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Comprising The First Two Epochs In The History Of Windsor Castle








Amid the gloom hovering over the early history of Windsor Castle appear
the mighty phantoms of the renowned King Arthur and his knights, for
whom it is said Merlin reared a magic fortress upon its heights, in a
great hall whereof, decorated with trophies of war and of the chase, was
placed the famous Round Table. But if the antique tale is now worn out,
and no longer part of our faith, it is pleasant at least to record it,
and surrendering ourselves for a while to the sway of fancy, to conjure
up the old enchanted castle on the hill, to people its courts with
warlike and lovely forms, its forests with fays and giants.

Windsor, or Wyndleshore, so called from the winding banks of the river
flowing past it, was the abode of the ancient Saxon monarchs; and a
legend is related by William of Malmesbury of a woodman named Wulwin,
who being stricken with blindness, and having visited eighty-seven
churches and vainly implored their tutelary saints for relief, was at
last restored to sight by the touch of Edward the Confessor, who further
enhanced the boon by making him keeper of his palace at Windsor. But
though this story may be doubted, it is certain that the pious king
above mentioned granted Windsor to the abbot and monks of Saint Peter at
Westminster, "for the hope of eternal reward, the remission of his sins,
the sins of his father, mother, and all his ancestors, and to the praise
of Almighty God, as a perpetual endowment and inheritance."

But the royal donation did not long remain in the hands of the
priesthood. Struck by the extreme beauty of the spot, "for that it
seemed exceeding profitable and commodious, because situate so near the
Thames, the wood fit for game, and many other particulars lying there,
meet and necessary for kings--yea, a place very convenient for his
reception," William the Conqueror prevailed upon Abbot Edwin to accept
in exchange for it Wakendune and Feringes, in Essex, together with three
other tenements in Colchester; and having obtained possession of the
coveted hill, he forthwith began to erect a castle upon it--occupying a
space of about half a hide of land. Around it he formed large parks, to
enable him to pursue his favourite pastime of hunting; and he enacted
and enforced severe laws for the preservation of the game.

As devoted to the chase as his father, William Rufus frequently hunted
in the forests of Windsor, and solemnised some of the festivals of the
Church in the castle.

In the succeeding reign--namely, that of Henry the First--the castle
was entirely rebuilt and greatly enlarged--assuming somewhat of the
character of a palatial residence, having before been little more than
a strong hunting-seat. The structure then erected in all probability
occupied the same site as the upper and lower wards of the present pile;
but nothing remains of it except perhaps the keep, and of that little
beyond its form and position. In 1109 Henry celebrated the feast of
Pentecost with great state and magnificence within the castle. In 1122
he there espoused his second wife, Adelicia, daughter of Godfrey, Duke
of Louvain; and failing in obtaining issue by her, assembled the barons
at Windsor, and causing them, together with David, King of Scotland,
his sister Adela, and her son Stephen, afterwards King of England, to do
homage to his daughter Maud, widow of the Emperor Henry the Fifth.

Proof that Windsor Castle was regarded as the second fortress in the
realm is afforded by the treaty of peace between the usurper Stephen and
the Empress Maud, in which it is coupled with the Tower of London under
the designation of Mota de Windsor. At the signing of the treaty it was
committed to the custody of Richard de Lucy, who was continued in the
office of keeper by Henry the Second.

In the reign of this monarch many repairs were made in the castle, to
which a vineyard was attached--the cultivation of the grape being at
this time extensively practised throughout England. Strange as the
circumstance may now appear, Stow mentions that vines grew in abundance
in the home park in the reign of Richard the Second, the wine made from
them being consumed at the king's table, and even sold.

It is related by Fabian that Henry, stung by the disobedience and
ingratitude of his sons, caused an allegorical picture to be painted,
representing an old eagle assailed by four young ones, which he placed
in one of the chambers of the castle. When asked the meaning of the
device, he replied, "I am the old eagle, and the four eaglets are
my sons, Who cease not to pursue my death. The youngest bird, who
is tearing out its parent's eyes, is my son John, my youngest and
best-loved son, and who yet is the most eager for my destruction."

On his departure for the holy wars Richard Coeur de Lion entrusted the
government of the castle to Hugh de Pudsey, Bishop of Durham and Earl of
Northumberland; but a fierce dispute arising between the warrior-prelate
and his ambitious colleague, William Longchamp, Bishop of Ely, he was
seized and imprisoned by the latter, and compelled to surrender the
castle. After an extraordinary display of ostentation, Longchamp was
ousted in his turn. On the arrival of the news of Richard's capture and
imprisonment in Austria, the castle was seized by Prince John; but it
was soon afterwards taken possession of in the king's behalf by the
barons, and consigned to the custody of Eleanor, the queen-dowager.

