Kenilworth Castle




Dating  from the 12th century Kenilworth Castle has played a significant part in English history. Owned and used by many English monarchs as a fortress palace and has played its part in rebellions resulting in its siege. It was used by Royalist forces during the English Civil War, resulting in being partly dismantled following the Parliamentary victory. With the restoration of the monarchy it was used as part of a farm.  Today the castle is a Grade I listed building and a Scheduled Monument and although a ruin it attracts many visitors. 


Spanning around 900 years, Kenilworth Castle started as a Medieval fortress in 1120s when it was constructed by Geoffrey de Clinton, Lord Chamberlain and treasurer to Henry I. On the death of de Clinton’s son the castle came into Royal ownership under Henry II. 

Between 1210 and 1216, King John carried out significant programme of building work which included the construction of in stone of the outer bailey wall and improving the other defenses, including the Mortimer's and Lunn's Towers. The work carried out by King John resulted in Kenilworth becoming one of the largest castles in England at that time.  Following the Magna Carta John was forced to give up the castle and it was to remain out of royal ownership until Henry III regained it.

In 1244 Henry III granted Kenilworth to Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, who later became a leader in the Second Barons' War (1263–67) against the king, using Kenilworth as the centre of his operations.  Following the Battle of Lewes in 1264 Henry gave his son Prince Edward as a hostage and it was at Kenilworth that Edward was held. Following his release in early 1265 Edward defeated Montfort at the Battle of Evesham. The surviving rebels regrouped at Kenilworth castle in the spring of 1266. Edward's forces subsequently lay siege to the castle, a siege that lasted until 14 December 1266 when the castle was handed over to the King.  In 1267 Henry granted Kenilworth to his son, Edmund Crouchback, who passed it on to his eldest son, Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, in 1298.  

Following his marriage to Alice de Lacy, in 1294 Thomas had become the richest nobleman in England and Kenilworth became the primary castle of the Lancaster estates. It was he who between 1314 to 1317 built the first great hall at the castle and constructed the Water Tower along the outer bailey, as well as increasing the size of the chase.

Following his opposition to Edward II and the subsequent war that had broke out between the King and a number of the barons, Thomas was captured at the Battle of Boroughbridge (16 March 1322) and executed. His estates, including Kenilworth were confiscated by the crown. 

In 1326 Edward was deposed and held at Kenilworth under Henry, Earl of Lancaster. Edward formally abdicated as king in the great hall of the castle on 21 January 1327 and Henry was granted legal title to Kenilworth in that year.

In 1345 Henry of Grosmont, the Duke of Lancaster, inherited the castle from his father and set about remodeling the great hall with a grand interior and roof.  On his death  the castle passed to Blanche of Lancaster. On the 19 May 1359 Blanche married John of Gaunt, the third son of Edward III; a marriage that made John the second richest man in England next to the king himself.  

After Blanche's death in 1368, John married Constance of Castile, and styled himself the King of Castile and León. Kenilworth was one of the most important of his thirty or more castles that he had in England. Between 1373 and 1380 John began building at Kenilworth, he constructed a grander great hall, the Strong Tower, Saintlowe Tower, the state apartments and the new kitchen complex. John spent much of his time at Kenilworth particularly after 1395 when his health began to decline and made extensive repairs to the whole of the castle complex. 

Kenilworth returned to Royal ownership in 1399 when John of Gaunt's son became Henry IV and he made extensive use of the castle.

In the 15th century many of the castles were left to decay, although Kenilworth was an exception as it was used as a palace fortress. 

In the years between 1456 and 1461 the court of Henry VI spent some time at Kenilworth which was for his safety during the War of the Roses (1455-1485) and following the defeat of Richard III by Henry VII at Bosworth, Henry frequently visited Kenilworth. His successor, Henry VIII maintained Kenilworth as a royal castle.

The castle once again came into private hands when in 1553 it was given to John Dudley. Dudley was executed by Queen Mary for attempting to place Lady Jane Grey on the throne, but before that he had built the stable block.  

Dudley’s son, Robert, Earl of Leicester restored Kenilworth in 1563 and continued to modernize and develop the castle to attract Queen Elizabeth I to include it on her tours of the country. He spend considerable sums of money entertaining the queen in an attempt to persuade her to marry him. She visited the castle on a number of occasions between 1566 and 1575 but did not marry him. On his death in 1590 Kenilworth passed to Robert’s brother Ambrose, Earl of Warwick and then to his illegitimate son, Sir Robert Dudley.

