Travel – St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle

St George's Chapel - exterior south side

In Part One of the Travel post series on Windsor Castle, I discussed the history of the Castle, which dates back over 1000 years to when it was built shortly after the Norman Conquest.  In Part Two, I discussed the architecture of the main buildings and gave a short tour of some of the rooms inside the castle and the surrounding grounds of Windsor Great Park.

In this post, I will discuss in more detail St. George’s Chapel which is located in the Lower Ward of Windsor Castle.  St. George’s Chapel is dedicated to the patron saint of the Order of the Carter, which was an organization first established by King Edward III in 1348.  The Order is the oldest British order of chivalry and St. George’s Chapel is where the traditional Garter ceremony takes place every June.  (For more information on the history of the Order of the Garter and the ceremony, please click on the link)

A Brief History of St. George’s Chapel  

Located in the Lower Ward of Windsor Castle, the Chapel of St. Edward the Confessor had been originally built during the reign of King Henry III (1216-1272).  Then in 1348, King Edward III (1327-1377) established the Order of the Garter, St. George is the patron saint of the order.  Ultimately by 1475, King Edward IV (1461-1483) decided that Windsor Castle would be the headquarters of the order and he requested that the Chapel of St. Edward the Confessor be expanded for this purpose and be renovated in a grand style to reflect the prestige of the order.

From the period of 1475 to 1528 St. George’s Chapel was built over the reign of several British Monarchs, starting with King Edward IV, King Henry VII and Henry VIII.  The original Chapel of St. Edward the Confessor was enlarged and rededicated to become St. George’s Chapel.  In 1483 construction on the Chapel’s Nave began and it was not completed until 1509.  Meanwhile, the large stained glass West Window was completed in 1506.  Finally in 1528 the stone fan vaulting was installed on the Chapel ceiling.

During the time of the English Civil Wars (1642-1651) between the Parliamentarians and the Royalists, Windsor Castle and in particular St. George’s Chapel were severely damaged.  As a result of the Parliamentarian victory at the Battle of Worcester in September 1651, King Charles I was removed from power and executed, his son was exiled and Oliver Cromwell oversaw the government of the newly formed Commonwealth of England.  Eventually Charles II returned and was proclaimed King in May 1660.  With these government issues finally settled a period known as the Restoration began and as a result the damage to Windsor Castle and St. George’s Chapel could be repaired.

Until the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) St. George’s Chapel remained relatively unchanged for hundreds of years.  Then, significant alterations were made to the architecture of the east end of the Chapel in the years following the 1861 death of Prince Albert, the beloved husband of Queen Victoria.  In tribute to the Prince, George Gilbert Scott received the commission to create a royal mausoleum was built underneath the Lady Chapel and became known as the Albert Memorial Chapel.

In fact, St. George’s Chapel throughout the years has become the final resting place of several monarchs who are buried beside with their consorts – King Edward IV, King Henry VIII and his third wife Jane Seymour, King Charles I, King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, King George V and Queen Mary, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to name just a few.

A tour of St. George’s Chapel

Before entering St. George’s Chapel, take a look at the top portion of the building.  Located on the roof are heraldic statues which represent the Queen’s Beasts.  The original Beasts date back to the sixteenth century but were removed in 1682 when Sir Christopher Wren felt that the statues detracted from the aesthetic appeal of the Chapel exterior architecture.  In 1925, when the Chapel was undergoing restoration, the current statues were placed on the top portion of the building.  There are fourteen different animals which were used as heraldic symbols dating back to centuries long ago: the lion of England, the red dragon of Wales, the panther of Jane Seymour, the falcon of York, the black bull of Clarence, the yale (a mythical horned creature) of Beaufort, the white lion of Mortimer, the greyhound of Richmond, the white hart (a type of deer) of King Richard II, the silver antelope of Bouhn, the black dragon of Ulster, the white swan of Hereford, the unicorn of King Edward III and the golden hind (a type of deer) of Kent.

St George's Chapel - beasts

St. George’s Chapel is an excellent example of Perpendicular Gothic architecture.  The Chapel design features large windows which allowed light into the interior and tall narrow columns which add an element of elegance.  Visitors access the interior of the Chapel through a side door near the Chantry Bookshop and proceed into the Nave.  Visitor Tip:  When standing in the Nave, be sure to look up to see the beautiful stone vaulted ceiling.  There are 463 bosses (a projecting medallion which conceals the joints were the ribs of the vault meet) and some represent the arms of the Sovereign and Knights of the Garter while others are the Tudor red and white roses.  Beneath the upper or clerestory windows look for a continuous frieze that encircles the entire chapel and features 250 carved angels.

St Georges Chapel - Nave    

Above the Main entrance to St. George’s Chapel is the West Window which is said to be England’s third largest stained-glass window.  The West Window measures 30 feet high and 29 feet wide and was original installed in the early 1500s.  In 1842, Thomas Willement reconstructed the window and it was once again altered in the 1920s when the Chapel underwent a major restoration project.  Each time the window was reconfigured and new figures were added and today there are seventy-five which represent kings, princes, popes and saints.

After visitors have finished looking at the West Window, to the right are two interesting historical statues.  The first one is located in the Urswick Chantry and is a large sculpture by Matthew Wyatt which is a lasting memorial to Princess Charlotte.   Princess Charlotte was the only child of King George IV and she was the heiress presumptive to the throne of England.  The popular Princess had happily married the handsome Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg.  Sadly, the twenty-one year old Princess Charlotte died giving birth to a still-born child in 1817.  Royal Note:  With Princess Charlotte’s death, the future of the monarchy came into question and the brothers of King George IV scrambled to marry and produce the new heir to the throne to continue the line of succession.  As a result, Princess Victoria went onto to ultimately become Queen Victoria with her accession to the throne in 1837 at the age of eighteen.

Princess Charlotte Memorial 2

Located near the Princess Charlotte Memorial is the statue of King Leopold I created by the sculptor J.E. Boehm.  Prince Leopold was the husband of Princess Charlotte and after her death he later went on to become the first King of the Belgium.  He is also noted as the beloved uncle of both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert; he served as adviser to the Queen throughout her early reign.

Located not far from the previous two statues, visitors will see the tombs of several Sovereigns who have their final resting place in St. George’s Chapel.  Located near the West Door is the tomb of King George V and Queen Mary; their effigies were sculpted by Sir William Reid Dick in 1939.  King George V was born on June 3, 1865 and he reigned from 1910 until his death on January 20, 1936.  Queen Mary (former Princess Mary of Teck) was born on May 26, 1867 and she died on March 24, 1953.

St Georges Chapel - King George V and Queen Mary 2

Moving further down the Nave on the North side of the building, visitors will come upon the George VI Chapel which was the first structural addition to St. George’s Chapel since the 1500s.  The architect was George Pace who designed this fairly small area and it is the final resting place of King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and their daughter, Princess Margaret.  King George VI (former Prince Albert, Duke of York) was born December 14, 1895 and he reigned from 1936 until his death on February 6, 1952.  Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (former Elizabeth Bowes-Lyons) was born on August 4, 1900 and she died on March 30, 2002.  Their daughter, Princess Margaret died on February 9, 2002 just a few weeks prior to the Queen Mother’s death and her ashes were interred at the same time.

Tomb of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth 1

The area above the Nave of St. George’s Chapel is the Choir and Chancel (the part of a church near the altar, reserved for the clergy and choir, and typically separated from the nave by steps or a screen).  The Choir features carved oak stalls with tall canopies.  To the back of each stall is brass plate which identifies each individual Knight of the Order of the Garter by name.  The Order is the oldest British order of chivalry which was an organization first established by King Edward III in 1348.  Also, above each stall is the heraldic banner of the Knight along with a sword and crest or helmet, coronet or crown. The Sovereign’s Stall which is used by Queen Elizabeth II when she attends services at St. George’s Chapel, in particular in June on Garter Day, is located in the section of the Choir closest to the Nave.  Interesting Fact: The oldest stall plate circa 1390 is of Lord Basset and throughout the centuries there have been over 900 Knights of the Garter but only 670 stall plates still exist.

