"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Kenilworth Castle

D and I decided to visit Kenilworth Castle last Saturday, although we took D and E several times when they were younger it has been some years since I last visited and I was keen to see the Elizabethan garden. It was cold and gloomy so perhaps not the best of days to visit and we were surprised at how busy it was considering the time of year.

A castle at Kenilworth was first constructed by Geoffrey de Clinton (royal chamberlain) in the 1120's on a low sandstone hill at the junction of two ancient trackways. He built most of the Norman Great Tower and founded a priory nearby.

King John in the early 13th century constructed an outer defence of stone walls and built a dam to hold back a huge lake thus creating a formidable fortress which withstood a very long siege in 1266 which started on 21st June 1266 and only ended on 14th December of the same year.

John of Gaunt, son of Edward III, built the Great Hall and in the 15th century the castle was used as residence by several kings who were attracted by the hunting.

In 1563 Queen Elizabeth I granted the castle to her favourite courtier Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. He made many alterations and improvements to the castle turning it into a place where he could entertain the queen.

In 1650 the castle's fortifications were removed after the Civil War and Leicester's Gatehouse was turned into a residence by Colonel Hawkesworth (a Parliamentarian officer).

In 1958 the castle was given to the town by Lord Kenilworth and it has been managed by English Heritage since 1984.

There were some lovely trees near the castle entrance.


The Tiltyard

A great medieval dam was built in the early 13th century which for over 400 years held back one of the largest man-made water defences in the form of a lake in Britain. It is believed in the past the dam was used occasionally as a yard where jousting tournaments took place. King Edward I attended one of these events at Kenilworth in 1279.

Mortimer's Tower

was built around 1210-1215 by King John as the main entrance through the castle's outer defences. The name may refer to Roger Mortimer (died 1282) who in 1279 organised a tournament at the castle. The castle originally had two concentric rings of defences. The inner part was probably enclosed by a 12th century stone curtain wall and the outer court was initially defended by a bank and ditch. In the early 13th century King John replaced this with a masonry wall containing towers. He also replaced the stone gate with Mortimer's Tower - a twin towered gatehouse. Between the two towers further protection was provided by a portcullis.

The Stables

built by John Dudley (father of Robert Dudley) who held Kenilworth Castle briefly between 1549 and 1553. In 1563 the ground floor contained boxes for 30 large horses and 20 geldings and above was a place to store hay and provide sleeping accommodation for the grooms. As Master of the Horse to Queen Elizabeth I, Robert Dudley must have been delighted with this stable block.

Today it houses a tearoom and exhibition.

Leicester's Gatehouse

The Keep

Lunn's Tower -

one of the wall towers built by King John around 1210-1215.


Leicester's Building - Elizabethan State Apartments

The Norman Keep

Before exploring the castle we had a look at the very interesting exhibition on the history of the castle in the stables.

Stone "Trebuchet" balls recovered from the castle grounds which would have been fired from a Trebuchet machine (during the 1266 siege).

A canopied niche which is a fine carved piece of masonry dating from the early 14th century which probably came from the collegiate chapel established in the outer court by Thomas, Earl of Lancaster 1314-1322.

It was quite dark in the exhibition so I didn't take too many pictures but, bearing in mind my current interest in stone masonry, I did take a few photos of these. These pieces would have been carved by a stone mason nearly 700 years ago in the early 14th century. Masons who worked at the castle in the late 13th and the 14th century for earls and dukes of Lancaster would have been very skilled. John of Gaunt in the 1370's for the rebuilding of the castle employed a Henry Spenser as his chief mason together with a master carpenter. Local masons were also employed as shown by similarities between Kenilworth Castle and work at St Mary's church Warwick.

The next two pieces of masonry probably formed part of a masonry frieze and 71 may be part of a date.

Pieces missing but this could have been a lion.

A drawing showing the castle and large lake around 1540.

Leicester's Gate House

built as a new entrance to the castle by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester in the 1570's. Following the Civil War in the 1640's it was turned into a private house for a Colonel Hawkesworth. The gate house was open so we went inside for a quick look.

The alabaster fireplace is dated 1571 and probably came from Queen Elizabeth I's privy chamber.

A beautiful carved piece of furniture - Elizabethan??

On the top floor of the gatehouse is an excellent exhibition with the theme of Leicester and Elizabeth (no photos allowed).

Garden next to the Gatehouse

The Norman Keep or Great Tower

Much of the basic structure was built by Geoffrey de Clinton 1124-1130. Initially the two storey keep would have been the main castle residence. In the late 16th century it was modified by Robert Dudley. Following the Civil War the Keep was deliberately destroyed to stop it falling into enemy hands.




In 1563 Queen Elizabeth I gave the Kenilworth estate to her favourite Robert Dudley and in the following year she made him Earl of Leicester and baron of Denbigh. Dudley first visited the castle in 1566 accompanying the queen on one of her tours of the country. On 3 later occasions he provided lavish entertainment for her at the castle. He built special accommodation to house her in royal style and by the time of her final visit in 1575 (when he hoped to persuade her finally to marry him) he had created a privy garden to the north of the Keep. This visit lasted 19 days from 9th to 27th July 1575 and it was her longest stay at a courtier's house during any of her progresses around the country.

