In their heyday, castles were probably drafty, dark, and malodorous, but that doesn’t diminish the inherent romance of the structures. Travel to the United Kingdom would be incomplete without a visit to the noble digs of some of Great Britain’s royal, rich, and famous.
The world’s longest-occupied castle is 900-year old Windsor Castle, the weekend home of Queen Elizabeth and as might be expected of the real estate portfolio of a reigning monarch, the grounds lay claim to a chapel, several homes, and of course the palace. It was built after the Normans decided that England would be a nice place to conquer in 1066.
Hampton Court started out as the sumptuous residence of Archbishop Thomas Wolsey, who, as he began to fall out of favor with King Henry VIII, gifted the much-married monarch with his own home as a peace offering, when what the king really wanted was a divorce so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. The castle has beautiful gardens, a view of the Thames River, a maze, and the ghost of wife number five, Queen Katherine Howard, who lost her head when Henry discovered that she had been less than faithful.
Scotland’s royal castle now houses the Scottish crown jewels, but in its past, the Stuart monarchs kept their royal home lively. Scottish royals lived there from the time of the 12th century’s King David. It has the interesting distinction of being both the most visited paid tourist attraction in Scotland being one of the most attacked places in the world. Because the castle—or rather, the rock, since early tribes were none too particular about their living conditions—has been occupied since the Iron Age, it may be the longest continually occupied location in Scotland.
This is the castle where Prince Charles was officially dubbed Prince of Wales by Queen Elizabeth in 1969, but don’t look too deeply for a modern-day Welsh context. The castle was built shortly after England’s King Edward I conquered North Wales and, taking a fancy to the title of Prince of Wales, he stole it from the Welsh. There have been quite a few Princes of Wales since that time 800 years ago, but, fortunately for Welsh pride, the Tudor monarchs did have Welsh blood.
Tower of London
Nobody would go to the United Kingdom and not stop at the Tower of London; more than two million people every year make a visit to view the crown jewels. The Tower’s history as a residence has a grim past, thanks to Henry VIII, two of whose wives entered the Tower with their heads and left without them. The Princes in the Tower—yep, it’s this Tower, went in and never came out again. Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and sister of Mary I (she of Bloody fame) was kept there for a time when her sister was not feeling well disposed toward her younger, prettier, Protestant sister, but when Elizabeth did leave, her head was intact and she ruled long and well.