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A Complete Overview of Windsor Castle's Architecture

Windsor Castle is massive, covering over 13 acres! It's a 3-in-1 deal: part fort, part palace, and a small town all rolled into one. The present-day castle was created after a series of expansion and reconstruction projects, culminating in the rebuilding after a fire in 1992. It is essentially a medieval structure with Georgian and Victorian design elements and a touch of modern Gothic style.

Here's the thing though – since the 1300s, whoever was in charge of the architecture, from Edward III to George IV, kept wanting the castle to look contemporary, even if it meant copying outmoded styles. So you have a bunch of different eras stacked on top of each other. They even uncovered some of the older bits to make it look more "authentic" in the late 20th century.

Despite some criticism, there's no denying Windsor Castle's history and incredible architecture. It's definitely one of the top palaces in all of Europe!

Windsor Castle architectural style

windsor castle architecture

Windsor Castle is like a history book written in stone. Over the centuries, different rulers kept adding their personal touch, so you've got a fascinating blend of styles and periods that have evolved over its long history. The castle showcases elements of Gregorian fortification, Gothic grandeur, and Victorian elegance.

Walk through the Round Tower, and swing by St George's Chapel for its amazing stained glass windows and intricate Perpendicular Gothic detailing to catch a glimpse of the rich tapestry of architectural features. The State Apartments are pretty amazing too, remodeled by various architects over the centuries. Think fancy ceilings, beautiful woodwork, and opulent furniture.

The architectural charm of Windsor Castle is that even though there are different styles throughout the castle, they all harmoniously work together, reflecting the influences and tastes of the various monarchs and architects who have shaped its design over time.

Who designed Windsor Castle?

windsor castle architecture

Jeffry Wyatville

Jeffry Wyatville was an influential English architect known for his attention to detail. His notable works include transforming Buckingham Palace and constructing several Gothic-style country houses, showcasing his expertise in blending historical elements with modern design.

windsor castle architecture

Edward Blore

Edward Blore was a prominent architect and antiquarian known for his restoration work on historic buildings. He is recognized for his restoration of Lambeth Palace and his contributions to redesigning Buckingham Palace's east front, where he added the iconic central balcony.

windsor castle architecture

Anthony Salvin

Anthony Salvin was a skilled architect specializing in constructing and restoring castles, country houses, and churches. He is celebrated for his restoration work on Alnwick Castle and contributions to the reconstruction of the White Tower of London.

windsor castle architecture

Hugh May

Hugh May was an esteemed architect during the Restoration era. He is remembered for his design of the rebuilt Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford, a splendid example of classical architecture, which showcased his skill in creating harmonious and elegant spaces.

Stages of construction of Windsor Castle

windsor castle architecture

Origins

The castle is perched high above the Thames River, next to the Saxon royal hunting ground. It was originally built to guard London's western side. William the Conqueror began building around 1070, and 16 years later, the castle was complete.

windsor castle architecture

Henry II

The castle started as a wooden structure. By the late 1100s, Henry II decided to swap the wood for stone. He built two sets of royal apartments within – a State residence in the Lower Ward and a smaller private residence in the Upper Ward. The original Norman keep was rebuilt as the Round Tower in 1170. Later, Henry III rebuilt Henry II’s buildings, including a new chapel.

windsor castle architecture

Edward III

In the 1350s, King Edward III decided to ditch the military fortification and turn Windsor Castle into a Gothic palace. He emptied his pockets for this project, spending £50,000, more than any other English king had ever spent on a single building. William of Wykeham, the Bishop of Winchester, led the renovation in 1357. They built an inner gatehouse with round towers and created royal apartments with separate rooms for the king and queen.

windsor castle architecture

Richard II & Edward IV

Edward III sadly didn't live to see his work finished, but his grandson Richard II, kept the project going for six more years. Modern touches to the king and queen's rooms were carried out later, and Edward IV began the construction of the present St George’s Chapel in 1475.

windsor castle architecture

The Tudors

By the Middle Ages, Windsor Castle was already a suitable royal residence. King Henry VII built a narrow range west of the State Apartments. His son, Henry VIII, built a gate named after himself and a wooden terrace overlooking the hunting grounds.

windsor castle architecture

Elizabeth I

By the time Queen Elizabeth I took up residence at Windsor Castle, many parts of the Castle needed repair. So, she spruced the place in the 1570s under an extensive program of improvements and reconstruction. She even added a long gallery overlooking the North Terrace. This gallery eventually became part of the Royal Library in the 19th century.

windsor castle architecture

Charles II

Charles II wasn't a fan of the old-fashioned royal palace. When he became king in 1660, he modernized the State Apartments with new interiors including expensive textiles and magnificent tapestries, making them the grandest baroque royal apartments in England in 1684.

windsor castle architecture

George III

These fancy apartments lasted for over a century until King George III brought in an architect to give some rooms a neoclassical look. They added a Music Room and a Dining Room. In 1796, he appointed a new architect, James Wyatt, to transform the castle's exterior into a Gothic palace. Wyatt added a vaulted ceiling in the entrance hall and swapped out the Queen’s Stairs with the Grand Stairs.