This garden was recreated by English Heritage in 2009 and the design was based on a description by Robert Langham who was an eye witness of the royal visit together with archaeological and historical research. The garden, as did Robert Dudley's, contains a terrace, arbours, a marble fountain, aviary and giant obelisks. The fountain is the centre piece (not in operation when we visited) and is made of white carrara marble, like the original, from Tuscany, Italy.

The heraldic Bear and Ragged Staff adapted by the Dudleys from Beauchamp Earls of Warwick.

We entered the Keep

Looking towards the Great Hall

The main kitchen was built by John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster in the 1370's and was in use until the 17th century. You can still make out the hearth with bread oven and there is a beautiful example of herringbone brick work.

The Strong Tower

The Great Hall built by John of Gaunt. The hall itself would have been on the first floor above stone vaulted cellars. The windows are very tall and the delicacy suggests cathedral windows. There were 6 fireplaces in total.

You can climb up quite high in the Strong Tower - I got to the first platform and already had legs like jelly (due to not liking heights!) so the views from the top were taken by D.




Another photo of the Great Hall

Leicester's Building

built in the early 1570's by Robert Dudley to provide private lodgings for the queen and her servants. Queen Elizabeth I stayed in this building in 1572 and 1575.

You can now explore quite a bit of this building via a walkway - again the height thing put me off so photos again courtesy of D.







I really would like to explore the castle and garden again (and perhaps visit more outside the castle) later in the year so D and I ended up joining English Heritage (something I have been thinking of doing for some years) and, of course there are lots of other delightful EH places to visit in the Midlands and when we are on holiday. I also bought a rather lovely carved box featuring knights with dragons on the lid.

Last time we were in Kenilworth we had lunch at a charming old-fashioned tea room called "Tea for Two" which is very close to the castle so before going home we visited for hot chocolate and cake.

As my camera battery had gone flat! this image was taken with the Olympus dslr e-420 in 2014 on our last main visit to Kenilworth

Just to prove Timothy came along. The camera battery went flat as I was planning to take some pictures of him towards the end of the castle visit!


*D - Photos taken by D with the Canon SX50HS bridge camera

Rest of photos taken by me with the Panasonic Lumix FZ330 bridge camera.


English Heritage Guide Book to Kenilworth Castle and various information boards around the castle


Margaret Adamson said...

This castle is a fabulous place to see both inside adn out as well as the gardens

Rosie said...

Glad you were able to make a return visit. It is a wonderful place isn't it? So many aspects of its history still there. I remember Paul was keen to see the kitchens and bread oven. I loved the gatehouse and garden. I always think about the stonemasons who worked on these buildings (especially cathedrals) some for a whole lifetime and would never have seen the building completed. Your carved box is lovely:)

Pam said...

You're lucky to have so much history close by that you can visit, it's good the dull weather isn't putting people off getting out and about.

Ragged Robin said...

Margaret Adamson - Thanks so much - so glad you liked the castle.

Rosie - Thanks so much. I've been meaning to go back for years. Yes, it is so interesting there with all its lengthy history and of course the Dudley and Elizabeth connection is fascinating. My son has recommended a book to me called "Pillars of the Earth" in relation to cathedrals so I must read that.

Pam - Thanks so much. Lots of people especially dog walkers walking round the outside but there were a lot in the castle itself. It is less than 30 minutes from here so not sure really why I don't go more often - hope to now a member!

CherryPie said...

Lovely photos they bring back memories of my most recent visit.

What did you think of the garden? I enjoyed it :-)

Ragged Robin said...

CherryPie - Thanks so much.

I really liked the garden and thought EH had done a wonderful job. I would like to see it late Spring/early Summer so now we've joined I will be returning!!

Bovey Belle said...

What a wonderful day out. I have been there once on a coach trip - probably 40 years or so ago now, so I don't remember much of it. Your photos have made me wish we lived nearer! Perhaps we can get the kids to buy us a night's stay in an Air BnB in that area.

I was always fascinated by the story of Robert Dudley and his wooing of Elizabeth and the death of his wife - did she fall or was she pushed down the stairs? We'll never know for sure.

Ragged Robin said...

Bovey Belle - Thanks so much. It is well worth a visit - just so much history and atmosphere (if you block out the other visitors!!). If you do ever stay over night Warwick is well worth a visit too (I am not so keen on the castle there as over commercialised! But in the summer there is the Mill Garden, plus Lord Leycester's Hospital, St Mary's with the Robert Dudley (and second wife) tomb, good museum in the Market Hall. Also there are some other gardens Hill Close which I plan to visit one day.

I agree the story of Robert Dudley and Elizabeth is just fascinating as is the mystery surrounding his wife's death! A fascinating period of history. There is a free course coming up on Futurelearn on the Tudors (starting towards the end of February) which I hope to sign up for.

Caroline Gill said...

What a wonderful day out, RR, and I'm sure Timothy enjoyed himself - good to see him all wrapped up in his beautiful woollens! I haven't been since the gardens were newly opened after their extensive make-over, but we so enjoyed it all and found lots of insects (especially ladybirds and butterflies) on the parterre. I have been an English Heritage member for quite a time now ... so I hope (and feel sure) you will enjoy your membership as much as I do!

Ragged Robin said...

Caroline Gill - Thanks so much. I will certainly be going back in the summer to look for ladybirds and butterflies :)

I've considered joining EH many times - should have done so really last year when we visited Osbourne House! There are several interesting properties within an hour or so's travel time.