs who have called Windsor home. Fun fact: the clocks in the kitchen are always five minutes ahead, to ensure the Queen always gets her food on time.
The castle is one of the Queen’s favorite places
After spending a large portion of her childhood at Windsor Castle, Queen Elizabeth holds the castle near to her heart. So much so that when she took the throne in 1952, she decreed the castle would become her principal weekend retreat. She had the castle’s private apartments renovated, and took up residence there with her husband and their two children. Don’t miss these photos of 15 royal gardens you’ll want to visit right now.
Here’s how to tell if the Queen is home
If the Royal Standard is flown over Windsor Castle, it means the Queen is present. If she’s not in residence, the Union flag will be flying instead.
Non-royals live there too
The Queen employs hundreds of people to keep Windsor Castle running smoothly. Around 150 of those workers have housing accommodations at Windsor Castle. Here’s how to get a job working for the British royal family.
You can visit the oldest part of the castle
The motte on which the Round Tower sits is the oldest part of the castle, and was made from the soil that was thrown up when a ditch was dug around the castle. Henry II erected the tower itself in 1170. Guests can now climb the 200 steps to see the view from the top.
There are 379 clocks
Mike Forster/Daily Mail/REX/Shutterstock
And the castle’s horological conservator, Robert Ball, takes care of them all. “The two clock-change weekends are the busiest times of the year for us, as we take on the challenge of adjusting hundreds of clocks over two days,” he told the Royal Collection Trust. “The Royal Collection contains many fascinating and extraordinary timepieces with highly complex mechanisms, so great care has to be taken with each one.”
…and 300 fireplaces
Each of the fireplaces is tended to full-time by a family of fendersmith that have been doing the job for decades. Needless to say, this castle takes its traditions seriously. Want to feel like you can blend in with those royal traditions? These are the etiquette rules every member of the royal family must follow.