The medieval town of Warwick was preceded by a settlement where a natural weir became a crossing point on the south side of the river Avon. In the 20th century two Anglo-Saxon cemeteries were uncovered nearby, a mile north of Warwick and another southwest, along with numerous period weapons and ornaments including ancient jewelry. When Ethelfleda, sister of Edward the Elder and daughter of Alfred the Great, established the burgh at Warwick in 914, it was on a hilltop site overlooking the early riverside settlement built on a high knoll exceeding 200 feet in height. As an outlier of the Keuper Sandstone outcrop which is north of Warwick, the placement was an excellent choice for a fortress because of the superior building stone and plentiful supply of well water. Ethelfleda’s motte was one of ten such burghs built in defense against the Danish invasions of the Kingdom of Mercia. With the Roman Fosse Way in close proximity it became an important military and administrative fortress.
At some point, the building of a Town Wall was started near Ethelfleda’s earth ramparts which were 25 feet wide and 9 feet deep in some areas and was built on top of rock sandstone. Turchil of Arden, who owned Warwick after the time of the Norman invasion, constructed the ditch on orders from William the Conqueror but did not build walls. When grants of murage and pavage (taxes assessed for building walls and roads) were paid to Guy de Beauchamp, Lord of Warwick in 1305 it is supposed that the walls were built at that time and for a time afterward. George, Duke of Clarence also was responsible for building the town walls. The remaining gates are reminiscent of the Bristol city gates which were built with churches atop giving them a grand appearance.
There were three gates built into the walls on the north, east and west and a magnificent bridge on the south which had a barrier gate by the middle of the 17th century on the end of Crosse Street. The north gate was built by 1272 but was completely demolished in the early part of the 16th century. Visible remains of the wall are closest to the East Gate and were reconstructed in the first part of the 15th century when the chapel of St Peter was moved from its original location and rebuilt above it. Alteration and reconstruction was carried out again in 1576 when both were in ruins and eventually the chapel was Gothicized in 1788.The arched West Gate was similarly reconstructed with the Chapel of St James above it and was extended west when a tower addition was made to the chapel in the latter part of the 14th century. The walls here were cut through solid rock and you’ll see some of the original wall and vault on the north side of a narrower passage. The chapel here was restored by 1865 and a short extension was made to the gateway passage on the east end as a support for the new path above it. The Guildhall is seated right next to west gate and is worth a visit, as well.
Most of Warwick’s town wallwas demolished before the 16th century leaving only portions near the west and east gates and various other parts of the town including Lethenhull Gate. You will find older portions of the rebuilt walls where they were restored on the north sides of the west and east gates and in the circular section of the old town. Market Street, Barrack Street and the Butts run along a course which show evidence of the inside line of the wall. Nearer to the castle, changes have made the inside line of the wall more obscure but formerly ran along Brittain Lane and Back Hills. The aforementioned bridge was referred to as early as 1208 but its completion date is unknown and it was in ruins by 1373. Grants of pontage (bridge taxes) were given to burgesses in 1374, 1377 and 1380 for upkeep which ultimately became the responsibility of the Guilds of Holy Trinity and St. Mary’s churches in 1383 along with the Guild of Warwick. By 1545 the Guilds were still the responsible party for its upkeep. Eventually it was swept away by a flood in 1795 leaving only vestiges and a new bridge was built further upstream.
Of course, the medieval street plan was influenced by the line of the walls. Two lines of streets ran inside and outside the walls, intersecting on the south by the castle. Within the walls, the crossing of two main lines of High Street (or High Pavement) and Jury Street were laid between East Gate to West Gate. Others were Castle Street, Church Street, and Northgate Street which intersected in the middle of the old town, once marked by a cross. Several medieval buildings can be seen and visited such as The Warwick Doll Museum in Castle Street which was restored to its 15th century appearance.
