As the oldest Royal residence in Britain to have remained in constant use by successive Monarchs, Windsor Castle represents an amazing transformation from basic Norman stronghold to palatial modern residence. Constructed as a timber Motte and Bailey castle c1080, the design was unusual by the fact that it had two baileys, the upper ward and lower ward. The oldest surviving part of Henry II's Windsor Castle is the round tower that still occupies the earthen mound. It was during Henry's time that two separate blocks of state apartments were built, one for use when entertaining his court in the lower ward, and the other in the upper ward for the Royal Family's private use.
Henry III continued the work of improving Windsor Castle, and built the first chapel, but the most dramatic changes were made during Edward III's reign in the 14th century. In 1348 the lower ward was transformed for the new college of St George, and in 1357 work began on the new gothic palace in the upper ward, under the direction of the Bishop of Winchester. On completion of these substantial works, little more was altered throughout the medieval period. Edward IV built the present St George's Chapel, Henry VII and his granddaughter, Elizabeth I, remodelled the state apartments, Henry VIII built the entrance gate to the lower ward, and Mary Tudor created the lodgings on the southern side of the lower ward.
Captured by parliamentarian forces and used as a prison during the Civil War, Windsor Castle received a major refurbishment after the reformation of the Monarchy in 1660. Charles II took 11 years to create some of the finest Baroque interiors ever seen in England, lavishly embellished with Grinling Gibbons wood carvings, and ceiling paintings by Antonio Verrio, some of which survive to this day.
The later Stuart and Early Hanoverian Monarchs preferred living at Hampton Court Palace and the importance of Windsor Castle subsequently declined. However, by the end of George III's reign, Windsor Castle was once more being used as the Royal family's main residence. George IV continued the tradition, taking up residence in 1828. It was during this period that Windsor Castle was given its present, distinctive gothic exterior.
With Queen Victoria's accession to the throne, Windsor Castle enjoyed its heyday. The British Empire was at its peak, the Queen's many children had married into most of the royal houses of Europe, and Victoria's popularity made her, and Windsor Castle, the centre of attention worldwide. This period of Royal domination and success was saddened by the early death of Prince Albert at Windsor Castle, on 14th December 1861.
Little would have changed from that day to this had it not been for the disastrous fire in 1992. With numerous staterooms in the upper ward destroyed, a huge rebuilding project began and was completed on 20th November 1997, exactly five years to the day from when the raging inferno took hold of Windsor Castle. It was a time of great joy for the Queen, not only to witness the results of the various skills and hard work put into the long and costly restoration, but also that it coincided with her 50th Wedding Anniversary.
Today the Royal family is referred to as the 'House of Windsor', and Windsor Castle attracts many thousands of visitors from all around the world who wish to admire the spectacular state apartments and the breathtaking perpendicular architecture of St George's Chapel.