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Windsor Castle and Forest

TILL sailing or steaming up the Thames, we reach the most stately home of the Queen of England - Windsor. This grandest and loveliest of regal dwellings is within twenty miles of London. From a noble eminence above the Thames the royal castle looks down on a dozen surrounding counties, "bearing on its turretted brow the impress of majesty, strength, and power." From its keep can be seen Bedford, Bucks, Berks, Essex, Hants, and Herts, Kent, Middlesex and Oxford, Surrey, Sussex and Wiltshire - a magnificent prospect for the eyes of the crowned and beloved lady of the land!

The Castle owes its stately existence to Edward III., who gave it grandeur and extent; for, though he was born there, it was a mere fortress, with a chapel attached, till he extended it, and gave it its present grandeur and size.

The Windsor at which King John dwelt during the conferences at Runnymede was simply this earlier fortress, originally built as a stronghold by William the Conqueror. Henry 111. enlarged and altered the Lower Ward considerably, and added a chapel. Thus it remained till, we have said, Edward III. re-built it. He began with the Round Tower, in 1315, when he was only 17 years old. His architect was the famous William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester, of whose genius the Castle is one of the finest records. It was indeed a worthy dwelling for the great king, his equally noble wife, and his son, the Black Prince.

View of Windsor Castle from the river.

But Windsor, like the Tower, was both a palace and a prison, and it was the ransoms of two captive kings that built a great part of it. The Upper Ward was erected at the expense of John, King of France; the Middle Ward, or Keep, at the cost of David, king of Scotland's liberty. The largest of the three wards of the Castle is the Lower Ward, which includes the Winchester Tower, Store Tower, Wardrobe Tower, Salisbury Tower, Garter Tower, Julius Caesar's Tower, and the Belfry Tower. The great gates without the Castle are King Henry VIII.'s, St. George's, and King George IV.'s. One within is called the Norman, or Queen Elizabeth's Gate.

The Round Tower or Keep was built by Edward for the purpose of assembling in it a fraternity of knights, who should sit together on a footing of equality, in the fashion of the knights of King Arthur's Round Table, and here the great Plantagenet designed to hold an annual festival; but in this he was thwarted by the jealousy of Philip de Valois, king of France. For the construction of his intended Round Table fifty-two oaks were taken from the woods of the Prior of Merton, near Reading, for which the king paid 26 13s. 4d.

Disappointed of his Round Table Order, Edward instituted instead the Order of the Garter, the legend of which is well known The patron saint was of course St George; and Edward held a great feast at Windsor in his honour and that of the Order, with great triumph, jousting and tournaments, attended by all his nobles, knights and squires.

If is unfortunate grandson, Richard II., also held a feast of St. George there; a joust, with forty knights and squires challenging all comers. They were apparelled in green, with a white falcon embroidered on their surcoats, but few nobles appeared at this feast, so unpopular had the king then become.

The interior of Windsor Castle is very magnificent The ante-room, vestibule, and throne room, with their painted ceilings, their exquisite carvings, and richly embossed medallions of gold and silver, are superb.

The Waterloo Chamber, the ball-room, and St. George's Hall, the latter two hundred feet long, are equally splendid.

The guard-room used to contain a part of the mizenmast of the Victory, against which Nelson was standing when he received his fatal wound. It is perforated by a ball which had passed completely through this part of the mast. This memento was in possession of William IV. when he was Duke of Clarence, and residing at Bushy Park. It was deposited in a small temple in the grounds, and in the bullet hole a pair of robins built their nest and reared their young birds. The mast, with a bust of Lord Nelson on it, is now in the Armoury at Windsor Castle. Here also is a silver shield, inlaid with gold, presented to Henry VIII. by Francis I. of France, at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. The ceiling is groined with massive mouldings, and rests on corbels, supported by grotesque heads and richly flowered bosses. Here are piles of ancient armour, and full-length armed figures.

The Queen's Presence Chamber and Audience Chamber have painted ceilings, and are enriched with beautiful Gobelin tapestry.

The paintings in the State rooms are many and valuable. They are by nearly all the great painters. Two are especially interesting - the exquisite portrait of Charles I. on horseback, and the Misers, by Quentin Matsys. The latter, a splendid painting, is also interesting from the story attached to it. Quentin Matsys, a young Dutch blacksmith, fell in love with the daughter of his master. This person had vowed that the maiden should only marry a great painter. The decision seemed prohibitory of the blacksmith's hopes; but Matsys loved the girl, and determined to win her. If is beautiful ironwork proves that he possessed naturally a certain artistic taste. He studied the required art with all his powers, and at last produced this magnificent painting, which won him his bride, as well as both fame and fortune, while his heart-wrought work has found a home in the palace of ancient kings.

