The Castaway Hotel: Book 3

Chapter 25: Windsor Castle

The next morning we boarded our bus for the trip to Windsor. The boys all had their headphones on, enjoying their own individual music, as we rode out of London and toward the castle that sat along the Thames River. The ride wasn’t very long and we were soon pulling up in front of a most impressive sight.

“This looks like the type of castle you see in the movies or read about in books,” Dion gawked. “It’s really incredible.” I think all of us agreed wholeheartedly with him on that point.

The lower and middle wards of the castle were just the type of images you’d picture in your mind when you thought of a medieval fortress and I could tell everyone was thinking similar thoughts. As we disembarked from the bus and got ready to move toward the entrance to the castle, the boys began talking about King Arthur, Robin Hood and others they associated with castles and this time frame. Before I knew it, mock swordfights were breaking out all around me and the boys now saw themselves as knights in shining armor, battling to defend the codes of chivalry. As we made the long walk from the entrance to St. George’s Gate, just below the upper ward, the boys also slew a couple of imaginary dragons, fought off usurpers to their thrones and defended the honor of young maidens (and young masters).

As we went along, I informed the boys about the history of the castle. I began by telling them that William the Conqueror founded this particular castle around 1080, as part of a series of fortifications protecting London. It was constructed according to typical Norman specifications, with an artificial mound (motte) with a keep, surrounded by a wooden fortification. However, over the years, many of the Kings of England were attracted to the location because of the excellent hunting in the woods beyond.

In the late 12th century, Henry II largely rebuilt the castle in stone, including the Round Tower on top of the motte. This work was continued and expanded under Henry III. During the 14th century, Edward III converted it into a Gothic palace and the seat of his new Order of the Garter. In the 15th century, Edward IV had St. George’s Chapel and the new Cloisters built. Henry VIII had a new gate built into the Lower Ward in the early 16th century and his daughters, Mary I and Elizabeth I, made other changes to it.

Then in the 17th century, Charles II remodeled it as a Baroque palace and it stayed that way until the late 18th century when George III commissioned a Gothic reconstruction of the State Apartments, which was completed by George IV in the early 19th century. Queen Victoria made Windsor her principal palace and ruled the British Empire from within these walls for over 60 years. In 1992 a fire ravaged parts of the castle, which were rebuilt by 1997, so the castle is once again a place of pride for the British people.

Not only is Windsor the name of the Castle, but during WW I King George V also changed his German surname to the same as that of his castle, because of the strong anti-German sentiments of the time. Hence, King George V, of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, became George V, of the House of Windsor. It is now also their last name, so Prince Charles sons are William Windsor and Henry (Harry) Windsor.

As I was going over this information, our tour took us past the lower side of the artificial hill, on which sat the Round Tower, and over to the State Apartments. Once there, we saw many impressive sights. There was the Grand Staircase, flanked by a massive sculpture of George IV and armored knights on horseback. We saw Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, a massive piece built in accurate detail, so much so that the little wine bottles even have vintage wine in them.

“Man, even her dolls could get a buzz,” Ricky joked, upon learning that fact.

After that, we saw the China Museum and the display cases filled with impressive pieces of china that had been used by the Royal Family over the years. In other rooms, we saw magnificent paintings done by some of the finest masters ever, such as Rubens, Van Dyck, Gainsborough and Rembrandt. Besides those, we also inspected many sculptures of royalty, studied a history of weapons on display and viewed various pieces of furniture that had been used there throughout the castle’s history. The rooms were large, the ceilings high (and many covered by impressive paintings), the decorating elaborate and the impression breathtaking.

While touring the State Apartments, we met a man who lived across the river in Eton. He had heard us commenting about some of the crests and coats of arms and then heard the boys asking if there was a coat of arms for the Curries. The gentleman politely interrupted our discussion and explained he owned a shop in Eton, before suggesting we should stop by there later and he’d help us research that topic. I thanked him, copied down the name and address of his shop. After he walked away, I had to chuckle as the boys danced with excitement about the possibility of finding something ‘regal’ having to do with the Currie name.

From there, we went back outdoors, walking from the upper ward to the lower ward, with the boys talking excitedly about the things they had seen during our earlier tour. From there, we made our way to St. George’s Chapel, to savor a whole new experience. This is a marvelous Gothic Cathedral, begun by Edward IV in 1475 and finished by Henry VIII in 1528. The exterior is defined by massive stone walls dotted by a series of flying buttresses (like the ribs of some giant beast), lined by row upon row of windows and defined by numerous stone sculptures.

The interior is filled with elaborate woodwork, splendid stained glass windows and magnificent vaulted ceilings. The chapel houses many monuments to the wealthy and famous throughout the centuries, and is the final resting places for several monarchs, including Henry VIII, Charles I (who was executed) and George VI (Elizabeth II’s father).

