The Project Gutenberg EBook of Windsor Castle, by Edward Thomas This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org/license Title: Windsor Castle Author: Edward Thomas Release Date: November 11, 2012 [EBook #41345] Language: English Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1 *** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK WINDSOR CASTLE *** Produced by sp1nd, David E. Brown and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net (This file was produced from images generously made available by The Internet Archive)
|Oxford||The Peak District||Dartmoor|
|The English Lakes||The Cornish Riviera||The Dukeries|
|Canterbury||Dickens-Land||Warwick and Leamington|
|Shakespeare-Land||Winchester||Bath and Wells|
|The Thames||The Isle of Wight||Ripon and Harrogate|
|Windsor Castle||Chester York||Scarborough|
|Cambridge||The New Forest||Bournemouth, Poole,|
|Norwich and the Broads||Hampton Court||and Christchurch|
|The Heart of Wessex||Exeter||Swanage and District.|
|Villars, Champery, etc.|
|The Curfew Tower||Frontispiece|
|Windsor Castle from Fellows' Eyot, Eton||8|
|The Lower Ward, Windsor Castle||12|
|The Horse-Shoe Cloisters and St. George's Chapel||16|
|The Hundred Steps||22|
|The Norman Gate||26|
|The Canons' Cloisters||30|
|Anne Boleyn's Window, Dean's Cloisters||36|
|North Terrace and Winchester Tower||40|
|Nell Gwyn's House and Henry VIII Gateway||44|
|Eton College from Windsor||48|
Celebrated places make a strong and often a visual impression upon the mind before they are seen either in reality or in picture. Windsor Castle, especially from the west and at some little distance, is one of those which confirm and even augment, when first seen, the mysterious vision of the imagination. Seen from the flat meadows of Clewer on a moist morning, when thrushes are singing in the elms, Windsor Castle rises up like a cloud in the east, with nothing behind, or on either side of it, but a sky of dull silver, and nothing below but the smoke wreaths of the town gently and separately ascending. It is like a cloud, a huge soft cloud, without motion yet full of change; and it is presently resolved into the predominant Round Tower, and on one side of it the perpendicularly carved St. George's Chapel and the Curfew Tower, on the other side the cliffy, long front of the State Apartments. Even thus clear, the buildings are as remote as a cloud in a mental atmosphere of time and undefined associations. For these green meadows of Clewer belong to to-day. Behind their cheap fences they seem to expect the builder; they are edged by lowly and modern houses which vote Liberal and flutter white linen on the grey air. And on every hand the country is what it has been made within recent times. The river, the Court, and Eton College have changed the face of this countryside into something characteristic in every detail of a piece of England which is both attractive in itself and conveniently near London—almost within half an hour by rail and hardly more by road, if you ignore the law and the multitude. It is dotted with neat white-windowed houses of the rich and comparatively rich. The very dogs are wearing Conservative ribbons as they trot between their slouching red-faced masters and their delicately stepping indolent mistresses. The roads are many and excellent, and the beat of carriage horses' hoofs is a constant music, though interrupted by the motor car's hoot and throb and hiss. Every road is "as smooth as a die, a real stockjobber's road". For centuries the roads to Windsor must have been exceptionally good; in Swift's time it was little more than a three-hours' journey from London. The inns are many. Bread and cheese and a drink cost half a crown, by paying which the visitor confers upon himself a companionship in a nameless but very honourable Victorian or Edwardian Order. There are many other instruments of civilization—railway stations, boathouses, Wellington College, the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, the Royal Holloway College for Women, not to speak of the racecourses at Ascot and at Windsor, and the Criminal Lunatic Asylum at Broadmoor, while Aldershot itself is really in the same district.
On one side of the road from Staines to Old Windsor are gasworks, perhaps the most impressive and singular of purely modern architectural monuments; on the other is Runnymede, a vast green level, skirted by the river and walled by woods, perfectly worthy of the scene of King John's humiliation and the Barons' triumph in 1215, which have left it probably as it was before them, except for the hedges of whitethorn. The Workhouse at Old Windsor lies close to some of the most masculine iron oaks, some of the quietest reedy water and furry turf. And if the near neighbourhood of a running river, wide grass, embowered hills, and the great skies over the Thames, cause new things to rasp a little more harshly than usual, these in their turn give an exquisite edge to the rusticity. Nowhere are elmy meadows, mistletoed poplars, willowy serpentining brooks, sweeter than at Datchet: the very name has a country sound before it is seen, and without any magical help from The Merry Wives of Windsor. Nowhere more beautifully does the deer trip half a dozen steps and then rise and glide the same distance with only a forward motion, than under the spruces, at the edge of the high road, within half a mile of the confectionery turrets of Holloway College.
This tract of country was one of the earliest to be highly civilized, and for three centuries the dilettante has admired it. John Evelyn was at Windsor on June 8, 1654, and found the Castle rooms "melancholy and of ancient magnificence", but walking on the terrace, he thought that "Eton, with the park, meandering Thames, and sweet meadows yield one of the most delightful prospects". Ten years later, Pepys exclaimed: "Lord! the prospect that is in the balcony in the Queen's lodgings, and the terrace and walk, are strange things to consider, being the best in the world, sure". Swift told Stella that Windsor was "a delicious place". Gray stood on the same terrace looking towards Eton, and wrote a poem which began as if it was to be his Ode on the Intimations of Immortality, such was the feeling of its first two verses, and these lines especially:
I feel the gales that from ye blow
A momentary bliss bestow.
I forget the rest. Gray had an aunt at Stoke Poges, near Eton, and visited Stoke Park, where in 1799 a Mr. Penn put up a monument to him as author of the Elegy in a Country Churchyard. As famous by name, but far less read, is the "Cooper's Hill", which Sir John Denham wrote in the first year of the Civil War. In the opening lines—
Sure there are poets who did never dream
Upon Parnassus, nor did taste the stream
Of Helicon; we therefore may suppose
Those made not poets, but the poets those.
And as courts make not kings, but kings the court,
So where the Muses and their train resort
Parnassus stands; if I can be to thee
A poet, thou Parnassus art to me—
the feeling and versification foreshadow much later and better work. But few readers can now do more than remember having heard the four lines to the Thames which express the poet's vain aspiration:
O could I flow like thee, and make thy stream
My great example, as it is my theme!
Though deep, yet clear; though gentle, yet not dull;
Strong without rage, without o'erflowing full.
Denham lived on Cooper's Hill, at Ankerwyke Purnish, three miles from Windsor; his contemporary, Edmund Waller, at Hall Barn at Beaconsfield, ten miles away; Milton at Horton and Chalfont; Pope stayed at Binfield, and, sixty years after Denham's poem, wrote his Windsor Forest. With all his asseveration he does nothing to convince us that he was ever at Windsor, or that, if so, he was glad to be there. It is hard to believe that a lover of trees wrote:
Let old Arcadia boast her ample plain,
Th' immortal huntress, and her virgin train;
Nor envy, Windsor! since thy shades have seen
As bright a Goddess, and as chaste a Queen;
Whose care, like hers, protects the sylvan reign,
The Earth's fair light, and Empress of the main.
