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.

11 Things You May Not Know About John Lennon

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Before he was one of the world's most iconic musicians, John Lennon was a choir boy and a Boy Scout. Let's take a look at a few facts you might not have known about the leader and founding member of The Beatles

1. HE WAS A CHOIR BOY AND A BOY SCOUT.

Yes, John Lennon, the great rock 'n' roll rebel and iconoclast, was once a choir boy and a Boy Scout. Lennon began his singing career as a choir boy at St. Peter's Church in Liverpool, England and was a member of the 3rd Allerton Boy Scout troop.

2. HE HATED HIS OWN VOICE.

Incredibly, one of the greatest singers in the history of rock music hated his own voice. Lennon did not like the sound of his voice and loved to double-track his records. He would often ask the band's producer, George Martin, to cover the sound of his voice: "Can't you smother it with tomato ketchup or something?"

3. HE WAS DISSATISFIED WITH ALL OF THE BEATLES'S RECORDS.

Dining with his former producer, George Martin, one night years after the band had split up, Lennon revealed that he'd like to re-record every Beatles song. Completely amazed, Martin asked him, "Even 'Strawberry Fields'?" "Especially 'Strawberry Fields,'" answered Lennon.

4. HE WAS THE ONLY BEATLE WHO DIDN'T BECOME A FULL-TIME VEGETARIAN.

John Lennon (1940 - 1980) of the Beatles plays the guitar in a hotel room in Paris, 16th January 1964
Harry Benson, Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

George Harrison was the first Beatle to go vegetarian; according to most sources, he officially became a vegetarian in 1965. Paul McCartney joined the "veggie" ranks a few years later. Ringo became a vegetarian not so much for spiritual reasons, like Paul and George, but because of health problems. Lennon had toyed with vegetarianism in the 1960s, but he always ended up eating meat, one way or another.

5. HE LOVED TO PLAY MONOPOLY.

During his Beatles days, Lennon was a devout Monopoly player. He had his own Monopoly set and often played in his hotel room or on planes. He liked to stand up when he threw the dice, and he was crazy about the properties Boardwalk and Park Place. He didn't even care if he lost the game, as long as he had Boardwalk and Park Place in his possession.

6. HE WAS THE LAST BEATLE TO LEARN HOW TO DRIVE.

Lennon got his driver's license at the age of 24 (on February 15, 1965). He was regarded as a terrible driver by all who knew him. He finally gave up driving after he totaled his Aston-Martin in 1969 on a trip to Scotland with his wife, Yoko Ono; his son, Julian; and Kyoko, Ono's daughter. Lennon needed 17 stitches after the accident.

When they returned to England, Lennon and Ono mounted the wrecked car on a pillar at their home. From then on, Lennon always used a chauffeur or driver.

7. HE REPORTEDLY USED TO SLEEP IN A COFFIN.

According to Allan Williams, an early manager for The Beatles, Lennon liked to sleep in an old coffin. Williams had an old, abandoned coffin on the premises of his coffee bar, The Jacaranda. As a gag, Lennon would sometimes nap in it.

8. THE LAST TIME HE SAW PAUL MCCARTNEY WAS ON APRIL 24, 1976. 

Paul McCartney (left) and John Lennon (1940-1980) of the Beatles pictured together during production and filming of the British musical comedy film Help! on New Providence Island in the Bahamas on 2nd March 1965
William Lovelace, Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

McCartney was visiting Lennon at his New York apartment. They were watching Saturday Night Live together when producer Lorne Michaels, as a gag, offered the Beatles $3000 to come on the show. Lennon and McCartney almost took a cab to the show as a joke, but decided against it, as they were just too tired. (Too bad! It would have been one of the great moments in television history.)

9. HE WAS ORIGINALLY SUPPOSED TO SING LEAD ON THE BEATLES'S FIRST SINGLE, 1962'S "LOVE ME DO."

Lennon sang lead on a great majority of the early Beatles songs, but Paul McCartney took the lead on their very first one. The lead was originally supposed to be Lennon, but because he had to play the harmonica, the lead was given to McCartney instead.