Lord Leycester Hospital, located on the north side of High Street and immediately inside the West Gate, is a survival of the pre-Reformation United Guilds of Warwick buildings transformed, in the late 16th century, into a refuge for Robert Dudley’s pensioner soldiers and their families. It still serves as a home for ex-servicemen comprising a complex of timber-framed dwellings which are the most picturesque in the town. Along the inside west range you’ll find a former banqueting hall where King James I was entertained in 1617 by Fulke Greville, more than a decade after the king bequeathed Warwick Castle to Greville. The courtyard is still comprised of an old guild hall, the Great Hall, the kitchen and the Master’s house which has a Victorian fascia over an old timbered wall. The 17th century arcaded Market Hall, as a part of the Warwickshire Museum, is magnificent with a tapestry map of the county woven in 1558.
On Church Street, St Mary’s Church still looms over the town from the highest point in the center. Canons houses, Vicars college and choir school surrounded the church with halls and residential accommodations from the 14th century and were reconstructed in the mid-15th century. Beauchamp Chapel, on the south side of the church, survived the great fire in 1694 (which burned down most of the medieval structures of the town) and was originally constructed from 1442 to 1462 replacing the Dean’s house. This beautiful example of perpendicular architecture contains awe inspiring tombs of the Beauchamp Earls of Warwick and is the only original remainder of this former cathedral precinct. It is possible to get great views and photos of Warwick Castle from St. Mary’s Tower which was rebuilt in the years 1698 and 1704 along with the nave by William Wilson after they were destroyed in the great fire. On the southeast quarter of the of the former cathedral grounds, a castle vineyard existed which is south of the town center.
Every period of Warwick Castle‘s history remains in its myriad series of architectural styles beginning with Ethelfleda’s Motte, rebuilt in stone by 1305, to the Victorian Armory Wing that was added in the late 19th century between Caesar’s Tower and the gatehouse outside the curtain wall. The evolution of castle building is well represented on the premises to the delight of every visitor and even though comparisons to the Tower of London, Windsor, Arundel, Amberley and Sudeley Castles are apt, Warwick is still the most unique. If you take in the view from Castle Bridge you’ll never forget it because its appearance is imposing and beautiful. That’s a great combination. It has so many glorious aspects no matter the angle from which it is viewed, that it is considered the quintessential English castle. It is kept well restored and houses Tussaud’s most illustrative tableaux of wax figures depicting its rich and dramatic history with exhibitions throughout the castle. Now owned by Merlin Entertainment Groups, it is a loaded family day out venue that is packed with fully interactive events and is well worth the money spent. If you have never visited a castle Warwick is a great place to start especially if you have family along.
Ethelfleda’s ancient mound, on a steep slant above the Avon, was built upon by William the Conqueror in 1068 with a keep, mostly likely of timber with a palisade. The bishop’s four houses were taken out and All Saints church was enclosed within the castle perimeters at that time. The church was removed, however, in 1127-28 by the Bishop of Worcester. The new king, William II, granted Warwick to Henry de Beaumont in 1088 becoming the first Norman Earl of Warwick and the castle has been the official seat of the Earls of Warwick from that time. From 1088 to 1119 Henry reigned as Lord and five generations followed in his footsteps, as the de Newburgh family, until the middle of the 13th century. Very little of Warwick’s masonry from 1260, which was built by King Henry II, survives but the fortunes of Warwick changed and increased after considerable damage to the original northeast wall was wreaked on it by Simon de Montfort’s supporters, interestingly enough. In 1264 they raided the castle and captured the 8th earl, William Mauduit, who was a cousin to the Beaumonts. He died a few years later and the title and castle passed to his nephew William de Beauchamp who became the 9th Earl of Warwick.
William started a dynasty which was to last 148 years. The walls and towers you will see today at Warwick Castle have changed very little since they were reconstructed by both Thomas Beauchamps- the first of which became earl in 1331. He began the state apartments and residential range which faces the inner court along the south side curtain overlooking the river. When he was finished there, he began rebuilding the defenses along the north and northeast with a formidable curtain wall, a twin-towered central gatehouse and two corner towers at either end. The two large corner towers are referred to as Caesar’s Tower, with its sloping apron-shaped base seated on the southeast end and Guy’s Tower which points directly north. Much of the castle’s medieval appearance is due to the placement and individuality of these towers.