St George's Chapel - choir 1St George's Chapel - choir

In the Quire of St. George’s Chapel, between the Choir stalls and the altar is the Royal Vault which is the final resting place of four Sovereigns; King George III who died in 1820, King George IV who died in 1830 and King William IV who died in 1837.  A short distance away is the burial vault of two more Sovereigns; King Henry VIII who died in 1547, his third wife Jane Seymour died in 1537 and King Charles I who died in 1649.

Burial Vault of King Henry VIII and King Charles I at St. George's Chapel

Behind the altar of St. George’s Chapel is the East Window which was made by Clayton and Bell and was first unveiled on the occasion of the wedding of the Prince Albert, the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra in 1863.  The large stained-glass window theme is the Incarnation with scenes from the Nativity and the Resurrection.  Below the window are fourteen wooden panels commissioned as a memorial to Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria, who died in 1861 and depicts various moments from both his public and private life.

At the north east corner of the Chapel is the final resting place of two more Sovereigns.  The tomb of King Edward IV who died in 1483 and a short distance away is tomb of King Henry VI who died in 1471, first buried in Chertsey Abbey located in Surrey and in 1484 his body was brought to St. George’s Chapel and re-interred.

On the opposite side of the altar, on the south side of the building is the tomb of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.  King Edward VII (former Prince Albert the Prince of Wales) was born November 9, 1841 and reigned from 1901 until his death on May 6, 1910.  Queen Alexandra (former Princess Alexandra of Denmark) was born on December 1, 1844 and died on November 20, 1925.

St George's Chapel - King Edward Vii and Queen Alexandra tomb 2

One of the final stops on the tour of St. George’s Chapel is the Albert Memorial Chapel.  The original chapel was built in 1240 and continued to be altered throughout the following centuries.  Then, after the death of the husband of Queen Victoria, the site was redesigned and rededicated to become the Albert Memorial Chapel.

    Albert Memorial Chapel 1

St. George’s Chapel has been the site of the several Royal events, most notably the annual Garter Ceremony held in every June.  Several other important events for the British Royal family have also taken place in recent years.  In 1999, Prince Edward, the third son of Queen Elizabeth II, and Sophie Rhys-Jones were married in St. George’s Chapel followed by a grand reception in Windsor Castle.  In 2002, the funeral of Princess Margaret, the sister of Queen Elizabeth, took place at the Chapel and later that same year Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was buried beside her husband, King George VI.  In 2005 the dedication and prayer service of Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles, the Duchess of Cornwall was held at the Chapel after they were officially married in a civil ceremony at the Windsor Guildhall.

Travel Note:  If you are planning a trip to England and a visit to Windsor Castle and St. George’s Chapel, please click on the for more information.

For visitors to Windsor Castle, St. George’s Chapel is included in the admission price.  When entering the Chapel, please be respectful and observe the posted rules.  Also, please be advised that on Sundays the Chapel is closed to visitors for religious services that are held throughout the day.

Travel – Windsor Castle (Part Two)

The Windsor Castle-legendary place tourism destinationsWindsor Castle has been an official Royal residence for 39 British monarchs including the present Queen Elizabeth II.  In Windsor Castle – Part One, I discussed the history of Windsor Castle dating back over 1000 years to when it was built shortly after the Norman Conquest.  In Part Two, I will discuss the architecture of the main buildings and give a short tour of some of the rooms inside Windsor Castle as well as a brief description of St. George’s Chapel.

In general, Queen Elizabeth frequently spends weekends at Windsor Castle when she is not required to be in London for formal appearances or special occasions.  The castle is located about 22 miles from Buckingham Palace, the monarch’s official London residence.  In the spring, every year during the Easter season (April – March), the Queen will remain at the castle for several weeks.  In June the Order of the Garter ceremony takes place at St. George’s Chapel and prior to the service a luncheon is held in the Waterloo Chamber in Windsor Castle.  The Royal Ascot horse races are also held in June and of course the Queen, Prince Philip and the other members of the Royal family attend the festivities.  At various times throughout the year Windsor Castle is also used to host State Visits for foreign heads of state and diplomatic dignitaries.

A tour of Windsor Castle

Windsor Caste is a British Royal residence located on 13 acres in Berkshire about 22 miles from Buckingham Palace, London.  The castle consists of three distinct sections known as the Middle Ward, the Upper Ward and the Lower Ward. The ancient fortifications were built as a line of defensive by William the Conqueror, a Royal palace was first built and then expanded over several centuries with an adjacent small town with shops and a nearby railroad station.

The Middle Ward

The Middle Ward is considered the heart of Windsor Castle with a stone tower, known as the keep, which is set upon a large mound.  The mound is approximately 50 feet high and the keep, fittingly called the Round Tower, is 30 feet across and was originally built in 1170 by King Henry II.  Throughout the years it has been rebuilt several times and is currently being used to store the Royal Archives.  To the east of the Round Tower is the Norman Gatehouse which was built in the 14th century and features a vaulted ceiling decorated with medieval carvings and it serves as an impressive entrance into the Upper Ward of Windsor Castle.

Windsor Castle - Round Tower

The Upper Ward

The Upper Ward is surrounded by a wall made of Bagshot Heath stone which encloses several buildings forming a central quadrangle.  In this area of Windsor Castle the State Apartments are located on the north side with the private rooms of the Royal Family to the south side.  Adjacent to the Upper Ward is the North Terrace which overlooks the River Thames and was built in the 17th century by King Henry VIII.

Visitor tours enter the State Apartments through the doors off the North Terrace.  During the reign of King Charles II the State Apartments were renovated to rival the rooms of Versailles in France, the ceilings were originally painted by Antonio Verrio and decorative carvings by Grinling Gibbons.  Today, the State Apartments are furnished with artwork from the Royal Collections, including paintings by Rembrandt and Rubens.

The Grand Staircase features a timbered lantern ceiling which provides plenty of light and a stone base comprising of four stone arches.  Located on the landing of the Grand Staircase is a large marble statue of King George VI by Francis Chantrey and several artfully arranged military weapons hanging on the walls and suits of armor displayed.  After descending the Grand Staircase, visitors enter the Grand Vestibule with a beautiful plaster fan vaulted ceiling accented with foliage and angels created by Francis Bernasconi.  To the left is a large marble statue of Queen Victoria depicted with her collie named Sharp, the statue is by J.E. Boehm.  Also displayed in the Grand Vestibule are more military arms and positioned against the walls are several Gothic-style cabinets displaying another military collection including the lead bullet that killed Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson in the Battle of Trafalgar which established the naval supremacy of Britain during the eighteenth century.

Windsor Castle - Grand Staircase    Windsor Castle - Grand Vestibule

The next set of State Apartments rooms were designed by Jeffry Wyatville during the reign of King Charles II.  This area of Windsor Castle was originally used for State officials and visiting dignitaries; later guest accommodations were moved to the south side of the Castle.   Today, visitors on the Windsor Castle tour will pass through the Ante Throne Room and into the King’s Drawing Room.  During the 19th century the King’s Drawing Room was known as the Rubens Room because Prince Albert decorated this room with several paintings by the renowned Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens which are part of the permanent Royal Collection.  The room also features an elaborate plaster ceiling decorated with the coat of arms of King George IV and the Garter Star.  The carved cornice and the paneled doors were created by Grinling Gibbons and the Siena marble chimneypiece was designed by Wyatville.  (Royal Note: The bay windows in the King’s Drawing Room offer visitors a great view of Eton located across the River Thames where just a few years ago both Prince William and Prince Harry attended the elite boarding school)

Windsor Castle - King's Drawing Room

Completing the King’s suite of rooms are the King’s Bed Chamber, the King’s Dressing Room, the King’s Closet and the King’s Dining Room.  The first of two rooms of note is the King’s Bed Chamber which features walls covered in red damask, a plaster ceiling decorated with the Stuart coat of arms, a carved cornice by Gibbons and a white marble chimneypiece by William Chambers that was originally used in Buckingham House.  The elaborate bed by French woodworker Georges Jacob is draped with green and purple fabric similar to those used when French Emperor Napoleon III came for a State visit in 1855; the intertwined initials of both Napoleon and his Empress Eugenie are embroidered on a fabric panel at the foot of the bed.

