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What Is Windsor Castle?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2016
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Windsor Castle is one of the most celebrated castles in England, serving as a home and protectorate of royalty since the late 11th century. Known in the 21st century as both a royal residence and a tourist attraction, Windsor Castle has survived sieges, imprisonments, major fires and managed countless royal weddings and funerals in its long history. A mish-mash of architectural styles, the castle features a medieval layout, yet mostly relies on Georgian, Gothic, and Victorian architectural influences.

The origins of Windsor lie with William the Conqueror, following his conquest of Britain in 1066. One of several keeps built to defend London, the original wooden structure of Windsor had considerable strategic importance, since it served as a guard on the Thames River. King Henry II devoted resources to adding stone to the design in the 12th century, as the original structure was quickly wearing away. Further improvements throughout the Middle Ages included the addition of St. George's Chapel in the 15th century, a structure that still stands. Beginning with King Henry VIII in the 16th century, Windsor Castle became known primarily as a location for royal entertainment and diplomatic activity, a purpose which it continues to serve in the 21st century.

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As a major center for royal power, Windsor Castle has hosted many historically significant events. In the 13th century, the castle was besieged for two months by a group of barons funded by the French, who sought to force King John I to accept the terms of the newly-created Magna Carta. King Charles I was imprisoned at the castle during the English Civil War of the 17th century, and was later buried there following his execution at the hands of Parliament. His son, Charles II, ordered extensive renovations to the castle after his restoration to the throne, in part of honor his father. In 1992, Windsor Castle suffered a devastating fire that damaged or destroyed nearly 100 rooms, leading to a heated political debate over the responsibility for the cost of the repairs.

In the 21st century, Windsor Castle plays an important part in the activities of the royal family. Throughout the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, the castle has served as her primary spring and summer residence, most notably during the period around Easter each year. The royal family also uses Windsor to host diplomatic ceremonies and events, following the tradition established during the Tudor period. When the royals are not in residence, the castle remains inhabited, with nearly 500 permanent residents. One of the largest tourist attractions near London, Windsor Castle is often open for tours, which include viewing of the royal art collection and special exhibits on the life of the royals and the history of the castle.

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