Warwickshire’s Wonderful Medieval Walls and Watchtowers, Part One : Mighty Kenilworth Castle

Warwickshire boasts of two of England’s finest and most famous castles which are only five miles apart! Talk about convenient ! Warwick Castle was developed into a stately home and museum while retaining most of its ancient and medieval features while Kenilworth, an imposing ruin with later additions, has an equally rich and fascinating history involving medieval royalty and the landed gentry of the day in Tudor times. Both castles illustrate two different types of development of castles- from tower or shell keeps with later curtain wall enclosures and the evolution from military fortresses to palaces. Nevertheless, these two castles, which are so close in proximity, are far apart in condition, character and layout. Maxstoke Castle, although not well-known, is one of the best preserved of the later medieval quadrangular courtyard castles and survives quite well. Apart from these, Warwickshire motte-and-bailey sites are prolific- most notably Brinklow and fragmentary castles from a later medieval period. All of them well illustrate this county’s undeniably rich architectural and historical heritage. -The Castle Lady

The ruins of Kenilworth Castle are an extensive series of red sandstone buildings erected through many periods of its history making it the largest setof castle ruins in England. While rebuilding and additions may not be unique among castles, no other can boast of so many intact remaining features from each epoch. Its history has been well chronicled with Sir Walter Scott’s two-volume historical novel titled simply, Kenilworth which was published in the early part of the 19th century.Visiting Kenilworth is well-worth a castle enthusiast’s time and money with its audio tour and interactive model of the castle plus there is so much to see! Here is a definitively evidential and prime example of a surviving English castle which served as a medieval stronghold and was transformed by historical layers into an extraordinary royal palace. What it now lacks in the creature comforts of Warwick Castle, it has retained in authentic features from each point in time of its transformations. Kenilworth, in my mind, has retained its dignity and heritage without the interference of extensive restoration or added theatrics.
Henry I granted Kenilworth along with the entire royal Stoneleigh estate to his Lord Chamberlain, Geoffrey de Clinton in 1122 which already had a Norman motte foundation. The great stone tower, which is the original hall keep and occupies the northeast corner of the inner bailey, was built by Clinton in much the same way as its 12th century contemporaries and still exists in good enough condition that it stands as a prototype of keeps which were built during that time, specifically in England. By Tudor times this was referred to as Caesar’s Tower. You’ll find the entrance at the southeast corner where a portcullis groove is in evidence. At its lowest point, a projecting square corner tower, which is marked with a tall plinth buttress, appears to have been filled in with earth indicating the possible site of the original motte. There are other indications of a motte in the outer bailey closer to the car park where excavations have been carried out on a ditch near the keep.


Henry II took over in 1173 and compensated the Clintons with appointments in Buckinghamshire and from that point the castle remained primarily in royal possession. Kenilworth was gifted to favorites on numerous occasions at key periods in history. Henry’s son, King John, spent as much on this castle as any of his most prized castles (he had 95 in all !) and concentrated on building the outer curtain walls and defenses from 1210 to 1215 around the massive outer bailey. His work on the quadrangular outer curtain was the most expansive work carried out at Kenilworth with low height but many reinforcing buttresses and few mural towers. The towers he installed are all adjacent to the lake he created which lapped the outer curtain wall along the south and west sides and the sally port is located between these two sides. This was England’s largest man-made lake for centuries. On the northwest corner of the outer walls you’ll see the Swan Tower which is the only mural tower that guarded the north and was, by comparison to the lake’s mural defenses, the most vulnerable as there was a double moat along that side which was much narrower than the lake. The circular Lunn’s Tower sits opposite on the northeast corner and none of the north curtain remains today as it was completely demolished during the Civil War. During the baronial opposition John was forced to cede the castle, among others, as a guarantee when he signed the Magna Carta at Runnymede.


