11 Surprising Facts About Windsor Castle
Built in the 11th century after the Norman invasion, England’s Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world. Over the past 900-plus years, more than 30 monarchs have called it home and it has also been the site of several royal weddings—including Prince Harry's upcoming May 19, 2018 nuptials to Meghan Markle. Here are 11 things you might not have known about the royal residence.
1. IT’S HOME TO THE WORLD’S MOST ELABORATE DOLLHOUSE.
Built for Queen Mary in the 1920s, the Windsor dollhouse is doubtlessly the world’s largest and most elaborate miniature home. It features running water, electricity, flush toilets, elevators, a fully-stocked 1200-piece wine cellar with real wine and beer, and a miniature library stuffed with original stories handwritten by authors such as Rudyard Kipling and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Building it required the handiwork of more than 1500 artists and craftsmen. (Take a virtual tour here.)
2. THE WINE CELLAR IS STACKED WITH BOTTLES—SOME OF THEM SURPRISINGLY CHEAP.
Speaking of wine: The royal wine cellar keeps about 18,000 bottles of vino in the cellar. But according to Jancis Robinson, one of the queen’s wine advisors, not all of it is so fancy. Each year, Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace host more than 300 events, requiring 5000 bottles of wine. “Outsiders might assume that we spend our time picking out the plums from the world’s vineyards for Her Majesty’s cellar but the reality is very much more prosaic,” Robinson writes. Some bottles cost between $5 and $10.
3. IT’S THE BEST PLACE TO VISIT IF YOU WANT TO READ A QUEEN’S DIARY.
If you want to read the juicy bits from Queen Victoria’s journals or the private letters of King George III, they’re all tucked away in the Royal Library and Archives in Windsor Castle. Located in three state apartments that include Queen Catherine of Braganza’s old bedchamber, the royal library contains more than 200,000 items, including the book collections of multiple monarchs. You can search about 80,000 items from the library for free right here.
4. IT’S A GREAT PLACE TO WORK IF YOU HAVE OLD-TIMEY JOB SKILLS.
Windsor is, of course, home to librarians and tour guides and art historians who care for the Royal Household’s art collections. But approximately 150 people live at the castle to help the royal family, well, live! And many have delightfully antiquated jobs. There are fendersmiths who maintain the castle’s 300-some fireplaces, and horologists who care for the palace’s 379 timepieces. It’s also home to a wine butler, countless footmen, multiple gilders, and even a palace steward who measures the place settings with a ruler before each major meal.
5. DURING WWII, QUEEN ELIZABETH II SLEPT IN THE DUNGEON.
Windsor Castle was never bombed during World War II because, it was rumored, Adolf Hitler wanted to make it his British home. The royal family took advantage of this fact by secretly hiding in the castle. There, the windows were blacked out, the chandeliers were removed, and the bedrooms were reinforced. The girls, including the future Queen Elizabeth II, occasionally slept in the dungeon.
6. IT HAS SUCCESSFULLY FENDED OFF A FEW ATTACKS.
Windsor Castle is, first and foremost, a fortress—and it has proved to be a strong one. In the olden days, guards on standby warded off intruders with cascades of boiling oil and heavy stones. In the 1200s, during the Barons War, Windsor Castle successfully withstood a two-month siege. In the 1400s, after King Henry IV deposed Richard II, Windsor Castle was again attacked. To keep the story short, let’s just say things did not end well for the attackers.
7. IT WAS HOME TO THE WORLD’S GREATEST EXPLORER (WHO HAPPENED TO BE BLIND).
James Holman was the 19th century’s greatest traveler, covering distances that beat out famed explorers such as Marco Polo, James Cook, and Ibn Battuta. The amazing part? Holman did all of his traveling alone, and was blind. When the so-called “Blind Traveler” wasn’t gallivanting across the globe, he lived at the castle as an official Knight of Windsor. It fact, it was the monarch’s own physician who suggested Holman travel for his health.
8. THE ROYAL FAMILY IS NAMED AFTER THE CASTLE.
The royal family rarely uses their last name. (Probably because they don’t need to: When you call yourself “Queen Elizabeth II,” is there a reason to specify who you’re talking about?) But before 1919, the royal family’s last name was “Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.” As you might imagine, this German surname was a bad look for the British during World War I. So the royals changed it to Windsor (or some variant of it). The word derives from the Old English Windlesoren, meaning “winch by the riverbank.”
9. IT WAS HQ FOR THE QUEEN’S “CORGI BREEDING PROGRAM.”
Queen Elizabeth was one of the longest-established Pembroke corgi breeders on the planet. For nearly 70 years, Windsor was home to her corgi breeding program, which she shut down in 2015. Over the decades, the kennels at Windsor bred hundreds of corgi puppies, many of which were given to family and friends. Her last pet corgi—who died this April—was a 14th generation descendant of Susan, a pup the Queen received on her 18th birthday.
10. AT WINDSOR CASTLE, CHIVALRY IS NOT DEAD.
Back in the 14th century, Edward III was so fascinated by tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table that he decided to get the band back together and start the Most Noble Order of the Garter. Founded in 1348, the Windsor-based group is the oldest and arguably most prestigious order of chivalry in England: Entry into the club is limited to the monarch, members of the royal family, and 24 other people chosen by the Sovereign. As for the weird name? One origin story suggests that King Edward III was dancing one night when his partner’s blue garters dropped to the floor, prompting laughs from passersby. Edward, ever the gentleman, picked up the garter, pulled it over his leg, and chastised the gigglers.
11. THE TAXES TO LIVE THERE AIN’T TOO SHABBY.
The Queen is under no obligation to pay taxes. But after Windsor Castle caught on fire in 1992, taxpayers complained about paying the bill. From that moment, Her Majesty decided to begin voluntarily paying income and capital gains taxes. She also pays council taxes—a type of property tax—on all of her palaces. Windsor Castle, which has 484,000 square feet of floor space, only costs the Queen about £2365.16 (or about $3200) in council taxes annually.