Friday, December 18, 2009

Windsor castle, part 3

George IV found his father’s quarters too dilapidated and inconvenient to suit his luxurious tastes and he persuaded Parliament to vote 150.000 pounds for renovations; as with most estimates the sum fell far short of requirements and in the end, after sixteen years of continuous work, over a million pounds was expended transforming the castle back into a romantic fortress with a gorgeous palace within. The work was carried out under the supervision of the well-known architect, Jeffry Wyatt, who, with the king’s leave, changed his name to Wyatville, probably to make it worthier of the knighthood subsequently bestowed upon him. His achievements at Windsor were extensive, but some have been a target for criticism. For instance, exception has been taken to the hollow stone crown, some thirty three feet in height, which Wyatville fitted to the top of the Round Tower. But had he not done this, the Round Tower would have appeared absurdly squat beside the buildings of the Quadrangle to which he added an extra storey. This imbalance had indeed been apparent long before and artists had sought to conceal it in their pictures of the castle by surmounting the Round Tower with an outsize Royal Standard. It is thanks to Wyatville that the distant view of the castle is so dramatically beautiful, for it was he who first conceived the possibilities of the castle as a composite building. Moreover, despite being constantly hampered by inadequate funds, he built so soundly that the castle has needed little restoration since his time.
Among the interior alterations he made, one of the most important is the Grand Corridor, 550 feet in length, which extends round two sides of the Quadrangle. It is not perhaps a handsome addition, but it was a very necessary one, for previously there was no communication from one side to the other except through a maze of private apartments or across the open courtyard. The Grand Corridor became notorious during Queen Victoria’s reign, for in this ill-heated tunnel ministers and other visitors had to wait for an audience with Her Majesty. It was there also that the queen would sit after dinner on less formal occasions and each of her guests would be summoned to talk to her in turn while the remainder of the company stood uncomfortably in the draughts or surreptitiously leant against the wall to ease their aching feet.
Another creation of Wyatville’s is the Waterloo Chamber, built over a small courtyard known as the Horn Court. It was designed to gratify a whim of George IV who saw himself among those responsible for freeing Europe from the tyranny of Napoleon. He had commissioned Sir Thomas Lawrence to paint portraits of all monarchs, statesmen and warriors who had contributed to the final victory, and the Waterloo Chamber was built to house this collection. It is a magnificent hall in which the problems of lighting have been skillfully solved by adding a clerestory and the huge room with its vast dining table, large enough to seat 150 persons and its immense seamless carpet (80 feet by 40 feet) lends grandeur to a series of portraits of great historical interest.
After Wyatville’s death in 1840 the few alterations to the castle were mostly those already envisaged in his original plan, but postponed for lack of money. New and commodious stables were built at a discreet distance from the castle with stalls for a hundred horses. Such vast stables are still in regular use since Windsor become an important centre for polo and other forms of equitation. The Lower Ward contains some red brick houses of pleasing appearance but the Gothic revivalists yearned for a uniform grey stone castle as being more romantic and several brick buildings were swept away, including the only one in the castle designed by Wren.
Later in the nineteenth century a gentler policy was adopted and many of the old and quaint houses belonging to the College of St George have been carefully and sympathetically restored. The chapel itself underwent a complete overhaul in the 1920s during which the whole vaulted roof was magically renovated and the pinnacles outside received a fresh collection of King’s Beasts to replace those removed as being unsafe on the recommendation of Christopher Wren in 1681.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Windsor castle, part 2

Edward III undertook extensive building operations in the castle. He provided many new lodgings for the clergy of his college, and the Canons’ Cloister with its massive beams still exists in largely its original form. Most of the rest of Edward III’s buildings have been masked by later additions or alterations, but to him is due the Norman Gateway guarding the approach to the Quadrangle and Round Tower, the key positions in the fortress. He had also enlarged the chapel to accommodate the Knights of the Garter and the College of St George, but either lack of funds or the dearth of skilled masons after the Black Death had deterred him from building a new church. By 1390 the chapel was found to be in a dangerous condition and Geoffrey Chaucer, the poet, as Clerk of the Works, was charged with its restoration. He seems to have held the post for only two years and the extent of his achievements as a builder is not known. It cannot have amounted to much, for mid-way through the following century the chapel was in such a ruinous state that rebuilding seemed the only solution. Accordingly in 1472 Edward IV, the first Yorkist king and addicted to “the advauncement of vaine pompe”, set about the task of building the present noble church that looks down from the hill to the similar, through plainer, chapel at Eton begun in 1441 by Henry VI, the Lancastrian victim of the Wars of the Roses.
Another range of buildings in Tudor style, this time in red brick, stands to the west of St George’s. This is the Horseshoe Cloister built; it is said, in the shape of a fetter lock, one of the badges of Edward IV. It was constructed to accommodate some of the clergy whose lodgings had been demolished to make room for the new and larger chapel; it now houses the singing men of the choir and the vergers and forms an attractive and picturesque corner of the castle, through the extensive restoration necessary in 1871 has left but little of the original materials.
