11 Surprising Facts About Windsor Castle

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Built in the 11th century after the Norman invasion, England’s Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world. Over the past 900-plus years, more than 30 monarchs have called it home and it has also been the site of several royal weddings—including Prince Harry's upcoming May 19, 2018 nuptials to Meghan Markle. Here are 11 things you might not have known about the royal residence.

1. IT’S HOME TO THE WORLD’S MOST ELABORATE DOLLHOUSE.

Queen Mary's dollhouse at Windsor Castle
nikoretro, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Built for Queen Mary in the 1920s, the Windsor dollhouse is doubtlessly the world’s largest and most elaborate miniature home. It features running water, electricity, flush toilets, elevators, a fully-stocked 1200-piece wine cellar with real wine and beer, and a miniature library stuffed with original stories handwritten by authors such as Rudyard Kipling and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Building it required the handiwork of more than 1500 artists and craftsmen. (Take a virtual tour here.)

2. THE WINE CELLAR IS STACKED WITH BOTTLES—SOME OF THEM SURPRISINGLY CHEAP.

etty Garvey (L) from Manchester and a friend also from Manchester drink champagne as they wait to catch a glimpse of the Royal party in front of St. George's Chapel during Garter Day, the 660th Anniversary Service, on June 16, 2008 in Windsor, England
Chris Jackson, Getty Images

Speaking of wine: The royal wine cellar keeps about 18,000 bottles of vino in the cellar. But according to Jancis Robinson, one of the queen’s wine advisors, not all of it is so fancy. Each year, Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace host more than 300 events, requiring 5000 bottles of wine. “Outsiders might assume that we spend our time picking out the plums from the world’s vineyards for Her Majesty’s cellar but the reality is very much more prosaic,” Robinson writes. Some bottles cost between $5 and $10.

3. IT’S THE BEST PLACE TO VISIT IF YOU WANT TO READ A QUEEN’S DIARY.

Queen Elizabeth II attends the launch of the George III Project at an event held in the Royal Library in Windsor Castle on April 1, 2015
WPA Pool/Getty Images

If you want to read the juicy bits from Queen Victoria’s journals or the private letters of King George III, they’re all tucked away in the Royal Library and Archives in Windsor Castle. Located in three state apartments that include Queen Catherine of Braganza’s old bedchamber, the royal library contains more than 200,000 items, including the book collections of multiple monarchs. You can search about 80,000 items from the library for free right here.

4. IT’S A GREAT PLACE TO WORK IF YOU HAVE OLD-TIMEY JOB SKILLS.

 Culinary staff at work in the huge vaulted kitchen at Windsor Castle in 1818
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Windsor is, of course, home to librarians and tour guides and art historians who care for the Royal Household’s art collections. But approximately 150 people live at the castle to help the royal family, well, live! And many have delightfully antiquated jobs. There are fendersmiths who maintain the castle’s 300-some fireplaces, and horologists who care for the palace’s 379 timepieces. It’s also home to a wine butler, countless footmen, multiple gilders, and even a palace steward who measures the place settings with a ruler before each major meal.

5. DURING WWII, QUEEN ELIZABETH II SLEPT IN THE DUNGEON.

A group of evacuee women and their children with donated prams in Windsor, Berkshire, 5th October 1940. The prams were donated after Queen Elizabeth (later Queen Mother) visited the evacuees and noticed the shortage
Fred Morley, Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Windsor Castle was never bombed during World War II because, it was rumored, Adolf Hitler wanted to make it his British home. The royal family took advantage of this fact by secretly hiding in the castle. There, the windows were blacked out, the chandeliers were removed, and the bedrooms were reinforced. The girls, including the future Queen Elizabeth II, occasionally slept in the dungeon.

6. IT HAS SUCCESSFULLY FENDED OFF A FEW ATTACKS.

A view of Windsor Castle from the water
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Windsor Castle is, first and foremost, a fortress—and it has proved to be a strong one. In the olden days, guards on standby warded off intruders with cascades of boiling oil and heavy stones. In the 1200s, during the Barons War, Windsor Castle successfully withstood a two-month siege. In the 1400s, after King Henry IV deposed Richard II, Windsor Castle was again attacked. To keep the story short, let’s just say things did not end well for the attackers.

