Best thing about England? The Royals!
While Will and Kate and baby Georgie are pretty cool and Kate has wicked style (I wish I had her poise and grace and wardrobe), it’s the Kings and Queens from back in the day that really interest me. The scheming! The romance! The scandals! Maybe we can blame my romanticized impression of the medieval monarchs on all the Philippa Gregory books I’ve read? It’s horrendous, I know, but most of my knowledge about England’s royal past is based on historical fiction. At least these works are based on facts. The author just takes creative liberties when filling in the holes that historians left out.
And royals live in castles! And castles are pretty! And every time I was reading a historical fiction book this summer and it mentioned being at one of the castles I was planning on visiting in September, I got really excited!
There are so many castles in England! I didn’t possibly have enough time to see them all during my nine day vacation. It was really hard narrowing it down.
Michael and I decided to visit Windsor Castle, Leeds Castle, the Tower of London, and Hampton Court Palace. We did at least get a view of Dover Castle from the shore. And while in London we also saw Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace. I loved the Tower so much, I’m saving it for a future post.
View of Dover Castle
View of Buckingham Palace
Gate at Buckingham Palace
View of Kensington Palace
Windsor Castle is the longest occupied palace in Europe. It’s the current weekend home of the Queen. When she’s there, they fly her Royal Standard. We visited on a Sunday, but she wasn’t home. Apparently she was in Scotland at Balmoral Castle on vacation.
The State Apartments are very grand. I think it was the first time I’ve ever seen a real suit of armour. Unfortunately, you can’t take pictures inside so I have none to show you.
St. George’s Chapel is within the Windsor Castle complex. It is the final resting place for Henry VIII and Edward IV, my favorite king. More about him when we discuss the Tower. As the Chapel is a place of worship, it is only open to worshippers on Sunday, so that meant I didn’t get to go inside.
Leeds made the castle must-see list because it’s known as one of the loveliest castles in England. The castle is pretty much surrounded by a lake. Very picturesque.
The original stone castle was built by a Norman baron during the reign of Henry I. In 1278, Queen Eleanor of Castille, the first wife of Edward I, took possession of it, and it remained a royal residence for the next 300 years. It then became a private home again. Can you imagine living in a castle?
Now, not only is the castle open to the public, but they have wedding packages available so you could get married at the castle. Your wedding pictures would be amazing!
We visited Windsor as part of a day trip that also went to Stonehenge and Bath, and Leeds was part of a tour that also went to Dover, Canterbury, and Greenwich and included a river cruise along the Thames. We chose to do these tours because they took us to places outside of London and allowed us to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time. The downfall was I felt rushed pretty much everywhere. I definitely didn’t feel like there was enough time at the castles. The tours probably only spent about an hour and a half to two hours at each place. I could have wandered around the grounds at Leeds for a lot longer. Keep this in mind if your traveling. It’s a trade off between convenience and the freedom to choose how you spend your time.
Hampton Court Palace is about a thirty minute train ride from London. We spent the better part of a day here. I’m glad we had the freedom to explore it on our own. The gardens were beautiful! My favorite gardens we saw while in England.
Tudor in the front
It is also interesting to see how the architecture style is so different in the front of the palace compared to the back. The front was built for Henry VIII in the Tudor style, and the back is Baroque, expanded by King William III in the 1600′s in an attempt to create a palace that rivalled Versailles. I’ve been to Versailles, and in my opinion, I would say he didn’t succeed. Versailles felt more luxurious to me. But I still loved Hampton Court Palace!
Baroque in the back
There was an interesting temporary exhibit on the Royal Bed Chamber while we were there. Another permanent feature are the Tudor kitchens. They’re set up as if preparing for a feast. Besides the gardens, that was my favorite part.
No trip to England is complete without seeing a few castles and palaces. I hope this post gives you a little taste of some of the possibilities.