Henry III also added extensively to the castle making it the strongest and largest castle in the midlands. His use of water defenses alone were ingenious and his creation at Kenilworth was the result of damming a series of streams which flowed through the valley. He erected the two moats on the north side- neither fed by the artificial lake water. After Henry made a lifetime grant of the castle to his son-in-law, the first Simon de Montfort, loyalties changed and Montfort became the king’s adversary. The uprising suffered a defeat upon Simon’s decease on the battlefield at Evesham at the hands of Prince Edward but his son Simon leveled the score when he targeted Kenilworth as a meeting point for the surviving rebels who reengaged at the castle along with Henry de Hastings.
In 1266 one of the fiercest sieges in England’s history took place between Prince Edward and Simon de Montfort’s son which gave the castle an earned reputation as being impregnable. When the King engaged in the siege after ensuing months, the assaults failed, though they were formidable. The water defenses were so vast that mining couldn’t be done and bombardment was kept at bay because of the distance created. Nevertheless, eyewitnesses to the battles claimed that boulders were hurled on both sides from siege engines which would meet and shatter in mid-flight! Edward directed his attacks to the double-moated side because the barrier was actually narrowest at that point. In addition, he had two wooden siege-towers of which one held two hundred archers and eleven catapults. On another occasion when he engaged barges from Chester to attack by water during the night he still had no success. De Montfort and his supporters defied a decree of excommunication and then- after a year- when the supplies were exhausted and disease became rampant- they ceded the castle but negotiated a withdrawal which helped them retain their dignity if nothing else. His honor was retained later for his early work in social reform of England.
Thereafter, King Henry III granted the castle to Edmund ‘Crouchback’ the Earl of Lancaster in 1267 and Kenilworth then became associated with the Duchy of Lancaster. Edmund held many jousting tournaments at Kenilworth in the late 13th century, including a huge event in 1279, presided over by Mortimer, in which a hundred knights competed for three days in the tiltyard, located along the southeast corner from the outer curtain, in an event called the Round Table in imitation of the popular Arthurian legend. Kenilworth was one of only a few licensed tournament grounds where knights came to meet and duel in the tiltyard. Edmund’s son Thomas built the semi-octagonal Water Tower along the east angle of the curtain walls in the second decade of the 14th century along with the first great hall and increased the size of the chase. Thomas had married into money when he wedded Alice de Lacy but he lost Kenilworth and several estates when he involved himself in an intrigue against against Edward II along with other barons in 1322. The next Christmas Edward and his wife spent the holidays at Kenilworth but it was short-lived occupation. Prior to his several months long imprisonment and murder at Berkeley Castle by his Queen and Roger Mortimer (who had become her lover), he had been forced to abdicate the throne at Kenilworth.

Toward the end of the 14th century, John of Gaunt added most of the buildings inside the curtain wall atop the natural knoll of the inner bailey until it took on a palatial size and grandeur. His role became that of protector to the future Richard II. The master mason was Robert Skyllington whose work still shows signs of high standards and John’s heavy purse. At one time this range of buildings included three kitchens which were just west of Caesar’s Tower. The main kitchen replaced two original 12th century kitchens of which all are extensively damaged. Gaunt’s new kitchen was twice the size of those in other castles measuring 66 feet by 28 feet ! Besides the still magnificent but heavily ruined Great Hall, which sits along the west angle of the inner curtain, Gaunt’s Tower and the southern range of state apartments were also added which shared a similar outer style as the great hall. Inside, the rectangular emphasis along with stone-carved columns was an elegant early version of the perpendicular style which can be found completely intact in such buildings as Windsor Castle and the lierne vaulted ceilings it once contained was mirrored later at Westminster Hall. Work was carried out which brought a unified residential appearance to the entire complex of new buildings.

Gaunt’s most magnificent addition is the Great Hall which was built along the west range of the inner curtain and became, of course, the chief apartment of the castle. Tall windows dominate the front and back and include a bay window which brought a lot of light into the hall and the castle a new face from across the lake. An undercroft lies underneath along with a grand staircase which led up to the entrance porch. Two square towers, Strong and Saintlowe, flanked the hall which gave it a symmetrical appearance. These were adjoined with ranges of buildings along the north and south- one, the previous mentioned kitchens along the north and along the south, two large apartments which have been identified as a solar with a private chamber and a projecting tower containing latrines which is between the solar and Leicester’s Building today.
Gaunt’s son, Henry Bolingbroke, who was born at Bolingbroke Castle in Lincolnshire, took the throne from Richard II in 1399 by deposing him and Kenilworth became a royal castle again with the House of Lancaster. On the northwest corner of the outer bailey, earthworks mark a spot where residential buildings known as ‘the Pleasaunce’ had been replaced. These were built by Henry V in 1414 as a retreat and banqueting house in the style of a small castle on the far side of the lake and had to be reached by boat! They became his preferred residence at Kenilworth. After receiving the insulting gift of tennis balls from the French Dauphin he was spurred on to his success at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 in France and returned to his new French Queen, Katherine, for the first time on English soil, at the original location of the Pleasance where it was surrounded by two diamond-shaped moats with its own dock. These buildings were dismantled by Henry VIII and moved to the northwest corner of the outer bailey but were finally destroyed in the Civil War when that side was so heavily slighted.


Mortimer’s Gate was the main entrance to the castle for hundreds of years. This double towered gatehouse, originally built by King John, was seated at the southeast corner of the outer curtain wall on the north end of the causeway tiltyard and is supposed to have been enlarged by Simon de Montfort during his occupation. This served a dual purpose as barbican and a dam to control the level of the lake. Only the lower portions of the gate towers remain today and the causeway was breached after the Civil War in order to drain the lake. Beyond the causeway stood a second gatehouse, known as the Gallery Tower, which was remodeled in the 15th century but is now in ruins and the footings of the third can be found in the earthen outwork known as The Brays further south.

