Saturday, August 4, 2012

Just Chilling with the Queen: Windsor Castle and the Reduced Shakespeare Company

To round out my trip to various castles, palaces, etc, I felt like it would be a crime not to go to Windsor Castle.  Windsor Castle is actually where Queen Elizabeth II lives.  Buckingham Palace, which is in the very heart of London, right off Trafalgar Square, is her occasional residence, but she usually stays at Windsor.

So you might be saying to yourself: well, how do you know where the Queen is in residence?  You see this awesome picture of the flag?  Well, if this flag is flying, then that is the castle/palace where the Queen is.  If it's a white flag with a crown, then that is where she isn't.  It's pretty straight forward.  Like Buckingham Palace, they don't actually let you take pictures inside the state rooms and everything, so, once again, you'll have deal with pictures from Google.  I swear this is the last time though, promise.  Any exterior pictures are mine, any interior ones are from Google.

First a little background on Windsor Castle.  It was built by William the Conqueror (who reigned from 1066-1087) in the end of the eleventh century.  To date, 39 monarchs have lived there, making it the oldest royal residence amongst the British Isles to be in continuous use.  This is where Knights of the Garter are instituted, along with other important ceremonies.

In 1992, tragedy struck when a fire broke out in Queen Victoria's private chapel.  The fire quickly spread along the roof until it destroyed the ceiling of St. George's Hall and the Grand Reception Room, along with dozens of other rooms.  The fire burned for 15 hours and it took 200 firefighters to put it out.  Thankfully, countless priceless works of art were not damaged by the blaze.  Twenty years later, you wouldn't even know a fire had broken out there.  The damaged rooms have been restored to their former glory with the new parts aged so you can't even tell that they were damaged in the first place.

Before you get to the actual state rooms, you get to look at Queen Mary's dollhouse, pictured above.  This was created as a gift to Queen Mary, the wife of King George V and grandmother to the current Queen of England, in the 1920s (completed in 1924) as a gift from the queen's cousin, Princess Marie Louise.  Queen Mary had a love of miniature things, so this dollhouse was a place for her to store all her miniatures.

All the top artists and craftsmen at the time had something to contribute to this gorgeous dollhouse.  All of the books in the library (pictured above) have writing in them, famous artists contributed miniature versions of their paintings, and it shows the latest technology of the time, such as a vacuum cleaner in the maid's quarters.

The dollhouse is also rigged with electricity and running water, so if you turn on the faucets, water will come out.  You can see one of the books with writing on it above.  All of the books in the library are like that.  Authors who contributed include Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling and J.M. Barrie.  George Bernard Shaw rebuffed when asked to contribute some of his works.  Going along with how detailed the dollhouse is, the bottles in the wine cellar are filled with the appropriate wine.

This gives you an idea of just how big the dollhouse is.  Everything is built to 1/12 scale, and like I said before, everything is fully functional, right down to the last light switch.  It was pretty amazing to see.  In no particular order, here are some of the highlights from inside Windsor Castle.

 Pictured above is St. George's Hall.  On the ceiling are the different family crests from members of the prestigious Order of the Garter.  The Order of the Garter is the highest order of chivalry available in England.  There are no more than 26 members: the sovereign, the Prince of Wales and 24 other members.  When new members are initiated, their family crest is added to the collection on the ceiling.  It is possible to get kicked out of the Order, but I don't know how, and then the family crest is removed and replaced with a blank shield to remind people of what they did and how important it is to remain in good standing while a member of the Order.

When new members are added to the Order of the Garter, the ceremony is in this room, appropriately named Throne Room of the Order of the Garter.  You can see the throne Queen Elizabeth II sits on when this ceremony happens.  On the left hand side of the picture of Elizabeth II for her coronation.  Usually there is a long table in this room for members to sit at as well.

Above is the Queen's Guard Chamber.  Much like Hampton Court Palace, the walls are covered with swords and guns in beautiful decorative designs.  They are also fully functional.  So, if necessary, the guards can still take down these weapons and use them to defend the castle.

This is a very new addition to Windsor Castle, called Lantern Lobby.  When the fire broke out in 1992, it started in this room, which had previously been the chapel used by Queen Victoria.  Now, it's a beautiful room that displays gorgeous gold plated dishes, goblets, etc, along with some gorgeous armor.  Usually, Henry VIII's armor is on display here, but it was temporarily on loan to the Tower of London where it was on display.  So I did get to see the armor, just not at Windsor Castle.

Just to give you an idea of some of the other gorgeous rooms, above is the Green Drawing Room.  The pictures, of course, don't do the room justice, but that's usually the case with gorgeous sights such as this.

Above is the dining room.  This was designed by Charles II in the Baroque style he loved so much.  In the true spirit of a dining room, the ceiling and walls are decorated with various types of rich food, either painted on or along the ceiling or carved into the rich woodwork.  It's not a huge dining room, so it's more for small, intimate meals, not huge state dinners.

For larger state dinners, they have much larger dining rooms like the one pictured above.  It was covered with gorgeous silverware and other beautiful flatware.  The walls were a rich red and covered with stunning paintings of various members of the royal family throughout the years.

Unfortunately, the one thing I wanted to see more than anything else at Windsor Castle was closed since I went on a Sunday.  St. George's Chapel is the burial spot of various monarchs over the years. 

Now, we haven't talked about him so far in this post, so don't you act surprised, this is where Henry VIII is buried with the only one of his six wives to give him what he always wanted, a son.  That's right, Jane Seymour is buried there next to her husband, laid to rest after giving her life to give her husband what he wanted.  It's ironic, her motto was "bound to serve and obey," and Jane obeyed and always did what she was expected until her last moments.  I'm really upset I couldn't actually go to their grave, but I got pretty close, which is better than nothing I guess.

After Windsor Castle, my friend and I headed over to see a show by the American acting trio, the Reduced Shakespeare Company.  The acting group shot to fame after condensing all of Shakespeare's works into one two hour show performed by three men (including all the female roles).  They then did the Bible, American history, all great literature and world history.  In honor of the Olympics, the RSC's latest show is the complete history of sports, from cavemen beating each other mercilessly with sticks to Quidditch and everything in between.  There were references to Hunger Games, an Olympic torch that's a birthday candle in a cupcake, and, of course, so much craziness.  At one point, Anthony (the one pictured above in the football jersey), even forgot his lines.  He simply stood there while the two other actors teased him mercilessly about the fact that he completely forgot his lines.  It took a few minutes, but he thankfully got back on track.  Afterwards, I got the wonderful opportunity to meet the three cast members and get their autographs.  This was a pretty big deal to me since I'm a huge fan of their work.  Just to give you a taste of what the RSC does, below is a promotional clip of their sports show.

I'm terribly sorry that it's taken so long to write this post.  I've been terribly behind since I got home.  I'm doing my best to catch up though, so keep an eye out as I wrap up my last few days in London.

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