In John's reign the castle became the scene of a foul and terrible event
William de Braose, a powerful baron, having offended the king, his wife
Maud was ordered to deliver up her son a hostage for her husband.
But instead of complying with the injunction, she rashly returned for
answer--"that she would not entrust her child to the person who could
slay his own nephew." Upon which the ruthless king seized her and her
son, and enclosing them in a recess in the wall of the castle, built
them up within it.

Sorely pressed by the barons in 1215, John sought refuge within the
castle, and in the same year signed the two charters, Magna Charta and
Charta de Foresta, at Runnymede--a plain between Windsor and Staines. A
curious account of his frantic demeanour, after divesting himself of
so much power and extending so greatly the liberties of the subject, is
given by Holinshed:--"Having acted so far contrary to his mind, the king
was right sorrowful in heart, cursed his mother that bare him, and
the hour in which he was born; wishing that he had received death by
violence of sword or knife instead of natural nourishment. He whetted
his teeth, and did bite now on one staff, now on another, as he walked,
and oft brake the same in pieces when he had done, and with such
disordered behaviour and furious gestures he uttered his grief, that
the noblemen very well perceived the inclination of his inward affection
concerning these things before the breaking-up of the council, and
therefore sore lamented the state of the realm, guessing what would
follow of his impatience, and displeasant taking of the matter."
The faithless king made an attempt to regain his lost power, and war
breaking out afresh in the following year, a numerous army, under the
command of William de Nivernois, besieged the castle, which was stoutly
defended by Inglehard de Achie and sixty knights. The barons, however,
learning that John was marching through Norfolk and Suffolk, and
ravaging the country, hastily raised the siege and advanced to meet him.
But he avoided them, marched to Stamford and Lincoln, and from thence
towards Wales. On his return from this expedition he was seized with the
distemper of which he died.

Henry the Third was an ardent encourager of architecture, and his reign
marks the second great epoch in the annals of the castle. In 1223 eight
hundred marks were paid to Engelhard de Cygony, constable of the castle,
John le Draper, and William the clerk of Windsor, masters of the works,
and others, for repairs and works within the castle; the latter, it is
conjectured, referring to the erection of a new great hall within the
lower ward, there being already a hall of small dimensions in the upper
court. The windows of the new building were filled with painted glass,
and at the upper end, upon a raised dais, was a gilt throne sustaining
a statue of the king in his robes. Within this vast and richly decorated
chamber, in 1240, on the day of the Nativity, an infinite number of poor
persons were collected and fed by the king's command.

During the greater part of Henry's long and eventful reign the works
within the castle proceeded with unabated activity. Carpenters were
maintained on the royal establishment; the ditch between the hall and
the lower ward was repaired; a new kitchen was built; the bridges were
repaired with timber procured from the neighbouring forests; certain
breaches in the wall facing the garden were stopped; the fortifications
were surveyed, and the battlements repaired. At the same time the
queen's chamber was painted and wainscoted, and iron bars were placed
before the windows of Prince Edward's chamber. In 1240 Henry commenced
building an apartment for his own use near the wall of the castle,
sixty feet long and twenty-eight high; another apartment for the queen
contiguous to it; and a chapel, seventy feet long and twenty-eight feet
wide, along the same wall, but with a grassy space between it and the
royal apartments. The chapel, as appears from an order to Walter de
Grey, Archbishop of York, had a Galilee and a cloister, a lofty wooden
roof covered with lead, and a stone turret in front holding three or
four bells. Withinside it was made to appear like stone-work with good
ceiling and painting, and it contained four gilded images.

This structure is supposed to have been in existence, under the
designation of the Old College Church, in the latter part of the reign
of Henry the Seventh, by whom it was pulled down to make way for the
tomb-house. Traces of its architecture have been discovered by diligent
antiquarian research in the south ambulatory of the Dean's Cloister, and
in the door behind the altar in St. George's Chapel, the latter of
which is conceived to have formed the principal entrance to the older
structure, and has been described as exhibiting "one of the most
beautiful specimens which time and innovation have respected of the
elaborate ornamental work of the period."

In 1241 Henry commenced operations upon the outworks of the castle, and
the three towers on the western side of the lower ward--now known as the
Curfew, the Garter, and the Salisbury Towers--were erected by him. He
also continued the walls along the south side of the lower ward, traces
of the architecture of the period being discoverable in the inner walls
of the houses of the alms-knights as far as the tower now bearing his
name. From thence it is concluded that the ramparts ran along the east
side of the upper ward to a tower occupying the site of the Wykeham or
Winchester Tower.