This asymmetrical east front began with the gate tower, construction beginning circa 1350, adjoining flanking turrets which rise above the parapet and are connected by embattled bridges and fronted by a projecting barbican flanked with polygonal turrets- a unique configuration unduplicated in England. Along the gate passage, two portcullises are still in place along with several murder holes overhead in the vaulting. From many angles the corner towers may appear to be of the same height. In fact, Caesar’s Tower is the highest at 147 feet but one third of it lies well below courtyard level. Steps within this base lead to a prison chamber which is scrawled with inscriptions from the Civil War and contains a collection of medieval torture instruments. It is unique in appearance, as well, with a semi-hexagonal configuration on the courtyard side but tri-lobed where it faces the river and sports a recessed French-style inner turret- an anecdotal addition since it was built with the money obtained from loot Beauchamp garnered in the Poitiers campaign in 1356.
Externally, Guy’s Tower is more simple in style with the usual battlements and machicolations and reaches 128 feet from courtyard level making it appear only slightly higher than Caesar’s Tower. It is named for the Saxon hero, Guy of Warwick, built by the younger Thomas and finished by 1394 at the outrageous cost of £395. It is a twelve-sided polygonal shape without a corresponding recessed turret or prison dungeon but is similar to Caesar’s tower internally with five vaulted stories, showing French influence once again and square residential apartments throughout which include guard rooms, fireplaces, latrines and mural bedrooms.
The younger Thomas Beauchamp had joined the baronial opposition to Richard Beauchamp who was very active in the French Wars. He confessed to treachery at the end of the 14th century and was banished to the Isle of Man by King Richard II and it was only after Richard was usurped by Henry IV in 1399 that Thomas was released and given a chance to reclaim his inheritance. Richard de Beauchamp, who conducted the heresy proceedings against Joan of Arc, apparently took over Warwick Castle for a time but added nothing to its construction. In 1445 Henry de Beauchamp was the first Duke of Warwick because he was a boyhood companion to the future Henry VI. He did not pass on the title and after his death the Warwick title reverted back to Earldom. By 1449 the title was passed to the Neville family through marriage starting with Richard Neville, notoriously known as The Kingmaker because he deposed Henry VI and Edward IV during the Wars of the Roses. The next year the gatehouse and barbican were finished in the current form. In the early part of 1471 Edward IV and Neville met at the Battle of Barnet and the notorious Kingmaker was slain. Edward took possession and then passed Warwick Castle to various brothers, one of which was the Duke of Gloucester, better known to the world as Richard III.
Because of Richard III’s addition, the northwest curtain across the oval courtyard bailey is more staid than the eastern front. The curtain is high from Guy’s Tower but descends in the middle of the outside courtyard before it ascends again in a southward direction up to Ethelfleda’s Motte. This lower portion is a grey sandstone oblong projection seated atop the slope of the northwest side, facing the moat with low octagonal corner turrets, Clarence and Bear Towers, which project out in angles from this unusual and undefended entrance. It was originally built as an artillery tower before Richard was killed on Bosworth Field and therefore was left uncompleted. A gateway between the turrets was added by the end of the 15th century. The wall continues towards Ethelfleda’s Motte, although it is a reconstruction and is rather thin and low, ascending the motte to rejoin the 17th century shell keep rebuilt by Capability Brown.