He alludes to Queen Anne. The greater part of the poem is in a language no longer intelligible, and it should be remembered it was written at the time when Windsor Park began to be what it now is. I recognize the same familiar strangeness in the style of an anonymous poet who described a stag chase in Windsor Forest in 1739. That Frederick, Prince of Wales, was his theme did not daunt but inspired him, and he says:
Round Frederick's Brows their Crowns let Dryads wreath,
Hence taught to grasp at Dangers, Wounds, and Death.
This was a language not only praised by Swift as well as by later critics, but then commonly understood, though there is no proof that it was ever spoken. It is fairly certain that an anonymous poet of 1708 represented some inner truth and vision, now alas! irrecoverable, by the words in his "Windsor Castle":
Beneath this Palace flows fair Thames's Streams,
Where spreading Elms shade from the Sun's hot Beams;
Where beauteous Sea-Nymphs on the Waters sport,
And bulky Tritons grace the splendid Court.
For him Queen Anne was like the sun, and he believed that:
Clouds with mourning Sables deck'd the Skies,
Till Anna like another Sun did rise.
If we take "Queen Anne" as being the equivalent of "Sun", it may still be possible to make out the cipher which he and Pope used so mysteriously.
These are not the only great men connected with Windsor and the neighbourhood in the days of its transformation. Cowley, the eagle Cowley, came to the Porch House at Chertsey for his last years, and died there in 1667. Colley Cibber, the famous Laureate, was drawn into the charmed land at Hill House, White Waltham. Later came Thomson to Richmond. Beaconsfield was the home and burial place of Burke, where Johnson and Mirabeau talked with him. At St. Anne's Hill, near Chertsey, Charles James Fox, that lover of nightingales, lived for five years at the end of his life. It was to Dropmore, and its library and gardens, that Lord Grenville retired for his last twenty years. And at Marlow Shelley moored his boat to write Laon and Cythna; at Bishopsgate he wrote Alastor; but for a romantic poet to come within a few miles of Windsor, even though he was once an Etonian, was a rash if not a sacrilegious act, and it is out of the picture. For this country is the creation of the ages of Denham and Pope and George the Fourth, who probably did not read Shelley. The plantation of the two miles of elms in the Long Walk was begun under Charles II in 1680, and these are far more impressive than the oaks at Swinley, which remind the imaginative of Alfred and the Confessor. The straight lines of this Walk and of Queen Anne's ride dominate the Park. At Cranbourne the significant fact is not that William the Conqueror's Oak is in the White Deer Enclosure, but that the racehorse "Eclipse" was born here in 1764. The Bray Wood oak trees that sprouted in the Middle Ages were suddenly modernized by being named after Queen Anne and Queen Charlotte.
When Hazlitt went to see the pictures at Windsor, he said: "Pope's lines on Windsor Forest suggest themselves to the mind and make the air about it delicate". It looks a little odd to attribute to such a poem the effect of making the air delicate—Banquo having observed to Duncan that where the martlets "most breed and haunt ... the air is delicate". Yet it has a truth. The delicacy is sophisticated; it is the delicacy of three—not to say nine—centuries of artifice, or of Nature hand in hand with Sir Christopher Wren, Grinling Gibbons, Antonio Verrio, Alexander Pope, Esquire, and the great gardeners. This artifice is triumphant on the East Terrace of the Castle itself, the smooth walk half a mile long, the orangery, the dark and bright symmetrical Italian garden, with its marble and bronze statuary and its elephants and nymphs, seen from the white-and-gold royal dining-room. It is strong on the smooth sculptured turf below the Round Tower and the rose garden in the ditch, though quaintly alleviated by the gorse above that; still strong in the avenues of great elms in the Home Park, the lime trees, the grass, as smooth as a lake and untrodden save by birds, under the Castle hill and the high rookery trees. If you escape it among the bracken and the warty oaks of the Great Park, it is suddenly upon you with violence when you look up at Snow Hill and see the colossal copper statue of Farmer George on horseback, more magnificent and less amiable now than in life. It is more than perfect—it is rampant and even, so far as is consistent with its formality, rollicking—at Virginia Water, the largest artificial water in England, completed under George III, with its laced waterfall, its ruined columns brought from Tripoli by George IV, its marble altar dedicated to Jupiter Helios; the dark yews, close by, and the cedars and stone pines of Belvidere Wood; the heronry, and the Fishing Cottage which imperfectly replaces a Fishing Temple in the Chinese style. If Pope's "Windsor Forest" has become obscure in the night of two hundred years, Virginia Water speaks in an unquestionable and still flourishing style.
The Castle itself, that sublime cloud upon the western horizon, if it is approached more nearly, is not what it seems when, from a road or river far to the west, it is fit to embody our fancies of that fairest castle that man ever saw, in the dream of Maxen; or from the fields of Datchet; or from the railway arch over the Clewer footpath, which gives a view of smooth water gleaming between old walls, with swans, placid masts and curled pennons, and to the left Eton Chapel and its high dark windows among poplars and serrated roofs in a sky of grey satin, and to the right the closely gathered huge bulk of the Castle above the small town.
As you walk under the Curfew Tower, the Garter Tower, the Salisbury Tower, in Thames Street, only the mass and outline announce antiquity; the streets, the names over the shops, even the old man who has dyed his white beard to get work as a scaffolder, look more ancient. Doubtless the jackdaws, gliding straight out into the clear air from the Round Tower, have been there since Creçy, but the stonework is new. That also is the work of George IV. Except St. George's Chapel, the timber and herring-boned brick of the Horse-shoe Cloister, and the stone houses of the Military Knights where men obviously live, and the tranquil and leafy Canons' Cloister at the top of the Hundred Steps, most of the exterior of Windsor looks and is new. There is little foliage on the walls, very little moss and green mould, and small space given to the festoons of the bellflower, which contrives its ivy-shaped humid leaves out of the driest stone. The thrush sings with a clear, wild note that seems scarcely earned by the barren hard walls. Even if searched for, ancient buildings are not numerous or easy to find. Part of the lower story eastward from the Devil's Tower, and some foundations, are of Henry II's time. From Henry III's more survives—the outer wall on the west and its three towers, the wall of the South Ambulatory in the Dean's Cloister, a door behind the altar of the chapel, the remains of the Domum Regis on the north of the chapel in one of the Canons' houses, and the King's Hall, now a library. The work of Edward III and William of Wykeham gives its form to the Castle as a whole. Of Edward IV's work St. George's Chapel and the Horse-shoe Cloisters remain. St. George's Chapel is the finest and most perfect survival from the Castle as it was at the end of the middle ages. Ruskin called it "a very visible piece of romance". It is exquisite and elaborate. It holds and embalms the sunlight. It might be called hard, and the nave and aisles are at first sight a little cold on account of the lack of history, except for the mildly pathetic monument to George V of Hanover. But the choir, with its pomp of banners, the swords, helmets, mantels, and arms of the Garter Knights, is of an incomparable sombre gorgeousness. The groined vault of the nave of St. George's Chapel, and the Tudor buildings on the north side, and the south and east walls of the Tomb House, are Henry VII's; the groined vault of the choir at St. George's, and the entrance gateway, are Henry VIII's. The gallery and façade, with the postern at the west end of the North Terrace, are Elizabethan.