7. IT WAS HOME TO THE WORLD’S GREATEST EXPLORER (WHO HAPPENED TO BE BLIND).

James Holman.
Photo illustration by Lucy Quintanilla // Alamy (Holman); iStock (background)

James Holman was the 19th century’s greatest traveler, covering distances that beat out famed explorers such as Marco Polo, James Cook, and Ibn Battuta. The amazing part? Holman did all of his traveling alone, and was blind. When the so-called “Blind Traveler” wasn’t gallivanting across the globe, he lived at the castle as an official Knight of Windsor. It fact, it was the monarch’s own physician who suggested Holman travel for his health.

8. THE ROYAL FAMILY IS NAMED AFTER THE CASTLE.

The royal family rarely uses their last name. (Probably because they don’t need to: When you call yourself “Queen Elizabeth II,” is there a reason to specify who you’re talking about?) But before 1919, the royal family’s last name was “Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.” As you might imagine, this German surname was a bad look for the British during World War I. So the royals changed it to Windsor (or some variant of it). The word derives from the Old English Windlesoren, meaning “winch by the riverbank.”

9. IT WAS HQ FOR THE QUEEN’S “CORGI BREEDING PROGRAM.”

Queen Elizabeth II arrives at King's Cross railway station in London 15 October 1969 with her four dogs
STF/AFP/Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth was one of the longest-established Pembroke corgi breeders on the planet. For nearly 70 years, Windsor was home to her corgi breeding program, which she shut down in 2015. Over the decades, the kennels at Windsor bred hundreds of corgi puppies, many of which were given to family and friends. Her last pet corgi—who died this April—was a 14th generation descendant of Susan, a pup the Queen received on her 18th birthday.

10. AT WINDSOR CASTLE, CHIVALRY IS NOT DEAD.

Members of The Household Cavalry take their positions before Britain's Queen Elizabeth II arrives to attend The Order of the Garter Service, at St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle, Windsor, southern England on June 14, 2010
ADRIAN DENNIS, AFP/Getty Images

Back in the 14th century, Edward III was so fascinated by tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table that he decided to get the band back together and start the Most Noble Order of the Garter. Founded in 1348, the Windsor-based group is the oldest and arguably most prestigious order of chivalry in England: Entry into the club is limited to the monarch, members of the royal family, and 24 other people chosen by the Sovereign. As for the weird name? One origin story suggests that King Edward III was dancing one night when his partner’s blue garters dropped to the floor, prompting laughs from passersby. Edward, ever the gentleman, picked up the garter, pulled it over his leg, and chastised the gigglers.

11. THE TAXES TO LIVE THERE AIN’T TOO SHABBY.

An aerial view of Windsor Castle
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The Queen is under no obligation to pay taxes. But after Windsor Castle caught on fire in 1992, taxpayers complained about paying the bill. From that moment, Her Majesty decided to begin voluntarily paying income and capital gains taxes. She also pays council taxes—a type of property tax—on all of her palaces. Windsor Castle, which has 484,000 square feet of floor space, only costs the Queen about £2365.16 (or about $3200) in council taxes annually.

6 Grammar Lessons Hidden in Christmas Songs

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Digital Vision./iStock via Getty Images Plus

Drop these facts about the grammar in your favorite carols when you're out caroling this holiday season.

1. "Round Yon Virgin"

The Carol: "Silent Night"

The round in “Silent Night” might call up imagery of the soft, maternal kind, but in the phrase “round yon virgin,” it simply means “around.” Yon is an antiquated word for “that one” or “over there.” The meaning of the phrase in the song depends on the line before it. It should be understood in the context “all is calm, all is bright round yon virgin mother and child.” In other words: “Everything is calm and bright around that virgin mother over there and her child.” In technical terms, “round yon virgin mother and child” is a prepositional phrase.