Along the southeastern cliff, which overlooks the Avon, the residential mansion has portions remaining from the 14th century. The undercroft seated beneath the Great Hall, chapel and some private apartments are the remains of the first Thomas Beauchamp’s additions. Aside from the interior of the chapel, which was Gothicized by Daniel Garrett in 1748, this vast and marvelous extension of the castle was carried out by Sir Fulke Greville in the Jacobean period with plans drawn up by Robert Smythson and has been renovated throughout several times through the successive centuries. Ruinous by Sir Fulke’s time, King James I bequeathed the castle to the Grevilles who spent £20,000 (the equivalent of £3 million now) to renovate the castle initially. For his efforts, Sir Fulke Greville was attacked on the first of September in 1628 by a servant, Ralph Haywood, who stabbed the baron in the back because he’d been left out of Sir Greville’s will. A few days later he died from these fatal wounds. It is said that Greville’s ghost haunts the Watergate Tower where his room is furnished in Jacobean style including his bed. This tower is situated on the far southeast of the residential range of the castle and is included in the tour. I would remind one and all that Sir Fulke was not killed there or on the castle premises.
During the period of crown propriety of Warwick, in the first half of the 16th century, Henry VII made improvements to the residential range with reinforcements to the wall along the south range, the addition of the Spy Tower which is seated between the Watergate Tower and the Chapel and an extension of the State Rooms in preparation for royal visits. After the Dudley’s occupation of Warwick during the second half of the 16th century they did play host to Queen Elizabeth I in 1572 after which she briefly regained proprietorship from Ambrose Dudley. The castle’s formal gardens were recorded as early as 1534 but landscaping only started in earnest by the 18th century when Capability Brown was engaged by commission to restore the interior grounds. Initiated by Sir Fulke Greville in 1604, a plan for full restoration of Warwick was later taken up by Francis Greville, 8th Baron Brooke, who was the first of the family bestowed with the title of Earl in 1759 after he petitioned for it. Prior to that, the Rich family held the actual title of Earl of Warwick from 1618.
Capability Brown restored the medieval grounds, which included replanting oak and yew trees along with boxwood hedges during the years 1749 to 1757 when Edward Rich II still held the title of Earl of Warwick. Brown added walking paths that ultimately lead up to the top of the old motte, restored the stone shell keep and began the park which was laid outside the castle walls in Temple Park, south of the old motte. Now known as Castle Park, it was originally created in 1743 in honor of the Knights Templar who kept a manor house in Warwick. These were Brown’s ‘salad days’ as head gardener at Stowe House in Buckinghamshire but his reputation was already gaining momentum. His work at Warwick included adding a sweeping lawn from the castle to the Avon riverbank anchored on each end with English trees. His interior grounds work still survives in the serpentine drive between the front gates and the castle entrance. He contributed Gothic designs for a wooden bridge over the Avon which were reduced later and built in stone. Brown also rebuilt the exterior entrance porch and the stairway to the Great Hall. By the late 19th century Robert Marnock was commissioned to create formal gardens inside the castle grounds which now are expanded to 690 acres! Horace Walpole gushed over Capability Brown’s magnificent work in a letter dated 1742, saying,
“The castle is enchanting. The view pleased me more than I can express; the river Avon tumbled down a cascade at the foot of it. It is well laid out by one Brown who has set up on a few ideas of Kent and Mr. Southcote.”
Some of the most famous Antonio Canaletto paintings are those depicting Warwick Castle during the renovations of the grounds and gardens. Francis Greville commissioned the famous Italian painter who produced a large series, of which five paintings and three drawings still exist. These works are the artist’s most often represented building in Britain and are considered unique to the history of art on a series of an English house by a major continental master.
Before the Civil War, Robert Greville, who was the 2nd Baron Brooke, fortified the castle during the first half of 1642 to prepare even though he was a Parliamentarian. He kept a garrison ready there from 1643 to 1660 engaging at least 302 soldiers at its strongest. In preparation, the garden walls were built up along with inside bulwarks for artillery mounting which included two cannons. Of course, by the time a Royalist army laid siege on the castle in August, Greville was not present at the castle and Sir Edward Peyto was commander of the garrison. The siege was over by the 23rd when Robert Devereux, the 3rd Earl of Essex, urged the Royalist army to retreat to Worcester after Warwick’s garrison started shooting back and killing several men. From the Battle of Edgehill prisoners were taken and held in Caesar’s Tower and later more were taken and held there after the Battle of Worcester in 1651.