By the time we had seen the chapel and explored its treasures, it was getting to be late afternoon, so we made our way across the lower ward and exited through King Henry VIII’s gate, in search of a place to eat.
To our surprise, we found several fast food restaurants nearby and chose to eat at the Pizza Hut, filling up on pizza, salad and soda.

Now that our stomachs were no longer grumbling, we checked out a few of the other nearby attractions. First we took a stroll down Church Street, a cobblestone street lined with buildings that are several hundred years old, but Church Street also leads up to one of the castle’s gates. After walking up and down that thoroughfare, we went to see Windsor’s Guildhall, which was also designed by Sir Christopher Wren, who we learned earlier had built St. Peter’s Cathedral. It is said that when Wren showed his design for the Guild Hall to the town elders, they refused to believe that the ground floor ceiling wouldn’t collapse without pillars. They insisted that Wren include the pillars in his final design, refusing to let him continue otherwise. Reluctantly, Wren put the pillars in, though he left a gap between the top of the pillars and the ceiling without their knowledge, thus proving they weren’t needed in the first place.

After that, we went on a walking tour of Eton, the small village on the other side of the Thames, and reached it by walking over the pedestrian-only bridge. Eton was filled with many fine shops and other establishments, most of them catering to the wealthy students enrolled at Eton College. Eton College has been THE place to go for many of Britain’s aristocrats, politicians and ‘captains of industry’. We soon found the shop we were looking for and entered. The gentleman greeted me shortly after I came through the door, but looked suspiciously at my family, as they gathered around me.

“I didn’t think you were bringing your whole tour group with you, sir!” he exclaimed.

“I didn’t,” I told him. “I merely brought my family along.”

The gentleman eyed the group rather closely, looking from face to face and then back to me. “You do have quite an assortment of backgrounds in your relatives, sir. Just how would all of you be related then?” I went on to give him the short version of our story and then he smiled.

“Jolly good, sir,” he offered, while letting down his guard. “You must be a truly exceptional person to take on all of this responsibility. I hope these young gentlemen appreciate your goodness and your natural children are bloody proud of what you have done.” There were various nods, agreements, and other subtle acknowledgements before he moved on to business. “Now, I believe you were interested in discovering about heraldry associated with your surname.”

“Yes, we are, sir,” I told him. “The boys were interested in learning if there was possibly a coat of arms involved, which could be associated to our ancestral line.”

“I’m not sure if you realize this, but coats of arms and crests are assigned to individuals, not to family groups. But I would be happy to help you investigate this and then I could offer you some merchandise utilizing the designs we’ve discovered, that is if you are interested in such things.”

“I believe that’s what my sons had in mind.”

“Brilliant!” he replied, seeing a profit in his future. “Let us begin with the search.” He went to a computer behind the counter and brought up a website. He then asked me our last name, had me spell it for him and then entered what I told him. Before long, he was showing me information involving our surname. It seems that the Currie clan lived along the Scottish-English border. Being a clan meant that they could put a minimum of 250 men ahorse within one hour, as well as provide fighting men for their liege lord and king. This also meant they must have been quite a large and fairly well organized group. The name originated in Midlothian, the Edinburgh area of Scotland, before 1100. The name can trace its roots back to Strathclyde, Briton.

Next, he showed us a coat of arms associated with someone from our line, Currie of Newby, Scotland. Before he gave us the explanation about the coat of arms, he mentioned that the terms of heraldry he was going to use might sound strange to us, as most of it came from the Old Norman French terminology. The blazon (shield shaped format of the coat of arms) was what they called a chief, meaning there was a band of a different color across the top. The shield was in gules (red), with an argent (silver) St. Andrew’s cross (a cross that looked like an X) upon it. The band at the top was in sable (black), with an argent (silver) rose in the center, barbed and seeded in vert (green).

Now, the shop owner went on to explain what all of this meant. The use of the chief shield meant dominion, authority, wisdom, and achievement in battle. The gules (red) signified a warrior, martyr or military strength. The argent (silver) signified sincerity and peace, while the St. Andrew’s cross signified resolution and resolve. The sable (black) band at the top signified constancy and grief and the argent rose was the symbol of the second son. From all of this information, the shopkeeper told us a possible scenario of how this coat of arms was granted.

“From my knowledge of what the colors, designs and symbols mean, I would venture this is how this coat of arms was awarded. The Currie clan must have been a powerful clan of warriors, always coming to the defense of their liege lord. I would venture to guess that the second son of the leader of that clan lost his life in one such battle, making the ultimate sacrifice for their cause. I’m sure the noble whom they were defending made a petition on their behalf, having someone from his court design this particular coat of arms to honor the sacrifice the Curries had made. It would either have been granted to the second son posthumously or awarded to his father, in recognition of his son’s sacrifice. It seems to be a noble reward, which was given to honor the deceased and make his ancestors proud of his deeds.”

