Nephew Chris and his wife Kate spent our last weekend with us. Quite a treat to see them. They drove in from Bristol from a lovely house they've been fixing up the last few years. Good thing they only have a couple of details to finish as they're expecting a baby in February. Kate looks great. They arrived around midday Saturday and after a bit of lunch we piled into their car and headed to Windsor, only about a half hour west of us.
The day was overcast but a bit warmer, relatively speaking.
|Sign post outside the castle. Eton College is right across the river.|
|Following behind Kate, Chris, and Benedict outside the castle walls.|
There is some serious security around the palace.
|Chris and Kate.|
The next day after brunch Chris drove us all back to Windsor and we were able to get in. We're grateful to Chris and Kate for suggesting we visit Windsor, otherwise we wouldn't have had the opportunity to visit. Had we been on our own we would have taken the train, which seems to involve taking the underground to Paddington RR Station and then a regular train to Windsor, a project that might have taken close to half a day to accomplish one way. None of us were prepared for the what was available for the public to see, however.
Knights of the Order of the Garter, begun by Edward III in 1348. The origins of the Order are cloudy, even to the exact date of its beginning. The full membership is limited to only 24 knights, not including the monarch who heads the order and appoints new knights, and member of the royal family are also appointed members although not among the 24 full knights. The monarch may appoint people to be Stranger Knights. Among such members are foreign sovereigns. St. George, seen here slaying a dragon, is the Order's patron saint. The spiritual home of the Order is St. George's Chapel at Windsor.
|The moat partially surrounding the castle. It serve primarily as a garden.|
|The Round Tower. The Queen's standard flies, a bit limply on this day, from the flag staff indicating she is occupying the royal apartments on this Sunday. When she is not present at the palace, the Union Jack hangs dolorously instead.|
online photos of the chapel, too few of them of the interior. Ten monarchs are buried here, including Henry VIII and Charles I. Here is a timeline of the College of St. George and the Chapel that includes a few photographs of stain-glass windows and interior spaces.
The first stop within the castle was the Drawing Gallery. The gallery was lightly lit and the art, which was primarily drawings, is often rotated to protect them from damage to light exposure. The Royal Collections, which holds over 1700 drawings, supposedly contain the largest collection of Da Vinci drawings in the world, and we saw several of them, and drawings by others (these are samples from the collection, not necessarily what was on exhibit). There was also a special exhibit of the photos of the queen as a young girl along with her sister Princess Margaret, parents George VI (the subject of the current film about how he overcame his stuttering) and his Queen Consort Elizabeth, and QE II's children too. Prince Charles looks as priggish as a four year old as he does today. Still, when angry protesting students pelted his car last week while the Prince and the Duchess of Cornwall were on the way to a night at the theatre one of them, heard yelling 'Off with their heads', was attacking the wrong target.
We visited the Queen Mary's Doll House, which is probably the biggest and best I've ever seen. The house is built to 1:12 scale, and everything little thing within it is built to scale. Tourists are not allowed to photograph inside the castle, but perhaps you can get an idea of the detail from this photo. Mind you, this photo only shows one side of the house. Each side is just as carefully crafted with garages, servant quarters, the queen's bedroom, etc. Craftsmen and the best artists of the 1920s helped to put this together. Phenomenal.
From the Doll House gallery we flowed into the main state apartments. More armour (Henry VIII really was obese), fabulous swords and other weaponry, gifts from leaders from around the world when the empire was at its height, as well as absconded treasures from India and other corners of the old empire. It gets a bit tiresome to pronounce another collection of stuff as fabulous or fantastic or brilliant. Why am I surprised that a royal palace holds incredible works of art? I should take it for granted by now. I should be surprised from now on if a palace did not contain extraordinary works of art. The paintings at Windsor alone are mouth watering. Never mind the the stately rooms, the solid silver table and mirror frame. Forget about the tapestries and rugs. Ignore the sculpted heads of Nelson, Churchill (both Winston and his ancestor John, the 1st Duke of Marlborough, who won the crucial Battle of Blenheim in southern Germany to save Vienna from assault by France's Louis XIV during the Spanish War of Succession), Wellington, various other monarchs and military leaders. I lost count of the ceramic dining services.
The Royal Collection numbers over 7000 paintings and it's distributed among the various royal residences. That's staggering. It's one of the largest collections in the world. What would rival it? The Vatican? The queen does not own the art; she merely holds them in trust for the state. The state actually owns the collection, but since the queen is the head of state it seems she's the de facto owner if not owner de jure. There are Rubens, Rembrandts (the fourth self portrait we've seen in our gallery hopping), Canalettos, Van Dycks, Raphaels, Holbeins at Windsor alone. On the walls of one large room, the Waterloo Room, which was being used by the Eton College Orchestra as they rehearsed for a performance that night for their parents (so I heard; might the queen be eavesdropping from her apartments that night?) hung at least a couple of dozen portraits by Thomas Lawrence of the monarchs, military leaders, diplomats, and a pope who together ganged up on Napoleon to finally defeat him at Waterloo in 1815. In the center, of course, is Lawrence's portrait of Wellington. (The loss of life at this battle was so severe the Duke commented: 'Next to a battle lost, the greatest misery is a battle gained.')
What was at first was a great tragedy, a fire in the palace in 1992 that severely damaged about 20 percent of the castle, turned into an opportunity to restore many of the rooms to their original state of glory using traditional and modern craftsmanship. The results are magnificent.
What a treasure to experience something special. Again.
Eton College, seen here in the middle distance, looks like. After all, the Duke of Wellington allegedly said, 'The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton'. Sadly, there were no organized sporting games at Eton during his three unhappy years there and the quote seems to have been attributed to him after his death. According to rumour, that quote may have been meant more literally than it seems. Did Eton own the land the battle was fought on? Perhaps not, but the current Duke of Wellington collects 100,000 pounds in annual rent from farmers near Waterloo in Belgium who work the land granted to the original Duke by the King of Holland in gratitude for the Duke's victory..
That's definitely not an old musket.
After dinner in the shadow of the old castle, Chris drove us home through heavy traffic on the M4. An accident caused us to crawl along. When we finally made it home we enjoyed a final cup of tea with Chris and Kate before they returned to Bristol.
A note: Last week many people in England remember the anniversary of the death of John Lennon exactly 30 years earlier. It was a very big deal here.