In Depth

Windsor Castle: Inside the royal family’s favourite wedding venue

The Week takes a look at Berkshire’s famed royal residence as it hosts another lavish royal wedding

Just five months after an estimated 1.9 billion people watched Prince Harry and Meghan Markle tie the knot at Windsor Castle, the Queen’s main residence has played host to another extravagant royal wedding.

More than 1,000 members of the public were invited to Windsor for the marriage of Princess Eugenie to her long-term boyfriend Jack Brooksbank today.

The BBC reports that among the 850 guests present at the ceremony were celebrities including Cara Delevingne and Robbie Williams.

The Guardian says the star-studded affair, which included a reading from The Great Gatsby, was “both a highly formal royal event and a somewhat idiosyncratic ceremony reflecting the distinct character of the younger generation of royals”.

But what do we know about the historic castle in which the wedding took place, and what significance does it hold in British history?

When was Windsor Castle constructed?

Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world, serving as a royal family home for almost 1,000 years.

The site, "high above the Thames and on the edge of a Saxon hunting ground", was chosen by William the Conqueror, says the Royal Collection Trust, and construction began around 1070. It finished approximately 16 years later.

The castle “was originally built to secure the western approach to London”, the trust adds, “but easy access from the capital and proximity to a royal hunting forest recommended it early on as a royal residence’.

Henry II began replacing Windsor’s original timber walls with stone towards the end of the 12th century, but it was during the reign of Edward III, in the late 14th century, that the castle was transformed into a gothic palace, much of which is still seen today.

What is it the castle used for?

More than 1,000 years after its construction, Windsor Castle remains a functioning residence for the royal family, with around 150 people working and living on the site.

The Queen takes up official residence for a month during Easter, when she occasionally hosts “dine and sleep” events for guests including politicians and public figures. She also presides over Investiture ceremonies at the castle throughout the year.

Contrary to popular belief, The Culture Trip notes that if the union flag is flying above the castle, it means the monarch is not present.

“It’s the Royal Standard they raise at Windsor to announce the monarch is present,” the site says. 

The Queen stays at Windsor for a week in June, when she attends the service of the Order of the Garter and the Royal Ascot race meeting. 

Windsor Castle is by far the most visited of all the properties of the Royal Estate, with more than 1.36 million tourists in the year 2016/17. By contrast, second-place Buckingham Palace racked up a mere 556,000 entry tickets. 

What is the significance of St George's Chapel?

Although the building housing the chapel dates back to the 13th century, most of the current construction was carried out under Edward IV, who was buried in St George’s in 1483.  

He is not the only member of royalty to be interred there – Henry VIII and his third wife Jane Seymour, Charles I, George III, George VI, Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother are also among those buried at the chapel.

The chapel has been a venue for royal weddings since the future King Edward VII married Princess Alexandra of Denmark in 1863, The Daily Telegraph reports. 

More recently, Prince Harry’s uncle Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones – now the  Earl and Countess of Wessex – tied the knot there in 1999, while Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, married Camilla Parker-Bowles at the chapel in 2005. Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank have also chosen St George’s for their wedding in October.

St George’s has space for around 800 guests, far fewer than the 2,000 at Westminster Abbey, where Prince William and Kate Middleton were married in 2011, and the 3,500 that can fit into St Paul's Cathedral, where Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer – later Diana, Princess of Wales – said “I do” in 1981.

The castle grounds

Windsor Castle is surrounded by vast parklands, which are part of the Crown Estate. Home Park sits adjacent to the castle on its south, east and north sides, consisting of approximately 500 acres of green space, says Encyclopedia Britannica. The Royal Burial Ground at Frogmore, which hosts the mausoleum of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, lies within this park.

To the south of the castle lies the Great Park, which is around 1,800 acres and contains the Long Walk, a three-mile avenue leading from the castle entrance. The elm trees that once flanked this avenue were originally planted by King Charles II in 1685, but these trees were replaced by younger ones in 1945.

At the far end of the Long Walk is the Copper Horse statue, which George IV commissioned in memory of his father George III. VictorianWeb describes the monument as “a milestone in British equestrian sculpture” as it was “probably the most important of the works which helped revive the craft of bronze casting in Britain”.

Red Deer are often spotted in the castle grounds. A population of around 500 roam freely around the Deer Park enclosure, according to the Windsor Great Park website. It says the current herd “are all descendants of 40 hinds and two stags that were introduced in 1979” by Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

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