In 1605 Robert Dudley left Kenilworth and went to Italy, in the same year Sir Thomas Chaloner was commissioned to oversee repairs to the castle. Kenilworth was purchased by Henry the Prince of Wales in 1612, although he died before the completion of the purchase and this was completed by his brother Charles who was to become Charles I.  

On the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642 Charles I used Kenilworth as a base for raids on Parliamentary strongholds throughout the Midlands. Although after the battle of Edgehill Royalist troops were withdrawn and the castle was occupied by parliamentary forces.  In 1649 parliament ordered that the castle should be slighted, which is to undermine is defensive ability and reduce its value as a military structure.  This resulted in one wall of the great tower, various parts of the outer bailey and the battlements being destroyed.  This task fell to Colonel Joseph Hawkesworth, and he acquired the estate for himself and converted Leicester's gatehouse into a house; while part of the area was turned into a farm.

Following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 Halkesworth was removed and castle reverted to the ownership of the Queen Mother until her death when Charles granted it to Sir Edward Hyde who was to become Earl of Clarendon.  The castle at that time was in very poor condition and continued to be used as a farm with the gatehouse the principal dwelling. 

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries it remained a ruin and continued to be used as a farm.  It became more prominent following the publication of Sir Walter Scott’s book Kenilworth in 1821 about the visit of Queen Elizabeth I to Kenilworth in 1575. 

The castle remained the property of the Clarendons until 1937, when Lord Clarendon found the maintenance of the castle too expensive and sold it to the industrialist Sir John Siddeley.  Siddeley’s son gave the castle to the town of Kenilworth in 1958.  It has been managed by English Heritage since 1984.

A Grade I listed building and a Scheduled Monument it is open to the public. Today much of the castle is in ruins; the extensive 13th-century barbican which consisted of a stone wall and an external gatehouse which protected the main approach to the castle consists only of earthworks and forms part of the car park. Near-by is the external fortifications with palisades which is known as the Brays, beyond that is a second gatehouse and the ruins of the Gallery Tower. This guarded a narrow-walled causeway over 150 meters long running from the Brays to the main castle and was known as the Tiltyard as it was here that tilting or jousting took place. To the east of the Tiltyard is a meadow that was once flooded to contain a large lake.

Entry to the outer bailey was through Mortimer’s Tower, although now in ruins it was originally a Norman stone gatehouse which was extended in the 13th and 16th centuries. The outer bailey wall was mainly built by King John and has numerous buttresses although it has few towers due to it being protected by the lake.

The inner court is originally of Norman origin and consists of a number of buildings although much of it was built by John of Gaunt between 1372 and 1380.  This includes the southern range of state apartments, Gaunt's Tower and the main kitchen, all of which shared the same style as his great hall, which was a significant break from the medieval design used previously.  

The Keep or great tower dating from the 12th century stands on a natural knoll rising steeply from the surrounding area. The tower with its huge corner turrets has walls of 98 feet high and 16 feet thick. Its tall windows at the top of the tower date from Tutor times.  Strengthened by King John it was modified for entertaining by Robert Dudley in 1570. The tower was slighted following the Civil War.   

The remainder of the inner court was built by Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, in the 1570s. This included the four-story high tower built as a guest wing and known as Leicester's building which is situated on the south edge of the court extending out beyond the inner bailey wall which provided extra space. Leicester also built a loggia, or open gallery, beside the great keep to lead to the Elizabethan gardens. 

This garden was originally created for Queen Elizabeth I by Robert Dudley at a time when he hoped to marry her. Its design provided a haven of peace and tranquility, full of colour and fragrant walkways. It also contained a marble fountain and ornate aviary, but it was lost to the world for almost 400 years. It was recreated using an eye-witness description from 1575 and was opened in 2009.

The Gatehouse contains an exhibition devoted to the romance between Robert Dudley and Queen Elizabeth I. The Gatehouse was built in the 1570’s as the castle entrance and contains the rooms used by Elizabeth.  The Gatehouse was turned into a private house in the 1650’s and today it can be seen as it looked in the 1930’s when the last occupant left. 

Downhill from the gatehouse is the stable block, this was built by John Dudley, Robert Dudley father in 1553. In the 16th century it is known to have been 180 feet long by 21 feet wide and with 30 rooms for the great horses and 20 for geldings. Restored in the 17th century the Tudor timber-framed stables building was used as a restaurant in the 1930’s, something that it houses today.  It also contains a number of displays relevant to the castle. 

                  The Inner Court   The Great Tower

                        Great Hall                                  Elizabthan Gardens


The Stable Block



Leicester's Gatehouse



              All  Photographs were taken by and are copyright of Ron Gatepain

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