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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
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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.

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10 Things to Remember About Memorial Day
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Memorial Day is much more than just a three-day weekend and a chance to get the year's first sunburn. Here's a handy 10-pack of facts to give the holiday some perspective.

1. IT STARTED WITH THE CIVIL WAR.

Memorial Day was a response to the unprecedented carnage of the Civil War, in which some 620,000 soldiers on both sides died. The loss of life and its effect on communities throughout the country led to spontaneous commemorations of the dead:

• In 1864, women from Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, put flowers on the graves of their dead from the just-fought Battle of Gettysburg. The next year, a group of women decorated the graves of soldiers buried in a Vicksburg, Mississippi, cemetery.

• In April 1866, women from Columbus, Mississippi, laid flowers on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers. In the same month, in Carbondale, Illinois, 219 Civil War veterans marched through town in memory of the fallen to Woodlawn Cemetery, where Union hero Major General John A. Logan delivered the principal address. The ceremony gave Carbondale its claim to the first organized, community-wide Memorial Day observance.

• Waterloo, New York began holding an annual community service on May 5, 1866. Although many towns claimed the title, it was Waterloo that won congressional recognition as the "birthplace of Memorial Day."

2. MAJOR GENERAL JOHN A. LOGAN MADE IT OFFICIAL.

General Logan, the speaker at the Carbondale gathering, also was commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans. On May 5, 1868, he issued General Orders No. 11, which set aside May 30, 1868 "for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion."

The orders expressed hope that the observance would be "kept up from year to year while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades."

3. IT WAS FIRST KNOWN AS DECORATION DAY.

The holiday was long known as Decoration Day for the practice of decorating graves with flowers, wreaths, and flags. The name Memorial Day goes back to 1882, but the older name didn't disappear until after World War II. Federal law declared "Memorial Day" the official name in 1967.

4. THE HOLIDAY IS A FRANCHISE.

Calling Memorial Day a "national holiday" is a bit of a misnomer. While there are 10 federal holidays created by Congress—including Memorial Day—they apply only to Federal employees and the District of Columbia. Federal Memorial Day, established in 1888, allowed Civil War veterans, many of whom were drawing a government paycheck, to honor their fallen comrades without being docked a day's pay.

For the rest of us, our holidays were enacted state by state. New York was the first state to designate Memorial Day a legal holiday, in 1873. Most Northern states had followed suit by the 1890s. The states of the former Confederacy were unenthusiastic about a holiday memorializing those who, in General Logan's words, "united to suppress the late rebellion." The South didn't adopt the May 30 Memorial Day until after World War I, by which time its purpose had been broadened to include those who died in all the country's wars.

In 1971, the Monday Holiday Law shifted Memorial Day from May 30 to the last Monday of the month.

5. IT WAS JAMES GARFIELD'S FINEST HOUR—OR MAYBE HOUR-AND-A-HALF.

James Garfield
Edward Gooch, Getty Images

On May 30, 1868, President Ulysses S. Grant presided over the first Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery—which, until 1864, was Confederate General Robert E. Lee's plantation.

Some 5000 people attended on a spring day which, The New York Times reported, was "somewhat too warm for comfort." The principal speaker was James A. Garfield, a Civil War general, Republican congressman from Ohio and future president.

"I am oppressed with a sense of the impropriety of uttering words on this occasion," Garfield began, and then continued to utter them. "If silence is ever golden, it must be beside the graves of fifteen-thousand men, whose lives were more significant than speech, and whose death was a poem the music of which can never be sung." It went on like that for pages and pages.

As the songs, speeches and sermons ended, the participants helped to decorate the graves of the Union and Confederate soldiers buried in the cemetery.

6. NOT EVEN THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER CAN AVOID MEDIA SCRUTINY THESE DAYS.

"Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God." That is the inscription on the Tomb of the Unknowns, established at Arlington National Cemetery to inter the remains of the first Unknown Soldier, a World War I fighter, on November 11, 1921. Unknown soldiers from World War II and the Korean War subsequently were interred in the tomb on Memorial Day 1958.

An emotional President Ronald Reagan presided over the interment of six bones, the remains of an unidentified Vietnam War soldier, on November 28, 1984. Fourteen years later, those remains were disinterred, no longer unknown. Spurred by an investigation by CBS News, the defense department removed the remains from the Tomb of the Unknowns for DNA testing.

