O would'st thou sing what heroes Windsor bore,
What Kings first breath'd upon her winding shore,
Or raise old warriors, whose ador'd remains
In weeping vaults her hallow'd earth contains!
With Edward's acts adorn the shilling page,
Stretch his long triumphs down through ev'ry age,
Draw monarchs chain'd and Cressy's glorious field,
The lilies blazing on the regal shield:
Then, from her roofs when Verrio's colours fall,
And leave inanimate the naked wall,
Still in thy song should vanquish'd France appear,
And bleed for ever under Britain's spear.
WINDSOR CASTLE, the magnificent residence of the British Sovereigns, is most delightfully situated on the summit of a lofty hill, the base of which is laved by the pellucid waters of the Thames. The prospects to the east, west, and north, are extensive and beautiful, being enlivened by the windings of the river, and variegated with elegant mansions, luxuriant meadows, and gentle eminences, covered with the rich foliage of innumerable woods. On the south, the view is bounded by the wild and picturesque scenery of the forest, intermingled with a great variety of verdant accompaniments.
This venerable structure owes its origin to William the Conqueror, who, charmed with the beauties of the situation, prevailed on the Abbot of St. Peter's at Westminster to exchange the Windsor demesne, which had been granted to the Monastery by Edward the Confessor, for certain lands and manors in Essex, etc, and no sooner had he completed the negociation, than he erected a Castle or Palace on this spot, as a hunting-seat. He also designed the parks, extended the boundaries of the forest, and established rigid laws for the preservation of the game. Henry the first considerably improved the edifice which his father had erected, enlarged it with additional buildings, and, for greater security, surrounded the whole with a strong wall. The alterations made by this Prince were so important and numerous, that many writers have given him the honour of founding the Castle. Henry the Second held a Council or Parliament here in the year 1170, and when Richard Creur de Lion departed on his romantic expedition to the Holy-Land, the Bishop of Ely (to whom in conjunction with the Bishop of Durham, the Monarch had entrusted the government of his kingdom, made it his place of residence. King John also resided here during his contest with the Barons, who, in the year 1286, besieged it without success. In the next reign it was delivered to them by treaty; but in the ensuing year, it was surprised, and made the rendezvous of the King's forces. Queen Eleanor, Edward the First's Consort, was extremely fond of this situation, and was here delivered of four children.
The heroic Edward the Third was also born at Windsor: and to his affection for his birth-place, the Castle is indebted for its present grandeur. The improvements made by this Prince, extended to nearly the whole of the ancient fabric, which, with the exception of the three towers at the west end of the lower ward, was entirely taken down, and the chief part of the structure as it now stands erected on its site. Some singular particulars relative to the mode of procuring workmen, etc. are detailed in Ashmole's History of the Order of the Garter. We are there informed that the King granted his letters patent to certain surveyors, empowering them to impress as many hewers of stone, carpenters, and other artficers, as might be necessary to the due and honest performance of the great undertaking." These letters are dated the 23d of his reign. Four years afterwards two Commissioners were appointed to provide stone, timber, lead, iron, etc. and privileged to seize carriages for the conveyance of the materials to Windsor.
In the year 1357 the celebrated William de Wyckham was appointed to superintend the works, with the salary of one shilling daily, and three shillings per week for his clerk. The conduct of the Supervisor obtained the approbation of the Monarch, who, in 1360, gave him complete authority over every thing connected with the Castle, as well as the unlimited jurisdiction of the manors of Old and New Windsor. The ensuing year the King issued writs to the Sheriffs of several counties, directing them, under the penalty of a hundred pounds, to provide a certain number of workmen, and send them to Windsor within ten days, to be employed at "the King's wages as long as was necessary." And because divers of these workmen did afterwards clandestinely leave Windsor, and were entertained by other persons upon greater wages, to the King's great damage and manifest retarding of his work, the Sheriffs of London were ordered to make proclamation, that those persons who should presume to employ any of the fugitive artificers, should be dispossessed of all their property. The Sheriffs were also directed to arrest the runaways and commit them to Newgate.
For a year or two the raising of the buildings appears to have been pursued with great celerity; but a contagious disorder having destroyed many of the workmen, the Monarch was a second time obliged to have recourse to writs, which were dated the 20th of March, 1363, and his desire of completing the structure increasing with the delay occasioned by the fatal malady, the Sheriffs were commanded, under twice the former penalty, to send to Windsor a stated number of skilful masons and diggers of stone, by the following Easter.