The furniture and decorations of the Castle are splendid and costly, but not of great age. The collection of pictures is as large but not as well displayed as if it were a public gallery. The tapestries are more suitable to a residence, if less pleasing in themselves; they belong to the last two centuries. Grinling Gibbons' life-like carvings of fish, fowl, and fruit are extraordinarily appropriate here. We miss Lely's portraits of the beauties of the Restoration, which have gone to Hampton Court; for they belong to the last period when the Castle was thoroughly alive, royally and humanly. None of the furniture and household effects mentioned in an inventory of 1547 is left. There is no Elizabethan or true Jacobean work, because the furniture was continually renewed and kept up-to-date in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Nothing has come down from the time of Cromwell's occupation, but much of Charles II's, William and Mary's, Anne's, and George IV's. George IV was also the first considerable collector of ancient arms at Windsor. The armoury is the Prince Consort's. Neither Henry V's "harnois de teste" worn at Agincourt, nor the white armour of Joan of Arc, said to have been sent to Henry VI, is anywhere to be seen.
It was probably the greatest work of George IV, with the help of the architect, Sir Jeffry Wyatville, to make Windsor Castle as young as the Brighton Pavilion. He made it fit for a king of taste to live in. His raw material was not a mediæval castle slowly accumulated by Angevins, Plantagenets, Lancastrians, Yorkists, and Tudors, but a mediæval castle which had been iced or Italianized for Charles II by Wren. Edward III had been as sweeping, but he destroyed the old and built the new in the living fashion of his own time. George IV had not the strength or purpose, though he had the money, to do the same. He lived at the beginning of an age that knew so much of other ages, what they did, and how they did it, that it had no trust in itself, seeing itself as but part of a process, and therefore incapable of acting freely and instinctively in that co-operation with past and future which makes a sane and hearty present. If he had lived later in this age, he might have restored Windsor with more knowledge and less temerity. But it is better as it is. Better to have what George IV really liked than what a generation of art critics timidly believes and vociferously asserts to be correct. He has left us a substantial building of roughly mediæval appearance which might still enable Burke to compare the British Monarchy to "the proud keep of Windsor". It is still national in its magnitude and position, in its history and reputation, as what Michael Drayton called "that supremest seat of the great English kings".
The singular pride of Windsor Castle's position is clear to all who travel within a long sight of it by road, river, or rail. Windsor first owed its importance to its position. It stands upon a single blunt cone of chalk projecting through the clay of the surrounding low lands, which the Castle thus overlooks and commands, as from an island, like the castles of Corfe, Lincoln, Belvoir, and Montacute among others. This advantage of singular eminence above any other place upon the Thames and near London was strengthened and served both by the river, which flows on the north along a winding shore (which was perhaps the origin of the name Windsor), and by the dense, broad tracts of forest extending far to the south and west. It lay within a few miles of Staines, and so was only a long day's march from London, by the Roman road from Winchester and Silchester which crossed the Thames at that point.
There is no clear evidence of its importance before the Conquest, and in the Domesday Book Windsor is neither a parish nor a manor. But halfway between the chalk hill and Staines the Saxon kings had a palace at Old Windsor. It may have been close to the river, west of Old Windsor Church, where there used to be a farmstead having a river-fed moat; but not a sign of this palace remains. Edward the Confessor held his court there, we know, and the most vivid memory of it is connected with the year before the landing of the Conqueror. The king was at Old Windsor, and with him Earl Godwin's two strong sons, Harold and Tostig. Harold was drinking with Edward, when Tostig seized him by the hair and shamefully handled him, to the dismay of the household. Harold in return caught his younger brother up in his arms and dashed him to the floor. The guards then leapt forward from all sides and forcibly separated the fighters, while the mild king foretold God's anger and a fatal end to their violent ways.
Only five years after this, in 1070, the Conqueror held his court on the hill of what was then New Windsor. In the Domesday survey of 1086 a castle there is mentioned, but what it was we cannot be sure, and there are no visible remains of it. The position had struck and pleased the Conqueror as soldier and hunter, for he not only fortified the hill but recovered, to form part of a forest, some neighbouring lands which the Confessor had given to his Abbey of Westminster. The early Norman castles in England and Normandy were of timber, and consisted of a ditched and palisaded mound and a court, or several courts, also ditched and if possible moated with water. Under William the castle tended to become a high stone keep of rectangular form, with towers at the corners, depending for its strength upon the thickness of its own walls, not on a series of outer fortifications. In 1095 Windsor was used as a prison for Robert de Mowbray, Earl of Northumberland, by the second William, but Old Windsor was still at times a royal residence while the new castle was being built. Henry I added "many fair buildings", including a chapel, and held his court there for the first time at Whitsuntide in 1110. At Windsor Henry married his second queen, Alice the Fair, and there also he kept Whitsuntide when David of Scotland and the English barons swore fealty to his daughter, the Empress Maud. At the time of the peace between Henry and Stephen the Castle was the second fortress in the kingdom, and its castellan, like those of London, Oxford, Lincoln, and Southampton, gave hostages for its surrender to Henry in the event of Stephen's death.
Henry II held his court at Windsor at Easter, 1170, accompanied by William the Lion of Scotland and his brother David; there he held a parliament in 1175, and often resided; he knighted his son, Prince John, within its walls; and it is said that one of the apartments was decorated with a picture of a dying eagle attacked by four eaglets, to represent himself and his rebel sons. When Richard I lay in prison, on his way home from the Crusade, John seized Windsor, but was forced by the barons to give it up. When John succeeded to the kingdom he frequently kept Christmas at the Castle, and there in 1210 he confined William de Braose of Bramber's wife and son, and the son's wife, in chains until they died of hunger and misery. A contemporary says that the captives were shut in a room with a sheaf of wheat and a piece of raw bacon, and that in eleven days the mother was found sitting upright between her son's knees, her head thrown back on his breast, and that she had gnawed his cheek, probably after his death, as he sat with his face bowed. From Windsor John rode out to Runnymede in June, 1215, to sign Magna Charta. When he broke his faith soon after, Louis of France and the English barons subdued all the south of England save Dover and Windsor. Windsor they besieged with a great force under the Count de Nevers; but John corrupted him to treachery, and was then free to gather an army from his garrisons and lay waste the eastern counties, in that furious and hasty course which led to his death in 1216.
John's son, Henry III, was a great builder at Windsor. He raised the Bell, the Clewer, the Berners, and the Almoners' Towers on the north side, and on the south-west the Garter and Salisbury Towers, completed the ditch on the west and added a barbican, and in the upper ward made two great chambers for himself and his queen, and a chapel with painted windows. The King's Hall, in the Clewer Tower, is now the Library of the Dean and Chapter. In 1248 Henry received the Papal nuncios at the Castle. In 1261 he kept Christmas there with his queen and his daughter, the Queen of Scotland. It was a fine season, more like summer than winter, and Margaret of Scotland had come that she might bear her first child in her native place. She had been born at Windsor in 1240, and spent her childhood in the Castle with her brother, afterwards Edward I, who was a year older. Married as a child to Alexander III, she spent an unhappy girl-wifehood in Scotland, and was not allowed to visit England. But in 1261 she concealed the nearness of her time from the Scots and her husband and came to Windsor where, after a long waiting with her mother, the child was born. There was then no more splendid castle in Europe, says Matthew of Westminster. As a fortress it was of first importance, as a palace it was unrivalled. On the outbreak of the war with the barons Henry's son Edward occupied the Castle, placed his wife Eleanor there, and strengthened it with foreign troops, who devastated the surrounding country. It was used as a prison for London citizens. Two years later, in 1265, it surrendered to de Montfort. After his death, followed by the Ban of Kenilworth and the conclusion of peace, Henry came to Windsor again in 1268.
