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Windsor
Windsor Bridge and Town.jpg
Windsor Bridge, Windsor and Windsor Castle
Windsor is located in Berkshire
Windsor
Windsor
Windsor shown within Berkshire
Population26,885 (2011)
OS grid referenceSU965765
Unitary authority
Ceremonial county
Region
CountryEngland
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townWINDSOR
Postcode districtSL4
Dialling code01753
PoliceThames Valley
FireRoyal Berkshire
AmbulanceSouth Central
EU ParliamentSouth East England
UK Parliament
List of places
 
UK
England
BerkshireCoordinates51.4791°N 0.6095°W                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Windsor (/ˈwɪnzər/) is a historic market town and unparished area in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead in BerkshireEngland. It is widely known as the site of Windsor Castle, one of the official residences of the British Royal Family.

The town is situated 23 miles (37 km) west of Charing Cross, London, 7 miles (11 km) south east of Maidenhead, and 21 miles (34 km) east of Reading. It is immediately south of the River Thames, which forms its boundary with its ancient twin town of Eton. The village of Old Windsor, just over 2 miles (3 km) to the south, predates what is now called Windsor by around 300 years; in the past Windsor was formally referred to as New Windsor to distinguish the two.[1]

Etymology[edit]

Windlesora is first mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. (The settlement had an earlier name but this is unknown.) The name originates from old English Windles-ore or winch by the riverside.[2][3][4] By 1110, meetings of the Great Council, which had previously taken place at Windlesora, were noted as taking place at the Castle – referred to as New Windsor, probably to indicate that it was a two ward castle/borough complex, similar to other early castle designs, such as Denbigh. By the late 12th century the settlement at Windelsora was renamed Old Windsor.

History[edit]

Windsor Castle, viewed from the Long Walk

Norman period[edit]

The early history of the site is unknown, although it was almost certainly settled some years before 1070 when William the Conqueror had a timber motte and bailey castle constructed.[5] The focus of royal interest at that time was not the castle, however, but a small riverside settlement about 3 miles (5 km) downstream, possibly established from the 7th century. From about the 8th century, high status people started to visit the site occasionally, and possibly this included royalty. From the 11th century the site's link with king Edward the Confessor is documented, but again, information about his use of the place is scant. After the Conquest of 1066 royal use of the site increased, probably because it offered good access to woodlands and opportunities for hunting – a sport which also practised military skills.

Windsor Castle is noted in the Domesday Book under the entry for Clewer, the neighbouring manor to Windsor. Although this might seem strange, it occurred because plans for the castle had changed since 1070, and more land had been acquired in Clewer on which to site a castle town. This plan was not actioned until the early 12th century. Henry I – according to one chronicle – had rebuilt it, and this followed the Norman kings' actions at other royal sites, such as Westminster, where larger and more magnificent accommodation was thought necessary for the new dynasty. King Henry married his second wife at Windsor Castle in 1121, after the White Ship disaster.

Plantagenet period[edit]

The settlement at Old Windsor largely transferred to New Windsor during the 12th century, although substantial planning and setting out of the new town (including the parish churchmarketplace, bridge, hermitage and leper hospital) did not take place until c. 1170, under Henry II, following the civil war of Stephen's reign. At about the same time, the present upper ward of the castle was rebuilt in stone. Windsor Bridge is the earliest bridge on the Thames between Staines and Reading, built at a time when bridge building was rare; it was first documented in 1191, but had probably been built, according to the Pipe rolls, in 1173. It played an important part in the national road system, linking London with Reading and Winchester, but also, by diverting traffic into the new town, it underpinned the success of its fledgling economy.

The town of New Windsor, as an ancient demesne of the Crown, was a privileged settlement from the start, apparently having the rights of a 'free borough', for which other towns had to pay substantial fees to the king. It had a merchant guild (known by the 14th century as the Fraternity or brotherhood of the Holy Trinity) from the early 13th century and, under royal patronage, was made the chief town of the county in 1277, as part of its grant of royal borough status by Edward I's charter. Somewhat unusually, this charter gave no new rights or privileges to Windsor but probably codified the rights which it had enjoyed for many years. Windsor's position as chief town of Berkshire was short-lived, however, as people found it difficult to reach. Wallingford took over this position in the early 14th century. As a self-governing town Windsor enjoyed a number of freedoms unavailable to other towns, including the right to hold its own borough court, the right of membership (or 'freedom') and some financial independence. The town accounts of the 16th century survive in part, although most of the once substantial borough archive dating back to the 12th century was destroyed, probably in the late 17th century.

The Last Supper by Franz de Cleyn in the West Gallery of Windsor parish church of St John The Baptist.[6]

New Windsor was a nationally significant town in the Middle Ages, certainly one of the fifty wealthiest towns in the country by 1332. Its prosperity came from its close association with the royal household. The repeated investment in the castle brought London merchants (goldsmiths, vintnersspicers and mercers) to the town in the late 13th century and provided much employment for townsmen. The development of the castle under Edward III, between 1350–68, was the largest secular building project in England of the Middle Ages, and many Windsor people worked on this project, again bringing great wealth to the town. Although the Black Death in 1348 had reduced some towns' populations by up to 50%, in Windsor the building projects of Edward III brought money to the town, and possibly its population doubled: this was a 'boom' time for the local economy. People came to the town from every part of the country, and from continental Europe. The poet Geoffrey Chaucer held the honorific post of 'Clerk of the Works' at Windsor Castle in 1391.

The development of the castle continued in the late 15th century with the rebuilding of St George's Chapel. With this Windsor became a major pilgrimage destination, particularly for Londoners. Pilgrims came to touch the royal shrine of the murdered Henry VI, the fragment of the True Cross and other important relics. Visits to the chapel were probably combined with a visit to the important nearby Marian shrine and college at Eton, founded by Henry VI in 1440, and dedicated to the Assumption; which is now better known as Eton College. Pilgrims came with substantial sums to spend. From perhaps two or three named inns in the late 15th century, some 30 can be identified a century later. The town again grew in wealth. For London pilgrims, Windsor was probably – but briefly – of greater importance than Canterbury and the shrine of the City's patron Saint Thomas Becket.