From 1363 to 1370 the erection of the Castle seems to have proceeded with much rapidity; "artificers being yearly impressed for the King's service:" from that time till the year 1375 this harsh measure appears to have been abandoned; and as the monarch died in 1377, we may conclude that the principal part of this magnificent structure was completed at the above period. Many alterations and additional buildings have been made in the Castle by the successors of Edward the Third. Edward the Fourth enlarged and rebuilt the beautiful Chapel of St. George. Henry the Seventh vaulted the roof of the Choir of that structure, and erected the spacious fabric adjoining the King's apartments in the Upper Ward. Henry the Eighth rebuilt the great gate in the Lower Ward. Edward the Sixth, and Mary, his successor, had a fountain of curious workmanship made in the centre of the Upper Court, to supply the Castle with water. Queen Elizabeth raised the noble terrace on the north side, which commands an unbounded prospect over one of the most beautiful vallies in the kingdom. Charles the First made several improvements, and erected a gate leading to the park; but, during the convulsions which shortly ensued, the Castle was despoiled of many of its ornaments, and the palace of the monarch became his prison. Charles the Second repaired and embellished the whole structure, decorated the apartments with numerous fine paintings, established a magazine of arms, and continued the terrace round the east and south sides of the Upper Court. This walk is faced with a rampart of freestone, and extends to the length of 625 yards, being only inferior, in that respect, to the terrace next the sea, in the outer court of the Seraglio at Constantinople. Various alterations have been made by succeeding Princes; but the principal improvements during this and the last century have been effected by our late Sovereign, whose munificent plans for the embellishment of this structure far exceeded the designs of his predecessors. Under his direction the Chapel of St. George was completely repaired, and superbly decorated. It now forms as perfect an examplar of beauty, elegance, and union of parts, as any edifice in the kingdom. The ditches also, which skirted the east and south sides of the Castle, have been filled up, and the ground levelled. The rooms have been furnished with new paintings, and the windows, on the north side of the Upper Court, enlarged, and adapted to the Pointed style of architecture.
This majestic edifice is divided in two Courts, called the Upper and Lower Wards, which are separated by The Keep, or Round Tower, built on a lofty artificial mount, surrounded with a moat, in the centre of the Castle. The ascent to the upper apartments is by a long flight of stone steps, guarded by a cannon planted at the top, and levelled at the entrance. The curtain of this Tower is the only battery now in the Castle: round it are seventeen pieces of ordnance, which seemingly retain their situation more as objects of ornament than of utility. The summit of this building presents a combination of the most interesting views in England. The immense variety of objects included within the sphere of vision from this spot, excite the most pleasing sensations. The windings of the Thames through a wide extent of country, the scenery of the forest, the venerable groves, the busy hamlets, the variegated fields, the crowded towns, and all the variety of elegant mansions embosomed in wood, and tastefully situated on the borders of the river, mingle in the landscape, and compose a picture, which the luxuriant pencil of the most fertile imagination might fail to delineate.
This Tower is the residence of the Constable or Governor, whose office is both military and civil. He is invested with full powers to guard the Castle against every enemy, foreign and domestic; and also to investigate and determine all disputes that may arise within the precincts of Windsor Forest, which, according to a manuscript description of that manor, written by John Norden, and now in the British Museum, is 77 miles and a half in circumference.
The Upper Ward is a spacious quadrangle, composed of the Round Tower on the west; the private apartments of their late Majesties, etc. on the south and east; and the royal apartments, usually shown to strangers, St. George's Hall, and the Chapel Royal, on the north.
The Lower Ward is bounded on the east by the Keep, and divided into two parts by the Collegiate Church, or Chapel of St. George. The south and south-west sides are occupied by the houses of the alms, or poor knights: the west end is terminated by the residence of the minor canons and choristers, built in the form of a horse-shoe; and on the north side are the apartments of the Dean, canons, clerks, vergers, and other officers belonging to the College of St. George. In the inner cloisters are the houses of the several Prebendaries; and the College Library, which is furnished with a well chosen selection of ecclesiastical writings, and books on polite literature. In the apartment called the Garter Room, is an ancient screen, emblazoned with the arms of all the Sovereigns and Knights of the Garter, from the institution of the order to the present time.
The Chapel of St. George was erected by Edward the Third, on the site of a smaller structure, built by Henry the First, and dedicated to Edward the Confessor. The mode of obtaining workmen was nearly the same as that employed in constructing the Castle; a person being employed to superintend the building, and empowered to impress artificers, and constrain them to labour at the King's wages, under pain of imprisonment. The origin of its magnificence, however, may be attributed to Edward the Fourth, by whom it was very considerably enlarged, and rendered one of the most beautiful structures of that era.
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