Edward I and his queen often lived at Windsor; three of their children were born there; and in 1278 he held a tournament in the Park with thirty-eight of his knights. His son, Edward II, kept Christmas at the Castle in 1308 and afterwards, and in 1312 his first son, Edward III "of Windsor", was born there. When the Despensers returned in 1321 and the opposition barons were put to death, Francis de Aldenham suffered at Windsor.
Edward III made Windsor his chief residence, and began a remodelling and rebuilding of the castle which lasted twenty years, though some of it was done in such haste that assuredly the oak timber did not lie long enough by the roadside for its ends to bourgeon into gophered fungi of the colour of gold. It was worth the haste, beyond doubt, for a boy to see it begun, then in his prime to ride back again and to see suddenly the whole range of it, beautiful in its pale new stone under the dawn, the trees of home whispering above him and the night of absence behind. The Castle of Edward III, in its outline, mass, extent, and arrangement, has dominated all succeeding changes until the present day, though little of the actual structure is to be seen except in the Dean's Cloister, the "Norman" gate at the Round Tower, the vaulted basement of the Devil's Tower, and the groined vaulting under the north side of the Castle between the kitchen and King John's Tower. He built the Round Tower on the mound, the great Hall of St. George, lodgings on the south and east of the upper ward, a Chapel of St. George (to supplant Henry I's chapel, dedicated to the Confessor), and the whole circumference of the walls with their towers and gates. Of those works it is possible to give some account. "The Tower, though usually called round," says the historian of the Life and Times of Edward III, "is not really so; the east side next the upper Castle is flattened to accommodate the building to the form of the mound—a clear proof that the mound was not made for the tower.... The tower was built entirely in ten months, in the eighteenth year of Edward III. It was built in great haste by the special command of the King, to receive the Round Table for the new order of Knights of the Garter, then just established.... A large number of hands were employed for a few weeks to collect materials, dig out stone, fell trees in the forest, prepare lime-pits and sand-pits, and all things necessary for a great work to be done in a short time. Many were employed in the royal quarry at Bisham, near Marlow, on the Thames, a few miles above Windsor, in digging out the chalk or soft stone there, of which the bulk of the wall consists; but it is faced with better stone, a large proportion of it having been brought from Wheatley in Oxfordshire, and a smaller part from Caen. Some of this was bought in London by the Dean of St. Paul's, who had prepared it for some other purpose, but as that was not enough, three ships' loads were brought direct from Caen. The timber must have been used quite green, as the carpenters were sent out to cut it in the forest. Messengers were despatched to every part of England to impress the most skilful workmen. For a short time as many as 600 men were employed in the Castle, and 122 in the quarry in addition. But the number was soon reduced rapidly, the chroniclers say, on account of the wars, and the consequent want of money, but more probably because, when the materials were all prepared, only a small number of hands were required, or could work at the same time. The drawbridges were strengthened for the purpose of carrying the materials across them, and in various ways it is evident that the circular wall which makes the Round Tower was built to receive the Round Table for the knights to dine at. The table was placed in a wooden gallery within the tower wall, with a passage under it for the servants, and an open space in the centre. The building was covered by a roof of tiles; part of the wooden arcade of the gallery remains, and nearly the whole of the cornice of the roof with the fine mouldings of the fourteenth century. There are entries in the accounts for the purchase of tiles for covering the wall of the building over the Round Table, and the carting of them from Penn in Buckinghamshire, where they were made. The kitchen for the table was on the top of the square tower on the slope of the mound, called the Kitchen Tower, which also served for the tower of a drawbridge over the moat.... The knights sat on one side only with their backs to the wall. The King and his sons dined with them all on the same level, without any high table. The whole cost of the Round Table, with the tower to contain it, was rather more than £500 of the money of that day, equal to about £10,000 of modern money."
But the new Castle, though so strong, was to be famous as a palace and a prison rather than a fortress. In 1347 King David Bruce of Scotland came to it as a prisoner after his defeat at Neville's Cross. His confinement in a tower on the south-west wall of the upper ward, and elsewhere, lasted eleven years, until the ransom of 100,000 marks, equal to £1,250,000 of our money, was paid. In or about the year of the Black Death, 1349, Edward founded the Order of the Garter at Windsor, perhaps in remembrance of the capture of Calais in 1347, perhaps fantastically influenced by a traditional association of the hill of Windsor with Arthur and his Round Table. This Order of twenty-six knights was to promote "honour and nobleness" under the patronage of the Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. George of Cappadocia, and St. Edward the Confessor. There were to be annual Whitsuntide jousts for English and foreign knights, and feasts at a great Round Table; and in the first tournament Edward himself and the captive King of Scotland took part.
"He instituted the Order of the Garter," says the chronicler of the kings of England, "upon what Cause is not certain: The common opinion is, that a Garter of his own Queen, or (as some say) of the Lady Joan, Countess of Salisbury, slipping off in a Dance, King Edward stooped and took it up; whereat some of his Lords that were present, smiling, as at an amorous Action, he seriously said, It should not be long e'er Sovereign Honour should be done to that Garter; whereupon he afterward added the French Motto, Honi soit qui mal y pense; therein checking his Lords' sinister suspicion."
The Joan, or Alice, of Salisbury of the legend is that countess of whom Froissart tells one of the finest of his tales. Her lord had been taken prisoner by the French before Lille, and she was in his castle at Wark when King David of Scotland invaded England in 1341. The invaders and a drove of English beeves passed by without stopping, whereupon Sir William Montague, Captain of the castle, sallied out and carried off the cattle from the rear-guard. The Scots turned back to assault Wark. The besieged kept a brave heart, "for by the regard of such a lady and by her sweet comforting a man ought to be worth two men at need". After some days Sir William slipped out with a prayer for help to Edward III, then at York. The relieving army arrived on the day when the Scots raised the siege, and Edward stayed at the castle to salute the countess, whom he had not seen since her marriage, and to learn the conduct of the attack and defence.
