Last weekend I was in Windsor for the first time. (It was a family engagement, arranged more than a year ago, so sadly it had to take precedence over the RNA Regency Day in London. The Regency Day was fantastic, so I hear. But so was Windsor.)
I hadn't visited the castle before and I was totally bowled over by the Queen's picture collection. As I made my way through the state and semi-state apartments, I kept coming up against huge portraits that I'd only seen in books, or on TV programmes. Like that famous portrait of Queen Elizabeth I as a thirteen-year-old girl, dressed in a stunning red gown. At the other end of that same wall was her father, looking cold and menacing.
For me, the highlight was the Waterloo Chamber. It was created by George IV in order to make a statement about the allied victory over Napoleon. George IV commissioned Sir Thomas Lawrence to paint portraits of all the key people who had combined to defeat Napoleon. (He included himself, naturally!)
The room is huge, and dominated by a portrait of a triumphant Wellington at one end, brandishing the Sword of State. You can see the portrait here and read something about it here.
Around the walls are Lawrence's portraits of the generals, like Bluecher; the rulers, including the famous portraits of Alexander I of Russia, Frederick William III of Prussia, and Francis of Austria. The diplomats who organised the redistribution of Europe at the Congress of Vienna are also there: Castlereagh, Metternich, Hardenberg, Nesselrode, though, as far as I could see, Talleyrand, being French, was not included, even though he played an important part at the Congress.
The portraits can all be seen on the Lawrence pages of the official site for the Royal Collection. The finest of them is supposed to be the portrait of Pope Pius VII, for which Lawrence had to travel to Rome in 1819 for 9 sittings with the Pope.
My only complaint was that visitors were allowed into the ends of the Waterloo Chamber but not the middle, so I couldn't get a really good look at some of the amazing portraits. Next time, I shall take binoculars.
I haven't included jpegs of the pictures. I have a feeling I might be hauled off to the Tower if I did! But if you follow the links, you can see them for yourself.
One interesting tale you might enjoy. When the Queen was entertaining the French President at Windsor, he was treated to a performance of Les Miserables in -- guess where? -- the Waterloo Chamber. And no, they didn't take down the portraits, or change the name of the room. He had to live with it. (Was that also the time that he had to arrive at Waterloo Station? I think it might have been. What a nasty sense of humour the British do have...)