10. "ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE" WAS THE BEST LYRIC HE EVER WROTE.

A friend once asked Lennon what was the best lyric he ever wrote. "That's easy," replied Lennon, "All you need is love."

11. THE LAST PHOTOGRAPHER TO SNAP HIS PICTURE WAS PAUL GORESH.

Ironically (and sadly), Lennon was signing an album for the person who was to assassinate him a few hours later when he was snapped by amateur photographer Paul Goresh on December 8, 1980.

Lennon obligingly signed a copy of his latest album, Double Fantasy, for Mark David Chapman. Later that same day, Lennon returned from the recording studio and was gunned down by Chapman, the same person for whom he had so kindly signed his autograph.

Morbidly, a photographer sneaked into the morgue and snapped a photo of Lennon's body before it was cremated the day after his assassination. Yoko Ono has never revealed the whereabouts of his ashes or what happened to them.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

11 Facts About Robert the Bruce, King of Scots

Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn
Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn
Edmund LeightonCassell and Company, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The subject of a recent Netflix original movie called Outlaw King, Robert the Bruce is one of Scotland’s great national heroes. Get to know King Bob a little better.

1. Robert the Bruce was a polyglot who loved telling stories.

He likely spoke Scots, Gaelic, Latin, and Norman French, and was an avid reader who loved studying the lives of previous monarchs. According to a parliamentary brief from around 1364, Robert the Bruce "used continually to read, or have read in his presence, the histories of ancient kings and princes, and how they conducted themselves in their times, both in wartime and in peacetime.” In his free time, he would recite tales about Charlemagne and Hannibal from memory.

2. Despite his reputation as Scotland’s savior, he spent years siding with England.

The Bruce family spent the 1290s complaining that they had been robbed of the Scottish Crown. That’s because, after the deaths of King Alexander III and his granddaughter Margaret, it was unclear who Scotland's next monarch should be. Debates raged until John Balliol was declared King in 1292. The Bruces, who had closer blood ties to the previous royal family (but not closer paternal ties) considered Balliol an usurper. So when tensions later flared between Balliol and Edward I of England, the resentful Bruces took England’s side.

3. He murdered his biggest political rival.

John Comyn is killed by Robert Bruce and Roger de Kirkpatrick before the high altar of the Greyfriars Church in Dumfries, 10 February 1306
Henri Félix Emmanuel Philippoteaux, Cassell, Petter & Galpin, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

One of the leading figures standing in the way of Robert the Bruce’s path to Scotland’s throne was Balliol's nephew, John III Comyn, Lord of Badenoch. In 1306, Robert arranged a meeting with Comyn in the Chapel of Greyfriars in Dumfries, Scotland. There, Robert accused Comyn of treachery and stabbed him. (And when word spread that Comyn had somehow survived, two of Robert’s cronies returned to the church and finished the deed, spilling Comyn’s blood on the steps of the altar.) Shortly after, Robert declared himself King of Scotland and started to plot an uprising against England.

4. He lived in a cave and was inspired by a very persistent spider.

The uprising did not go exactly according to plan. After Robert the Bruce killed Comyn in a church, Pope Clement V excommunicated him. To add salt to his wounds, Robert's ensuing attempts to battle England became a total failure. In the winter of 1306, he was forced to flee Scotland and was exiled to a cave on Rathlin Island in Northern Ireland.

Legend has it that as Robert took shelter in the cave, he saw a spider trying—and failing—to spin a web. The creature kept attempting to swing toward a nearby rock and refused to give up. Bruce was so inspired by the spider’s tenacity that he vowed to return to Scotland and fight. Within three years, he was holding his first session of parliament.