Elizabeth I resided frequently at Windsor and it was she who built the North Terrace, now a favorite place with all who visit the castle, for despite the spread of urbanization the view over the Home Park and the Brocas Meadows, with Eton College serene beside the Thames and the Bucking-Hampshire foothills in the distance, remains entrancingly beautiful. Elizabeth must have loved this prospect, for she built herself a gallery overlooking the North Terrace intended as a place for wet weather exercise. This handsome building with its magnificent Tudor fireplace has largely escaped alteration and since William IV’s reign has housed the Royal Library.
During Charles I’s struggle with Parliament Windsor Castle became the headquarters of the Roundheads and suffered considerably at the hands of an underpaid garrison whose commanders were zealous in stripping it of ornaments of value. Charles was imprisoned for a few days in his own castle shortly before his execution and it was to Windsor, in February 1649, that a handful of faithful adherents brought his body for burial. Without ceremony of any kind they bore the royal coffin through a snowstorm from the Deanery to St George’s and buried the king in a vault beneath the choir where lay the remains of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour. The spot is close beside the place where royal burials are made today, for the confirm is lowered to a vault which George III in 1810 caused to be dug beneath the Tomb House and the east end of St George’s.
Charles II on his return from exile was immediately attracted to Windsor, for he saw in it not only a pleasant place for the royal sport of stag hunting, but also a kingly residence that could be made to compare favorably with Louis XIV’s grand palace at Versailles, then just taking shape. With this object in view he created the Long Walk, three miles in length and 240 feet wide, stretching away to the south of the castle. He planted it with an avenue of elms which unfortunately had to be felled in 1945 because of disease and have been replaced with alternate chestnut and plane trees. At that time there was a conglomeration of houses to the south of the castle and Charles was not able to bring his avenue up to the walls, as he would have wished. This was achieved only in 1824 by George IV who swept away the houses, including one designed by his father, and then repaid the insult by erecting at the far end of the Long Walk a monster statue of George III in the guise of a Roman Emperor astride a vast copper horse.
The taste of Charles II’s time showed a sharp reaction to the Gothic style of architecture and it was therefore to be expected that the Royal Apartments should conform to the new influences which came from abroad. On the North Terrace a range of buildings, 170 feet long, was demolished and replaced with a plain stone edifice void of decoration expert for a huge Garter Star. The interior, however, compared strangely with the austere exterior, for inside were saloons with a wealth of decoration inspired no doubt by the magnificence of Versailles; the ceilings were painted by an Italian artist, Verrio, and there were wood carvings in great profusion by Grinling Gibbons. Through all but three of the twenty ceilings by Verrio have crumbled and have been removed, the present State Apartments give a fair idea of the richness of the Carolean interior and the effect is heightened by the superb pictures, some of which had been collected by Charles I.
After the considerable building achievements of Charles II, Windsor Castle fell into a period of dire neglect. Queen Anne indeed lived there, through mostly outside the precincts, and it was there that she received the news of the victory of Blenheim. At Windsor every year the Duke of Marlborough renders a silk flag with “fleur de luces” as a token rent for Blenheim Palace and the manor of Woodstock. The first two Hanoverian kings disliked Windsor, and the castle, besides decaying sadly, was invaded by a host of virtual squatters, occupying grace and favor residences which they were wont to alter in any way they pleased. George III, however, was attracted by the castle and its neighborhood, but for many years he occupied a lodge beside the southern wall since the Royal Apartments needed extensive reconstruction before they could accommodate his family of thirteen children. Eventually, in the year 1804 he moved his family into the castle. The king also made some modest alterations to restore its Gothic appearance; these are to be seen in the Portland stone windows in the Quadrangle and the North Terrace and they bear an air of quiet dignity. All building operations came to a sudden end when in 1811 the king permanently lost his reason and until his death nine years later he almost never left his cheerless apartments.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Windsor Castle - part 1

Windsor Castle stands on a chalk outcrop overlooking the Thames and from whatever direction it is approached, it raises magical in outline above the surrounding countryside. Seen from a distance it is beautiful beyond imagination, for it is all perfectly in proportion and the delicate flying buttresses of St George’s Chapel give a graceful relief from the rugged solidity of the Round Tower and the Royal Apartments. Viewed from close by, the effect is less satisfactory, because the extensive Gothic restoration and alterations carried out in the early nineteenth century by Sir Jeffry Wyatville still bear an air of newness that may well delude the visitor into believing that Windsor is but an imitation of an ancient fortress. How false this impression is can only be revealed by a study of the castle’s long and fascinating history.