Windsor Castle - King's Bedchamber

The second room of note is the King’s Dining Room originally used by King Charles II when he dined in front of the pubic on specific days of the week.  But unlike the other rooms of the State Apartments that had ceilings painted by Verrio, in Windsor Castle there are only three that have survived, and this one appropriately depicts a banquet of the gods featuring magnificent fruit, fowl and fish paintings.  Once again the intricate wood carvings in the room are by Gibbons and two large Brussel tapestries showing the coat of arms of King William III and Queen Mary II hanging on the walls were designed by Daniel Marot.

Windsor Castle - King's Dining Room

The Queen’s suite of rooms in the State Apartments included the Queen’s Audience Chamber, the Queen’s Presence Chamber, the Queen’s Guard Chamber and finally the Queen’s Ballroom.  The Queen’s Ballroom is where, during a State Visit to Windsor Castle, visiting foreign heads of State are received by the British monarch and the Diplomatic Corps.  This large room was extensively renovated by Wyatville for King William IV and the three beautiful glass chandeliers were originally commissioned by King George III.  As mentioned previously, during the reign of Queen Victoria her husband, Prince Albert, grouped many of the paintings in the Royal Collection by the prominent artist to decorate several of the rooms in Windsor Castle and in this case in the Queen’s Ballroom has on display several paintings by the Flemish Baroque artist Anthony Van Dyck including “Charles I in Robes of State” (1636).

Photo: Mark Fiennes

Another room visitors will see on the tour of Windsor Castle is the magnificent 180 foot long St. George’s Hall.  In the 1820s when Wyatville was renovating this part of Windsor Castle he choose a Gothic-style of decoration with the walls hung with military weapons and suits of armor on display.  The original plaster ceiling had been created to resemble wooden beams and decorated with the coat of arms of the Knights of the Order of the Garter.  Then, several centuries later, in 1992 the Windsor Castle fire completely destroyed the ceiling and the east wall of St. George’s Hall.  (More on the 1992 Windsor Castle Fire later in this post)  A new oak hammerbeam roof was constructed and the shields of the Knights of the Garter were painstakingly recreated and repositioned on the new ceiling.  (Royal Note: Another important addition which was part of the restoration is an equestrian figure positioned at the east end St. George’s Hall known as the King’s Champion.  In centuries past the King’s Champion would ride into the Coronation Banquet in Westminster Hall and throw down his gauntlet three times in a challenge to anyone that would deny the new monarch, the last time this was done was at the Coronation of King George IV in 1821.

Windsor Castle - St. George's Hall

The Windsor Castle tour continues into the Semi-State Apartments which were originally the private apartments created for King George IV by the architect Wyatville The rooms of the Semi-State Apartments include the Lantern Lobby, the Green Drawing Room, the Crimson Drawing Room, the State Dining Room, the Grand Reception Room, the Garter Throne Room and the Waterloo Chamber.  Unfortunately these rooms were severely damaged by the fire of 1992, later to be completely restored, and are currently used by the present Queen for official entertaining when in residence at Windsor Castle.  Below are highlighted some of the rooms of the Semi-State Apartments.

One room of note is the Lantern Lobby which is located on the former site of Queen Victoria’s Private Chapel and the unique octagonal-shaped room is at the northeast corner of the Castle situated between St. George’s Hall and the Royal Family Apartments.  It is here where the devastating 1992 fire of Windsor Castle started and a stone plaque commemorates the event and notes the date of the completion of the five year restoration.  The former chapel was completely gutted and eight oak columns support an intricate Gothic-style vaulted ceiling with a central lantern.  The inlaid floor is set in English marble and features the Garter Star in the center of the room.

Windsor Castle - Lantern Lobby adjacent to the Private Chapel

Another room in the Semi-State Apartments, which can be seen from the Crimson Drawing Room, is the Green Drawing Room.  This room survived the 1992 fire but was heavily damaged by the water used to extinguish the blaze.  The beautiful Axminster carpet was originally displayed at the Great Exhibition of 1851 as a fine example of English manufacturing before it was installed in the Green Drawing Room during the reign of Queen Victoria, the carpet survived the fire but it is in such a fragile condition that the room is closed to visitors on the Windsor Castle tour.  (Royal Note: The Green Drawing Room is the setting of the painting “The Family of Queen Victoria” which was painted in 1887 by Laurtis Regner Tuxen to commemorate the occasion of the Queen’s Jubilee and features Queen Victoria and her large extended family)

Windsor Castle - Crimson Drawing Room    Windsor Castle - Green Drawing Room

The Garter Throne Room is one of the most historic rooms in Windsor Castle and this is where for centuries the new Knights and Ladies of the Order of the Garter are invested by the British monarch before their installation ceremony in St. George’s Chapel.  The previous painted ceiling by Verrio was replaced by a moulded plaster ceiling designed by Wyatville which appropriately features the insignia of the Order of the Garter.  At one end of the room is a Giltwood canopy which dates back to the late 18th century which is hung with beautiful velvet hangings.  On a raised platform sits a Giltwood throne originally made for the 1953 Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and hung in the Garter Throne Room is a State portrait by James Gunn which depicts the Queen dressed in her Coronation robes and dress.

Windsor Castle - Garter Throne Room 1

The Waterloo Chamber is one of the largest rooms in Windsor Castle and it is dedicated to the 1815 military defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte at Waterloo by British forces which were led by the Duke of Wellington.  Wyattville had the previous Horn Court of King Edward III enclosed with a ceiling designed to resemble the timbers of a ship.  The paneled walls were created by Gringling Gibbons.  The Indian carpet, said to be the largest seamless carpet in existence, was created to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee and luckily the immense carpet was able to be saved during the 1992 fire when it took 50 soldiers to roll-up and remove it from Windsor Castle.

Windsor Castle - Waterloo Chamber

King George IV commissioned Thomas Lawrence to paint portraits of the monarchs, statesman and military commanders who contributed to the victory over Napoleon at Waterloo.  The large portrait of the 1st Duke of Wellington hangs on the east wall of the Waterloo Chamber and additional portraits hung around the room included Tsar Alexander I of Russia, King William III of Prussia and Emperor Francis I of Austria and Pope Pius VII as well as Emperor Napoleon II.

Set in the center of the Waterloo Chamber, running almost the entire length of the room, is the massive mahogany dining table created by Thomas Dowbiggin in 1846.  Every year in June, Queen Elizabeth holds the Garter luncheon for the Knights and Ladies of the Order of the Garter.  The magnificent tables is beautifully set with wonderful gilt silver, china place settings from the historic Royal Collection and elaborate floral decorations for the fifty to sixty invited guests.

The Lower Ward

The Lower Ward of Windsor Castle is located just west of the Round Tower through the Norman and is divided into two areas, the College of St. George comprising of residences for the Dean and Canons of Windsor located in the northern section and the historic St. George’s Chapel located in the southern section of the Lower Ward.  The Gothic-style St. George’s Chapel completed in the 16th century is considered the spiritual home of the Order of the Knights of the Garter and is a Royal Peculiar meaning that it owes allegiance directly to the Sovereign.  The interior wooden choir stalls have brass plates bearing the cost of arms of the individual Knights of the Garter from the past six centuries.  Within St. George’s Chapel are the tombs of ten Sovereigns; including Henry VIII and two of his six wives, Catherine of Aragon and Jane Seymour, and King Charles I.  In 2002, the funeral of Princess Margaret, the sister of Queen Elizabeth, took place at the Chapel and a few months later that same year Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was buried beside her husband, King George VI.  On a more joyful occasion, in 1999 Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones were married in St. George’s Chapel and in 2005 the dedication and prayer service of Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles, the Duchess of Cornwall after they were married in a civil ceremony at the Windsor Guildhall.  (For more information on St. George’s Chapel and the Order of the Garter, please click on the links)

Windsor Castle - St. George's Chapel exterior    Windsor Castle - St. George's Chapel interior

Other Windsor Castle points of interest

Queen Mary’s Dollhouse –

Displayed in a special room located in Windsor Castle is the Queen Mary’s Dollhouse which is considered one of the largest and most famous dollhouse in the world.  It was originally built for Queen Mary, the Royal Consort of King George V, who is the grandmother of the current Queen Elizabeth and it was built between 1921 and 1924 by one of the leading British architects of the time, Edwin Lutyens, as a gift from the British people.  It is a wonderful example of a miniature aristocrat’s house created on the scale of 1:12 (one inch to one foot).  The house is filled with thousands of details, such as furniture, draperies and carpets which were made by finest English craftsmen and the dollhouse also is complete with electricity for lights, running hot and cold water and fully equipped bathrooms.  The library is filled with original stories by well-known writers such as Arthur Conan Doyle, J.M Barrie and Rudyard Kipling which are bound into miniature books.  In addition, the dollhouse is filled with fine china and silver, monogrammed linens and even miniature cars in the garage with engines that actually work.  The dollhouse also features a hidden garden that is revealed when a large drawer beneath the main building is opened, the garden is a traditional English garden complete with miniature greenery and garden tools.