2. "Troll the Ancient Yuletide Carol"

The Carol: "Deck the Halls"

Trolling a carol might sound like some obnoxious attempt to undermine it, but it’s actually a great way to get in the holiday spirit. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), one of the meanings of troll, in use since the 16th century, is “to sing in a full, rolling voice; to chant merrily or jovially.” It’s related to the sense of rolling, or passing around, and probably came to be used to mean singing because of rounds, where the melody is passed from one person to the next. The modern, obnoxious sense of troll comes from a much later importation from Scandinavian mythology. People have increasingly been changing this line to “toll the ancient Yuletide carol” (now over 17,000 hits on Google). Don’t let the trolls win! Let’s troll the trolls by dragging this word back to the cheery side!

3. "The Little Lord Jesus Laid Down His Sweet Head"

The Carol: "Away in a Manger"

“Away in a manger, no crib for a bed / The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.” This line is a perfect storm of lay/lie confusion. The correct form here is laid, but it often gets changed to “lay,” and with good reason. Laid is the past tense of lay, which should be used here because the little Lord Jesus isn’t simply reposing (lying), but setting something down (laying), namely, his head.

If it were in the present tense, you could say he “lays down his sweet head.” But in the past tense lay is the form for lie. I know. It’s a rule that seems rigged just to trip people up. But here, it gets even worse, because the word right after laid is down. There’s a word ending with D followed by a word beginning with D. When you say “laid down,” it’s hard to tell whether that first D is there or not. As a practical matter, both lay and laid sound exactly the same in this context. So you can fudge it when you sing it. Just be careful how you write it.

4. "You Better Watch Out, You Better Not Cry"

The Carol: "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town"

That’s right, Santa Claus is coming to town, so you better watch out. Or is it “you’d better watch out”? Many grammar guides advise that the proper form is “you’d better” because the construction comes from “you had better,” and it doesn’t make sense without the had. The problem is, it doesn’t make much sense with the had either, if you want to do a picky word-by-word breakdown.

Though the had better construction has been a part of English for 1000 years, it came from a distortion of phrases like “him were better that he never were born,” where were was a subjunctive (“it would have been better”) and him (or me, you, us) was in the dative case (“him were better” equals “it would have been better for him”). People started changing the dative to the subject case (“he were better”) and then changed the were to had.

That was all hundreds of years ago. Then, in the 1800s, people started dropping the had. The grammar books of the late 1800s tried mightily to shore up the had (some even making up a rule from nowhere that it should be would, as in “he would better”), but these days the bare form is considered correct, if a bit casual for formal contexts. Clearly, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” wants nothing to do with fancy formality. So “you better watch out” is the way to go.

5. "With the Kids Jingle Belling" and "There’ll Be Much Mistletoeing"

The Carol: "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year"

There is a lot of verbing going on in “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” First, “With the kids jingle belling/And everyone telling you ‘Be of good cheer,'” and then, “There’ll be much mistletoeing/And hearts will be glowing when loved ones are near.” Of course, in a song, concessions to rhythm and rhyme need to be made, and sometimes this involves making up a few words. But the practice of turning nouns into verbs is as old as English itself. Many of our verbs started when someone decided to use a noun to stand for some verbal notion related to that noun. First we had hammer, and from that we made hammering. First we had message, and now we have messaging. Oil, oiling, sled, sledding, battle, battling. The meaning of the verb is built off some context involving the noun, which could be almost anything (pounding with a hammer, sending a message, putting oil on, riding a sled, engaging in a battle). So verbs for “ringing jingle bells” or “kissing under the mistletoe” aren’t so strange at all. At least no more strange than “gifting” or “dialoguing.”

6. "God rest you merry, gentlemen"

The Carol: "God Rest You Merry Gentleman"

Notice the comma placement there? The gentlemen in this phrase are not necessarily taken to be merry already. It’s not “Hey, you! You merry gentlemen! God rest you!” It’s “Hey, you gentlemen over there! May God rest you merry!”

In Shakespeare’s time, rest you merry was a way to express good wishes, to say something like “peace and happiness to you.” Other versions were rest you fair or rest you happy. It came from a sense of rest meaning “be at ease,” which we still use in the phrase rest assured. In “God rest you merry,” you is the object of rest, so when people make the song sound more old-timey by substituting ye for you, they are messing up the original grammar because ye was the subject form.