The once-unknown fighter was Air Force pilot Lieutenant Michael Joseph Blassie, whose jet crashed in South Vietnam in 1972. "The CBS investigation suggested that the military review board that had changed the designation on Lt. Blassie's remains to 'unknown' did so under pressure from veterans' groups to honor a casualty from the Vietnam War," The New York Times reported in 1998.

Lieutenant Blassie was reburied near his hometown of St. Louis. His crypt at Arlington remains permanently empty.

7. VIETNAM VETS GO WHOLE HOG.

Rolling Thunder members and motocyclists wait for the 'Blessing of the Bikes' to start at at the Washington National Cathedral, May 26, 2017 in Washington, DC
ANGELA WEISS, AFP/Getty Images

On Memorial Day weekend in 1988, 2500 motorcyclists rode into Washington, D.C. for the first Rolling Thunder rally to draw attention to Vietnam War soldiers still missing in action or prisoners of war. By 2002, the ride had swelled to 300,000 bikers, many of them veterans. There may have been a half-million participants in 2005, in what organizers bluntly call "a demonstration—not a parade."

A national veterans rights group, Rolling Thunder takes its name from the B-52 carpet-bombing runs during the war in Vietnam.

8. MEMORIAL DAY HAS ITS CUSTOMS.

General Orders No. 11 stated that "in this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed," but over time several customs and symbols became associated with the holiday.

• It is customary on Memorial Day to fly the flag at half staff until noon, and then raise it to the top of the staff until sunset.

• Taps, the 24-note bugle call, is played at all military funerals and memorial services. It originated in 1862 when Union General Dan Butterfield "grew tired of the 'lights out' call sounded at the end of each day," according to The Washington Post. Together with the brigade bugler, Butterfield made some changes to the tune.

Not long after, the melody was used at a burial for the first time when a battery commander ordered it played in lieu of the customary three rifle volleys over the grave. The battery was so close to enemy lines, and the commander was worried the shots would spark renewed fighting.

• The World War I poem "In Flanders Fields," by John McCrea, inspired the Memorial Day custom of wearing red artificial poppies. In 1915, a Georgia teacher and volunteer war worker named Moina Michael began a campaign to make the poppy a symbol of tribute to veterans and for "keeping the faith with all who died." The sale of poppies has supported the work of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

9. THERE STILL IS A GRAY MEMORIAL DAY.

Several Southern states continue to set aside a day for honoring the Confederate dead, which is usually called Confederate Memorial Day. It's on the fourth Monday in April in Alabama, April 26 in Georgia, June 3 in Louisiana and Tennessee, the last Monday in April in Mississippi, May 10 in North and South Carolina, January 19 in Texas, and the last Monday in May in Virginia.

10. EACH MEMORIAL DAY IS A LITTLE DIFFERENT.

Ricky Parada sits at the grave of his little brother Cpl. Nicolas D. Paradarodriguez who was killed in Afghanistan, at Section 60 on Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery on May 28, 2012 in Arlington, Virginia
Mark Wilson, Getty Images

No question that Memorial Day is a solemn event. Still, don't feel too guilty about doing something frivolous (like having barbecue) over the weekend. After all, you weren't the one who instituted the Indianapolis 500 on May 30, 1911. That credit goes to Indianapolis businessman Carl Fisher. The winning driver that day was Ray Harroun, who averaged 74.6 mph and completed the race in 6 hours and 42 minutes.

Gravitas returned on May 30, 1922, when the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated. Supreme Court Chief Justice (and former president) William Howard Taft dedicated the monument before a crowd of 50,000 people, segregated by race, and which included a row of Union and Confederate veterans. Also attending was Lincoln's surviving son, Robert Todd Lincoln.

In 2000, Congress established a National Moment of Remembrance, which asks Americans to pause for one minute at 3 p.m. in an act of national unity. The time was chosen because 3 p.m. "is the time when most Americans are enjoying their freedoms on the national holiday."

This post originally appeared in 2008.

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5 Things You Might Not Know About Henry Kissinger
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You probably know Henry Kissinger as a Nobel Peace Prize winner and former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State. Let’s take a look at five things you might not know about the German-born political scientist and diplomat.

