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Windsor Castle
Earliest Norman Fortification

Prior to the Norman Conquest, the manor of Clewer, the site of modern Windsor, consisting of five hides, was the property of King Harold, son of Godwin, and, together with his other estates, fell at his death into the hands of William the Conqueror. William granted the manor to one Ralph, the son of Seifride, reserving, however, one-half of a hide on which are believed to have been some ancient earthworks and on which he built for himself a castle. This was styled, not Clewer Castle, but Windsor Castle, the name of Harold's Royal residence nearby (at what is now called Old Windsor). Since then, the castle has been intimately associated with English history, having been used alternately by William's descendants as their palace, prison and burial place.

William Rufus assembled a council at Windsor and, there, imprisoned the rebellious Earl of Mowbray for the remaining thirty years of his life. Henry I built a chapel, probably on the site now occupied by the Albert Memorial Chapel, formerly known as Wolsey's Tomb House. Windsor was a favourite summer residence of Henry and it was there, in 1121, that he married Adelicia of Louvain, the 'Fair Maid of Brabant.' In 1127, Henry received, at Windsor, the homage of the nobles of the land who, at the same time, swore allegiance to his daughter, the Empress Matilda. As was usual on such solemn occasions, the coronation ceremony was repeated.

Windsor does not figure at all in King Stephen's disturbed reign but it was seen as one of the key Royal castles to be handed over to Henry II upon his succession. The latter frequently resided there and, in the tenth year of his reign, expended the sum of 30s on repairing the Royal kitchen. Fabyan, a chronicler of the time, tells a pathetic story bearing on Henry's domestic troubles with his rebellious sons. "It is recorded that in a chamber at Windsor, he caused to be painted an eagle, with four birds, whereof three of them all raised [scratched] the body of the old eagle, and the fourth was scratching at the old eagle's eyes. When the question was asked of him [Henry], what thing that picture should signify? It was answered by him, "This old eagle," said he, "is myself; and these four eagles betoken my four sons, the which cease not to pursue my death, and especially my youngest son, John, which now I love most, shall most especially await and imagine my death.""

Prince John garrisoned the Windsor Castle against William Marshal and the supporters of his brother, King Richard, in 1193 and it is closely connected with his granting of Magna Carta. Between Old Windsor and Staines is the flat meadow of Runnymede, from which the castle towers are visible. During the conferences which preceded and followed the ratification of this great charter, John went backwards and forwards to Windsor Castle each day. He was at Windsor when he heard of the invasion of the French Dauphin, Louis, in 1216. The King later moved elsewhere but the castle was put under siege for two long months by the rebel Barons and their French allies.

Part 2: Early Medieval Expansion

Edited from PH Ditchfield's "Bygone Berkshire" (1896)


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