Ahead of the Jubilee Building takes a look at the influence monarchs have had on our architecture – starting today with King William I

You might be forgiven for thinking that from the Queen’s reign at least, architecture and the monarchy have little in common. However, the Queen may be a reluctant builder but throughout history her ancestors have utilised the concentration of power, privilege and patronage they enjoyed to reshape their kingdom and our environment in their chosen image.

To celebrate the Jubilee, Building has selected the three British monarchs who have arguably had the biggest personal and direct impact on our architectural heritage and compared their influence to that of our current Queen.

We kick off today with a look at William the Conqueror with two more monarchs to follow on Wednesday and Thursday, before Friday’s full feature in print and online which will reveal the influence of the Queen and, importantly, her eldest son.

King William I


Reign: 1066-1087
Legacy: Tower of London, Windsor Castle, New Forest, 20+ castles, Lincoln, Durham, Chichester & Ely Cathedrals

To your average autocratic monarch, dictator, tyrant or property developer architecture serves as a useful physical manifestation of symbolic power. However, William the Conqueror was at his heart a calculating tactician and understood that architecture could also serve a clear strategic function: defence.

After overcoming the Anglo-Saxons at the Battle of Hastings, one of the king’s first policy decisions was to ensure that no other invader could do the same to him. So he set out building an impregnable phalanx of castles across the land and in so doing hard-wired the concept of fortification into the DNA of English architecture for the next 500 years.

Ironically, in the centuries that followed, much of the militaristic apparatus of this strategy, such as turrets, battlements, drawbridges and moats, became inextricably linked with an idyllic, highly romanticised view of medieval England whose mythological allure enthralled Victorian culture and still manages to captivate historians and Hollywood producers alike to this day.

In the frenzy of church and cathedral building the king initiated in order to cement his power amongst his newly appointed bishops, the king also introduced Romanesque architecture into England from the continent. Its English variant, the Norman style, gave life to some of Europe’s most spectacular ecclesiastical architecture and laid the foundations for the glories of the Gothic age that followed.

Finally, for relaxation the king liked hunting so ordered the planting of extensive woodland in Hampshire. Unfortunately for him two of his sons were killed there. Fortunately for us the New Forest is the largest remaining tract of unenclosed pastureland in crowded south-east England.

The Battle of Hastings has become a part of English folklore. William the Conqueror’s contribution to the fact that England has never been successfully invaded since 1066, and his transformation of our physical, as well as our political, landscape deserve a place there too.


William the Conquerer built over 20 castles to protect his newly acquired realm, including the Tower of London, above, and Windsor, below