windsor castle architecture

George IV

King George IV continued his predecessor's gothic transformation in 1820. His artistic advisor Sir Charles Long wanted to exaggerate the castle's exterior. They raised the height of the Round Tower, added new towers and battlements, and added more details to the exterior masonry. The king also wanted to revamp the Upper Ward. Jeffry Wyatville extended the entrance hall to the new George IV Tower and tore down the Grand Stair to create the Inner Hall.

windsor castle architecture

William IV

George IV didn't live to see the whole project finished, but his successor, King William IV, kept things going. He added the Waterloo Chamber and extended St George's Hall. The Morel & Seddon firm supplied furnishings in the latest French Empire style. £300,000 was spent towards the end of 1828.

windsor castle architecture

Queen Victoria

After George IV's comprehensive restoration, his successors did little to add to the castle. Queen Victoria, who came to the throne in 1837, installed a private chapel at the end of St George's Hall and rebuilt the Grand Staircase. The Royal Mews and the riding school were completed in the 1840s.

windsor castle architecture

Inner Hall

Queen Victoria made use of the Inner Hall for almost 30 years but then in 1866, she instructed the architect Anthony Salvin to close it off and build a smaller State Entrance Hall. The Inner Hall just sat there for ages, used as a storeroom and collecting dust, until they finally turned it into a temporary exhibition space in 1965.

windsor castle architecture

1992 fire

On November 20, 1992, disaster struck Windsor Castle. A fire tore through Queen Victoria's private chapel. The flames spread fast, engulfing the roof and ruining the ceilings in St George's Hall, the private chapel, and several rooms in the State Apartments including the Grand Reception Room, the State Dining Room, and the Crimson Drawing Room.

windsor castle architecture

Restoration Committee

A Restoration Committee, led by the late Prince Philip, got to work on a long process of repairs and restoration after the fire. They decided to rebuild some of the worst-hit areas, like St George's Hall, in a modern gothic style. Other areas were fixed up to look exactly how they had done before the fire. The whole restoration project was a huge success, and it was all finished exactly five years after the fire.

windsor castle architecture

Recent changes

In 2020, the Inner Hall was reopened, and a new path to the State Entrance Hall was created. Visitors now use the same State Entrance as Heads of State and official guests. Plus, you get to see the amazing view of the Long Walk, created by Charles II. They even removed layers of paint from the ceiling of the Inner Hall. They revealed some intricate designs hidden underneath, including works by Francis Bernassconi, a popular stuccoist (plasterer) from the Regency period.

The exterior of Windsor Castle

Middle Ward

windsor castle architecture

Right in the heart of everything, you'll find the Middle Ward, built around a massive, man-made hill that stands 50 feet tall. This impressive mound was created using chalk dug up from the surrounding ditch. It's quite the sight! On top of this hill sits the Round Tower, an original 12th-century building raised 30 feet in height in the 1800s by Jeffry Wyatville to be taller and more impressive. They even added additional space inside in 1991-1993 for the Royal Archives.

windsor castle architecture

There are two main ways to get into the Middle Ward. The western entrance is open, with a gateway that leads to the North Terrace. And on the east side, you'll find the Norman Gatehouse from the 14th century! This gatehouse is heavily vaulted, decorated with carvings and lion masks, a traditional symbol of majesty, and leads to the Upper Ward. The exterior of the gatehouse got a bit of a remodel by Wyatville, and the interior was heavily transformed for residential use in the 1800s.

Upper Ward

windsor castle architecture

On the north side, you'll find the State Apartments. Private royal apartments and the King George IV Gate are on the south side. The Round Tower marks the western edge. There's a giant bronze statue of King Charles II on horseback made by Josias Ibach in 1679 under the Round Tower.

The Upper Ward is adjacent to Hugh May's 17th-century terraces – the North Terrace overlooks the Thames River and the East Terrace overlooks the Home Park. The East Terrace also has a private rose garden started by George IV in the 1820s.

windsor castle

The exterior of the walls in the Upper Ward is made of Bagshot Heath stone, while the inside is lined with regular bricks. For gothic touches, they used yellow stone from Bath. They also added flint to the mortar in the 1600s to make stones from different ages look alike. The Upper Ward was designed to be dramatic with its tall towers and battlements, inspired by the 18th-century picturesque movement. Restoration work after the 1992 fire showed that there are still parts of the original 12th-century walls!

Lower Ward

windsor castle architecture

Originally mostly medieval buildings, in the 1800s, Anthony Salvin and Edward Blore gave it a Gothic transformation.

The most popular is St George's Chapel, designed in the Perpendicular Gothic style. Attached is a smaller chapel, the Albert Memorial Chapel. The ornate chapel features marble, glass, mosaics, and bronze decorations by Henri de Triqueti, Susan Durant, Alfred Gilbert, and Antonio Salviati. The east door, with ornamental ironwork, is the original door from 1246.

windsor castle architecture

The horseshoe-shaped building, the Horseshoe Cloister, housed church singers. It was restored by George Gilbert Scott in 1871, so not much of the original building is left. One of the oldest surviving parts of the Lower Ward is the Curfew Tower which has a dungeon, a sally port, castle bells from 1478, and a clock from 1689. Anthony Salvin added the conical roof in the 1800s. On the other side of the chapel are 16th-century buildings, including the Military Knights residence where the Order of the Garter Knights lives. There's also King Henry VIII's gateway with the coat of arms of his wife, Catherine of Aragon.

