Each April Her Majesty holds a series of dinners
William the Norman, the foreign invader, was hated and feared by his new Saxon subjects. There were constant threats of insurrectionsand it was primarily to protect himself from his own people that he built a chain of fortresses around London, also guarding trade along the Thames. Another still standing today is the Tower of London, the main defense to the east of the capital. To the west the nearest suitable site was a chalk outcrop rising a hundred feet above the riverbed, commanding distant views. Nearby was an Anglo-Saxon settlement called Windlesorafrom which, a thousand years later, the British royal family derives its dynastic name of Windsor. Where Windlesora was, Old Windsor now stands, one and a half miles from the sleepy town whose life revolves around the castle. Windsor’s citizens, who have Prince Charles as their high steward, are long accustomed to royal comings and goings. But one periodic ritual always sends a frisson of excitement through the town. Several times a year, in particular before Christmas, Easter, and Ascot Week in June, a parade of small vans discreetly embellished with the royal crest approaches the castle. The court is coming here from Londonand with it all the finery needed for royal entertaining, and a large flotilla of liveried footmen and household servants. The day before Charles’s polo game, I had watched with all Windsor for the signal that their community was once again complete. At a radio message from the Queen’s chauffeur, informing the castle staff that the royal limousine is about to enter the grounds, the royal standard is raised on the flagpole above the Round Tower. The monarch is in residence. For much of the year the flag is the only clue to the Queen’s presence at Windsor. She likes to weekend here, and to do so with little fuss. The British sovereign lives in a small suite of rooms above the East Terrace, overlooking the sunken garden, her family gathered around her in equally modest accommodation. During these weekends the State Apartments remain open to the public, who tramp through in the remote hope that they might turn a corner and bump into their Queen. Each April Her Majesty holds a series of dinners at Windsor for some of her more prominent subjects. These are popularly known as the “dine and sleep” visitors: top Britons from many walks of lifepoliticians, diplomats, and leaders of business and industry. They enjoy a brief overnight chance to mingle with their monarch and her friends. For aristocrats and commoners alike, an invitation to Windsor is Britain’s most cherished hallmark of social status.