Queen Mary's dollhouse

The 1992 Fire at Windsor Castle

The former site of Queen Victoria’s Private Chapel is where the 1992 disastrous Windsor Castle fire started and it has been reported that a work light had fallen and set fire to the curtains near the altar causing the fire that would quickly spread to other areas of the Castle.  More than 200 firefighters battled the fire for over 12 hours and it was the worst disaster in the castle’s history.  Luckily when the fire was first detected the castle staff was able to empty the rooms of many valuable paintings and decorative pieces.  During the lengthy five year restoration process to repair the fire damage, the rooms in this area of Windsor Castle were rebuilt to resemble their original appearance using modern materials and concealing modern structural improvements whenever possible.  It was a very costly project and at first it was said that the British taxpayers would finance the restoration but the public was outraged at the idea.  Ultimately, it was decided that both Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle would be partially opened for seasonal tours to raise the funds required for the restoration project.  On November 20, 1997 Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip held a ball to mark their 50th wedding anniversary and officially reopen Windsor Castle.

Windsor Castle fire 1    Windsor Castle fire 2

Travel – Windsor Castle (Part One)

Windsor Castle - etching

Windsor Castle is a British Royal residence located about 22 miles from Buckingham Palace, the monarch’s official London residence.  Because of the relatively close location to the city, Queen Elizabeth frequently spends her weekends there when she is not required to be in London for formal appearances or special occasions.  In Windsor Castle Part One, I will discuss the history of Windsor Castle which dates back over 1000 years to when it was built shortly after the Norman Conquest.  In Part Two, I will discuss the architecture of the main buildings and give a short tour of some of the rooms inside the castle as well as St. George’s Chapel and the surrounding grounds of Windsor Great Park.

The history of Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle was built by William the Conqueror when he was establishing a line of defensive fortifications around London shortly after the Norman Conquest in 1066.  The site for Windsor Castle was located within an easy 20 mile march from the London and conveniently positioned on the River Thames, which at the time, was a main medieval route through England.  The castle was also located near Windsor Forest which had been a royal hunting preserve used by the previous Saxon kings.  The first building constructed on the site was a wooden structure known as a keep, which is a fortified tower built within a castle, set on the top of a man-made mound and protected by an outer wall.  A second structure was later built to the east forming what is known as the Upper Ward and several years later a third structure was built to the west, known as the Lower Ward, thereby enclosing the entire castle.

The first royal resident to use Windsor Castle was King Henry I (reign 1100-1135).  During his time, the mound on which the original keep was built had begun to collapse and it was reinforced with timber supports and stone, also a low protective wall was added.  Later, King Henry II (reign 1154-1189) ordered an extensive refurbishment of Windsor Castle.  The original wooden keep was completely replaced with a stone structure and the mound was again reinforced with a new massive stone foundation.  The wooden walls surrounding the Upper Ward where replaced with a stone walls and the King’s Gate was built.  The interior castle buildings were also completely reconstructed in stone.

Then, during the reign of King John (1199-1216) Windsor Castle was besieged, meaning armed forces surround the castle, in 1214 during the time known as the revolt of the English Barons.  From Windsor Castle, King John held negotiations to settle the disagreements before he eventually signed the Magna Carta in nearby Runnymede in 1215.  A year later, the castle was again under attack by the baronial troops which were then aided by the French, Windsor Castle held and the outside forces were defeated.  But, during the second siege, the castle was severely damaged and extensive repairs were required to strengthen its defenses, the construction lasted from 1216 to 1221.  At that time, the stone walls of the Lower Ward were rebuilt and three new towers were constructed; the Curfew, the Garter and the Salisbury towers.  The Middle Ward was also heavily reinforced and an additional stone wall was built with the Edward II tower at one end and the Henry III tower on the other end.

King Henry III (reign 1216-1272) built a lavish palace in the Upper Ward in the years from 1240 to 1263 and Windsor Castle eventually became his favorite residence.  New buildings were built in the Lower Ward which included the Lady Chapel, a large 70 foot long chapel built on the south side, and repairs were done to the Great Hall with a new kitchen; but unfortunately the Great Hall was destroyed by a fire in 1296.  With these new changes made to Windsor Castle there became a distinct division between the Upper Ward which became an area that was part of the royal family private residence and the Lower Ward which provided a public space for royal ceremonies and other events.

During the reign of King Edward III (1327–1377) he established the Order of the Garter in 1348.  Since Windsor Castle would be the headquarters of this new order, the King planned to have the castle completely renovated to reflect a more lavish style.  Between 1350 and 1377, an exorbitant amount of money was spent on the construction of the new castle and on the interior design with expensive furnishings and other decorations.  In addition, three new buildings were built; the Little Cloister, King’s Cloister and a Kitchen Court in the Upper Ward.  In the front of the main portion of the castle; the St. George’s Hall, the Great Chamber and the Rose Tower was constructed and designed for the king’s private use at the west end of the castle.  In the Lower Ward the Lady’s Chapel was enlarged and renovated.

St. George’s Chapel, which had begun construction in 1461, was finally completed during the reign of King Henry VII (1485-1509).  St. George’s Chapel was built in a Gothic style of architecture in the Lower Ward.  St. George’s Chapel is dedicated to the patron saint of the Order of the Carter, which was an organization that had become inactive during the previous century but had recently been revived.  The Order is the oldest British order of chivalry and St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle is where the traditional Garter ceremony takes place; today the ceremony is still performed every June.  (For more information on St. George’s Chapel, please click on the link to Windsor Castle – Part Two)

Windsor Castle - St. George's Chapel 1848

At the beginning of the 16th century, the young King Henry VIII (1509-1547) was in power.  In addition to Hampton Court, King Henry also frequently visited Windsor Castle.  In keeping with his active lifestyle of hunting and jousting, the king also enjoyed the game of tennis and he had a tennis court constructed near the base of the mound near the Round Tower in the Upper Ward in 1510.  Originally, due to his close association with Cardinal Wolsey, the King had commissioned the Lady Chapel to hold an elaborate mausoleum built for his closest spiritual and political adviser upon Wolsey’s death.  After Wolsey’s failed in an attempt to seek an annulment for the King and his first wife, he quickly fell out of favor and was eventually striped of his power.  He died at Leicester Abbey before his scheduled execution and was buried in the abbey’s church.  The mausoleum was never completed and when King Henry died in 1547 he was buried in a vault under the floor originally intended for Wolsey and it is marked by a simple black gravestone in the Lady Chapel section of the St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.

Windsor Castle 1530

In 1642, as England broke into a Civil War, Parliament became concerned that the troops of King Charles I (1625-1649) would advance on London and Windsor Castle was seized to protect the route along the River Thames.  Unfortunately, with troops occupying the castle, looting of many valuable gold and silver items were taken including the unfinished tomb of King Henry VIII.  Eventually the Earl of Essex used Windsor Castle as his headquarters and also parts of buildings were used as a prison to hold captured Royalists and the Lady Chapel held guns and ammunition.  In 1647, King Charles was taken prisoner and brought to the castle under house arrest before his execution in 1649; he was later buried in St. George’s Chapel.

