A stroll through Windsor’s history reveals that the town has long been associated with scientific innovation
People around the world know Windsor as a pretty riverside town. But the annual Windsor Festival is a chance to explore its deeper role in the UK’s history and culture. Following on from the Corporate Story’s sponsorship of the acclaimed ‘Kiss me Goodbye’ concept concert at last year’s festival, this year we will be sponsoring a series of Historical Walks, where the curious can get to grips with some of the fascinating stories that the town has to tell. One of these is The Mischievious Men of Windsor, which will take place on the evening of Tuesday 18th September.
Windsor played a major role in the Restoration monarchy of Charles II (1660–1685). In his own days, Charles was known as the “Merrie Monarch” for his hedonistic lifestyle – but the Restoration was also a time of genuine optimism after the dour regime of Oliver Cromwell. On his return from exile in Europe in 1660, Charles succeeded in balancing the rival factions of church and state, ushering in a new period of hope among the British public.
In the 1670s, Charles II set about improving the royal residence at Windsor – creating a new set of State Apartments, with murals and ceiling paintings by the artist Antonio Verrio and wood carvings by the famous Grinling Gibbons. He also built Burford House, a mansion for his famous mistress, Nell Gwynn, nearby.
Restoring the City of London
Charles’ rule certainly had its fair share of disasters – not least the Great Plague of 1665, followed by the Great Fire of London of 1666. But the latter was the opportunity for another act of restoration: that of the City of London itself. Charles was the personal patron of Sir Christopher Wren, whose creations – such as St Paul’s Cathedral – still define London’s iconic skyline.
This was an era of polymaths: as well as being an architect, Wren was a scientific experimenter, while the Surveyor to the City of London after the fire, Robert Hooke, was also a passionate scientist. Around the time of the Restoration, a group of prominent English scientists – or, as they were then known, “natural philosophers” – formed the Royal Society, which exists to this day. The number included Hooke himself, Robert Boyle, and Charles’ close associate Robert Murray. In 1663 the Society received a Royal Charter from Charles.
Welcoming new ideas
The Merrie Monarch had a childlike fascination with new gadgets – but his recent biographer Jenny Uglow has argued that the charter was also a fundamental expression of Charles’ purpose at the time. She says that the king wanted to show that he was not just looking back to the past, but rather “welcomed new ideas”. Natural philosophy was among the Continental fashions he had encountered in exile, and it tied in with the king’s curious, tolerant and internationalist attitude.
Another scientific innovator of the time – and generally fascinating character – was Charles’ first cousin, Prince Rupert of the Rhine. Rupert made his name as the pre-eminent Royalist general in the English Civil Wars of 1642–1648 , and later had a distinguished naval career. But later in his life he turned to science, working tirelessly on new inventions from a laboratory at Windsor Castle.
Rupert gave his name to “Prince Rupert’s Drops”, which were formed by dropping molten glass into water. They could withstand a hammer blow at one end, but splintered if the tail was cracked. Although these were in fact an import from Europe, his own personal inventions included a brass alloy (“The Prince’s Metal”), and an array of naval innovations, such as the ”Rupertinoe” gun.
Participants on this walk will have the opportunity to learn more about Windsor’s role in the UK’s cultural and scientific history. And since the Corporate Story’s clients include some of today’s most innovative science-driven companies, you could say we’re doing our part to maintain that tradition. True, we don’t have a Royal Charter yet; but then we’ve only been in Windsor a year…
For full details, or to book places on these walks, please visit www.windsorfestival.com
or call +44 1753 714364
More information on Charles II, Rupert of the Rhine, and the Royal Society:
A Royal Society blog about the granting of the Society’s Charter: http://blogs.royalsociety.org/history-of-science/2011/11/04/patronus-et-fundator/#more-996
A video demonstrating a Prince Rupert’s Drop: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6V2eCFsDkK0
History of the Royal Society: http://royalsociety.org/about-us/history/
Wikipedia entry on Charles II: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_II_of_England
Wikipedia entry on Rupert of the Rhine: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_Rupert_of_the_Rhine