5. He went to battle with a legion of ponies.

For battle, Robert the Bruce preferred to employ a light cavalry of ponies (called hobbies) and small horses (called palfreys) in a tactic known as hobelar warfare. In one famous story, a young English knight named Sir Henry de Bohun sat atop a large warhorse and saw Robert the Bruce mounted upon a palfrey. Bohun decided to charge. Robert saw his oncoming attacker and stood in his stirrups—putting him at the perfect height to swing a battleaxe at the oncoming horseman’s head. After slaying his opponent, the king reportedly complained, “I have broken my good axe.”

6. He loved to eat eels.

Robert the Bruce
iStock.com/fotoVoyager

Robert the Bruce’s physician, Maino de Maineri, criticized the king’s penchant for devouring eels. “I am certain that this fish should not be eaten because I have seen it during the time I was with the king of the Scots, Robert Bruce, who risked many dangers by eating [moray eels], which are by nature like lampreys," de Maineri wrote. "It is true that these [morays] were caught in muddy and corrupt waters.” (Notably, overeating eels was considered the cause of King Henry I England’s death.)

7. His underdog victory at Bannockburn proved that quality could defeat quantity.

In 1314, Robert the Bruce defeated King Edward II’s army at Bannockburn, sending England (as the popular anthem Flower of Scotland goes) “homeward tae think again.” It was a surprising victory; the English had about 2000 armored horsemen and 15,000 foot soldiers, compared to the Scots's 500 horsemen and 7000 foot soldiers. But Robert the Bruce used geography to his advantage, forcing the English to attempt crossing two large and boggy streams. The victory was a huge turning point in the Scottish War of Independence and would help secure Scotland's freedom.

8. He’s firmly intertwined with the Knights Templar mythology.

Treasure hunters speculate that in the 14th century, the Knights Templar fled to Scotland with a trove of valuables because they received support and protection from King Robert the Bruce. Thanks to his help, they say, the Knights were able to hide gold and holy relics—from ancient Gospel scrolls to the Holy Grail—in secret spots across the country (including in Rosslyn Chapel, of The Da Vinci Code fame). But there is little evidence to support these colorful myths. Templar scholar and medieval historian Helen Nicholson said that any remaining Knights Templar were likely hanging out in the balmy climes of Cyprus.

9. He’s still donating money to a Scottish church.

Robert the Bruce and Elizabeth de Burgh
Henri Félix Emmanuel Philippoteaux, Cassell, Petter & Galpin, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

After the death of his second wife, Elizabeth de Burgh, Robert the Bruce decreed to give the Auld Kirk in Cullen, Scotland—now the Cullen and Deskford Parish—a total of five Scots pounds every year. That's because, in 1327, Elizabeth had died after falling off a horse, and the local congregation generously took care of her remains. Robert was so touched by the gesture that he promised to donate money “for all eternity.” To this day, his bequest is still being paid.

10. Parts of his body are buried in multiple places.

Robert the Bruce died on June 7, 1329, just a month before his 55th birthday. The cause of his death has been a source of much discussion, and disagreement, but most modern scholars believe that he succumbed to leprosy. His funeral was a rather elaborate affair that required nearly 7000 pounds of candle wax just for the funerary candles. Following the fashion for royalty, he was buried in multiple places. His chest was sawed open and his heart and internal organs removed: The guts were buried near his death-place at the Manor of Cardross, near Dumbarton; his corpse interred in Dunfermline Abbey; and his heart placed inside a metal urn to be worn around the neck of Sir James Douglas, who promised to take it to the Holy Lord.

11. His heart was the original “Brave Heart.”

Unfortunately, Sir Douglas never made it to the Holy Land: He got sidetracked and took a detour to fight the Moors in Spain, where he was killed. Before his attackers reached him, Douglas reportedly threw the urn containing the king’s heart and yelled, “Lead on brave heart, I’ll follow thee.” The heart was soon returned to Scotland, where its location was forgotten until a team of archaeologists discovered it in 1921. It’s now interred in Melrose Abbey.

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