Windsor Castle is an official residence of The Queen and the largest occupied castle in the world. A Royal home and fortress for over 900 years, the Castle remains a working palace today.
The Queen uses the Castle both as a private home, where she usually spends the weekend, and as a Royal residence at which she undertakes certain formal duties.
Every year The Queen takes up official residence in Windsor Castle for a month over Easter (March-April), known as Easter Court. During that time The Queen hosts occasional 'dine and sleeps' events for guests, including politicians and public figures.
The Queen is also in residence for a week in June, when she attends the service of the Order of the Garter and the Royal Ascot race meeting.
The Order of the Garter ceremony brings together members of the senior order of chivalry for a service in St George's Chapel. Beforehand, The Queen gives a lunch for the Knights of the Garter in the Castle's Waterloo Chamber.
Any new Knights of the Garter are invested by The Queen in the Garter Throne Room. On the walls are portraits of monarchs in their Garter Robes, from George I to the present Queen, whose State portrait by Sir James Gunn was painted in 1954.
Windsor Castle is often used by The Queen to host State Visits from overseas monarchs and presidents. Foreign Heads of State enter the Castle in horse-drawn carriages through the George IV Gateway into the quadrangle in the Upper Ward, where a military guard of honour is drawn up.
The traditional State Banquet is held in St George's Hall (55.5m long and 9m wide), with a table seating up to 160 guests.
Recent State visits held at Windsor Castle include those of President and Mrs. Mbeki of South Africa (2001), and King Abdullah II and Queen Rania of Jordan (2001), as well as a special visit by President and Madame Chirac of France to mark the centenary of the Entente Cordiale (2004).
St George's Chapel remains an active centre for worship, with daily services open to all.
The Chapel is a Royal Peculiar, that is, a chapel which is not subject to a bishop or archbishop but which owes its allegiance directly to the Sovereign.
The Chapel, together with the remainder of the College of St George (a school for 400 children and St George's House, a consultation centre), is governed by the Dean and Canons of Windsor, who, with their officers and staff, are independent of the Royal Household.
Many Royal weddings have been celebrated in St George's Chapel, most recently that of Prince Edward and Miss Sophie Rhys-Jones in June 1999. In 2005 a service of dedication and prayer was held in the Chapel following the marriage of The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall.
Funerals such as those of Princess Margaret and Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, have also taken place there. Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother lies buried in the Chapel with her husband, King George VI, and Princess Margaret, her younger daughter.
Various departments of the Royal Household are based at Windsor Castle. The ancient Round Tower houses the Royal Archives and the Royal Photograph Collection.
The Print Room and Royal Library house precious drawings, prints, manuscripts and books in the Royal Collection. These are shown in a programme of changing exhibitions in the Castle's Drawings Gallery.
Those who live and work within the Castle include the titular head of the Castle community, the Constable and Governor of Windsor Castle; the Dean of Windsor, Canons and other staff who run the College of St George; the Military Knights of Windsor; the Superintendent of Windsor Castle and his staff, who are responsible for day-to-day administration; the Housekeeper and her staff; and soldiers who mount a permanent military guard in the Castle.
Windsor Castle is also a busy visitor attraction. Many parts of the Castle are open to the public, including the precincts, the State Apartments, Queen Mary's famous dolls' house, St George's Chapel, and the Albert Memorial Chapel.
When The Queen is in official residence, Changing the Guard provides a colourful spectacle in the quadrangle.