"As soon as the lady knew of the king's coming, she set open the gates and came out so richly beseen, that every man marvelled at her beauty and could not cease to regard her nobleness, with her great beauty and the gracious words and countenance that she made. When she came to the king, she kneeled down to the earth, thanking him of his succours, and so led him into the castle to make him cheer and honour, as she that could right well do it. Every man regarded her marvellously: the king himself could not withhold his regarding of her; for he thought that he never saw before so noble nor so fair a lady. He was stricken therewith to the heart with a sparkle of fine love that endured long after: he thought no lady in the world so worthy to be beloved as she. Thus they entered into the castle hand in hand: the lady led him first into the hall and after into the chamber, nobly apparelled. The king regarded so the lady, that she was abashed: at last he went to a window to rest him, and so fell in a great study. The lady went about to make cheer to the lords and knights that were there, and commanded to dress the hall for dinner. When she had all devised and commanded, then she came to the king with a merry cheer, who was in a great study, and she said, 'Dear sir, why do ye study so for? Your grace not displeased, it appertaineth not to you so to do. Rather ye should make good cheer and be joyful, seeing ye have chased away your enemies, who durst not abide you. Let other men study for the remnant.' Then the king said: 'Ah! dear lady, know for truth that sith I entered into the castle, there is a study come to my mind, so that I cannot choose but to muse: nor I cannot tell you what shall fall thereof: put it out of my heart I cannot.' 'Ah! sir,' quoth the lady, 'ye ought always to make good cheer to comfort therewith your people. God hath aided you so in your business, and hath given you so great graces, that ye be the most doubted and honoured prince in all Christendom; and if the King of Scots hath done you any despite or damage, ye may well amend it when it shall please you, as ye have done divers times or this. Sir, leave your musing and come into the hall, if it please you: your dinner is all ready.' 'Ah! fair lady,' quoth the king, "other things lieth at my heart that ye know not of: but surely the sweet behaving, the perfect wisdom, the good grace, nobleness and excellent beauty, that I see in you, hath so sore surprised my heart, that I cannot but love you, and without your love I am but dead.' Then the lady said, 'Ah, right noble prince, for God's sake mock nor tempt me not. I cannot believe that it is true that ye say, nor that so noble a prince as ye be would think to dishonour me and my lord my husband, who is so valiant a knight and hath done your grace so good service, and as yet lieth in prison for your quarrel. Certainly, sir, ye should in this case have but a small praise, and nothing the better thereby. I had never as yet such a thought in my heart, nor I trust in God never shall have, for no man living. If I had any such intention, your grace ought not all only to blame me, but also to punish my body, yea, and by true justice to be dismembered.'...
"All that day the king tarried there and wist not what to do. Sometimes he imagined that honour and truth defended him to set his heart in such a case, to dishonour such a lady and so true a knight as her husband was, who had always well and truly served him. On the other part love so constrained him, that the power thereof surmounted honour and truth. Thus the king debated in himself all that day and all that night. In the morning he arose and dislodged all his host and drew after the Scots, to chase them out of his realm. Then he took leave of the lady, saying, 'My dear lady, to God I commend you till I return again, requiring you to advise you otherwise than you have said to me'. 'Noble prince,' quoth the lady, 'God the Father glorious be your conduct, and put you out of all villain thoughts. Sir, I am and ever shall be ready to do your grace service to your honour and mine.' Therewith the king departed all abashed; and so followed the Scots...."
At the same time as the Garter the College of St. George was founded, consisting of twenty-six Canons and twenty-six Poor Knights, all to live within the walls of the lower ward. The name of "Poor Knights" was recently changed, out of a characteristic modern dislike, to "Military Knights".
In 1357 King John of France arrived as a prisoner at Windsor. He and his son Philip were captured by the English at Creçy. He rode through London to the palace of the Savoy "on a white steed with very rich furniture, and the Prince of Wales on a little black hackney by his side". There he kept his household for a time, and was visited and entertained by the King and Queen of England, "consoling him"—whatever that may mean—"all in their power". He was transferred to Windsor, and there hunted and hawked and took what other diversions he pleased in the neighbourhood. Nevertheless he died in England in 1364. The tower at the north-west corner of the upper ward is called King John's after this captive.
A year after Creçy, in 1357, and also in 1358, the year of the great tournament, Chaucer was at Windsor, at the Garter feast of St. George. He was in the train of the Countess of Ulster, wife to Prince Lionel, and it is known that at Easter in 1357, when he was about seventeen, he received a short cloak, a pair of breeches in red and black, and shoes. On St. George's Day, sixteen years later, after his embassies in Italy and France, he was granted a daily pitcher of wine for life, which was commuted to a pension of the annual value of about £200 in modern money. Only forty years after Edward III built it, St. George's Chapel was threatened with ruin, and Chaucer superintended the repairs. Richard II was now king, and in his presence at Windsor Henry Bolinbroke accused Mowbray of treason in 1398. Bolinbroke's banishment followed, and few barons cared to come to the tournament proclaimed at the Castle by Richard, though "forty knights and forty squires clothed in green with the device of a white falcon" were to hold the lists against all comers, and the queen and her ladies were to grace the feast. The king parted from his wife in the old Deanery of the Castle, lifting her up in his arms and kissing her many times—"great pity it is they separated, for they never saw each other more".
Henry IV also used the Castle as a prison, first for the infant Earl of March and his brother, who were descended from an elder brother of Henry's father, John of Gaunt. Lady Despenser, who had the care of them, got them out of the Castle and on the way to Wales, but the alarm was given, and the maker of the keys lost his hands and then his head. In 1406 Prince James of Scotland, then eleven years old and on his way to school in France, was caught by a privateer and imprisoned in the Octagonal Tower at the top of Castle Hill, in the south-west corner of the upper ward—a tower once called the Maiden's but now the Devil's. Under Henry IV and Henry V the prince's imprisonment lasted seventeen years, during some of which he was King of Scotland by name. In 1413 he had Griffin ap Owen Glendower as a fellow prisoner, and in 1415 the poet Charles of Orleans, taken at Agincourt. The treaty of release in 1423 provided for the payment of 60,000 marks and his marriage with some English lady of noble birth. He chose his bride without difficulty—Jane Beaufort, a young daughter of the Earl of Somerset—married her at St. Mary Overy in Southwark, and at once set out for Scotland. He was a short stout man, but vigorous and agile, broad in the shoulders, narrow in the waist, and his hair auburn; he had a good singing voice, played on musical instruments, and excelled in games. He was murdered, and his Queen Jane wounded, by conspirators, thirteen years later. He loved his wife to the end, and was one of the few kings who had no mistress and no bastards. Before he left England he had written the poem, The Kingis Quhair, which records his captivity and courtship at Windsor. It was spring, but he was sad—
The bird, the beste, the fisch eke in the see,
They lyve in fredome everich in his kynd;
And I a man, and lakkith libertee—
yet not wholly sad, because he rose early and went to look out of the window at the world and at the people passing by, and though he was steeled against mirth, to look did him good. Outside his window, at the foot of the tower, was a fair garden, so fenced with hawthorns and so set with dense foliaged trees that a man walking in it could not be seen by the passer-by. There the nightingale sang on the small green branches. There he saw the maiden, Jane Beaufort. It is difficult and perhaps unnecessary to consider the poem apart from the known personality and acts of the king who wrote it, though nobody need trouble to say that he wrote like a king, for he did not; he wrote like a poet—much like Chaucer, in fact—and like a man. But allow what we know of him, his captivity, his hard life, and tragic death, to suffuse the images created by the poem, and The Kingis Quhair is one of the loveliest ceremonious poems of love.
Under Henry V, in the year of Agincourt, the Emperor Sigismund came to the feast of St. George. He brought with him the heart of St. George as an offering to the chapel.
Henry VI, the founder of Eton College in 1440, was born at Windsor, and buried in the south aisle of St George's Chapel, but not until some years after his death.
Edward IV rebuilt St. George's Chapel, or began the building which was completed under Henry VIII and Edward VI. On the north side of the Chapel he built the Dean's and Canons' houses, and those of the petty Canons. Edward and his queen were buried near the altar under a tomb of such splendour that it was plundered in 1642.