The three towers at the west end of the lower ward, though much
dilapidated, present unquestionable features of the architecture of the
thirteenth century. The lower storey of the Curfew Tower, which has been
but little altered, consists of a large vaulted chamber, twenty-two feet
wide, with walls of nearly thirteen feet in thickness, and having
arched recesses terminated by loopholes. The walls are covered with the
inscriptions of prisoners who have been confined within it. The Garter
Tower, though in a most ruinous condition, exhibits high architectural
beauty in its moulded arches and corbelled passages. The Salisbury Tower
retains only externally, and on the side towards the town, its original
aspect. The remains of a fourth tower are discernible in the Governor
of the Alms-Knights' Tower; and Henry the Third's Tower, as
before observed, completes what remains of the original chain of
fortifications.

On the 24th of November 1244 Henry issued a writ enjoining "the clerks
of the works at Windsor to work day and night to wainscot the high
chamber upon the wall of the castle near our chapel in the upper bailey,
so that it may be ready and properly wainscoted on Friday next [the 24th
occurring on a Tuesday, only two days were allowed for the task], when
we come there, with boards radiated and coloured, so that nothing be
found reprehensible in that wainscot; and also to make at each gable of
the said chamber one glass window, on the outside of the inner window
of each gable, so that when the inner window shall be closed the glass
windows may be seen outside."

The following year the works were suspended, but they were afterwards
resumed and continued, with few interruptions; the keep was new
constructed; a stone bench was fixed in the wall near the grass-plot by
the king's chamber; a bridge was thrown across the ditch to the king's
garden, which lay outside the walls; a barbican was erected, to which
a portcullis was subsequently attached; the bridges were defended by
strong iron chains; the old chambers in the upper ward were renovated;
a conduit and lavatory were added; and a fountain was constructed in the
garden.

In this reign, in all probability, the Norman Tower, which now forms a
gateway between the middle and the upper ward, was erected. This tower,
at present allotted to the house keeper of the castle, Lady Mary Fox,
was used as a prison-lodging during the civil wars of Charles the
First's time; and many noble and gallant captives have left mementoes of
their loyalty and ill fate upon its walls.

In 1260 Henry received a visit to Windsor from his daughter Margaret,
and her husband, Alexander the Third, King of Scotland. The queen gave
birth to a daughter during her stay at the castle.

In 1264, during the contest between Henry and the barons, the valiant
Prince Edward, his son, returning from a successful expedition into
Wales, surprised the citizens of London, and carrying off their
military chest, in which was much treasure, retired to Windsor Castle
and strongly garrisoned it. The Queen Eleanor, his mother, would fain
have joined him there, but she was driven back by the citizens at London
Bridge, and compelled to take sanctuary in the palace of the Bishop of
London, at St. Paul's.

Compelled at length to surrender the castle to the barons, and to depart
from it with his consort, Eleanor of Castile, the brave prince soon
afterwards recovered it, but was again forced to deliver it up to
Simon de Montford, Earl of Leicester, who appointed Geoffrey de Langele
governor. But though frequently wrested from him at this period, Windsor
Castle was never long out of Henry's possession; and in 1265 the chief
citizens of London were imprisoned till they had paid the heavy fine
imposed upon them for their adherence to Simon de Montford, who had been
just before slain at the battle of Evesham.

During this reign a terrific storm of wind and thunder occurred, which
tore up several great trees in the park, shook the castle, and blew down
a part of the building in which the queen and her family were lodged,
but happily without doing them injury.

Four of the children of Edward the First, who was blessed with a
numerous offspring, were born at Windsor; and as he frequently
resided at the castle, the town began to increase in importance and
consideration. By a charter granted in 1276 it was created a free
borough, and various privileges were conferred on its inhabitants. Stow
tells us that in 1295, on the last day of February, there suddenly arose
such a fire in the castle of Windsor that many offices were therewith
consumed, and many goodly images, made to beautify the buildings,
defaced and deformed.

Edward the Second, and his beautiful but perfidious queen, Isabella of
France, made Windsor Castle their frequent abode; and here, on the 13th
day of November 1312 at forty minutes past five in the morning, was
born a prince, over whose nativity the wizard Merlin must have presided.
Baptized within the old chapel by the name of Edward, this prince became
afterwards the third monarch of the name, and the greatest, and was also
styled, from the place of his birth, EDWARD OF WINDSOR.





Next: Comprising The Third Great Epoch In The History Of The Castle

Previous: How Herne The Hunter Was Himself Hunted



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