Esteemed royal biographer Hugo Vickers on why Windsor is the Queen’s favourite residence

After King George VI died in 1952 and was laid to rest in the Royal Vault, Elizabeth was crowned Queen on 2 June 1953. She visited Windsor 11 days later. Prince Philip explained how they came to love the castle: ‘King George VI made his country home at Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park. At the time of his death, we did not have a place in the country, and it was only after we had been using rooms at Windsor Castle for some months on a temporary basis, that we finally decided to install ourselves there permanently.’

And so the pattern formed, with weekends at the castle, the ‘Easter Court’, when the Queen celebrated with a miscellany of guests – politicians, the Archbishop of Canterbury and others came for a ‘dine and sleep’ – attending Easter matins at St George’s Chapel. She enjoyed the Royal Windsor Horse Show, which she had known from its inception, invariably hosting a number of Prince Philip’s German relations – notably for many years his sister Princess Sophie and her husband, Prince George of Hanover. She would be at the castle for the week of Royal Ascot, with the annual Garter Ceremony invariably on the Monday. After a day of intimate pageantry when the Knights of the Garter have lunch in the Waterloo Chamber, and then process on foot through the crowds within the castle to the Thanksgiving or Installation Service in St George’s Chapel, come the four (and latterly five) days of racing at Ascot, with the famous carriage procession up the course.

After many decades of service to the Queen, Prince Philip retired from public duties in 2017. This meant that if he wished to attend something he could, but he was under no obligation to do so. He set up home at Wood Farm, on the Sandringham Estate, where he was able to drive carriages, paint and read as he always did. But there were still times when he was at the castle, notably during the time of the Easter Court. He attended the weddings of Prince Harry, Princess Eugenie and Lady Gabriella Windsor in 2019, all of which took place in St George’s Chapel. Smartly dressed, with buttonhole and tie pin in place, he walked out of the chapel, hands characteristically behind his back, belying his 97 years. There was a final appearance later in 2020, when the Duke of Edinburgh handed over his colonelcy of The Rifles to the Duchess of Cornwall. Then aged 99, he emerged from the private apartments to take the salute, a brief but reassuring glimpse of him, filmed by the media.

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