The Saxons had a palace at Windsor, but it was two miles lower down the river. William the Conqueror took the palace for his own, appreciating to the full the pleasures of the chase in the nearby forest. But as an invader his primary concern was security and he selected the hill above the river near his palace as a site for a stronghold that would guard the approaches to London from the west. When its construction began is not known, but it is probable that the date coincides with the building of the Tower of London (1078), for Windsor Castle is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1084 as occupying half a hide of land in the parish of Clewer. Half a hide might mean anything between twenty and sixty acres; the castle at present covers some thirteen acres, but the additional land recorded in the Domesday Book was doubtless needed to clear the approaches.
The form of the original fortress is unknown, but it was probably similar to the present layout of the castle with an upper and a lower bailey and a central artificial chalk mound. This mound, on which the Round Tower now stands, is fifty feet high and measures almost a hundred yards in diameter at the base. Provided with a well, which is still to be seen beneath a bedroom floor in the Round Tower, is formed a secure keep to which a beleaguered garrison might retreat for a last stand. Such buildings as existed were undoubtedly made of timber from the forest, for not trace remains of any stone building of the Conqueror’s time. It was indeed a purely military establishment and did not became a royal abode until 1110 when Henry I moved there from Old Windsor as being a safer place for one whose claim to the throne was of doubtful validity.
Of the buildings he raised, no identifiable remains exist and the earliest architectural features of Windsor Castle date from the reign of Henry II, who replaced most of the wooden palisade with a stone wall, guarded at intervals with square turrets, still to be seen, through in an altered form, in the Royal Apartments next to the East Terrace. It was Henry II also who first constructed a stone keep on the mound, the odd shape of which caused the Round Tower to be anything but circular, through its irregularity is seldom noticed.
In 1189, shortly after Henry II’s death, the castle suffered its first siege when the English barons, commanded first by the Archbishop of Rouen and subsequently by the militant Bishop of Salisbury, attacked Prince John’s army of Welshmen who had taken refuge in the castle. The Welsh took fright and fled; they were pursued and “put to worthy execution”, but John himself escaped to France. Later, as King, he stayed at Windsor during the humiliating week, 15-23 June 1215, when he was forced to sign Magna Carta at Runnymede some two miles away. The following year the barons again besieged the castle, this time without success, through their siege engines did severe damage to the defenses, especially in the Lower Ward, where there was still a timber palisade. Henry III at once set about the task of repairing the damage and of strengthening the defenses by building the western curtain wall. After some old houses had been cleared away from in front of it in 1852, much of this old wall was restored, but many traces of Henry III’s work are still plainly visible in the rough-hewn heath stones close to the Curfew Tower which rises high above Thames Street.
The Curfew Tower was built in 1227 and contains some of the earliest untouched masonry in the castle. The exterior is severely uniform, having been refaced in 1863 by the French architect, Salvin, who added a sharply pointed roof in the style of his native castles to minimize damage from the rain. The Tower contains relics of an old gaol with a pair of stocks in excellent working order; the interior walls were built of chalk, the only material available locally, and one of the old dungeons contains the beginnings of a tunnel through which a prisoner hoped to escape only to be defeated by the thickness of the masonry. Under the tower there are also the remains of a Sally Port (one of three in the castle) intended to form a secret entrance and exit in time of siege. The upper part of the tower contains the castle bells, brought there in 1478 and erected on massive timbers still nobly doing their work. A flight of steep, uneven stairs leads up to where stands the fascinating movement of the clock made in 1689 by John Davis, a native of Windsor. The clock, restored but substantially original, is of great ingenuity and solid workmanship; apart from moving the hands with admirable precision and striking the hours like any normal clock, it plays a psalm tune, St David’s, every three hours, rings some merry peals and then goes through it all twice again for good measure.
The next royal builder of note was Edward III and it was an auspicious day for Windsor when he was born in castle on 28th November 1312, for it was he who founded the Order of the Garter with Windsor as its temporal and spiritual home. The origin of the Order is obscure, but it must have been created in either 1347 or 1348 after the king’s triumphant return from France. The popular account is supported by a written source as early as the reign of Henry VII when the chronicler states that King Edward picked up from the ground a garter which had come adrift from the queen “or some paramowre”; amid the ribald comments of the noblemen the king said quietly: “Sirs the time shall shortly come when we shall attribute much honor unto such a garter”. The churlish nobles rebuked, Edward instituted the Order of the Garter with its apt and reproachful motto: Honi soit qui mal y pense.
It seems that at first the Order was only intended to form two teams for jousting, with the Sovereign leading one and the Prince of Wales the other. But Edward’s intentions quickly became more serious, for on 6th August 1348, he founded the priestly College of St George with a Custos and twenty-five Canons. In addition there were to be twenty-six Poor Knights who were to attend mass daily as a substitute for the Companions of the Order. This institution survives today, through on a more modest scale; there is a Dean and three Canons and three Minor Canons and the Poor Knights, now thirteen in number and less bluntly styled Military Knights, are retired officers of distinction.