Henry VIII began the royal tomb-house at the east end of St. George's as a sepulchral chapel for himself. Later he granted it to Wolsey, who caused a black marble sarcophagus to be made, bordered and canopied with costly bronze work. The Cardinal never lay under it. It was stripped, and the ornaments sold, by Parliament soldiers a century later. The sarcophagus itself was afterwards used to cover the body of Nelson at St. Paul's. In the choir of the Chapel of St. George lie Jane Seymour and Henry VIII, who built the gateway bearing his name, under which the public enter the lower ward.
When Henry VIII's queen, Anne Boleyn, was crowned in June, 1533, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, and then about sixteen years old, carried the fourth sword. This young man, who was to be atrociously executed at the age of thirty by the same Henry, lived at Windsor for some time as the companion of the king's bastard son, the Duke of Richmond, and while confined there some years later he wrote a poem which gives perhaps the most beautiful picture connected with Windsor. I will belittle the rest of this little book by here quoting the poem in full: "Prisoned in Windsor he recounteth his pleasure there passed":
So cruel prison how could betide, alas,
As proud Windsor? Where I, in lust and joy,
With a King's son, my childish years did pass,
In greater feast than Priam's sons of Troy.
Where each sweet place returns a taste full sour,
The large green courts, where we were wont to hove,
With eyes cast up into the Maiden's tower,
And easy sighs, such as folk draw in love.
The stately seats, the ladies bright of hue,
The dances short, long tales of great delight;
With words and looks that tigers could but rue;
Where each of us did plead the other's right.
The palme-play, where, despoiled for the game,
With dazzled eyes oft we by gleams of love
Have miss'd the ball, and got sight of our dame,
To bait her eyes, which kept the leads above.
The gravel'd ground, with sleeves tied on the helm,
On foaming horse, with swords and friendly hearts;
With chere, as though one should another whelm,
Where we have fought, and chased oft with darts.
With silver drops the mead yet spread for ruth,
In active games of nimbleness and strength,
Where we did strain, trained with swarms of youth,
Our tender limbs, that yet shot up in length.
The secret groves, which oft we made resound
Of pleasant plaint, and of our ladies' praise;
Recording oft what grace each one had found,
What hope of speed, what dread of long delays.
The wild forest, the clothed holts with green;
With reins availed, and swiftly-breathed horse,
With cry of hounds, and merry blasts between,
Where we did chase the fearful hart of force.
The wide walls eke, that harbour'd us each night:
Wherewith, alas! reviveth in my breast
The sweet accord: such sleeps as yet delight;
The pleasant dreams, the quiet bed of rest;
The secret thoughts, imparted with such trust;
The wanton talk, the divers change of play;
The friendship sworn, each promise kept so just,
Wherewith we past the winter night away.
And with this thought the blood forsakes the face;
The tears berain my cheeks of deadly hue:
The which, as soon as sobbing sighs, alas!
Up-supped have, thus I my plaint renew:
"O place of bliss! renewer of my woes!
Give me account, where is my noble fere?
Whom in thy walls thou dost each night enclose;
To other lief; but unto me most dear."
Echo, alas! that doth my sorrow rue,
Returns thereto a hollow sound of plaint.
Thus I alone, where all my freedom grew,
In prison pine, with bondage and restraint:
And with remembrance of the greater grief,
To banish the less, I find my chief relief.
The critics, I believe, regard this poem as a conventional poetical exaggeration of some unimportant or wholly imaginary event in Surrey's life, because he was then married, and because the lady who is conjectured to have been the subject of his "Description and Praise of Geraldine" was then only twelve years old.
Queen Elizabeth built the North Terrace of the Castle in 1576, a gallery to the west of it now used as a library, and an octagon banqueting hall, at the east end, which Charles I pulled down to substitute a gateway and drawbridge leading into the Home Park. He also demolished the fountain of Queen Mary Tudor in the Upper Ward. He thought, but in vain, to build another banqueting hall, and to construct a fountain, where Hercules was to have been seen strangling Antæus, so as to make it appear that "by squeezing of him the water came out of his mouth". Charles often held his Court at Windsor, and was at the Castle in January when the Civil War was at hand; there was a garrison of forty officers and four hundred horse, and wagons of ammunition were arriving. But in October, 1642, appeared a pamphlet, entitled "Exceeding true and happy news from the Castle of Windsor declaring how several troops of Dragoons have taken possession of the said Castle to keep it for the use of the King and Parliament". "For King and Parliament" was a euphemism. Windsor was esteemed one of the strongest places in the kingdom, and could the Cavaliers have retained and fortified it, they might have descended upon London. And so "several well-affected Gentlemen and valiant Religious Commanders have gone to raise several troops of Dragooners and Volunteers, some of which are already arrived at Windsor, and have taken possession of the Castle". The intruders took the chapel plate of St. George's and coined it into money for the Parliament; they despoiled Wolsey's tomb; and they carried off Edward IV's embroidered surcoat of crimson velvet, wrought with gold and pearls and decorated with rubies, which had hung over his tomb since the opulent funeral of 1483.
Prince Rupert attacked the Castle in the same year, 1642, but without success, and in the winter and spring following Essex made it his headquarters and a prison for Royalists, while Rupert flickered here and there about Oxford. At the end of the war Windsor was the strange foil to that notable prayer meeting of the Army officers held some time early in 1648. The Army was uneasy in its relations with people and Parliament; it had cause to fear a revival of royalism; and some officers had thought of laying down their arms, because what they had done, and were willing to do, for the nation was not acceptable to it. Therefore they spent two days together in prayer at Windsor Castle, enquiring when it last was that they could say with confidence: "The presence of the Lord was among us". On the third day the "gracious hand of the Lord" showed them how they had come to their present trouble and uncertainty. It was through their treating with the king and his party, this of course being prompted by their own "conceited wisdom, fear, and want of faith". Thus they were led to loathe their iniquities. They wept for shame of their unbelief and trust in the wisdom of this world, and they arrived at a humble confidence and "a very clear and joint resolution, That it was our duty, if ever the Lord brought us back again in peace, to call Charles Stuart, that man of blood, to an account for that blood he had shed, and mischief he had done to his utmost, against the Lord's Cause and People in these poor Nations". These are the words written in 1659 by Adjutant Allen, who was at the prayer meeting.
In less than a year, on Christmas Eve, 1648, there was "terrible and bloody news from Windsor". The king was brought from Hurst Castle by Colonel Harrison and ten troops of horse. At the passing of the king the people of Windsor cried: "God bless your majesty and send you long to reign"; and after he entered the Castle the Royalists of the town drank a carouse to their dread sovereign, but were "taken off from that ceremonial and cant-like action" by several files of musketeers, not before several had been wounded and three killed. Charles did not return to Windsor again until he was dead. His body was borne thither without pomp or noise. When the attendant lords—the Duke of Richmond, the Marquis of Hertford, and the Earls of Southampton and Lyndsy—requested that the body might be buried according to the form of the Common Prayer Book, the Governor "expressly, positively, and roughly refused to consent to it, and said it was not lawful; that the Common Prayer Book was put down...." As the coffin was brought to St. George's Chapel, snow fell and gave the black pall the "colour of innocency". Such were the dismal mutations of the Chapel, that the lords scarce knew where they were. "A fellow of the town" showed them the vault of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, and there they laid him. At a later date the vault was opened to receive a nameless child of Queen Anne's. There in the vault just before the altar, John Evelyn in 1654 found "our blessed martyr, King Charles".