Windsor Castle 1670s

At the beginning of her long reign, Queen Victoria (1837-1901) and Prince Albert made Windsor Castle their principal royal residence and it was frequently used for entertaining foreign diplomats and nobility.  One major change to Windsor Castle came in 1848 when Parliament passed a law which limited public access to the grounds of the castle and roads were re-routed or closed within Windsor Park to allow a measure of privacy for the Royal family.  Modern improvements were eventually made to Windsor Castle during this time with interior running water provided by a nearby reservoir and initially only limited electric lighting was installed because the Queen preferred candlelight.  After the death of Prince Albert in December 1861, Queen Victoria made the room where he died a shrine and in her state of exaggerated mourning she ordered that it remain unchanged until her own death several years later.  Ultimately an elaborate mausoleum was built at Frogmore in Windsor Park as a lasting tribute to the Queen’s beloved husband and that it where his body is interred.

Windsor Castle - Blue Room where Prince Albert died

After the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, her son became King Edward VII (1901-1910).  The British monarchy moved from one that had been suspended in a period of prolonged mourning with a relatively somber court to one that became extremely active with almost constant activity and entertaining.  As a result Windsor Castle underwent a massive interior redecoration which eliminated the Victorian-style clutter and replaced with furnishing in Edwardian-style elegance.  Finally, the room were Prince Albert had died and in which Queen Victorian had made into a shrine all those years ago was finally cleared.  More modern conveniences were added during this time, such as electricity in all the rooms along with central heating throughout the castle and the installation of telephone lines which made communication so much easier and quicker.

After the death of his father, King George V (1910-1936) set about further re-decorating the interior of Windsor Castle.  Queen Mary had a passion for collecting antiques and many pieces of furniture, paintings and other decorative items were acquired during this time.  The Queen also enjoyed collecting miniatures and the famous dollhouse which is still currently on display within a room at the castle.  It was designed by renowned architect Edwin Lutyens and furnished with miniature furniture and items made by British craftsmen.  (From more information about Queen Mary’s dollhouse, please click on the link to Windsor Castle – Part Two)

Queen Mary's dollhouse

In 1936, after the death of King George V his eldest son became King Edward VIII in January.  Unfortunately by December of that same year he had abdicated the throne with a radio speech broadcast from one of the rooms in Windsor Castle and his brother went on to become King George VI (1936-1952).  During his reign, King George revived the annual Garter Service which holds their annual ceremony annually in June at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.  (For more information of the Order of the Garter, please click on the link)

During World War II, Windsor Castle was prepared for war with tightened security.  Since the castle would be a major target for the German bombers, the structure was reinforced with sandbags to prevent any significant damage and the windows were blacked-out as a precaution.  In addition, valuable artwork and fragile items such as the crystal chandeliers were either removed or stored for safe keeping.  Although the King and the Queen remained at Buckingham Palace during the duration of the war their children, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, were moved to the safety of Windsor during the worst of the German bombings of London which became known as “the Blitz”.  The King and Queen frequently joined their daughters at Windsor on the weekends.  After the war was over it took several years to restore Windsor Castle, repairing any damages and returning the interior to its former grand style and pre-war condition.

After the death of her father, Queen Elizabeth II (1952 to the present) decided at the start of her reign that she and her family would frequently spend weekends at Windsor Castle when she is not required to be in London for formal appearances or special occasions.  Throughout the years, she has ordered continued maintenance of the castle and when necessary minor repairs to the exterior of the buildings as well as the grounds and periodic renovations of the interior rooms of the castle.

Then on November 22 1992, Windsor Castle was severely damaged in a major fire started while the Private Chapel in the State Apartments was being renovated.  It has been reported that a work light had fallen and set fire to the curtains near the altar causing the fire that would quickly spread to other areas of the castle.  More than 200 firefighters battled the fire for over 12 hours and in the end nine State Rooms had been extensively damaged and several other rooms also sustained minor damages, it was the worst disaster in the castle’s history.  Luckily when the fire was first detected the castle staff was able to empty the rooms of many valuable paintings and decorative pieces.  The five year restoration was very costly and at first it was said that the British taxpayers would finance the project but the public was outraged.  Ultimately, it was decided that both Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle would be partially opened for seasonal tours to raise the funds required for the restoration project.  On November 20, 1997 Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip held a ball to mark their 50th wedding anniversary and officially reopen Windsor Castle.

Windsor Castle fire 1    Windsor Castle fire 2

St George's Hall after the fire    St George's Hall, Windsor Castle Photo: EZM

For additional information, please check out Windsor Castle – Part Two which discusses the architecture of the buildings and give a short tour of some of the rooms inside the castle as well as St. George’s Chapel and the surrounding grounds of Windsor Great Park.

Personal travel note:  When we visited England in 1998, my son and I were able to tour Windsor Castle but not Buckingham Palace.  I highly recommend if you have an interest in British history or the Royal Family these tours are a wonderful idea.

Travel – Clarence House

Clarence House - exterior 2 south front

Clarence House has been the royal residence of many members of the British Royal Family throughout the last 170 years.  In this post I will discuss the history of the Clarence House and the famous royal family members that have lived there.  I will also discuss the building’s exterior architecture and the interior design throughout the years and give a brief tour of some of the rooms of the first floor of Clarence House.

The History of Clarence House

Clarence House is located in the City of Westminster and is adjacent to St. James Palace.  It was commissioned by the Prince William, Duke of Clarence, designed by John Nash and built between 1825 and 1827.  After the death of his brother, King George IV, Buckingham Palace was still under construction and the new King William IV decided he preferred his home at Clarence House and remained there until his death in 1837.  (Royal Note: When the House of Parliament was severely damaged by a fire in 1834, King William offered Buckingham Palace as its new location but the offer was declined)

Clarence House - engraving 1874

After the death of King William, Princess Augusta, his unmarried sister moved into Clarence House and lived there until her own death in 1840.  The next royal family member to make Clarence House their home was Victoria the Duchess of Kent, she was the mother of Queen Victoria and she lived there from 1841 to 1861.

After the death of the Duchess of Kent, Clarence House remained vacant for five years until the Victoria’s second son, Prince Alfred the Duke of Edinburgh moved there in 1866.  Over the next 40 years he was frequently gone because he was traveling the world with the British Navy or making Royal visits as the Queen’s representative in foreign countries.  During that time he married the Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna, the daughter of Alexander II the Tsar of Russia, in 1874 and Clarence House was renovated and decorated in a more lavish and grand style.  Then in 1893, Prince Alfred became the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and moved his family to Germany but he retained Clarence House for his personal use on his visits back to England until his death in 1900.  (Royal Note: Prince Alfred inherited the title from his uncle, Duke Ernest, who was the older brother of Prince Albert, his father)

After the death of Prince Alfred, Queen Victoria’s third son, Prince Arthur the Duke of Connaught and Strathearn moved into Clarence House and it became his London residence.  Prince Arthur was frequently gone because of his extended overseas duties with the British Army in both India and Canada; he also served as Governor-General of Canada from 1911 to 1916.  Eventually Prince Arthur returned to England after his world travels and he lived at Clarence House until his death in 1942.

With the death of Prince Arthur and the onset World War II, Clarence House served another purpose other than a royal residence and during the war it was used by the British Red Cross Headquarters with over two hundred staff members of the Foreign Relations Department who worked on behalf of the British prisoners of war held overseas.