The final phase of Kenilworth’s construction was an overhaul under Robert Dudley’s direction in the latter part of the 16th century. The Earl of Leicester was courting a relationship with Elizabeth I, who granted the castle to him and she paid three visits to this castle- even though she detested castles ! These visitations were carried out in 1566, 1568 and 1575. He commissioned the royal architect Henry Hawthorne to produce plans for a dramatic, classical extension of the south range of the inner court. Later, he employed William Spicer to rebuild for the Queen’s visit and plan the building which is named for his official title.
Queen Elizabeth’s final visit was a spectacular 19-day event in which she brought an entourage of thirty-one barons and four hundred members of her staff. Sir Walter Scott made this event famous in his aforementioned fictionalized book Kenilworth. Dudley’s construction consisted of many additions but also brought a modernized and unified dignity to the entire complex by changing many windows to the Elizabethan fashion. He converted arrow-slits into new windows leaving only one remaining in Caesar’s Tower. His own building, which sits on the southeast corner, along the inner bailey, was reserved for guests and once had four stories in Tudor style with comparatively thin walls and mullioned windows.
The gap between Leicester’s building and the medieval keep was once filled by a Tudor range along the east, which consisted of King’s Lodgings and prior to that, the Norman curtain- both of which have vanished. Along this area, Leicester built a loggia (open gallery) which led to the new formal gardens along the north side of the castle in the outer bailey. Using the original 16th century plan, the Tudor gardens were reconstructed in the form of a large parterre more recently by English Heritage. Obelisks, a marble fountain, Greek statues depicting mythological figures and a timber aviary recall the garden presented to Queen Elizabeth I which was a reflection of the garden which graced Villa d’Este at the time.
Dudley’s gatehouse was built in revival medieval style mirroring such towers as Tattershall in Lincolnshire and Kirby Muxloe in Leicestershire. It is seated on the north side of the base court and replaced an older gatehouse providing a fashionable and impressive entrance which can still put visitors in awe to this day. The interior is contemporary with wood paneling, the same as his inner court work. Along the east side of the base court his father’s stable block survives well in stone with a timber-framed and paneled interior. It stands next to the old Water Tower and features ornamental wood carvings. Here you’ll find a tearoom for visitors along with an interactive display on the history of Kenilworth Castle.

Unfortunately the splendor came to an abrupt end with the Civil War. Although garrisoned by Parliament throughout, the castle was slighted as a potentially dangerous stronghold in 1649. The great lake was drained at the same time by order of Lord Cromwell himself so that Kenilworth could not be used as a defensive fortress again. Kenilworth reverted back to the crown, essentially and when the Monarchy was restored in 1660 for Charles II, Colonel Joseph Hawkesworth, who had implemented the slighting of the castle and had taken up residence in Leicester’s gatehouse, was evicted. Regained briefly by the Queen Mother, Henrietta with the Earls of Monmouth acting as her stewards, the castle was gifted to Sir Edward Hyde by Charles upon her death. He created titles for him as Baron Hyde of Hindon and Earl of Clarendon and the castle remained their property until 1937 when it was sold by the Lord Clarendon to an industrialist by the name of Sir John Siddeley. In 1958 Siddeley’s son gave the castle to the town of Kenilworth and became public property. The gardens and castle are available to view for visitors by English Heritage who have managed the property since 1984 and host many events at Kenilworth each year. Leicester’s Gatehouse has received a complete makeover with re-created furnishings and appearance when the gatehouse was last inhabited in the 1930s and an exhibition on the top floor which retells the story of Queen Elizabeth I’s visits in the 16th century.

http://www.celcat.com/kworth/pangallery.html big photos !
and check out my Live.com photo album for more large and impressive photos of Kenilworth and other Warwickshire Castles !
T-01926 852078 www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/kenilworth-castle

The Castle Lady will be back with more castles

and kisses very soon!

About Evelyn

The Castle Lady Official web site: www.ilovecastles.com other blogs: ilovecastles.blogspot.com evelynsrockpages.blogspot.com evelyns-nailsforlife.blogspot.com
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7 Responses to Warwickshire’s Wonderful Medieval Walls and Watchtowers, Part One : Mighty Kenilworth Castle

  1. douginator says:

    Very enjoyable read…

    Like

    • Evelyn says:

      Thanks Doug ! It was my pleasure writing it. I’m still trying to find the company for the Fast Track. I’ve been at this since March ! ! Augh ! Thanks for trying to help though.

      Hugs ! ; )

      Like

  2. j’aime prendre le temps d’observer les ruines du passé, cela me fait grandement voyager dans les temps lointains de nos aïeuls…
    plein de bises à toi Evelyn
    belle semaine en continuation

    Like

  3. Nice post. I went through the post I found it very informative and useful. Thanks for sharing.
    My blog is Family vacation spots.

    Like

  4. Sophia punuhotu says:

    160 the view of the lake is wonderful and one could access the lake for boating or merely walking along buntontown road so easily as a part of everyday life.

    Like

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