Cromwell occasionally lived at Windsor. Charles II used it as his summer lodging, and Nell Gwynn had a house, called Burford House, close to the Castle. The king was at St. George's Feast in 1663 with Lady Castlemaine as well as the queen. Pepys heard that the Duke of Monmouth danced with the queen, his hat in his hand, and that "the king came in and kissed him, and made him put on his hat, which everybody took notice of". Pepys spent a cheerful, carnal day in the Castle and at Eton on February 26, 1665, admiring the Chapel and the banners and the singing and "the most romantique castle that is in the world", and "giving a great deal of money to this and that man and woman". When Evelyn saw the Castle in August, 1670, Prince Rupert was Constable, and "had begun to trim up the keep or high round tower, and handsomely adorned his hall with furniture of arms, which was very singular, ... so disposing the bandoleers, holsters and drums, as to represent festoons, and that without any confusion, trophy-like. From the hall we went into his bed-chamber, and ample rooms hung with tapestry, curious and effeminate pictures so extremely different from the other, which presented nothing but war and horror." The king was hunting the stag, walking in the Park, and planting it with rows of trees. The Castle was "exceedingly ragged and ruinous", and about to be repaired. Wren Italianised the façade, and the Castle was to some extent rebuilt and altogether remodelled into something which later critics considered monotonous and commonplace. The interior was decorated by the carvings of Gibbons and Antonio Verrio's inert and luscious paintings of "Judith and Holofernes", "Leda and the Swan", and the like, which Evelyn, who saw the frescoes of St. George's Hall in 1683, admired for their "full and flowing, antique and heroical" style. Gibbons also made the copper statue of the king on horseback, which was newly set up in July, 1680, on its pedestal of white marble, where it still stands. The outer ditches of the Castle were filled in. Terraces were formed on the south and east, and the north terrace was enlarged. The Devil's Tower was given to the Maids of Honour. Charles meant to face the mound of the Round Tower with red brick, but was prevented.
James II turned the Tomb House into a chapel for the practice of his own religion, and its ceiling was decorated by Verrio. At Windsor he received the Papal Nuncio. On the king's downfall a revolutionary crowd therefore attacked the Chapel, destroyed the windows, and left the interior in ruin. Further alterations planned by William III were not carried out. Queen Anne's work was in the Park. In her reign Swift was often at Windsor with his friend Harley, the Secretary of State, supping with Prior and Arbuthnot, playing twelvepenny picquet and winning seven shillings at it, putting his thumb out of joint by boxing Patrick's ear for carelessness, riding out in the forest on "the finest day in the world"—October 4, 1711—"a noble caravan of us", Maids of Honour, the Duke and Duchess of Shrewsbury, Arbuthnot, and others, some driving, some riding, and Swift on horseback in a coat of light camlet, faced with red velvet, and silver buttons. On September 1, 1711, Swift came to Windsor with a basket of fruit for his friend Lewis from Lord Peterborough's garden at Parson's Green. "I durst not eat any fruit, but one fig," he writes to Stella, and asks, "Does Stella never eat any? What, no apricots at Donnybrook? Nothing but claret and ombre? I envy people maunching and maunching peaches and grapes, and I not daring to eat a bit. My head is pretty well, only a sudden turn any time makes me giddy for a moment, and sometimes it feels very stuffed; but if it grows no worse, I can bear it very well. I take all opportunities of walking; and we have a delicious park here just joining to the castle, and an avenue in the great park very wide, and two miles long, set with a double row of elms on each side. Were you ever at Windsor? I was once a great while ago; but had quite forgotten it."
The two first Georges neglected the Castle—though the second placed there Windsor's last prisoner, the Maréchal de Belleisle—to such an extent that George III had to build the "Queen's Lodge" for himself and his family. This building is immortalized by the king's remark to Fanny Burney, a Maid of Honour to his Queen Charlotte, "Was there ever such stuff as much of Shakespeare? ... only of course one must not say so"; but it is now pulled down. St. George's Chapel had been completely neglected, probably because there was no need of it, for many years before George III began to renovate and repave it in 1787. He removed the tracery and glass of the east window, in order to exalt a new picture of the Resurrection in painted glass. The walls were then stained to harmonize with the heavy colouring of this picture, and finally the Chapel was darkened by the blocking up of the clerestory, to destroy the painful contrast between the sunlit walls and the glass. George III also restored the ruined Tomb House and dug a royal vault beneath it. Under George IV the monument to the Princess Charlotte of Wales was placed in the chantry at the west end of the north aisle. Two years before, Wyatville (né Wyatt) began to rebuild the Castle. The incongruous buildings and external additions of the Restoration were removed. The entrance gateway to the upper ward, with its two towers of Lancaster and York, was made. The height of the Round Tower was increased by thirty-nine feet and a flag turret added. The old houses under the Curfew, Garter, and Salisbury towers were cleaned away. Thus in four years the exterior of the Castle, shaken more free of the little town clambering and clustering about it, was brought to its present state, which may or may not have blasted the hopes of the author of this epigram:
Let restless George who can leave nothing quiet,
Change if he will the good old name of Wyatt:
But let us hope that their united skill
May not make Windsor Castle Wyatville.
The Tomb House was converted by Queen Victoria and Sir Gilbert Scott into the Albert Memorial Chapel, on the death of the Prince Consort in 1861. As a memorial to the same prince, the mullions were restored to the east window of St. George's Chapel in 1863. Queen Victoria lived much at Windsor, and in her time the interior of the Castle attained its present height of costliness and domesticity. The majesty without and the splendour within answer fully to the expectations usually founded upon a reading of history and a sober loyalty to the Crown.
In the Conqueror's time and before, it must have been hard to say what was Windsor Forest, or what was not, on the south side of the middle course of the Thames. After choosing the mound of Windsor for a castle, William enlarged the Forest so that it included a great part of Berkshire, as far west as Hungerford; some of Buckinghamshire, which is on the north side; parts of Middlesex, Oxfordshire, and Hampshire, and in Surrey both banks of the Wey as far as Guildford. The Forest and the river surrounded and isolated the Castle on every side. The Forest was named after Windsor from early times, but was also sometimes called Oakingham or Wokingham Forest. All this wild virgin country of heath, swamp, tangled wood, and high land held many deer for the king's hunting, and fattened many swine. Partly by the number of swine feeding in it the value of a forest was estimated; and the right to send swine among the acorns of Windsor was retained or acquired by many of the dwellers at the edge of the Forest or within it, from the boor to the nuns of Ankerwyke near Datchet.
