Castles and Christmas

A typical Monday morning: write and respond to emails, schedule meetings, edit a proposal, and visit Windsor Castle, built a thousand years ago by William the Conqueror and present home of Queen Elizabeth II.

When you hear the word “castle” you may think of a large but single building.  Windsor Castle is really a compound of buildings. The scope, history, and contents of the place are mind boggling.  Here’s an aerial view:

You can’t enter most of it or take interior photos and in a way that’s a blessing or I might still be writing posts about it next Christmas Eve.

I spent about three happy hours there and will just hit a couple highlights.

First, Windsor is where it is because it’s on the river and a slight hill, which means it can be seen from most surrounding points from a distance.  I would often be out for a walk, way away from the castle, and spot it in the distance.  It was meant to see and be seen.

If seeing it from afar didn’t discourage you from attacking, you would next have to somehow breech the walls, which of course were manned with soldiers shooting arrows through these slits.

And possibly catapulting boulders or plague-infested dead bodies into your midst.

So much for highlights.  I just spent 45 minutes lost in this kids’ field visit workbook about Windsor (it’s a PowerPoint).  There’s some pretty gripping stuf in there about siege towers, battering rams, gun powder, and other items of interest to 10-year-olds. And me.

Have you ever read the term “castle keep” in a novel or history book?  I must have, but I had never given any thought to what it meant.  The keep at Windsor is below on the left.

The keep is the structure with the well and supplies; the place its inhabitants would withdraw to if all else failed, and make their final stand.

If you are wondering if Windsor was ever attacked, the workbook says:

“On two occasions during its 900 year history, Windsor Castle has been attacked.   In 1216 local Barons attacked many castles, including Windsor.  Why do you think this happened?

“Answer: During 1216 Windsor was under siege, this was 1 year after King John signed the Magna Carta at Runnymede in June 1215.  The Magna Carta was the first Human Rights Charter, importantly it gave the ordinary people of the land the right to have a fair trial. It also gave rights to the Church, Barons, and the people.  The King was bound by this law of the land too, however King John was not happy with this and changed his mind.  So, in anger at the King’s decision, the rebel Barons rose up against him.  The Castle was held by King John, and 60 Knights that were loyal to him.  The siege lasted 3 months and of all the Castles that were attacked at that time, only Dover and Windsor were held for the King. (King John died late in 1216).”

It doesn’t say what the second occasion was, and I must move on.

Two highlights for me were the Chapel of St. George and the choir quarters.  Here is one carving on the chapel exterior.

Note the detail.  Now multiply that by a thousand, inside and out.

I had just read a Phillipa Gregory novel about King Edward IV and his wife Elizabeth Woodville, who was five years older, a widow with two children, and a woman of low rank.  They married for love.  And there they were, entombed below my feet in the chapel.

My head was bobbing and swiveling to take it all in—the ornate ceiling, walls, benches—everything is carved, gilded, painted, and over the top so when I stumbled slightly and looked down to regain my footing I gasped a bit to see the plain black tomb of Henry the VIII, grandchild of Edward and Elizabeth and all-around tyrant who changed the course of history.

Outside, here were the lodgings for the children who sing in the chapel choir.

I came away—and am reminded now—of how much there remains to be experienced and learned in this amazing world.

Merry Christmas!

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