Warning: Contains SPOILERS for The Crown season 5Among the numerous crises that envelop 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 Crown, screenwriter Peter Morgan posits that the fire is a metaphor for the chaotic state of the seemingly antiquated Royal Family back in the 1990s. The Royal Family’s reputation is in tatters and their relevancy to a modern Great Britain is in question given the many scandals and public disasters of what Queen Elizabeth would call the “annus horribilis”.
Aside from the Windsor Castle Fire, disaster would strike many of the Royal Family’s personal lives and relationships in 1992. Anne, Princess Royal divorced her Olympic gold medalist husband, Mark Phillips, Prince Andrew formally separated from his wife Sarah Ferguson, and, most notably, the Prince and Princess of Wales divorced in an incredibly messy, public manner. To top these issues off, in November 1992, Windsor Castle nearly burned to the ground, with numerous priceless works of art inside. Season 5 of The Crown accurately captures how devastating the fire was to both Windsor Castle and the Royal Family itself.
The True Story Behind The Windsor Castle Fire & How Accurate The Crown Is
As portrayed in The Crown season 5, episode 4 “Annus Horribilis”, a fire broke out in Windsor Castle on November 20th, 1992. The fire began at 11:15 am when a spotlight caused a curtain in the Queen’s Private Chapel to ignite. The fire then spread throughout the castle quickly, causing damage to 115 rooms, including nine staterooms, which is accurately depicted in The Crown season 5. While Windsor Castle itself had its own 21-man fire brigade, armed with a pump tender and a single Land Rover, they quickly realized that reinforcements would be needed to contain the fire. The castle’s brigade called the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service, who arrived by 11:44 am.
What The Crown does not show is that Prince Andrew was the only member of the Royal Family onsite upon the breakout of the fire. He took part in the operation to save furniture and works of art from rooms adjacent to the fire. By 12:20 pm, there were over 35 fire engines present at Windsor Castle and the fire had spread to St George’s Hall, the largest of all the State Apartments. By 7:00 pm, the roof of St George’s Hall collapsed, due to damage from the fire.
Like in The Crown season 5, Queen Elizabeth rushed to Windsor Castle, with Prince Charles in tow, to observe the fighting of the fire. By 8:00 pm, the several hundred fire-fighters that were called to Windsor Castle managed to get the fire under control, though it would still burn for another three hours. Ultimately, it took 1.5 million gallons of water to put out the fire. Luckily, 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 fire at Windsor Castle burned for 15 hours.
What Happened To Windsor Castle After The 1992 Fire
Despite Windsor Castle suffering immense damage, it was fully repaired by 1997. As in The Crown season 5, this required the monarchy to grapple with its relevancy and modernity, due to the substantial cost of repairs. The repairs ultimately cost £36.5 million, with Queen Elizabeth contributing £2 million of her own money and paying income tax from 1993 onwards. She was the first monarch to pay income tax since the 1930s. The rest of the money required for repairs was raised via private donations and charging the public entry into Buckingham Palace.
Following the fire, Windsor Castle became a major tourist attraction with as many as 1 million people visiting it a year. It is also one of several working Royal Households, 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 primary residence for the Queen and Prince Philip during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh died at Windsor Castle in April 2021.
What Windsor Castle Is Used For Now
Following the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September 2022, Windsor Castle, the largest inhabited castle in the world, is owned by King Charles III. As under the reign of Queen Elizabeth, Windsor Castle remains both a tourist attraction and a residence for the Royal Family. Windsor Castle is also used for hosting state visits to the United Kingdom. The Crown season 5 accurately depicted the devastating 1992 fire at Windsor Castle as one of the worst disasters of the “annus horribilis”.
All episodes of The Crown season 5 are now available on Netflix
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