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Prior to the Norman Conquest, the manor of Clewer, the site of modern Windsor, consisting of five hides, was the property of King Harold, son of Godwin, and, together with his other estates, fell at his death into the hands of William the Conqueror. William granted the manor to one Ralph, the son of Seifride, reserving, however, one-half of a hide on which are believed to have been some ancient earthworks, and on which he built for himself a castle. This was styled, not Clewer Castle, but Windsor Castle, the name of Harold's royal residence nearby (now Old Windsor). Since then has been intimately associated with English history, having been used alternately by William's descendants as their palace, prison, and burial place.
William Rufus assembled a council at Windsor and, there, imprisoned the rebellious Earl of Mowbray for the remaining thirty years of his life. Henry I built a chapel, probably on the site now occupied by the Albert Memorial Chapel, formerly known as Wolsey's Tomb-House. Windsor was a favourite summer residence of Henry and, it was here that in 1121, that he married Adelicia of Louvain, the "Fair Maid of Brabant." In 1127, Henry received at Windsor the homage of the nobles of the land who, at the same time, swore allegiance to his daughter, the Empress Matilda. As was usual on such solemn occasions, the coronation ceremony was repeated.
Windsor does not figure at all in Stephen's disturbed reign, but it was seen as one of the key Royal castles to be handed over to Henry II upon his succession. The latter frequently resided there, and in his tenth year expended the sum of 30s on repairing the kitchen. Fabyan, a chronicler of the time, tells a pathetic story bearing on Henry's domestic troubles with his rebellious sons. "It is recorded that in a chamber at Windsor, he caused to be painted an eagle, with four birds, whereof three of them all rased [scratched] the body of the old eagle, and the fourth was scratching at the old eagle's eyes. When the question was asked of him [Henry], what thing that picture should signify? It was answered by him, "This old eagle," said he, "is myself; and these four eagles betoken my four sons, the which cease not to pursue my death, and especially my youngest son, John, which now I love most, shall most especially await and imagine my death."
Windsor is closely connected with the granting of Magna Carta by John when King. Between Old Windsor and Staines is the flat meadow of Runnymede, from which the castle towers are visible. During the conferences which preceded and followed the ratification of this great charter, John went backwards and forwards to Windsor each day. He was at Windsor when he heard of the invasion of the French Dauphin, Louis, in 1216. The King moved elsewhere, but the castle was put under siege for three long months by the rebel Barons and their French allies.
Henry III greatly improved the castle. The old hall in the Upper Ward was abandoned for a new and larger one in the Lower Ward and, in 1272, he roofed the Keep. Part of the cloister still stands as it was then built. On the town side, three great towers were built and, on the north, was erected a tower on the same site as now stands the Winchester Tower. All the buildings were handsomely decorated with paintings and windows filled with glass. In one of the new towers, on the western side, was possibly the dungeon connected with a scene in Henry's career, which proved him, for all his piety, a worthy son of his father.