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11 Surprising Facts About Windsor Castle

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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.

Queen Mary's dollhouse at Windsor Castle
nikoretro, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

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.

etty Garvey (L) from Manchester and a friend also from Manchester drink champagne as they wait to catch a glimpse of the Royal party in front of St. George's Chapel during Garter Day, the 660th Anniversary Service, on June 16, 2008 in Windsor, England
Chris Jackson, Getty Images

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.

Queen Elizabeth II attends the launch of the George III Project at an event held in the Royal Library in Windsor Castle on April 1, 2015
WPA Pool/Getty Images

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.

 Culinary staff at work in the huge vaulted kitchen at Windsor Castle in 1818
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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.

A group of evacuee women and their children with donated prams in Windsor, Berkshire, 5th October 1940. The prams were donated after Queen Elizabeth (later Queen Mother) visited the evacuees and noticed the shortage
Fred Morley, Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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.

A view of Windsor Castle from the water
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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.
Photo illustration by Lucy Quintanilla // Alamy (Holman); iStock (background)

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 II arrives at King's Cross railway station in London 15 October 1969 with her four dogs
STF/AFP/Getty Images

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.

Members of The Household Cavalry take their positions before Britain's Queen Elizabeth II arrives to attend The Order of the Garter Service, at St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle, Windsor, southern England on June 14, 2010
ADRIAN DENNIS, AFP/Getty Images

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.

An aerial view of Windsor Castle
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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.

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Steve Martin
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Is there anything Steve Martin can't do? In addition to being one of the world's most beloved comedians and actors, he's also a writer, a musician, a magician, and an art enthusiast. And he's about to put a number of these talents on display with Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life, a new comedy special that just arrived on Netflix. To commemorate the occasion, here are 10 things you might not have known about Steve Martin.

1. HE WAS A CHEERLEADER.

As a yellleader (as he refers to it in a yearbook signature) at his high school in Garden Grove, California, Martin tried to make up his own cheers, but “Die, you gravy-sucking pigs,” he later told Newsweek, did not go over so well.

2. HIS FIRST JOB WAS AT DISNEYLAND.

Martin’s first-ever job was at Disneyland, which was located just two miles away from his house. He started out selling guidebooks, keeping $.02 for every book he sold. He graduated to the Magic Shop on Main Street, where he got his first taste of the gags that would later make his career. He also learned the rope tricks you see in ¡Three Amigos! from a rope wrangler over in Frontierland.

3. HE OWES HIS WRITING JOB WITH THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS TO AN EX-GIRLFRIEND.

Thanks to a girlfriend who got a job dancing on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, Martin landed a gig writing for the show. He had absolutely no experience as a writer at the time. He shared an office with Bob Einstein—better known to some as Super Dave Osborne or Marty Funkhauser—and won an Emmy for writing in 1969.

4. HE WAS A CONTESTANT ON THE DATING GAME.

While he was writing for the Smothers Brothers, but before he was famous in his own right, Martin was on an episode of The Dating Game. (Spoiler alert: He wins. But did you have any doubt?)

5. MANY PEOPLE THOUGHT HE WAS A SERIES REGULAR ON SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.

Martin hosted and did guest spots on Saturday Night Live so often in the 1970s and '80s that many people thought he was a series regular. He wasn't. 

6. HIS FATHER WROTE A REVIEW OF HIS FIRST SNL APPEARANCE.

After his first appearance on SNL, Martin’s father, the president of the Newport Beach Association of Realtors, wrote a review of his son’s performance in the company newsletter. “His performance did nothing to further his career,” the elder Martin wrote. He also once told a newspaper, “I think Saturday Night Live is the most horrible thing on television.”

7. HE POPULARIZED THE AIR QUOTE.

If you find yourself making air quotes with your fingers more than you’d really like, you have Martin to thank. He popularized the gesture during his guest spots on SNL and stand-up performances.

8. HE QUIT STAND-UP COMEDY IN THE EARLY 1980S.

Martin gave up stand-up comedy in 1981. “I still had a few obligations left but I knew that I could not continue,” he told NPR in 2009. “But I guess I could have continued if I had nothing to go to, but I did have something to go to, which was movies. And you know, the act had become so known that in order to go back, I would have had to create an entirely new show, and I wasn't up to it, especially when the opportunity for movies and writing movies came around.”

9. HE'S A MAJOR ART COLLECTOR.

As an avid art collector, Martin owns works by Pablo Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein, David Hockney, and Edward Hopper. He sold a Hopper for $26.9 million in 2006. Unfortunately, being rich and famous doesn’t mean Martin is immune to scams: In 2004, he spent about $850,000 on a piece believed to be by German-Dutch modernist painter Heinrich Campendonk. When Martin tried to sell the piece, “Landschaft mit Pferden” (or "Landscape With Horses") 15 months later, he was informed that it was a forgery. Though the painting still sold, it was at a huge loss.

