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Kenilworth Castle

Visited May 2017

Location Kenilworth, Warwickshire
Entrance Fee Yes
Railway Station Nearby No 
Parking Yes 
Facilities Cafe, Gift Shop, Toilets


One of the country's finest ruined castles, Kenilworth has been associated with king John, John of Gaunt, Henry V and probably most famously Elizabeth I, who was courted by one of her favourites Robert Dudley at the castle. He hoped to impress her enough to win her hand in marriage, but the Virgin Queen accepted his hospitality but not his proposal!






The castle was built in the 1120's by Geoffrey de Clinton who was the treasurer of Henry I. De Clinton was also credited with building the Mere- the large lake which surrounded the castle at one time. By the time Henry II was on the throne the de Clintons had lost their position and their castle, and Kenilworth had been garrisoned by the King. It remained a royal castle from this point onwards, with renovations being made by King John - £1000 was spent on strengthening the curtain walls.


The castle was held against King Henry III in a six month siege, the longest in medieval history. The rebels eventually surrendered in 1266. After the surrender the King gave the castle to his son Edmund of Lancaster, and it became a stronghold of the House of Lancaster from then on. John of Gaunt built the Great Hall, Henry V added a moated pavilion and Henry VII built a tennis court. So the castle was slowly being re-modelled as a place for comfort and enjoyment, which culminated in the years it was owned by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, a childhood friend of Elizabeth I.





Dudley was desperate to marry Elizabeth and hoped that offering her amazing hospitality at his recently renovated castle would impress her enough to accept his hand in marriage.


Dudley had been spending big on the castle, a new gatehouse had been built in 1571 and the gardens were created especially for the 1575 visit of the Queen. A new accommodation block known as Leicester's Building  was built for the exclusive use of Elizabeth and her entourage.  Elizabeth stayed at Kenilworth for 19 days in 1575 which was the longest stay at any of her courtier's residences. She was treated to daily entertainment, including hunting, dancing, plays and firework displays. The Queen probably enjoyed her stay, but she did not marry Dudley. When he died childless in 1588 the castle reverted to the crown and was eventually slighted after the Civil War. 





The castle as it is today is a joy to visit. The ruins are substantial, and English Heritage have added a large staircase to the remains of Leicester's Building and added information boards on each floor to explain what each of the rooms was used for. The Strong Tower is climbable, and affords views over the area which used to be the Mere. It is hard to believe looking at the green fields below that it was once the site of the great lake.


John of Gaunt's Great Hall was one of the few parts of the castle not altered by Dudley, as it was quite simply such an impressive building that he did not need to change it. Looking today at the entrance arch and the remains of the beautiful bay windows you can understand this decision. 


The Gatehouse built by Dudley is the best preserved of all the buildings, as it had been converted to a house during the Civil War and then later became a farmhouse when the ruined castle was turned into a farm. We could not visit the gatehouse on the day we were there as there was a wedding taking place, so do check in advance if you don't want to miss it. 


The gardens created by Dudley for Elizabeth have been restored as faithfully to the original as possible, and are very pleasant to stroll around. The stable block provides the restaurant facilities for the visitors. We actually arrived before the castle was open and enjoyed a fantastic breakfast at the pub across the road, aptly-named The Queen and Castle.





More info:  English Heritage Kenilworth Castle

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