Windsor Castle interiors

St George's Chapel

On the north side of the Lower Ward, you'll find St George's Chapel, a church that's home to the Order of the Knights of the Garter.

Windsor castle architecture

This building was built between the late 1400s and early 1500s in the Perpendicular Gothic style. Inside are these ornately carved wooden choir stalls from the 1400s! They even got fixed and expanded in the 1700s by Henry Emlyn with special brass plates that show the coat of arms of the Knights of the Garter from the last six centuries! There's a grand Victorian door and staircase on the west side, for ceremonies. The east window is also Victorian with stained glass, but another oriel window on the north side is even older. King Henry VIII had that one built for his wife, Catherine of Aragon.

windsor castle architecture

Speaking of kings and queens, a few of them are buried here! Henry VIII, Jane Seymour, Charles I, and even the late Queen Elizabeth II, all rest under the floor in the vault in front of the altar. Edward IV is buried nearby too. Historians say this chapel is one of the best examples of Gothic architecture in all of England.

State Apartments

windsor castle architecture

Wyatville designed each room differently with matching furnishings and fine arts. The most famous are the Rococo rooms. The Grand Reception Room is the biggest (100ft x 40ft), with a massive French Rococo ceiling and Gobelins French tapestries, decorated with gold leaf. The White, Green, and Crimson Drawing Rooms have 62 carved, gilded wooden panels illustrating weapons and war.

windsor castle architecture

The Queen's Presence Chamber, the Queen's Audience Chamber, and the King's Dining Room are untouched from the 1600s, designed by Hugh May alongside painter Antonio Verrio and carver Grinling Gibbons in a Baroque, Franco-Italian style.

windsor castle architecture

Some rooms have a more Gothic design from the 1700s or the Victorian era, like the State Dining Room and Anthony Galvin's Grand Staircase. Giles Downes used the Downesian Gothic style, a modern Gothic look, to restore rooms after the 1992 fire. He built three rooms in this style: the Lantern Lobby, the private chapel, the Great Kitchen, and the new roof of St George's Hall.

windsor castle

There are also medieval features downstairs. The 14th-century Great Undercroft (193ft x 31ft) still survives. There's also the 14th-century Larderie passage hallway decorated with carved roses built by King Edward III.




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Frequently Asked Questions about Windsor Castle architecture

When was Windsor Castle built?

The original structure of Windsor Castle was built in 1070 by William the Conqueror. It took 16 years for the construction to complete. Between 1165 and 1179, Henry II rebuilt the wooden structure into a stone fortification. Over the years, with the help of several architects like Hugh May, Jeffry Wyatville, and Edward Blore, succeeding monarchs expanded and reconstructed the castle to its current state.

How big is Windsor Castle?

Windsor Castle covers 484,000 square feet and is spread across 13 acres of land. It has over 1,000 rooms, including royal bedrooms, bathrooms, and office spaces.

What’s inside Windsor Castle?

Inside the castle premises, you will find the Round Tower, the State Apartments, the Semi-State Rooms, Queen Mary's Doll's House, St George's Chapel, the Royal Archives, and the China Museum.

What is the oldest architectural element of Windsor Castle?

The oldest part of Windsor Castle is the Round Tower. Henry II built it in the late 12th century, and it is a classic example of medieval architecture. It is 115 feet tall, serving as a watchtower, a prison, and currently, the Royal Archives.

How did the fire of 1992 impact the architecture of Windsor Castle?

The Crimson Drawing Room, the Green Drawing Room, and the Queen's Private Chapel were completely burnt in the State Apartments. Although St George’s Hall’s walls remained largely intact, its ceiling had collapsed. The State Dining Room in the Prince of Wales Tower and the Grand Reception Room were also destroyed. In total, 100 rooms were affected by the fire. Fortunately, the seriously damaged rooms had been emptied of their valuable contents the previous day, and some paintings were on loan to an exhibition. 

Are there any secret passages or hidden rooms within the castle walls?

There is a network of tunnels beneath the castle. Some of these are for plumbing or heating purposes, but rumors persist of secret tunnels that lead from the castle to other locations, possibly used during espionage or for escaping during hard times. There are also numerous chambers in the walls that serve as storage spaces. However, these are said to conceal treasures and artifacts, and even host secret meetings.

How has the architecture of Windsor Castle been adapted for modern use?

When Edward VII came into power in 1901, he set about modernizing the castle. During his reign, electric lighting was added to more rooms, along with central heating; telephone lines were installed, as well as garages for automobiles. After the 1992 fire, the damaged rooms were restored to their original appearance but incorporated modern designs.

How does Windsor Castle compare architecturally to other British castles?

In design, Windsor most closely resembled Arundel Castle, another early Norman fortification. However, architecturally, Windsor was not initially used as a royal residence. It’s also a much older castle, with forts and battlements for defense purposes rather than for residential purposes.