There were many portions of cultivated land running into the forest or islanded in its midst. Some even of the woods inside the borders, such as Clewer, Bray, Hurley, Bisham, and Finchhampstead, remained under separate ownership, with their own woodwards, though open to admit the king's game. The oaks of the Forest are often mentioned in early records, together with alders, birches, beech, and ash. There are oaks at Cranbourne, and a beech at Smith's Lawn, which are conjectured to have been seedlings at the Conquest, perhaps earlier. Gifts of timber for building were frequently made to religious houses in the neighbourhood and to private men. Six oaks were sent to the Tower in 1276, wherewith to burn lime for the masonry; and the builders of Windsor Castle in William I's, Henry II's, Henry III's, and Edward III's time must have drawn abundantly from the oaks in the clay of the lower lands. The game in the Forest was of many kinds. The red deer was the noblest in appearance, in speed, and in esteem. Fox, otter, badger, wild cat, and hare were also hunted. There were wild cattle as late as 1277, for in that year the Constable of Windsor was ordered to capture and sell them. Among the Forest offences were the carrying away of boughs and felling of trees, the pasturing of sheep, the taking of does with a noose, hunting with greyhounds, hawking at pheasants and partridges. The poachers included labourers, husbandmen, gentlemen, and a rector. A tenth part of the venison, under Henry I, Henry II, and Richard I, was granted to God and St. Mary of Abingdon.
In the reign of Edward I the Chief Forester was under the orders of the Constable of Windsor. Under Edward III the Constable was also Parker of the Great Park, which had gradually been fenced in out of the larger and vaguer extent of the Forest itself. Yet another enclosure was made in 1467 by Edward IV, namely two hundred acres close to Windsor, which were the origin of the "Home Park", once called the "Little Park". There Henry VII and Philip of Castile killed deer "with their own hands, with their crossbows"; even so early was it a notable thing for a sovereign to do what many a man does without thinking about it. Henry VIII loved the chase, and hunted in Windsor Forest all day, from morning until nightfall. He also shot, hawked, fished, and played tennis, and having killed the deer, watched the men who ate quantities of venison for a wager. Elizabeth hunted at Windsor, attended by half a hundred ladies on hackneys, and once, in 1602, shot a great fat stag, and sent it to Archbishop Parker as a gift. It is supposed to have been in her childhood, in her father's reign, that the events which led to the story of Herne the hunter took place:
There is an old tale goes that Herne the hunter,
Sometime a keeper here in Windsor forest,
Doth all the winter-time, at still midnight,
Walk round about an oak, with great ragg'd horns;
And there he blasts the tree, and takes the cattle,
And makes milch-kine yield blood, and shakes a chain
In a most hideous and dreadful manner.
So speaks Mistress Page in opening her plans for the discomfiture of Falstaff. It is said that a yeoman hanged himself on a tree for fear of the king after hunting in the Forest without leave. The tree was cursed, and a ghostly stag haunted the place and butted at the tree and breathed smoke and fire as it tore the roots. There was also a story that Herne was a keeper and went mad after being gored by a stag. He tied a pair of antlers upon his head, ran naked through the Forest, and hanged himself on the tree, near Shakespeare's Oak in the Home Park, which was called Herne's Oak for centuries, and was blown down in 1863, or, according to another opinion, cut down by George III. Queen Victoria planted the oak which marks the site of the legendary tree.
In Elizabeth's reign the first systematic planting was begun by Lord Burleigh. Thirteen acres near Cranbourne Tower were sown with oaks which were never pollarded, like most other trees in the Forest, to provide browsing for the deer. This planting in 1580 was to supply the navy, especially in case the Spaniards should destroy the oaks of the Forest of Dean, as they had planned to do. Since that date a more or less contemporary record of successive plantings has been made, and where the planter has been a royal or distinguished personage, his or her name is attached to the recording plate.
James I hunted in the Forest, closed the Little Park against the public, and turned out some wild pigs, of which a few are still left. In his time the circumference of the unenclosed Forest on the Berkshire side of the river measured seventy-seven miles and a half, and here ran the red deer. The Home Park of two hundred and eighty acres held two hundred and forty fallow deer, and the Great Park of three thousand six hundred and fifty acres held eighteen hundred. Charles I also hunted there, and at the beginning of the Civil War deer were lawlessly killed and the pales of the Park destroyed. Bulstrode Whitelocke was Constable of the Castle and Keeper of the Forest under the Commonwealth, but could not keep down the poaching. Charles II and William III planted the Long Walk.
Queen Anne hunted in a chaise, and Swift, in 1711, says that she was hunting until four in the afternoon, and covered more than forty miles. She planted with oaks the ride known by her name. Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, was Ranger for many years, and has to be gratefully remembered for protecting the trees against Walpole when he was in need of money. Though the first two Georges did nothing for the Castle except by neglecting it, in their reigns there were several plantings of trees. The avenue of lime trees east of Cumberland Lodge was made under George I. Under George II were formed some of the plantations round about the heathery Smith's Lawn at the south end of the Park: these were the first to be shaped according to the lines of the ground, and not circular or in parallelograms as before; and it is said that some of this work was given, for lack of anything else, to soldiers raised against the Rebellion of 1745. In the time of George II thirteen-hundred red deer ran in the Forest. By 1806 they numbered only three hundred, though as late as 1813 the Forest was fifty-six miles and a half in circumference, and included Wokingham and a great part of Bagshot Heath. The Forest was still unenclosed, but squatters had been steadily enlarging their pieces of land by carrying forward their ditches at the time of scouring them, while parishes within the boundaries had raised money by allowing persons to enclose and acquire portions of the common land. In 1817 awards were given, settling the claims of various occupants, and the Forest, or every tract of it which retained that title, was enclosed and the deer driven into the Great Park. This is now eighteen hundred acres in extent, and holds a thousand fallow deer and a hundred red deer, Cranbourne Park holding a small herd of white deer.
Though crossed by public footpaths and roads, it is at most times and places clear that the Park is the front garden of Windsor Castle. There is even a sense of privacy unintentionally disturbed at spots here and there where the family grief or rejoicing of royalty has been celebrated by planting a tree—as when Queen Victoria planted an oak to mark the place where the Prince Consort finished his last day's shooting, November 23, 1861. Yet the Park is about six miles in length from the Castle southward to Virginia Water, and at most points from two to three miles wide. Considering this extent, it has no great effect of space. This is due to the lack of any great quality of art or nature in the Park. Its outline has no natural wholeness, and the boundaries, marked by fences and walls and several lodges, are not easily forgotten. The eighteen hundred acres have little grace of undulation or natural variety; and they are made up of a number of separate but not integral parts, so that it is not one but many. Curiosity, admiration, respect, and surprise follow one another too rapidly for any but the first and last to be satisfied. There are a thousand excellent or notable things—some due to chance and antiquity, some to deliberation and design—but the Park as a whole has no supremacy over others of the same or even less extent. I have no sooner admired the exquisite giant birches, or the craggy vast oaks, or the perfectly formed younger ones, than I come to lines of rhododendrons, the symbols of very modern riches, or to lines of venerable stately trees which are not satisfying except on the rare occasions when they overhang some human stateliness or splendour. The Park was grand and stern under Plantagenets or Tudors, when the poet could say of it—
No Forest, of them all, so fit as she doth stand,
When Princes, for their sports, her pleasures will command,
No Wood-nymph as herself such troops hath ever seen,
Nor can such quarries boast as have in Windsor been;
it was sweet and gallant under Stuarts and early Hanoverians. But the charm is faded and the grandeur confounded, and the Park should either be artistically treated as a whole, or allowed a century of nature and wise neglect, if these qualities are to return in a measure worthy of its repute and history.
Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.
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