Warning: Contains SPOILERS for The crown season 5Among the many crises enveloping the royal family in The crown season 5 is the devastating fire that ravaged Windsor Castle in 1992. Like many issues that arise in the fifth season of The crownscreenwriter Peter Morgan posits that the fire is a metaphor for the chaotic state of the seemingly antiquated royal family in the 1990s. question given the many scandals and public disasters of what Queen Elizabeth would call the “annus horribilis”.
Apart from the fire at Windsor Castle, disaster would strike many lives and personal relationships of the royal family in 1992. Anne, the Princess Royal, divorced her Olympic gold medalist husband, Mark Phillips, Prince Andrew officially separated from his wife Sarah Ferguson and, most notably, the Prince and Princess of Wales divorced in an incredibly messy and public way. To top it off, in November 1992, Windsor Castle nearly burned down, with many priceless works of art inside. Season 5 of The crown accurately captures how devastating the fire was to Windsor Castle and the Royal Family themselves.
The real story behind the Windsor Castle fire and the accuracy of the crown
As described in The crown season 5, episode 4 “Annus Horribilis”, a fire broke out at Windsor Castle on November 20, 1992. The fire began at 11:15 a.m. when a spotlight caused a curtain to be lit in the private chapel of the Queen. The fire then spread rapidly throughout the castle, causing damage to 115 bedrooms, including nine cabins, which is accurately depicted in The crown season 5. While Windsor Castle itself had its own 21-man fire brigade, armed with a gas station attendant and a single Land Rover, they soon realized that reinforcements would be needed to contain the ‘fire. The Castle Brigade called the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service, who arrived at 11.44am.
What The crown does not show that Prince Andrew was the only member of the royal family on the scene when the fire broke out. He took part in the operation to rescue the furniture and works of art from the rooms adjoining the fire. By 12.20pm, more than 35 fire engines were present at Windsor Castle and the fire had spread to St George’s Hall, the largest of all the State Apartments. At 7:00 p.m., the roof of St George’s Hall collapsed due to fire damage.
As in The crown season 5, Queen Elizabeth rushed to Windsor Castle, accompanied by Prince Charles, to observe the fight against the fire. By 8:00 p.m., the several hundred firefighters called to Windsor Castle managed to bring the blaze under control, although it would still burn for three hours. In the end, it took 1.5 million gallons of water to put out the fire. Fortunately, no serious injuries or deaths were caused by the Windsor fire, but six men were taken to hospital with minor injuries and burns. In total, the Windsor Castle fire burned for 15 hours.
What happened to Windsor Castle after the 1992 fire?
Although Windsor Castle suffered immense damage, it was fully repaired in 1997. As in The crown season 5, this left the monarchy struggling with its relevance and modernity, due to the substantial cost of repairs. The repairs ultimately cost £36.5m, with Queen Elizabeth contributing £2m of her own money and paying income tax from 1993. She was the first monarch to pay tax on revenue since the 1930s. The rest of the money needed for repairs was raised through private donations and by charging for public entry to Buckingham Palace.
After the fire, Windsor Castle became a major tourist attraction with up to 1 million people visiting it each year. It is also one of several active royal houses, where members of the royal family live throughout the year, in addition to Sandringham in Norfolk and Balmoral in Scotland. From March 2020, it became the main residence of the Queen and Prince Philip during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh died at Windsor Castle in April 2021.
What is Windsor Castle for now
Following the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September 2022, Windsor Castle, the largest inhabited castle in the world, belongs to King Charles III. As in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, Windsor Castle remains both a tourist attraction and a residence for the royal family. Windsor Castle is also used to host state visits to the UK. The crown season 5 accurately portrayed the devastating 1992 fire at Windsor Castle as one of the world’s worst disasters. “annus horribilis”.
All episodes of The crown season 5 is now available on Netflix
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