On a fantastically sunny day in June I decided to head out to Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire. It’s an English Heritage property that had been on my radar for a while because of the reputation of its reconstructed Elizabethan garden and because it had been some time since I’d paid a visit to some proper ruins. In the end it proved to be even more spectacular than I had imagined.
As I learned from the audio guide, which is included in the entrance fee of £9.30 for adults, Kenilworth Castle has a very rich history. Just some of the events which took place at Kenilworth were Edward II’s forced abdication and Henry V’s receipt of a gift of tennis balls from the French king, insinuating that Henry should stick to playing games rather than ruling a kingdom and which enraged him so much it probably lead to the Battle of Agincourt.
Kenilworth’s main reputation however, has probably been gained due to the relationship between Elizabeth I and her long-time favourite Robert Dudley. Elizabeth granted the Castle to Dudley in 1563 and he converted it into a great house for her entertainment (and more than likely to impress her enough to consider marriage). Like most Brits I probably know more about the Tudors than any other royal line but I have always been particularly fascinated by the Dudley family because of their connection to Lady Jane Grey who married Dudley’s brother Guildford, became queen for 9 days and was then executed at the Tower of London. That after all this Robert Dudley went on to become so close to the throne is really quite remarkable.
The story of Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, including the mystery surrounding the death of Dudley’s wife Amy is explored inside the Gatehouse, above. Unfortunately you aren’t allowed to take photographs inside there which is understandable, but nevertheless slightly disappointing, particularly since part of the display includes a stunning tapestry that really impressed me.
Leicester built the Gatehouse around 1571-2 and after 1650 it was converted into a residence by a Colonel Hawkesworth who had acquired the castle in that year. The exhibition about Leicester and Elizabeth is on the top floor, but the other rooms – including the dining room and living room area – have been refurnished to demonstrate how the Gatehouse looked in the 1930s.
From here we moved on to fully explore the ruins. The first castle at Kenilworth was built in the 1120s. In the 13th century King John added to its walls and erected a dam to create a fortress that survived a siege in 1266. John of Gaunt, Edward III’s son, added yet more to the castle, Elizabeth I of course spent time here in 1575 and eventually the castle was given to English Heritage to manage in 1984.
What I particularly enjoy about exploring ruins is being able to investigate nooks and crannies which you probably wouldn’t be able to if the castle were intact; Kenilworth gives you excellent opportunities to do this…
…as well as a chance to admire the view of the surrounding countryside.
The Great Hall, with its beautifully presented window frames, was probably my favourite part of the Castle to photograph.
Built by John of Gaunt this room, six bay windows long, was designed to symbolise his royal status, a job it achieves tenfold. The window tracings here are apparently the best surviving example of their kind.
Another remarkably well presented part of the Castle is this tower block, below, known as Leicester’s Building since Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, built it to provide accommodation for Elizabeth I and her servants. It was originally four storey’s high and she is known to have resided there in both 1572 and 1575.
It really is a wonderful castle, with lots of interesting areas to explore. You can find more of my pictures here, along with pictures of the garden, which will be the focus of my next post.