Actually, that’s not quite true, because even in Shakespeare’s time, ye was sometimes used as the object form. However, if you want to go that way, you should be consistent with your pronouns and sing “God rest ye merry gentlemen/Let nothing ye dismay.” In the second line you is also an object, as in “Let nothing dismay you.”

So rest you merry this season, and enjoy your jingle belling, mistletoeing, and trolling.

12 Fascinating Facts About Queen Victoria

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Photos.com/iStock via Getty Images

Much like Queen Elizabeth II, Queen Victoria was never expected to ascend to the British throne. Born on May 24, 1819, the young royal known as Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent defied all odds when she became Queen Victoria on June 20, 1837, less than a month after her 18th birthday.

Victoria ruled the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland for more than 60 years, and in 1876 she adopted the title of Empress of India. Victoria didn’t oversee her empire alone, though. In 1840 she married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and together they had nine children (including Victoria’s successor, King Edward VII). Here are 12 things you might not have known about Queen Victoria.

1. Queen Victoria was born fifth in line to the throne, which made her an unlikely ruler.

Princess Victoria and her mother in 1834
Princess Victoria and her mother in 1834.
George Hayter, The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

When Victoria was born, she was fifth in line to the throne, just behind her father, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, who was fourth in line behind his three older brothers (none of whom had any living children—or at least no legitimate issue). Victoria's position in the line of succession placed her ahead of Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, her father's younger brother, which proved to be problematic.

When Victoria's father died on January 23, 1820, the future queen was barely eight months old. And when her grandfather, George III, died just a week later, the tot became third in line to the throne, which reportedly enraged Ernest Augustus. Fearing for the safety of her daughter, Victoria's mother chose to raise her away from the influence of Prince Edward's family—especially once rumors began to circulate that Ernest Augustus had designs on murdering his young niece to ensure that he, not she, would ascend to the throne. Whether or not there was any veracity to those rumors didn’t matter; on June 20, 1837, following the death of her uncle William, Duke of Clarence, 18-year-old Princess Alexandrina Victoria became Queen Victoria.

2. Queen Victoria was the first sovereign to rule from Buckingham Palace.

In 1761, Buckingham Palace was not yet a palace—it was simply a house. King George III bought the property for his wife, Queen Charlotte, to use as a family home. But when King George IV took over, he had bigger aspirations and decided to create an extravagant palace; costs ballooned to £500,000 (or more than $65 million in today's dollars). George IV died in 1830, however, which meant he never even got to live in the palace. When Queen Victoria took over in 1837, she became the first sovereign to rule from Buckingham Palace. In 1851, she was the first recorded royal to appear on Buckingham Palace’s balcony, a tradition the royal family still continues today.

3. Queen Victoria survived eight assassination attempts.

Queen Victoria sitting in a carriage car
Culture Club/Getty Images

Being in the public eye has its advantages and disadvantages, and for Queen Victoria that meant being the frequent target of assassination attempts. Over the course of her reign, she survived eight of them. In 1940, Edward Oxford shot at Victoria and Prince Albert while they rode in a carriage; Victoria, who was pregnant at the time, was thankfully not harmed. (Oxford was later judged to be insane.)

Two years later, John Francis attempted to shoot the couple not once, but twice—two days in a row. Again, neither was harmed. Just five weeks later, a teenager named John William Bean fired a pistol loaded with pieces of tobacco pipe at the Queen. In 1850, she was eventually injured when ex-soldier Robert Pate hit her over the head with an iron-tipped cane while she spent time in the courtyard of her home. Pate gave her a black eye and a scar that lasted for a long time.

4. Queen Victoria first met Prince Albert on her 17th birthday.

In May 1836, on Victoria’s 17th birthday, Prince Albert and the future queen—who were first cousins—met for the first time when Albert and his brother visited Kensington Palace with their Uncle Leopold. (Albert would turn 17 years old in August.) “He is extremely handsome,” Victoria wrote of the prince in her diary. But it would take almost four more years for the couple to tie the knot. And because royal rule stipulated that a reigning monarch could not be proposed to, Victoria had to be the one to pop the question. On October 15, 1839, Victoria proposed to Albert, who happily accepted. The couple married on February 10, 1840.

