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


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


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.