The fine old Keep was the prison of the Castle from Edward III.'s reign till the Restoration. The first prisoner of note who was confined here was James I., of Scotland.

His father, Robert III., was a weak old man, powerless to control or set aside the will of his brother, the Duke of Albany. Robert's elder son, the Earl of Rothsay, was wild and thoughtless; and Albany managed to exaggerate his misdoings to the king, and finally obtained permission to imprison the unhappy young man, whom he then caused to be starved to death.

Our readers have probably read his sad story in "The Fair Maid of Perth." The king, convinced of his brother's crime, but as unable to punish it as he had been to prevent it, resolved, if possible, to save his only remaining son (then nine years old) from his uncle, and succeeded in sending little James away from Scotland, on the plea that he wished him to be educated at the Court of France. But the ship in which the child sailed was taken by an English vessel, the two countries being at the time at war, and James was carried to the Court of Henry IV., who detained him a prisoner. But the education of the prince was not neglected. He had every advantage of instruction given him, and became the friend of Prince Hal. afterwards Henry V., with whom he learned the arts of war in France. It was while he was a prisoner in the Keep that James fell in love with the beautiful Jane Beaufort, daughter of the Duke of Somerset. He tells the story charmingly in his poem of the "Queen's Quhair." His window, he says, "looked over a garden fair," in which was an arbour built of willow wands, and overshadowed by trees, with which all the place was set; and the hawthorn hedges were so thickly knit together that no one walking outside could see within it. The little sweet nightingale was pouring forth her song of love in it, till all the gardens and the old walls rang with the sweet strains. He continues: -

"And therewith cast I down mine eye again,
Where as I saw walking under the tower,
Full secretly new comyn her to pleyne,
The fairest and the freshest younge flower
That ever I saw (methought) before that hour;
For which sudden abate anon astart
The blood of all my body to my heart."

He thus describes the lady -

"In her was youth, beauty with humble port,
Bounty, riches, and womanly feature,
God better wot than my tongue can report;
Wisdom, largesse, estate and cunning lure
In every point so guided her measure
In word, in deed, in shape, in countenance,
That Nature might no more her child advance."

There is a tradition, believed by Mr. Tytler to be true, that rather accounts for the long detention of James in England. Mr. Tytler states that Richard escaped from Pontefract Castle (how, is not known), that he travelled disguised to the Western Isles, where he was discovered serving in the kitchen of the chief by a jester who had been bred up at the English court. This man revealed the wanderer's rank to Donald, Lord of the Isles, who sent him to Robert III., by whom he was generously treated and supported as became his rank. After Robert's death Richard was honourably treated by the Duke of Albany, who probably may have made his retention of Richard as prisoner conditional on Henry's retention of the young King of Scots, whose power Albany usurped. This story is, however, disbelieved by the English historians. Yet we are told that there are entries in the accounts of the Chamberlain of Scotland, during the period in question, for sums expended for the maintenance of the king for eleven years, and that he was buried in the church of the Preaching Friars at Stirling. There are, however, many circumstances in Albany's conduct that render the tale doubtful.

But James was at last ransomed, and married the lady of his love, with whom he returned to Scotland, and was for a time very happy.

Let us leave him there; his unutterably sad fate belongs to the pages of the blood stained history of Scotland.

Another poet who was also a prisoner at Windsor, and who, as James did, soothed his captivity by writing, was Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, the last victim of Henry., VIII.

He was the greatest ornament of the English court; a brave soldier, an accomplished gentleman. He had been an inmate of the Castle in his childhood, when Henry had made him the companion and playmate of the young Duke of Richmond, the king's own son, to whom Surrey be came tenderly attached. The following poem, written by him during his captivity, is full of sad, sweet memories of that early, friendship which had been broken by death

"So cruel prison how could betide, alas,
As proud Windsor, where I, in lust and joy
With a king's son my childish years did pass,
In greater feast than Priam's son of Troy,
Where each sweet place returns a taste full sour!
The large green courts where we were wont to rove.
With eyes upcast unto the Maiden's Tower,
And easy sighs such as folks draw in love;
The stately seats, the ladies bright of hue,
The dances short, long tales of great delight,
With words and looks that tigers could but rue,
When each of us did plead the other's right:
The palm-play, where, dispoiled for the game,
With dazed eyes, oft we by gleams of love
Have missed the ball, and got sight of our dame,
To bait her eyes, which kept the leads above.
The gravelled ground, with sleeves tied on the helm
On foaming horse, with swords and friendly hearts.