5. Queen Victoria popularized the white wedding dress.

Queen Victoria of England - Her Majesty 's wedding to Prince Albert in 1840
Culture Club/Getty Images

If you've ever wondered where the white wedding dress tradition originated, look no further than Queen Victoria. In 1840, Victoria wore an off-the-shoulder white satin gown covered in lace when she married Prince Albert. Though Victoria wasn’t the first royal to wear a white wedding dress—Mary, Queen of Scots wore white, too—wearing white became a status symbol following Victoria and Albert's nuptials.

6. Queen Victoria ensured that no other bride could replicate her wedding dress.

After Victoria’s wedding, she had the pattern to her dress destroyed so that no one could duplicate it.

7. Queen Victoria had nine children, but had some harsh opinions of motherhood.

Queen Victoria And Prince Albert With Five Of Their Children in 1846
Historica Graphica Collection/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Nine kids is a lot, and even though the Queen had a lot of help, she at times seemed indifferent to motherhood. In personal letters, she wrote about her children, mainly about their looks. She once wrote: “I am no admirer of babies generally—there are exceptions—for instance (your sisters) Alice, and Beatrice were very pretty from the very first—yourself also-rather so—Arthur too ... Bertie and Leopold—too frightful. Little girls are always prettier and nicer.” She also said “an ugly baby is a very nasty object.”

8. Queen Victoria was fascinated by Jack the Ripper.

In 1888, the serial killer known as Jack the Ripper began brutally murdering women—mainly prostitutes—in London’s Whitechapel district. Victoria received a petition signed by the women of East London urging the Queen’s “servants in authority” to “close bad houses” a.k.a. brothels, and passed it to the Home Office. When final victim Mary Jane Kelly was killed, Victoria contacted the Prime Minister and urged that better detectives be employed.

9. Queen Victoria’s grandson was suspected of being Jack the Ripper.

Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, c1890s
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

To this day, no one knows for sure who Jack the Ripper was. However, some people have theorized that Victoria’s grandson Prince Albert Victor was the killer. In the 1976 book Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution, author Stephen Knight wrote about how Victoria’s grandson might’ve contracted syphilis from a prostitute, which turned him mad. Another theory suggests the grandson secretly married a Catholic commoner and fathered a child, and it was the royal family who murdered the women to cover up the family secret. (Yes, that one seems a little far-fetched.)

10. Queen Victoria served as her grandson’s alibi.

Queen Victoria gave her grandson an alibi in her journal, thus exonerating him from accusations of being one of the world’s most famous serial killers.

11. Queen Victoria is the second longest-reigning British Monarch.

For 51 years, Victoria held the title of longest-reigning British monarch. But on September 9, 2015, Queen Elizabeth II took over the reins, so to speak, and bumped Victoria to second place. Victoria ruled for 63 years, 7 months, and 3 days; Elizabeth—who is Victoria’s great, great granddaughter—has ruled for almost 68 years.

12. Queen Victoria spent 40 years mourning the death of Prince Albert.

Queen Victoria with her great-granchildren at Osborne House, Isle of Wight, 1900
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

A couple of years before his death, Prince Albert began experiencing stomach cramps, and he almost died in a horse-drawn carriage accident. He told Victoria his days were numbered: “I am sure if I had a severe illness, I should give up at once. I should not struggle for life. I have no tenacity for life,” he said.

On December 14, 1861, Albert succumbed to typhoid fever, though some people believe that stomach cancer and Crohn’s disease were the more likely culprits. Victoria blamed their son Edward for Albert’s death, as Albert was worried about a scandalous affair Edward was said to be having with an actress in Ireland.

Victoria lived for another 40 years and mourned Albert’s death the rest of her life by wearing black, becoming a recluse (she was often referred to as the Widow of Windsor), and keeping Albert’s rooms just the way he had left them.

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