In 1660 the English Council of State ordered the castle garrison to disband and hand over the castle to Francis Greville, 3rd Baron Brooke who ordered extensive renovations by Roger and William Hurlbutt and modernization of the state apartment interiors were undertaken from 1669 to 1678. William was sent down to Dorset to make careful notes of Sir Roger Pratt‘s interiors which had been recently finished at Kingston Lacy for Sir Ralph Bankes. Only a year after the premature death of Mary II, on the fourth of November in 1695, the castle was presented and played host to King William (of Orange) III. Further restorations were carried out from 1763 to 1788 with expansion of the porch, extra rooms added near the expansion, a new Dining Room and additional interior alterations. Before the turn of the 18th century a local builder by the name of William Eboral built the greenhouse conservatory with the Warwick Vase, brought from Rome, as its central ornament.
After the Great Hall in the residential range was reroofed and repaired in Gothic style in 1831 by Ambrose Poynter, Queen Victoria paid a visit to Warwick for a luncheon. A fire gutted the Great Hall in 1871 requiring a complete restoration by Anthony Salvin who transformed the hall into a veritable palace which includes art, tapestries, period furnishings and an extensive armory display that rivals those of the Tower of London. You’ll see such items as Oliver Cromwell’s death mask and Bonnie Prince Charlie’s shield among many other artifacts. Many of the State Rooms had recently been restored and Gothicized before the fire along with the Watergate Tower which was restored and altered by 1863. The remainder of Salvin’s work was carried out from 1872 to 1875- subsidized by donations by the public. Toward the end of the 19th century the grounds were used to house a personal menagerie of the Countess of Warwick, known as Daisy ( Frances Evelyn Greville ), which included deer, geese, an emu, raccoons and even a baby elephant. A lively exhibition on the Royal Weekend of 1898 was introduced by Tussaud’s in 1982 which is centered on the Countess and her royal friends with the Prince of Wales among the revelers! Only decades later the 7th Earl Greville, Charles Guy changed his name to Michael Brooke to become a Hollywood actor which he did successfully and played opposite Errol Flynn and David Niven in Dawn Patrol at the apex of his career.
Fitted with mains electricity in 1940, modernization paved the way to change the castle’s destiny to that of a living museum. It was purchased by Madame Tussaud’s in November of 1978 and new exhibits were periodically added until visitors were offered a truly interactive and dramatic presentation of Royal English history. In 1986 the Victorian Rose Garden was restored and reopened by Diana, Princess of Wales which added a new dimension of beauty to the castle and will remain a memorial to her spirit. Warwick’s events calendar sparkles with many activities and the regular attractions which are depicted during onsite tours illuminate its rich history clear up to the late Victorian era. Some of the events include re-enactments of Civil War battles staged by The Sealed Knot- a guild of Parliamentarian and Royalist members who are renowned for their attention to detail and realism. The latest addition to Warwick in 2005 is the largest trebuchet in the world, measuring 18 meters high and weighing in at 22 tons. The regular exhibitions include the Kingmaker, added in 1994, which is the most spectacular and located in the medieval undercroft situated between the library and the Great Hall. The Dungeon and Torture Chamber located in Caesar’s Tower, the Great Hall and State Rooms which among the authentically reproduced furnishings are filled with arms, armor, curiosities and artwork are a must see. Among Van Dyke depictions of Charles I on a horse in the State Dining Room you’ll find a commemorative painting of Dudley’s celebration at Kenilworth for Queen Elizabeth in the Great Hall. The Red, Cedar and Green Rooms are available for guest visitation along with a room prepared for Queen Anne’s visit in 1704 which never happened. Seasonal attractions include Ghosts Alive featuring Fulke Greville in the Watergate Tower and other hauntings, Flight of the Eagles features bald eagles, vultures and sea eagles along with a birds of prey show. The Death or Glory attraction in the Armoury, located outside the northeast wall, was added in the year 2000 and tells the history of battles over the centuries and hosts the jousting events and Christmas Festivals each year.
The Castle Lady