1. MAO ZEDONG TRIED TO GIVE HIM "10 MILLION" WOMEN.

In 1973, Henry Kissinger was engaged in a discussion of trade with Mao Zedong when the chairman abruptly changed the subject by saying, “We [China] don't have much. What we have in excess is women. So if you want them we can give a few of those to you, some tens of thousands.”

Kissinger sidestepped this bizarre offer and changed the subject, but Mao later returned to the subject by jokingly asking, “Do you want our Chinese women? We can give you 10 million.”

This time Kissinger diplomatically replied, “It is such a novel proposition. We will have to study it.”

Other Chinese officials in the room pointed out that Mao’s attitudes toward women would cause quite a stir if the press got their hands on these quotes, so Mao apologized to his female interpreter and talked Kissinger into having the comments removed from the records of the meeting.

2. NO, HE'S NOT THE INSPIRATION FOR DR. STRANGELOVE.

Here’s a riddle that’s been bugging film buffs for decades: who was the basis for the title character in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove? For years many observers thought that Kissinger might have inspired Peter Sellers’s memorable performance. Blame it on the accent and the glasses. Even though Kissinger was still a relatively obscure Harvard professor when the film premiered in 1964, the rumor that Kubrick modeled the character on him just wouldn't die.

Kubrick did what he could to dispel this notion before his death, saying, “I think this is slightly unfair to Kissinger ... It was unintentional. Neither Peter nor I had ever seen Kissinger before the film was shot.” Most observers now think that Dr. Strangelove was actually a distorted version of Herman Kahn, an eccentric nuclear strategist for the RAND Corporation.

3. HE WAS QUITE THE LADIES MAN.

Even in his youth, Kissinger didn’t quite fit the bill of a matinee idol, but he has always been a hit with the ladies. A 1972 poll of Playboy bunnies selected Kissinger as the man with whom Hef’s ladies would most like to go out on a date. He also had a string of celebrity girlfriends in his younger days, including Diane Sawyer, Candice Bergen, Jill St. John, Shirley Maclaine, and Liv Ullman, who called Kissinger, “the most interesting man I have ever met.”

Kissinger’s swinging bachelor days are long gone, though. He was married to Ann Fleischer from 1949 to 1964 then married philanthropist Nancy Maginnes in 1974—a union that at one point seemed so improbable that just a year before they tied the knot, Maginnes had called speculation that she and Kissinger would marry “outrageous.”

4. PROTECTING HIM ISN'T ALWAYS EASY.

In 1985 former Secret Service agent Dennis McCarthy released the memoir Protecting the President—The Inside Story of a Secret Service Agent, in which he described being on Kissinger’s security detail as “a real pain.” McCarthy shared a funny anecdote about a 1977 trip to Acapulco with Kissinger and his wife. There were signs warning of sharks in the water, but Nancy wanted to go for a swim. Kissinger then told his security detail to get in the water to guard for sharks.

Personal protection is one thing, but McCarthy and his fellow agents drew the line at fighting off sharks. Instead, they made the reasonable point that if the Kissingers were afraid of sharks, they shouldn’t go swimming. Agent McCarthy did, however, offer a compromise; he told Kissinger, “If the sharks come up on this beach, my agents will fight them.”

5. THE STATE DEPARTMENT NIXED HIS OFFICIAL PORTRAIT.

Official portraits of government luminaries don’t usually become big news, but in 1978 the painting of Kissinger commissioned by the State Department for its gallery made headlines. Boston artist Gardner Cox had previously painted Secretaries of State Dean Acheson and Dean Rusk, so he got the $12,000 commission to paint Kissinger. The finished product didn’t earn rave reviews, though.

Some viewers at the State Department thought the painting lacked Kissinger’s dynamism and made him look “somewhat a dwarf.” Others felt the portrait was “a rogues' gallery thing." The State Department offered to let Cox fix the painting, but he said he didn’t see anything that need changing. He lost the commission but got $700 for his expenses.

Kissinger took the whole episode in stride, though. When Houston artist J. Anthony Wills painted a replacement, Kissinger declared it to be, “an excellent likeness, swelled head and all,” and called the unveiling "one of my most fulfilling moments. Until they do Mount Rushmore."

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