The secret groves that oft we made resound
Of pleasant plaint and of our ladies' praise,
Recording oft what grace each one had found,
What hope of speed, what dread of long delays,
The wild forest, the clothed holts with green,
With reins availed and swiftly breathed horse,
With cry of hounds, and merry blasts between,
Where we did chase the fearful hart of force;

The pleasant dreams the quiet bed of rest;
The secret thoughts imparted with such trust;
The wanton talk, the divers change of play;
The friendship sworn, each promise kept so just,
Wherewith we passed the winter nights away.
And with this thought, the blood forsakes the face,
And tears berain my cheeks of deadly hue,
The which as soon as sobbing sighs, alas!
Unsupped have, thus I my plaint renew;
0 place of bliss! renewer of my woes!
Give me account where is my noble fere, 1
Whom in thy walls thou dost each night inclose,
To other leefe, but unto me most dear,
Echo, alas! that doth my sorrow rue
Returns thereto a hollow sound of plaint;
Thus I alone, where all my freedom grew
In prison pine with bondage and restraint,
And with remembrance of the greater grief,
To banish the less, I find my chief relief."

To Queen Elizabeth Windsor owes its terraces, which she formed, and she annexed the portion of the Castle built by Henry VII. to that designed by herself; this annex is called Queen Elizabeth's Gallery.

The splendid state beds shining with gold and silver, were also additions made by the great queen.

In the civil war the Castle was mercilessly plundered, but Cromwell stopped the spoliation.

In the reign of Edward IV., St. George's Chapel, one of the finest perpendicular Gothic buildings in the kingdom, was commenced and finished by Henry VII.

It is a very beautiful chapel, from the grandeur of its architecture, its splendid stained glass, and its choir, where the installation of the Knights of the Garter takes place. The stalls of the knights are ranged on each side of the choir, and over each stall, beneath a canopy of carved wood, are the sword, mantle, helmet, and crest of each knight, with his banner above all; a brass plate at the back of the stall sets forth his name, style, and titles. The noblest names known are emblazoned in this chapel.

The very large perpendicular window has fifteen lights. In this chapel is the tomb of King Edward IV. enclosed by a range of admirable wrought steel-gilt church work, by John Tressilian, smith. On the arch above hung the king's coat of mail, covered with crimson velvet, on which the arms of France and England were embroidered in pearl and gold interwoven with rubies. This trophy was stolen by the Roundhead Captain Fogg in 1642, when he also robbed the treasury of the chapel of its rich altar plate.

In 1789, more than three hundred years after its interment, the leaden coffin of King Edward IV. was discovered in laying down a new pavement in St. George's Chapel. The skeleton is said to have measured seven feet. A lock of the king's hair was procured by Horace Walpole for his Strawberry Hill collection.

Here also are the graves of Henry VI., Henry VIII. and his favourite wife, Jane Seymour, the loyal Marquis of Worcester, and King Charles I.

In 1813 the coffin of Charles I. was opened by Sir Henry Halford, when the remains were found as the faithful Herbert had described them.


The castle clock had tolled midnight;
With mattock and with spade,
And silent, by the torches' light
His corse in earth we laid,

The coffin bore his name, that those
Of other years might know,
When earth its secrets should disclose,
Whose bones were laid below.

'Peace to the dead,' no children sung,
Slow pacing up the nave:
No prayers were heard, no knell was rung,
As deep we dug his grave.

We only heard the winter's wind,
In many a sullen gust
As o'er the open grave inclined,
We murmured, 'dust to dust.'

A moonbeam, from the arches' height,
Streamed as we placed the stone;
The long aisles started into light,
And all the windows shone.

We thought we saw the banners then,
That shook along the walls,
While the sad shades of mailed men
Were gazing from the stalls.

'Tis gone! again on tombs defaced,
Sits darkness more profound,
And only by the torch we traced
The shadows on the ground.

And now the chilly, freezing air
Without blew long and loud;
Upon our knees we breathed one prayer,
Where he slept in his shroud.

We laid the broken marble floor,
No name, no trace appears;
And when we closed the sounding door,
We thought of him with tears.


The tomb-house, east of St. George's Chapel, was built by Henry VII. for himself, but he erected a far more stately tomb for himself at Westminster; and Henry VIII. gave his father's unused mausoleum to Wolsey, who prepared it for himself, but after his fall the ornaments of it were sold as defaced brass. James II. converted it into a Romish Chapel, but it was defaced by a Protestant rabble. Next George III. converted it into a sepulchre for himself and his descendants. It has since been vaulted in stone, inlaid with the finest Mosaic work extant, and the windows filled with stained glass, as a sepulchral chapel in memory of the Prince Consort.

Of the magnificence of Albert the Good's memorial chapel, we have not here space to write.

* * * * * *

1. Richmond.

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Picturesque England - Matthew Spong 2004