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.

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