Blog > History of London A True Capital

January 16, 2013

Following the History of London series that we have been sharing here on the Safestay blog we introduce London becoming the real capital of England.  The city of London would not become a true capital until the 1300's. It would be at this time during the reign of Edward III that the city would become the real administrative center of England.  In medieval times London would be the only city in England which could compare to the great cities on the continent of Europe. 

Although it population would increase gradually it would only reach 50,000 by about 1500.

This would be far smaller than its population during Roman times. One explanation for this would be the poor sanitary conditions and the resulting outbreaks of disease that would occur at interval periods.

The Black Death of 1348-49 for example killed two thirds of the city inhabitants and the surrounding areas for a loss of some 60,000 people. The streets of London at this time were filled with mud, dirt, human and animal waste as well as being a breeding ground for rats and other disease carrying animals.  In addition, the water would often be contaminated. 

The condition of London at this time provides at least one explanation for the building and expansion of structures outside the city proper for personal use by the Royal family and other prominent members of English society.  

One such example would be Windsor Castle a short drive from the city of London in Berkshire County. Originally constructed by William the Conqueror in the mid 11th century the residence would be expanded by later kings of England.  

Since the time of Henry I a son of William it has been used by succeeding monarchs and it is the longest occupied palace in Europe. 

Henry III  reigning from 1216-1272 built a luxurious royal palace within the castle and Edward III in the next century would rebuild the palace to produce an even grander set of buildings in what would become the most extensive building project in England during the Middle Ages which did not have a religious purpose. 

The core design built by Edward III would last the length of the Tudor dynasty where Henry VIII and his children including Elizabeth I would increasingly use the castle for both a royal residence and  diplomatic staging area. 

The castle includes the 15th century St. George's Chapel which is a fine example of English Perpendicular Gothic Design.

Windsor Castle would survive the English Civil War and serve as a military headquarters for the forces of Oliver Cromwell as well as a prison for the hapless Charles I in the 1600's.  During the Restoration Period of his son Charles II much of the castle would be rebuilt with elaborate and exquisite Baroque interiors that are a major reason to visit the castle.

Beginning in the late 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century Kings George III and George IV  would rebuild and refurbish the palace again at enormous expense producing the current arrangement of the State Apartments that are full of Gothic, Rococo and Baroque furnishings.

Queen Victoria 1837-1901 made the castle a major place for diplomatic and family entertaining but did very little to change the design of the place. 

In the 20th century Windsor Castle would serve as a royal refuge from the frequent bombings of the city of London during World War II. The Queen and King would drive daily to Buckingham Palace unbeknownst to the British public for reasons of morale.  The British public believed that the royals were still living in London.

Today it is the preferred weekend home of the Queen when she is in London.  The damage done by the great fire of 1992 has been mitigated and restored as much as possible using some ingenious methods like flipping over the wooden floor boards for example. 

Tourists can tell when the Queen is in residence when the Royal Standard is flying above the castle. More than 500 people live and work at the Castle throughout much of the year.