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The 1992 Windsor Castle: Everything to know

The blaze nearly devastated Queen Elizabeth's royal residence.

In Season Five of “The Crown," things go up in flames — literally and figuratively. Set in the '90s, the season tracks multiple shakeups for the royal family.

The late Queen Elizabeth II nicknamed 1992 her "annus horribilius," or Latin for "horrible year," for its slew of difficulties, including the breakups of three of her children's marriages (Prince Charles and Princess Diana's among them) and a fire at Windsor Castle left nearly one-fifth of the queen’s royal residence in ruins.

“That was a bad time for the queen,” said Kristen Meinzer, royal watcher and co-host of the podcast “Newsweek Royal Report.”

“It was one of the many reasons, along with her two oldest children getting divorced and with all the scandals that were happening back then, the fire was one of the many things in that category," Meinzer said.

The oldest and largest occupied castle in the world, Windsor Castle served as a weekend home for the queen up until her death on Sept. 8, 2022. It was also home to 40 other monarchs who lived there in the years following the castle's founding in the 11th century.

"That was the queen's favorite place to be and she spent most of her weekends there," said Julie Taddeo, research history professor at the University of Maryland. "The other favorite of the royals was Balmoral Castle."

While the queen wasn’t in residence when the fire started, Prince Andrew was there along with castle staff and soldiers. All escaped without serious harm, but the destruction to Windsor Castle was significant.

Causing millions of pounds worth of damage to the 1000-year-old structure, the inferno is said to have started in a chapel before quickly spreading throughout the palace.

What caused the Windsor Castle fire?

Windsor Castle Fire
Flames consume Windsor Castle on November 20, 1992.Michael Stephens / PA Images via Getty Images

Shortly before noon, a fire broke out in Queen Victoria’s Private Chapel at Windsor Palace on November 20, 1992. Within minutes the blaze was spreading.

“One of the worst things was coming up the motorway castle, coming here and seeing this glow and the smoke pouring into the sky, Prince Charles said in the film documentary “Windsor Castle: After the Fire.”

Flames fanned out along the northeast wing of the castle and became impossible to contain, consuming nearby reception rooms in the castle and St. George’s Hall, a medieval banquet area next door.

It took seven fire companies, 225 firefighters more than 15 hours to finally douse the flames, per the documentary.

“It looked more a scene of utter devastation that I would have believed possible,” Prince Charles said in the documentary. “It made the blood run cold.”

What caused the 1992 fire at Windsor Castle?

Initially, the cause of the blaze was attributed to workers doing restoration in the chapel. But further probing led investigators to conclude that the actual cause was a curtain hanging too close to a spotlight located near the chapel's altar that ignited the fire, per the Royal Collection Trust.

Windsor Castle Fire
Windsor Castle still smoking a day after the fire began on November 20, 1992. AFP via Getty Images

How much damage did the Windsor Castle fire cause? 

When all was said and done, 115 rooms in the castle were destroyed. Among them were nine State Rooms, according to the Royal Collection Trust.

Fortunately, the Royal Library and its contents were spared, as were most of the artworks and royal treasures, in part, due to Prince Andrew's diligence.

The Prince of York and castle staff formed a human chain in which artifacts were handed out of the castle before being consumed by fire or ruined from water damage.

Windsor Castle Fire
Precious art and other royal treasures were handed out of Windsor Castle to save them from ruin.PA Images via Getty Images

In the end, only two works of art were lost to the blaze. Many others might have been burned had they not been taken down prior to the fire for wiring work being done in the castle.

According a BBC podcast on the Windsor Castle fire, a famous Victorian organ in the hall was completely destroyed with nothing left of the historic instrument.

With more than 1.5 million gallons of water pumped into the castle by firefighters, there was significant water damage to the structure. Overall, the loss was extensive and the price tag for the restoration soared into the millions.

Windsor Castle Fire
Queen Elizabeth II surveys damage caused by the fire inside Windsor Castle.Tim Ockenden / PA Images via Getty Images

"It became controversial afterwards, because who was going to pay for the renovations? It was over 40 million pounds," Taddeo said. To help foot the bill, the queen opened up London's Buckingham Palace for the first time to tourists.

"That raised a good portion of the money for the renovations of Windsor," said Taddeo.

How long did restoring Windsor Castle take?

Fire damage at St George's Hall, Windsor Castle, Windsor, Berkshire, 1992.
Fire damage at St. George's Hall in Windsor Castle. Heritage Images via Getty Images

The Restoration Committee, chaired by The Duke of Edinburgh, restored certain key rooms to their former state, but also made room for new designs.

The chapel, where the blaze began, became a room that connects the hall an other state rooms called the Lantern Lobby.

Reconstruction of the castle also included the installation of a new fire detection and warning system with more than 550 detectors to protect against a similar event ever happening again.

The rebuilding of Windsor Castle took five years and was officially completed on November 20, 1997, the anniversary of the fire and the 50th wedding anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip.

Windsor Castle Fire
Tim Ockenden / PA Images via Getty Images
Fire damage at St George's Hall, Windsor Castle, Windsor, Berkshire, 1992.
Fire damage at St George's Hall, Windsor Castle, Windsor, Berkshire, November, 1992. Heritage Images via Getty Images