FLAMES DEVOUR A STATE TREASURE,D’ARCY JENISHNovember301992
HISTORY ON FIRE
FLAMES DEVOUR A STATE TREASURE
Its grounds cover 13 acres, it contains 1,000 rooms and has served as a home to British kings, queens and their families for more than 900 years. William the Conqueror built the main part of the fortress, later a residence, that came to be known as Windsor Castle, shortly after his conquest of England in 1066. And Queen Elizabeth lí still spends most weekends at the sprawling castle that stands on a hill overlooking the Thames River, 30 km west of London. Last Friday, she watched anxiously as a fire raged in the historic building for four hours before about 200 firefighters succeeded in containing the flames. The Queen had rushed to Windsor from her main residence at Buckingham Palace in central London and helped to remove prized objects from parts of the castle untouched by the blaze. Prince Andrew, the only member of the Royal Family at the castle at the time, joined in a human chain to remove rare and precious objects. Later, he told reporters of the devastation that he had witnessed, and said of his mother’s reaction: “Her Majesty is shocked.” The prompt rescue efforts of Andrew and the castle staff saved most of the Queen’s priceless collection of Old Masters and antiques at Windsor—the fire claimed just four or five valuable paintings. But it caused millions of dollars of damage to the building itself, destroy-
ing one entire wing containing a 13th-century banquet hall often used to entertain visiting heads of state. Its cause was still to be determined, but investigators quickly ruled out sabotage and were focusing on rewiring work that was being done at the castle. Controversy erupted immediately over who should foot the bill for repairs to a building which was uninsured because of its enormous value. Opposition Labour MPs said that the responsibility rested with the Queen, not the British taxpayers.
Besides containing a remarkable art collection that includes works by Rembrandt and Leonardo da Vinci, the castle is rich in royal history. Several kings, including Henry vm and Charles I, are buried there. Over the centuries, various monarchs had the castle refurbished, rebuilt or enlarged. During her reign, Queen Elizabeth has adopted Windsor Castle as one of her favorite residences. She spends a month there every year at Easter, and a week in June during the Royal Ascot horse races, held 10 km from Windsor Castle. For a monarch shaken again last week by new revelations of marital discord in her family, the destruction of her home was just one more unwelcome event in a year that was supposed to have been a celebration of her 40 years on the throne. And it happened on a day replete with family significance: the 45th anniversary of her wedding to Prince Philip.
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