After the war, Clarence House was in need of extensive repairs because the building had sustained some damage during the German bombing raids on London and the surrounding area.  When the renovations were completed Princess Elizabeth and her new husband, Prince Phillip the Duke of Edinburgh moved into Clarence House in 1949 and they lived there during the early years of their marriage.  In 1953, after the death of her father, King George VI, the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth moved from Clarence House to Buckingham Palace with her husband and two small children.  (Royal Note: Prince Charles was just a toddler when his parents moved into Clarence House and his sister, Princess Anne was actually born there on August 15, 1950)

Clarence House - Royal family

After the death of her husband, King George, the dowager Queen now known as Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and her daughter Princess Margaret moved from the Buckingham Palace and into Clarence House.  In 1960, after Princess Margaret married Antony Armstrong-Jones the royal couple moved into Kensington Palace.  The Queen Mother remained at Clarence House as the sole resident but surrounded by her loving and devoted staff of servants.  The Queen Mother loved to lavishly entertain and she enjoyed tea parties and formal dinners which many foreign Heads of State and famous celebrities attended throughout the years.  (Royal Note: One important guest that stayed at Clarence House was Princess Diana and prior to her engagement announcement to Prince Charles she moved in and stayed with the Queen Mother until her wedding day in 1981)

Clarence House - Queen Mother and Princess Margaret 1954

But perhaps one of the most famous events in recent years was the Queen Mother’s annual birthday appearances at the gates of Clarence House on Stable Yard Road to greet the public.  This tradition started for her 70th birthday in 1970 and continued until 2001 for her 101th birthday, the beloved Queen Mother died in 2002.

Clarence House - Queen Mother at  birthday gate

Currently Clarence House is the official London residence of Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall.  After the death of their mother, Princess Diana, in 1977 her sons split their time between their father’s house, Highgrove, near Tetbury in Gloucestershire and then later at Clarence House.  Prince William lived at Clarence House from 2003 until his marriage to Kate Middleton in 2011 and Prince Harry lived there from 2003 until 2012 when he also moved to Kensington Palace.  (Royal Note: When Prince William moved out of Clarence House after his marriage he moved into the same apartment at Kensington Palace that Princess Margaret once occupied until her death in 2002.  It is believed that the Prince decided that his mother’s, Princess Diana, former apartment at Kensington Palace held too many memories and it would be too bittersweet to return to his childhood home).

The Architecture and Interior Design of Clarence House

Clarence House was built next to St. James Palace and it was the preferred residence of King William IV.  He commissioned the architect John Nash to design the building while he was still the Duke of Clarence and it was completed in 1827.  Throughout the years, Clarence House has seen many changes and alterations by the various members of the royal family that have lived in the house and bears little resemblance to the original building that Nash designed.  At the time that the Duke of Clarence moved into the building it was a three-story structure that was constructed on a corner lot located on the south-west side of St. James Palace with the main entrance facing Stable Yard Road.  The Duchess of Clarence decorated the interior of their new home in a refined style and it was very simple when compared to St. James Palace or later the luxurious Buckingham Palace.

The next resident to make significant changes to Clarence House was Prince Alfred, the second son of Queen Victoria.  When the Duke of Edinburgh married the Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia in 1874 he had Clarence House enlarged and redecorated.  He had a fourth-story added to the structure and the main entrance was relocated to the south side of the building and featured Doric columns.  A Russian Orthodox chapel was also added on the first floor for his wife.

Clarence House - Russian Orthodox Temple

After the death of Prince Alfred, his brother Prince Arthur moved into Clarence House.  When he married Princess Louise of Prussia the rooms were renovated with oak paneling and plaster molding and decorated in a distinct Victorian style with overstuffed furnishings and numerous items gathered by the Prince during his world travels, there is documentation listing over 400 pieces of oriental porcelain, bronze and jade figurines belonging to the Prince.

Then, after the death of Prince Arthur, Clarence House was used as the headquarters of the Red Cross during World War II and many of the rooms were altered to accommodate over 200 workers.  When the war ended the building needed to be reconstructed and the exterior was completely redone because it had been severely damaged during the German bombing of London.

By 1949, Clarence House became the home of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip.  After their 1947 wedding it took two years to complete renovations to the building before they could move in.  Despite the fact that Princess Elizabeth was the eldest daughter of King George VI and heir to the throne, their home was very simple and elegantly decorated.  The royal couple enjoyed their time in Clarence House and lived quietly there for only a few years until King George died after a lengthy illness.  The new Queen Elizabeth II moved into Buckingham Palace with her husband and two small children.

At that time, the decision was made that the Queen Mother and her youngest daughter Princess Margaret would move from Buckingham Palace and into the Clarence House but before that could happen the interior rooms needed to be refurbished and the building needed to be completely rewired.  When the house was redecorated the Queen Mother furnished the rooms with her large collection of important British artwork and wonderful decorative items such as Faberge and beautiful English porcelain and silver pieces.

Over the next 70 years, Clarence House was the site for many of the Queen Mother’s official and private dinners and afternoon teas.  The table was always set with beautiful china and polished silver which made the perfect setting for deliciously prepared meals and best wines were served.  Foreign Heads of State who would customary see the dowager Queen at the start of their State Visit to England and the Queen Mother also entertained an eclectic mix of famous celebrities and ordinary citizens from the her various charities.

When the Queen Mother died in 2002, Clarence House became the official London residence of her grandson Prince Charles.  Before the Prince of Wales and his wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall could move into the house it took almost a year to complete the extensive renovations and redecorations.  As a tribute to his beloved grandmother, the Prince retained the basic color schemes of the rooms and positioned some of the Queen Mother’s furnishings back to their original placement in the rooms.  He also used numerous pieces from the Queen Mother’s art collection combined with his own personal collection.

A Brief Tour of Clarence House

Clarence House is open to the public only during two months each summer and visitors can take a guided tour which includes several rooms on the ground floor.  The tour starts with a walk through the garden and through the famous “Queen Mother’s Birthday” gate and then into Clarence House.

General view of Clarence House

Once inside Clarence House visitors will be in the Entrance Hall and then they will proceed into the Lancaster Room which is normally used as a reception room for the personal guests of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.  The room was given the name because the people of Lancaster generously gifted money to Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh for their wedding in 1947 and the funds were used to decorate and furnish this room of Clarence House.

Clarence House - Entrance Hall Clarence House - Lancaster Room

The Morning Room is located on the other side of the Entrance Hall and is currently used by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall when they entertain their guests.  The Morning Room was the Queen Mother’s favorite room when she lived in Clarence House and Prince Charles chose to decorate it with several of his grandmother’s personal items, such as her collection of Royal Anchor Chelsea porcelain.  Two paintings of important historical significance displayed in this room are of two former residents of Clarence House.  The first is a small portrait set on the fireplace mantel which shows the Queen Mother in 1908 when she was simply known as Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon.  The second one is the first official portrait of a seven year old Princess Elizabeth now known as Queen Elizabeth II and the daughter of the Queen Mother and the mother of Prince Charles.

 Clarence House - Morning Room 2    Photographer: Christopher Simon Sykes

The Morning Room is customarily used for official portraits taken on special occasions, such as 2012 when Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip posed with their sons and daughters for their 65th wedding anniversary and in 2013 for Prince George’s christening.  (Royal Note: The Chippendale gilded sofa that is seen in both photos is part of a set of two sofas and two bergeres chairs dating back to 1773 and originally commissioned by the Duke of Gloucester)

Clarence House - Morning Room - Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillips 65th wedding anniversary    

The Library is located adjacent to the Morning Room and hung on the wall, on either side of the double door entrance, are portraits of the Prince’s grandmother and mother.  Both paintings are by the Russian artist Savely Sorine, the first was done in 1923 and captures the Queen Mother at the age of twenty-three when she was the Duchess of York and the second was done in 1948 and shows Queen Elizabeth II at the age of twenty-two.

Clarence House - Library 2    Clarence House - Library 1

Another set of double doors lead from the Library into the Dining Room.  The dining table is set for a formal dinner with lovely china, beautiful crystal glasses and silverware.  A portrait of the Queen Mother is hung above the fireplace as another tribute to Clarence House’s most famous resident; the portrait remains unfinished because of the onset of World War II.  (Royal Note: When the Queen Mother dined she sat in the middle chair with her back to the fireplace and if Prince Charles was present he sat directly across from her.  Today the Prince retains that tradition and sits in the middle of the table facing the portrait of the Queen Mother)

Clarence House - Dining Room

The final room of the tour is the Garden Room which is said to be Prince Charles favorite room and is filled with his personal items gathered from his world travels.  Some notable items in the room are a large tapestry formerly owned by Napoleon III that the Prince acquired in France and a Welsh harp representing the Prince’s close ties with Wales.  Positioned in a prominent place in the room is a Chinese lacquer writing desk that originally belonged to Queen Mary, the piece was made in the 1700s in Germany.  (Royal Note:  Another treasured item that once belonged to the Queen Mother is a signed copy of “The Noel Coward Song Book”, the playwright was a personal friend)

This concludes the tour of Clarence House and visitors will proceed back down the corridor to the Entrance Hall and exit back into the garden.

