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August 26, 2010

Village & Queen

During this business trip to England I was lucky enough to have a colleague who doubled as a tour guide, showing me around many places and things I should have seen on previous visits.

Our first stop was just a few minutes away in Windsor, which I knew nothing about. As an American, When I think of the Queen I think of Buckingham Palace; the truth of the matter is it is only one of three royal palaces, with Windsor being the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world (as a side note, the Royal Family also has two private residences).

Windsor is also a lovely village-now-town which surrounds the caste and is surrounded by Windsor Forest. According to my colleague Daryl, the Queen is still fond of horses and dogs, still hunting—with bow and arrow!—and occasionally riding through the forest on the same trails that are now open to the public.

It surprised me that she’d be wandering around in the park—certainly there must be a security detail. “If she’s in the park, you may see security at the gates, and maybe a helicopter or something, but she specifically does not want to see security when she’s there,” he claims.

Prince Charles (formally Prince of Wales) petitioned his mother to make a section of the great park reserved for model planes and kite flying, which he was fond of, and she agreed.

What is the Queen’s last name?

4699557423_b1e621e4cb_o.jpegThis is the first question Daryl asked me, which totally took me aback. “Elizabeth,” I responded. He disagreed, but I persisted. “‘Queen’ is her first name.”

He said her last name was Windsor, and Windsor castle was passed down from her family. Wikipedia states:

Unlike most westerners, many of the world’s royal families do not have family names, and those that have adopted them rarely use them. They are referred to instead by their titles, often related to an area ruled or once ruled by that family. The name of a Royal House is not a surname; it is just a convenient way of dynastic identification of individuals.

Flag atop WindsorAt any rate she is of Windsor and she does live in the castle. Obviously she travels quite a bit and has several residences to occupy, so there’s a way to know if she’s home when you visit—a flag that flies from the tallest tower of this hill-set domain. I was lucky enough to see that flag on both of my visits.

Understanding the Village

Even before visiting Windsor I spoke with someone who kept using the term “village.” I just took it as a British colloquialism for town, but upon visiting a castle you immediately recognize the need for a supporting population. Outside the castle walls the peasants worked on the feudal lord’s behalf in return for protection.

With most of my time here spent in Reading and Bracknell, I got to see a number of new and old villages. They seem to be focused upon the city center and are entirely walkable—the people work and live together. For those villages I saw seemingly not attached to a fortress or castle of some sort, the structure also seems to support an agricultural emphasis, clustering tightly in order to maximize field space.

Windsor wraps and winds around the castle and along the Thames, and towards its edges are homes provided for the elderly who were in the Royal Family’s service. I felt somewhat fonder of the British monarchy after visiting this place, hearing the stories and observing the people. With all the visits and appearances they make, it would almost seem as if the Queen and her family still feel as if the Commonwealth is their village, to whom they dutifully protect and provide for in return for their allegiance and support.

Reading Queen Elizabeth’s wikipedia entry, I came across this quote from a broadcast she gave on her 21st birthday:

“I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”

Admittedly, I knew very little about the Queen before this visit. Though her popularity has had its low points, I cannot help but admire one who commits their entire life (not just an elected term) to the people who make them who they are—and rises above them by their willingness to consider each one part of their own. That kind of intent makes someone royal regardless of their pedigree.

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