We were all smiling broadly as he finished this explanation. Even though the majority of those present were not literally of the Currie bloodline, they were all proud of such an honored and storied past. Now, the shop owner went on to explain that the shields the warriors carried into battle would have had a slightly different design. The shields would be gules (red) with a large argent (silver) St. Andrew’s cross upon it. This was because the coat of arms would only belong to and could be used by the one so honored, so the shield design would have been carried by his troops.

Then he told us that there would have been one more item of heraldry involved, the crest. The crest would have been the symbol worn on the helmet, representing its owner. In this case the crest was a gules (red) cock. As soon as he made that comment, I looked around at the boys, seeing the older ones fighting back laughter and comments they wished to make, but dared not with my older children present. Ricky’s face was bright red, as he fought to control himself, while Danny’s face was all scrunched up, making him look like he had just swallowed a peck of lemons. Kevin buried his head into Dustin’s back, trying to keep from laughing, while Dion had the biggest grin spreading across his face. The other boys were going through other contortions, fighting desperately to resist the urges that were whipping through their minds.

“What would the cock or rooster signify in this case,” I asked the shop owner quickly, trying to distract the boys.

“That would have stood for a fighter, and being in gules, it would have meant a mighty fighter or warrior.” The boys were slowly regaining control of themselves. “And this one would have had its foot resting upon a rose argent (silver), barbed and seeded vert (green). This would have meant that the second son was the mighty warrior.”

I thanked our newly met friend for all his help and then asked him what I needed to do to order a coat of arms or other such things. He showed me a wide variety of products he could get for us, so I ordered a large coat of arms, a shield of the same size, a plaque with the crest and a framed family history of the Currie name, all to be hung in our foyer at home. I also ordered some things for the older children’s homes, items that they selected for themselves, but I paid for everything. I then asked if he could deliver all of the items to the company providing our transportation, so we could collect them at their offices, when I settled my bill before leaving. Everyone was excited with all we had discovered and we were pleased with our selections for our homes. We left the shop and continued our foot tour of Eton.

When we had finished our walk, we made our way back to the bus, excited yet tired from our grueling day. Many of the boys fell asleep on the ride back to the hotel and we just ordered from room service later, not wishing to go out again.

After everyone had finished eating, most of the boys ended up in my room. I thought I knew what they had on their minds. “Hey, Dad,” Ricky began, “isn’t it fitting that the Currie crest is a cock!” He barely got the words out before he started cracking up.

“Yes, as the situation stands now,” I agreed, “although I don’t think my daughters or daughter-in-law would like hearing you say that.”

“Yeah, watch out for Elizabeth,” Pat warned, thinking of her comment the previous summer, about the Lady of the Lake, “or she just might rip your cock off.” Everyone broke up and I was just getting them to settle down again, when my usually quiet Trey spoke up.

“I wonder if it was a large cock represented on the crest?”

“And I wonder if it was a cut or uncut cock?” Brandon teased.

“It doesn’t make any difference, although back then nearly everyone was uncut” Kevin added, “but it was a fighting cock, ready to duel at any time.” This brought a howl of laughter and I was surprised they all didn’t suddenly whip out their own cocks and begin to duel amongst themselves, but they were able to manage a minimal degree of control.

“Hey, Dad,” Dion added, “do you think some of our ancestors were gay and that’s why they gave them the cock for a crest?”

“Well, I know they weren’t all gay, or the Currie clan wouldn’t have survived,” I shot back.

“Sure, it would have,” Dustin responded. “They could have adopted great sons, like you did.” This brought a wave of agreement and left me without a witty comeback.

“I am glad you boys managed to control yourself in the shop, though,” I offered, thankfully. “I know that was hard for you to do and I’m not sure how the shop owner and the others might have reacted if you had carried on like this there.”

“We know,” Ricky told me, “but it almost killed us to keep all that in. We did do some of it on the bus, on the way back, but we did it so nobody else could hear. It was just so funny when he said it, like it was nothing and there was no other meaning for it.”

“Pop, you should have seen these guys while we were walking around,” Jay chimed in. “They were bursting at the seams, but knew they couldn’t let loose. It was almost as funny watching them trying to hold back, as it would have been if they could have done this then.”

“I’m sure it must have been quite humorous,” I agreed, “but I am glad you showed some restraint back there.”

“But we can still have fun with it later,” Cole stated dryly, “as the reminder and proof of it will be hanging on our wall at home. I can’t wait to tell all the visitors what they’re for.”

“Yeah,” Jay joined in. “I think it will be great when you’ve got a big red cock hanging on the wall where everyone will see it when they enter your house.”

“Would this make you like a sports team?” Carlos asked innocently. “Will you now become the Currie Cocks?”

This brought another roar and everyone seemed to think it would be a very appropriate title for us, ‘the Currie Cocks’. After everyone settled down and got this worked out of their systems, they returned to their own rooms and turned in for the evening.