For more information about the longest resident of Clarence House, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, please click on the link.  For information about two of the other royal residences in London, Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace, please click on the links.

Travel – Hampton Court (Part Three)

Hampton Court - Baroque styleHampton Court Palace is sometimes considered to be two palaces combined to form one large royal estate.  The original section is a Gothic style palace built by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey during the Tudor period.  King Henry VIII later claimed the palace for his own use after the Cardinal had fallen out of favor and the King went on to create a grand residence truly fit for royalty.  Several centuries later King William III and Queen Mary II, who ruled England jointly during the Stuart period, completely renovated Hampton Court and built two Baroque style additions creating the King and Queen’s State Apartment.

In this post, Part Three, of the three part series I will explore the Stuart side of Hampton Court with suggestions for the things to see and do when planning a visit to the palace.  Previously, In Part Two, I gave a detailed tour of the Tudor side of Hampton Court and in Part One I discussed the building of Hampton Court and its history throughout the centuries.

A tour of Hampton Court

Most visitors enter Hampton Court from the Main Entrance on the west side from the parking lot or by walking a short distance from the Hampton Court Railway Station.  After arriving, visitors then proceed into the palace over a short bridge by walking through the Great Gatehouse coming out into the Base Court.  Visitors continue on the tour, passing through the Ann Boleyn Gatehouse and into the Clock Court with the Astronomical Clock in the tower on the far side.  (For more detailed information about this part of the tour, please clink on the link to Part Two)

This is the part of the tour which separates to enter the Tudor buildings on the left and the Stuart / Georgian buildings to the right.  I would recommend starting to the left and touring this section of the palace since in the timeline of the history of England the Tudor period of Wolsey and King Henry preceded the Stuart period of William and Mary and later the Georgian period.

Then, after visiting the Tudor sections of Hampton Court, visitors should then proceed into the Stuart and Georgian sections of the palace.  But first, here is a little history …

In 1689 England had two monarchs that ruled jointly, Queen Mary II (the daughter of King James II) and her husband, William of Orange (King William III).  It was during this period that Hampton Court would undergo almost a complete renovation changing the architecture of the building, both exterior and interior, from a Gothic style to a Baroque style that was in keeping with the rival French court of King Louis XIV which had recently taken up permanent residence in the impressive Palace of Versailles.

Within months of their accession, the Royal couple had commissioned Sir Christopher Wren and the original plans had intended that the Tudor palace of King Henry VIII would be entirely demolished, retaining only the Great Hall, and then replaced with a more modern palace.  The problem was that funds were not available to finance the ambitious project and Wren eventually revised his vision to include two additional sections of the palace to accommodate the new State Apartments for the King and Queen.

King’s State Apartments

The entrance to the King’s State Apartments is under the colonnade in the Clock Court.  Visitors should proceed up the grand King’s Staircase to view the main rooms of the King’s State Apartments.  The King’s Staircase was painted by the Italian painter, Antonio Verrio, and the mural is called “Victory of Alexander over the Caesars”.  There is also a lovely wrought iron balustrade that was designed by Jean Tijou, he was a French ironworker and patron of William and Mary.  His ironwork can also be seen in several impressive gates located on the grounds of Hampton Court and at St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Duke of Devonshire’s Chatsworth estate.

    Hampton Court - King's staircase

(Special Note: Look for Verrio’s signature which can be seen at the top of the stairs over the door leading into the Guard Chamber.

Today, visitors to Hampton Court will continue the tour into the rooms on the second floor of the King’s State Apartments.  Generally, the rooms of a palace would be arranged in a type of funnel pattern, meaning that the first rooms would be large and mostly lacking furniture allowing space to accommodate the large groups of courtiers waiting to see the monarch and as the courtiers would progress deeper into palace the rooms would become smaller and access more exclusive reflecting an increasing level of importance to the monarch until finally the most private rooms would be the monarch’s bedchamber.

The first room is the Guard Chamber which has an impression collection of weapons, such as muskets, bayonets, pistols, and swords hung on the walls of the room.  In the time of William and Mary’s reign, the Yeomen of the Guard would have been stationed at the door to check the court courtiers before allowing them entry into the Presence Chamber and access to the King.  The Presence Chamber was considered the official throne room of the palace; the King would sit on a throne placed on a fine Turkish rug positioned under a grand canopy.  Strangely, even when the room was not occupied by the King, courtiers would still have been required to bow to the throne as they would pass through into the other rooms of the State Apartments.

Hampton Court - Guard Chamber    Hampton Court - Presence Chamber

Visitors on the tour will continue into an area known as the Eating Room where King William would sometimes dine in public under the watchful eyes of the courtiers.  Centuries ago the room would have been furnished with a large dining table and a special chair for the King.  Today, the lighting fixtures (torcheres) and mirrors (pier glasses) seen in the room are original pieces but the dining table is a reproduction which was made in 1992.

The next room is the Privy Chamber which is considered the main ceremonial room in the palace where King William would greet statesmen, foreign ambassadors and other important dignitaries.  When not receiving invited guests, the room was also used for court functions.  In 1986, this area of Hampton Court had a severe fire but luckily most of the furniture was saved.  Unfortunately the fire destroyed the entire ceiling and the crystal chandelier and some of the wood paneling was also badly damaged, the room was eventually restored.

Hampton Court - Privy Chamber

Special Note: Damage from the fire can still be seen today, look for the scorched paneling on the chimney wall.

Special Note: Before leaving the Privy Chamber, be sure to take a look through the windows which offer a wonderful view of the Privy Garden.

View of Privy Garden from King's Apartments

Continuing on the tour, the next room is the Withdrawing Room which was one of the more exclusive areas of the State Apartments and it is where members of the Privy Council, the Lord Chamberlain and other important officers of the court would have more private access to the King.

Hampton Court - WIthdrawing Room

In next room visitors will see the impressive Great Bedchamber, this is not where the King slept but a ceremonial room where he would dress in the morning and disrobe in the evening.  The room reflects the high status of the King and it is decorated with gilded furniture, beautiful tapestries and a luxurious bed covered with rich crimson taffeta curtains and bedding.  The King would retire into the adjacent smaller bedchamber to sleep; only the most trust personal servants had access to this room.  The painted ceiling by Verrio depicts Mars, the God of War, sleeping in the arms of Venus, the Goddess of Love.  When the King wanted to work privately, he would use the room next to the smaller bedchamber called the King’s Closet which functioned as a personal study, here a door leads into the Queen’s State Apartments.  There is also a small staircase that leads downstairs to three additional rooms known as the East Closet, the Middle Closet and the West Closet.  This is where the King spent most of his time during the day and it is decorated with his most treasured works of art.

Hampton Court - King's Great Bedchamber

Also on the main floor of the King’s State Apartments is the Orangery paved in a distinctive pattern of purple and grey Swedish limestone.  The Orangery is a type of greenhouse where orange trees and bay trees were kept in the winter months, in the summer the trees would be moved outside onto the terrace which lead to the Privy Gardens.  Orange trees were very popular in England during the reign of William and Mary and also held special meaning because King William was from the Dutch House of Orange and some of the trees had been brought to England when he married Queen Mary which had originally grown in his gardens in Holland.

Hampton Court - Orangery interior    Hampton Court - Orangery exterior

Located at the far end of the Orangery are several rooms that King William used for private entertaining, the Drawing Room and Dining Room.  In the Dining Room, the table is set for an intimate dinner with the finest linens and gold plate serving pieces.  The walls are hung with a series of portraits known as the “Hampton Court Beauties”.  This room is the final room on the tour of the King’s State Apartments.