10. HE'S AN ACCOMPLISHED BLUEGRASS PERFORMER.

Many people already know this, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that he’s an extremely accomplished bluegrass performer. With the help of high school friend John McEuen, who later became a member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Martin taught himself to play the banjo when he was 17. He's been picking away ever since. If you see him on stage these days, he’s likely strumming a banjo with his band, the Steep Canyon Rangers. As seen above, they make delightful videos.

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Wine
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by Tilar J. Mazzeo

Between the vine and the liquor store, plenty of secrets are submerged in your favorite bottle of vino. Here, the author of Back Lane Wineries of Sonoma spills some of the best.

1. DIGITAL EYES ARE EVERYWHERE IN VINEYARDS.

Certain premium estates in Bordeaux and Napa are beginning to look a little more like an army base—or an Amazon.com warehouse. They’re using drones, optical scanners, and heat-sensing satellites to keep a digital eye on things. Some airborne drones collect data that helps winemakers decide on the optimal time to harvest and evaluate where they can use less fertilizer. Others rove through the vineyard rows, where they may soon be able to take over pruning. Of course, these are major investments. At $68,000 a pop, the Scancopter 450 is about twice as costly as a 1941 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon!

2. THERE ARE ALSO LOTS OF COW SKULLS.

They’re not everywhere, but biodynamic farming techniques are on the rise among vintners who don’t want to rely on chemicals, and this is one trick they’ve been known to use to combat plant diseases and improve soil PH. It’s called Preparation No. 505, and it involves taking a cow’s skull (or a sheep’s or a goat’s), stuffing it with finely ground oak chips, and burying it in a wet spot for a season or two before adding it to the vineyard compost.

3. FEROCIOUS FOLIAGE IS A VINTNER’S FRIEND.

The mustard flowers blooming between vineyard rows aren’t just for romance. Glucosinolates in plants like radishes and mustard give them their spicy bite, and through the wonders of organic chemistry, those glucosinolates also double as powerful pesticides. Winemakers use them to combat nematodes—tiny worms that can destroy grape crops.

4. WHAT A CANARY IS TO A COAL MINE, ROSES ARE TO A VINEYARD.

Vintners plant roses among their vines because they get sick before anything else in the field. If there’s mildew in the air, it will infect the roses first and give a winemaker a heads-up that it’s time to spray.

5. VINTNERS EXPLOIT THE FOOD CHAIN.

A trio of wines
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Small birds like blackbirds and starlings can clear out 20 percent of a crop in no time. But you know what eats little birds? Big birds. Falconry programs are on the rise in vineyards from California to New Zealand. Researchers have found that raptors eat a bird or two a day (along with a proportion of field mice and other critters) and cost only about as much to maintain as your average house cat.

6. THE BIG PROBLEMS IN TASTING ROOMS ARE VERY SMALL.

Winemakers are constantly seeking ways to manage the swarms of Drosophila melanogaster that routinely gather around the dump buckets in their swanky showrooms. You know these pests as fruit flies, and some vintners in California are exploring ways to use carnivorous plants to tackle the problem without pesticides. Butterworts, sundews, and pitcher plants all have sweet-sounding names, but the bugeating predators make for terrific fruit fly assassins, and you’ll see them decorating tasting rooms across wine country.

7. WINE NEEDS CLEANING.

Winemaking produces hard-to-remove sediments. Filters can catch most of the debris, but winemakers must add “fining agents” to remove any suspended solids that sneak by. Until it was banned in the 1990s, many European vintners used powdered ox blood to clean their wines. Today, they use diatomaceous earth (the fossilized remains of hard-shelled algae), Isinglass (a collagen made from fish swim bladders), and sometimes bentonite (volcanic clay). Irish moss and egg whites are also fine wine cleaners.

8. ATOMS HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS.

About 5 percent of the premium wine sold for cellaring doesn’t contain what the label promises. So how do top-shelf buyers avoid plunking down serious cash on a bottle of something bunk? Most elite wine brokerages, auction houses, and collectors use atomic dating to detect fraud. By measuring trace radioactive carbon in the wine, most bottles can be dated to within a year or two of the vintage.

9. FINE WINES GET MRIs.

Even with atomic dating, there are certain perils involved in buying a $20,000 bottle of wine. Leaving a case in the hot trunk of your car is enough to ruin it, so imagine what can happen over a couple of decades if a wine isn’t kept in the proper conditions. Back in 2002, a chemistry professor at University of California at Davis patented a technique that uses MRI technology to diagnose the condition of vintage wines. Not planning any $20,000 wine purchases? This is still good news for the consumer. This technique may soon be used at airport security, meaning you’ll be able to carry on your booze.

10. THERE’S A TRICK TO AGING YOUR WINE.

If you end up with a bottle of plonk, Chinese scientists have developed a handy solution. Zapping a young wine with electricity makes it taste like something you’ve cellar aged. Scientists aren’t quite sure how it happens yet, but it seems that running your wine for precisely three minutes through an electric field changes the esters, proteins, and aldehydes and can “age” a wine instantly.

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