Windsor Castle Will Stand

November 29, 1992

British royal families have long been sensitive to what now is called public relations. In 1916, during the dark days of World War I, King George V determined that his Germanic family name was not politically correct. Would Tommies (British soldiers) go over the top (forward from the trenches) into the muzzles of Hun (German) guns for someone named Saxe-Coburg-Gotha? George changed the family name to a great patriotic symbol, something that would stand forever. He took the name of the house he lived in. He called himself Windsor.

Windsor Castle was not always there. William the Conqueror started it in 1070, for security, four years after his invasion. His son Henry I moved in 51 years later, and every British monarch has lived there part of the year since. Most of them have added to it: a giant fortress starkly visible to any air passenger descending to Heathrow Airport on a clear day, a town within walls, a tourist magnet drawing three times as many visitors as the National Aquarium in Baltimore, a symbol of the realm where great dinners of state are held, a royal castle, a busy monarch's weekend retreat a helicopter hop from Buck House (Buckingham Palace).

The fire that swept through state apartments at Windsor Castle has damaged Britain itself. It must be repaired. That is the nation's obligation. It is not Queen Elizabeth's private house, but the realm's. The question is how the damaged portions should be rebuilt. A castle is a living thing, like a forest, always changing, growing, dying, getting reborn. Should the new state apartments be restored as replicas of the style in which they were rebuilt a few centuries ago, or contemporary as a sample for posterity of late 20th century taste?

There is no easy answer. Prime Minister John Major ought to appoint a royal commission. No one is better suited to head it than Britain's renowned architecture critic, the Prince of Wales. It would give him something serious to do worthy of his talents. Meanwhile, the British tabloids worry that the House of Windsor might not last. But the house named Windsor will. The castle will stand as long as Britain protrudes from the sea. It deserves the best restoration imaginable, if the British people can agree on what that is.

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