The fourth episode of The Crown’s latest season introduces viewers to a really distressing incident in royal history. On Nov. 20, 1992, a hearth broke out in Windsor Castle, which was greater than 850 years old and stood because the world’s oldest occupied castle. The blaze would burn for hours and do tremendous damage, stunning the royal family on the tail end of a notoriously difficult yr.
It’s believed the hearth began when a 1,000-watt light getting used in a renovation malfunctioned inside the castle’s Queen Victoria’s Private Chapel. It sparked a flame that caused a 19-foot-long curtain to catch fire. The chapel was rapidly destroyed. An art conservator working round the corner in St. George’s Hall, a 180-foot-long banquet room, noticed the smell and sent up an alarm.
The fireplace hurried, aided by the incontrovertible fact that the castle had few elements in place to stop flames. St. George’s Hall was destroyed after the partitions and ceiling collapsed. 225 firefighters gathered at the positioning, using 36 pumps to douse the blaze. The fireplace tore through the Crimson Drawing Room and State Dining Room, two grand entertaining spaces.
Prince Andrew was on the castle when the hearth began and helped carry items out of the constructing. Queen Elizabeth rushed to Windsor and to look at the situation, as did Prince Charles. Of great concern was the fate of the dear pieces of art kept within the castle. It was only through great luck that nearly all of the gathering, which included works by da Vinci, Michelangelo, Holbein, Rubens, and van Dyck.
By 8 p.m. the hearth had been brought under control and it was extinguished entirely by 2:30 the subsequent morning. Tours of the property resumed three days later and the Queen returned after two weeks. Restoration of the castle cost £36.5 million (coming in way under the estimate of £60 million) and was accomplished on Nov. 20, 1997—five years to the day of the hearth and on Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip’s fiftieth wedding anniversary.
Adrienne Gaffney is an associate editor at ELLE who previously worked at WSJ Magazine and Vanity Fair.