    Hampton Court - Private Dining Room

Queen’s State Apartments

The Queen’s State Apartments can also be entered from the Clock Courtyard and up the Queen’s Staircase.  This section of Hampton Court was originally built by Sir Christopher Wren during the reign of William and Mary and was still not completed at the time of Queen Mary II in 1714.  The staircase had remained very plainly decorated until 1734 when the painter, William Kent, was commissioned to paint the beautiful ceiling and the 1628 painting that hangs on the is by Gerrit van Honthorst, “Mercury Presenting the Liberal Arts to Apollo and Diana”.

Hampton Court - Queen's Staircase ceiling

Special Note: At the corners of the ceiling in the Queen’s Staircase, look for the monogram of King George II and Queen Caroline who later lived in the Queen’s State Apartments.

The rooms of the Queen’s State Apartments are very similar to the ones found in the King’s State Apartments.  The first room is the Guard Chamber and be sure to look for the intricate carved fireplace chimneypiece by Grinling Gibbons depicting the Yeoman of the Guard that would have been on duty in the room back in the Stuart and Georgian periods of Hampton Court.

Hampton Court - Queen's Guard Chamber with Yeoman Guard carvings on fireplace

The next room on the tour is the Presence Chamber and then the Public Dining Room which was used infrequently for dining and occasionally as a room for musical entertainment.  The marble fireplace chimneypiece was carved by Gibbons and the front bears the coat of arms of King Charles I.

Continuing the tour, the next room is the Audience Chamber where Queen Caroline would formally receive courtiers and foreign ambassadors.  The elegant throne canopy was originally used by Queen Caroline but the chair dates back to 1690 and is placed on a fine Turkish carpet.  The magnificent silver chandelier is suspended from a gilded Garter Star and inscribed with the official Order of the Garter motto, “Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense”.

hampton Court - Queen's Audience Chamber

The Drawing Room was the most important and exclusive rooms of the Queen’s State Apartments.    This is also the room where Queen Caroline would set up several card tables in the evening for entertainment.  On the west side of the room there is a door that leads to a private dining room and on the north side hanging above the fireplace is a painting of Queen Anne’s husband when he was Prince George, the Lord Admiral of the Fleet.

Hampton Court - Queen's Drawing Room ceiling    Hampton Court - Queen's Drawing Room

The next room of the tour is the Queen’s State Bedchamber and is furnished with the original bed which was made during the time when the royal couple was the Prince and Princess of Wales.  The ceiling is painted by Sir James Thornhill and depicts Apollo and his chariot.

Hampton Court  Queen's Bedchchamber

The Queen’s Gallery was originally intended as Queen Mary’s private gallery, but it was not completed at the time of her death in 1694.   Today, several 18th century Brussels tapestries depicting the story of Alexander the Great hang in the Gallery.   There is also a grand marble chimneypiece which was carved by John Nost.

Hampton Court - Queen's Gallery

Special Note: Sometimes, in the Queen’s Gallery on either side of the fireplace are two large blue and white delftware tulip vases.  Seasonally, tulip bulbs are planted within each of the tiers and the tulip plant and flower would sprout from each of the individual containers.  Shown in the photo to the right is an example of a smaller delftware vase with tulips in bloom.

Hampton Court delfware tulip vases    Delfware tulip vase - smaller version in blooom

The final rooms on the tour of the Queen’s State Apartments are the Queen’s Closet which has a door that connected to the King’s Closet and the Room of the Ladies of the Bedchamber which was for the use of the Queen’s personal servants.

The Cumberland Suite

The entrance to the Georgian Rooms of Hampton Court is under the George II Gateway and then up a small staircase on the left.

Hampton Court - George II Gateway

The Cumberland Suite was designed in a Gothic Revival style by William Kent for the Duke of Cumberland, the youngest son of King George II and finished in 1732.  Currently the Cumberland Suite displays an ever-changing display of artwork from the Royal Collection.

Hampton Court - Cumberland Art Gallery 1    Hampton Court - Cumberland Art Gallery

Included on this portion of the tour are: the Wolsey Closet with has a gilded ceiling incorporating badges of the Tudor Rose and the Prince of Wales feathers.  The next rooms on the tour are the Communication Gallery which served as a link for people to pass into the queen and king apartments and the Cartoon Gallery which was specifically built for King William III by Sir Christopher Wren to display Raphael’s “Acts of the Apostles” which were cartoons, meaning a drawing made on sturdy paper as a study for a painting or tapestry.  In 1865, Queen Victoria decided that the cartoons should be displayed for public viewing and Prince Albert loaned them to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London where they still remain today on permanent exhibit (as shown in the photo on the right), the cartoons currently hanging in the Gallery at Hampton Court are copies of the originals (as shown in the photo on the left).

Hampton Court - Cartoon Gallery    Raphael Gallery - Victoria and Albert Museum 1

The next set of rooms on the tour were originally designed for Queen Mary II, put when she died in 1694 the rooms remained vacate for several years until 1716 when they were given to Prince and Princess of Wales and later rooms were lavishly renovated when they became King George II and Queen Caroline.  The private apartment was then used exclusively by Queen Caroline, the rooms in this section of the palace are: The Private Drawing Room was used by the Queen used to play quadrille (a card game) or for afternoon tea service, the room’s walls are covered in a beautiful crimson red flock wallpaper that dates back to the 18th century.   The Queen’s Private Bedchamber which was considered the most restricted and private room in the palace and indeed there are special locks on the doors that can be closed in the evening and opened in the morning from a device located near the bed.

Queen Caroline Bedchamber

Special Note: Over the chimneypiece hangs a painting of Queen Caroline painted by Joseph Highmore.

Visitors will continue on the tour viewing rooms such as the Dressing Room and Bathroom which features a reproduction bath (remember bathing at that time was considered a luxury and not a common daily activity!).

Queen Caroline Bathroom

The next room is the Private Dining Room with an adjacent Sideboard Room and finally the Private Oratory which features a beautiful carved dome ceiling and is where the Queen would have used the room for morning and evening prayers as well as her weekly religious discussions with her Chaplain.  This concludes the tour of the Georgian section of Hampton Court and visitors will exit down the Caithness Staircase.

Hampton Court - Queen's Private Oratory dome ceiling    Hampton Court - Queen's Private Oratory

Other points of interest at Hampton Court

The Hampton Court Gardens

The Hampton Court Gardens have been carefully tended for over 500 years.  As previously mentioned in Part One of this series on Hampton Court, the Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem used the land since 1236 as part of their agricultural estates.  In 1514 Cardinal Thomas Wolsey acquired the property he had ornamental gardens planted.  Then in 1529 the estate came under the ownership of King Henry VII and sections of the property were enclosed for a deer park to be used for hunting and riding.  So, gradually the land changed from being used for agricultural purposes to the recreational activities for the monarch.  Currently the Hampton Court estate includes the palace buildings which cover 6 acres, the formal gardens which cover 60 acres and the park lands which cover 750 acres.

When visiting Hampton Court, be sure to allow plenty of time to walk the formal gardens or to take a carriage ride through the park. Listed below are two exceptional features that I highly recommend seeing:

The Maze

The Maze of Hampton Court was commissioned in 1700 by King William III and is designed by George London and Henry Wise.  The Maze covers a third of an acre and is located to the north of the main buildings of Hampton Court.  When the Maze was originally planted hornbeam was used and later it was replanted using yew and it is England’s oldest surviving hedge maze.  Visitors will find the puzzle maze fun and sometimes confusing with its many twists, turns and dead ends.

Hampton Court - the Maze

The Great Vine

 The Great Vine is located adjacent to the main building of Hampton Court on the south side of the estate and fills the entire greenhouse.  The Great Vine, Vitis vinifera “Shiva  Grossa, was originally planted in 1769 which makes it almost 250 years old!  The plant is still producing and annually yields approximately 600 pounds of black dessert grapes.  (If you are lucky to visit Hampton Court in the first weeks of September you might be able to taste the grapes)

Hampton  Court - the Great Vine exterior    Hampton  Court - the Great Vine interior

This concludes the three part series on Hampton Court.  Part One discusses the building of Hampton Court and its history throughout the centuries.  Part Two gives a detailed tour of the Tudor side of Hampton Court.

If you are planning a trip to England and a visit to Hampton Court, please see their official website for information regarding hours of operations, admission prices, directions, etc