10 little known facts about Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle under blue sky
The Long Walk begins at the George IV Gateway and stretched for almost three miles | Image: Shutterstock

Perhaps one of the most recognisable castles in the world, the 13-acre Windsor Castle has been home to a long line of British Royals. Over the centuries it has seen changes in power, war, plague, and revolt. The castle itself has also gone through immense evolution during its life and boasts an eclectic range of design and architecture styles that mark new periods of the history of Britain.

Here are 10 little-known facts about Windsor Castle:

1. It’s nearly 1,000 years old

When William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066, he quickly erected a series of motte and bailey castles to subjugate the Anglo Saxons and establish a firm seat of power. Starting in Dover, William made his way up from the coast, where he built the Tower of London. Windsor Castle was built as one of nine defensive castles in a ring around London. Each one was placed around 25 miles apart to remain a day's march away from the city.

2. It’s the largest and oldest inhabited castle in the world

Windsor Castle was first used as a place of residence by William’s son, Henry I, and has remained a firm favourite with monarchs ever since. With its easy access to London and vast lush hunting grounds, Windsor is the familial home of members of the Royal family.

As it has grown more established since it was a motte and bailey, the castle is now home to 150 resident staff (out of approximately 400 staff in total). Operating more like a small town than a palace, Windsor Castle has remained inhabited for close to 1,000 years and has been home to everyone from soldiers to librarians, fendersmiths, and horologists.

The Great Kitchen is the oldest working kitchen in the country and has been in continual use for over 650 years, serving 32 of Britain’s 39 monarchs. It currently hosts the Queen’s culinary team of 20 chefs and sous chefs, three pastry chefs, and over 40 porters and kitchen staff.

3. It takes around 16 hours to turn the clocks forward

Windsor Castle has 300 fireplaces and over 450 clocks. Resident fendersmiths are on hand 24 hours a day to attend to the fireplaces, while the resident horologists are always busy making sure that the clocks are running smoothly. When it comes to daylight savings hours it takes around 40 hours of work to prepare and around 16 hours to turn all 450 clocks forward or backward.

4. It is the burial ground for 10 of England's kings

10 of the 39 British monarchs to have ruled are buried at Windsor Castle, including Henry VIII and his favourite wife, Jane Seymour. Not all burial places are resting places, however, and some of the kings interned there have died in less than favourable circumstances. Charles I, Britain’s only monarch to be tried and executed for treason, is interred alongside Henry VIII. Meanwhile, Henry VI was murdered on the orders of Edward IV, who had laid claim to his throne.

5. Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House

Inside the castle is a magical example of architecture and craftsmanship that you might not expect. Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House was built for the queen in the 1920s and is a 1:12 scale (1 inch: 1 foot) model home. Featuring a complete library of 170 miniature books, electric lighting, a fully stocked wine cellar (with real wine), and working plumbing that allows you to draw a bath: the house is a one-of-a-kind work of art.

It is filled with miniature replicas of brands and items that would have been found in any royal palace, and the artworks and creations that fill the home were gifted by over 1,500 artists, artisans, and manufacturers.

6. The Long Walk is nearly three miles long

The tree-lined avenue leading up to Windsor Castle was introduced by Charles II. The iconic stretch starts at the George IV Gateway and ends at the copper horse statue. It boasts fantastic views of the castle, its grounds, and the deer population of the royal parks.

7. It’s the birthplace of English Chivalry

While people joke about chivalry being dead in the modern-day, at Windsor Castle, it is very much still alive. The Order of the Garter was set up by Edward III, who was inspired by the chivalric heroics of the Knights of the Round Table in the stories of King Arthur.

The men and women who are offered knighthoods based on their services to the public are required to display their heraldic banner whenever they attend St George’s Chapel in the castle.

8. It’s kept out more than just invading armies

Windsor isn’t just a castle; it is a stronghold that can protect the royal family from invaders at the gates. However, it’s helped to protect the monarchs of Britain from some threats that are much harder to avoid.

During outbreaks of plague, many monarchs have returned to Windsor to wait out pandemics in relative safety. With the ability to be holed up within the castle and limit entry from potential plague carriers, Windsor has been used as a quarantine multiple times. Queen Elizabeth I was rumoured to have sojourned in the castle during a nasty bout of the plague and threatened any uninvited visitors to the castle with immediate hanging. More recently, the castle was used by Queen Elizabeth and her late husband Phillip to weather out the COVID-19 pandemic.

9. The Royal Family takes its name from Windsor

King George V made the decision in 1917 to change the Royal Family's surname to 'Windsor'. Why? The country was three years into World War I and the anti-Germany sentiment was at an all-time high. Therefore, the king dispensed with the use of German-sounding surnames. From 19th June the Royal Family were no longer known as 'Saxe-Coburg-Gotha' and instead opted for the much more patriotic 'House of Windsor' as an homage to their hometown.

10. Hitler intended to live there

Windsor isn't just a favourite of the Royals; there were rumours during WWII that if Hitler successfully invaded the UK, he would set up his residence in the castle. Had he succeeded in the invasion, however, he might not have been so lucky when it came to securing Windsor Castle. Many of the staff of Buckingham Palace were relocated to Windsor for safety, and Queen Elizabeth II (a princess in the Land Army at the time) was in residence throughout the war. Some nights she was forced to sleep in the dungeons in case the Luftwaffe successfully bombed the castle.