Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Kenilworth Castle: A snapshot history

photo courtesy of Rosemary Watson

Today's research snippet: A brief history of Kenilworth Castle.

Originally Kenilworth castle was part of the royal manor of Stoneleigh. In the early 12th century, King Henry I granted it to his chamberlain Geoffrey de Clinton. Geoffrey divided the grant into two and gave one portion to endow an Augustinian Priory. On the other portion he built his castle, together with a park and chase for hunting. We don't know what that first castle looked like but it is presumed to be an earth and timber motte and bailey built on the site now occupied by the present inner court of the castle now standing.
The canons of the priory had Geoffrey's permission to fish on Thursdays with boats and nets in Geoffrey's pool which was probably a reference to the small version of the mere made by damming the valley to the south of Kenilworth at the time of its foundation.
In 1173-74 during the rebellion of the Young King against his father Henry II, the castle was garrisoned by royal troops. The castle was adjudged so important that Henry II decided to keep it and compensated for its loss by giving the Clintons land in Buckinghamshire. (I have yet to check, but any bets they had belonged to Eleanor!).
From 1184, costs for work to Kenilworth begin appearing in the pipe rolls. Over £1,100 was spent on it in the closing years of King John's reign, and as we've seen in King John's itinerary, he stayed at Kenilworth for more than 3 days in 1205. In his reign the moat of the original castle was filled in on the west side and the present curtain wall was constructed in front of it. This change came about because of the enlargement of the mere which became the main defence of the castle on the western side.
Henry III undertook minor works of construction and repair but did not live there for any length of time. He granted the castle to his brother in law the famous Simon de Montfort, who set about adding more defences including the Water Tower on the west side of the keep. When he was killed at the Battle of Evesham, it became a rallying point for his supporters. King Henry spent 6 months beseiging Kenilworth. Attempts to assault the walls from wooden bombard towers came to grief, and a water borne assault by barges was mooted but never came to fruition. The defenders were finally forced to surrender in December 1266 when they ran out of food.
Henry III left Kenilworth in the care of his younger son Edmund Crouchback, Earl of Lancaster. The main event recorded under his tenure was a Round Table event with tilting and tourneying for the entertainment of 100 knights and their ladies under the presidency of Roger Mortimer. Other spectaculars were likely devised, but have not made the historical record.
Edmund was succeeded by his eldest son, Thomas who erected a chapel dedicated to St Mary, but his plans for Kenilworth were cut short by his execution in 1322. For 4 years the castle returned to the crown and was the scene of King Edward's enforced acceptance of his deposition from the throne before his death in the following year.
Kenilworth was restored to Earl Thomas' brother, Henry, who was succeeded by his son, another Henry who was created first Duke of Lancaster. On his watch, the great hall was re-roofed at a cost of 250 marks and we know that its dimensions were 89ft by 45ft. Subsequently, post 1380, the great hall was entirely reconstructed and made into 2 stories by the insertion of a vaulted undercroft.

photo courtesy of Rosemary Watson
The inheritance passed by marriage to John of Gaunt and Kenilworth was further developed from castle to resplendant and comfortable palace.
The accession of Henry Bolinbroke to the throne in 1399 brought Kenilworth back to the Crown as part of the Duchy of Lancaster, which is still attached to the Crown today.
Bolinbroke's son Henry V undertook extensive reclamation works on the north side of the mere and creating a pleasure garden.
Later, Henry VIII took down the timber-framed buildings from the Pleasance and re-erected them in the outer court.
In the Elizabethan period, the castle was granted to Elizabeth I's favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Extensive building works were carried out including the construction of a new gatehouse, a 600ft long timber bridge, extensive reconstruction of the Gallery Tower and a tall block at the southeast corner of the Inner Court, which contained suites for the important guests. A wonderful description from 1575 says: '...rare beauty of building that His Honour hath advanced; all of the hard quarry stone; every room so spacious, so well belighted and so high roofed within; so seemly to sight by due proportion without; a daytime on every side so glittering by glasses; a nights, by continual brightness of candle, fire and torchlight transparent through the lightsome windows.' 

reconstruction of Robert Dudley's gardens
Photo author's own

Following Dudley's death and a couple of inheritance disputes, Kenilworth once more reverted to the Crown. In the Civil War it was taken and occupied by the Parliamentarians and circa 1656 was partially demolished. The north wall of the keep was destroyed and the north curtain wall too. At some point the tiltyard was breached to empty the mere too. The castle passed through various hands after that, eventually being sold to one John Davenport Siddeley, who handed the castle to the Office of Works in 1937 with a generous grant for its upkeep. Now it's in the care of English Heritage and well worth a visit should you be in the area. Even in ruination, it's a beautiful castle of distinctive red sandstone.

1 comment:

Leila Wilson said...

Thank you Elizabeth for posting this account of Kenilworth Castle which I have found fascinating to read. I live in the North East of England and hope one day to visit it. I love all your books and couldn't choose a favourite from among them as they are all excellent. In the area where I live all the road names are cstles. We have a Kenilworth and mine is Gilling.