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 History of the castle

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lee
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PostSubject: History of the castle   Mon Jun 22, 2009 2:45 pm

There follows a brief chronicle of this famous medieval castle, home to some of the most influential people in English history. A more extensive account can be found in John H Drew's book "Kenilworth - A Manor of the King" (ISBN 0 85114 004 1 published by Malcolm Peters) and in the Castle guide book available at the site of the ruin (ISBN 1 85074 357 6 published by English Heritage).

Saxons
The castle is thought to have existed in the reign of King Arthur (if we believe in the semilegendary figure), and in Saxon times, a castle stood upon a hill called Hom. The structure was probably demolished during the wars between King Edmund and Canute II King of the Danes, and rebuilt about a century later.

Geoffrey de Clinton
After the Norman Conquest Kenilworth remained with the crown until 1129 when King Henry I gave it to his Chamberlain, a Norman named Geoffrey de Clinton. Clinton was Treasurer and Chief Justice of England and he established a castle worthy of his office. The original structure was probably of the Mott and Bailey type, and the only remaining part of it is a small excavated section of a ditch that would have protected the castle. If you visit the site, the ditch is near the Keep.

Geoffrey de Clinton gave much of Kenilworth to an Augustinian monastic order to build the Abbey of St Mary. However, Clinton retained the land on which his fortress would be founded. It was Clinton who made Kenilworth Castle great. The deep outer moat and the large keep called Caesar's Tower (built 1170-1180) are evidence of the castle's strength and importance.

At this time, the Keep was part of the outer curtain wall enclosing the Bailey and you can still see the evidence of an entrance at its south east corner (look for the portcullis groove). Any buildings within the Bailey would have been of wood construction.

Simon de Montfort
The castle soon became too important to leave in private hands and the Clinton's eventually relinquished the castle to the Plantagenet Kings. In 1244, the king appointed Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, to be governor of the castle, and granted it for life to him and his wife Eleanor, who was the king's sister. This earl is said to have "wonderfully fortified the castle, and stored with many kinds of warlike engines, till that time never seen nor heard of in England."

Though a Frenchman, de Montfort is remembered as the founder of democracy in England and has a place of honour in the Palace of Westminster. In his parliament of 1265 he promised the common people an opportunity to play a part in governing the nation. This was seen as a cynical attempt at popularity by his political opponents, but he found favour with the country's barons who were aggrieved by the King's tax policy. Although de Montfort achieved great popularity, within a few months he was killed by the King's army.

The Barons' War (Siege at the Castle)
The 1266 siege of Kenilworth Castle is one of the most notable events in its history.

Simon de Montfort had become a leading rebel against King Henry III and the Barons' War was waged between 1263 and 1267 in an attempt to curb Henry's abuse of power. Simon de Montfort was killed in battle at nearby Evesham on August 4th 1265, and in the summer of 1266, his fellow nobles, under the leadership of Henry de Hastings, used the castle as a refuge when the King surrounded Kenilworth.

The ensuing siege of Kenilworth Castle in 1266 is the longest in English history, and demonstrated the strength of the fortifications against siege machines like the Balista brought in from London. Barges were even brought from Chester in an attempt to enter the castle across the meer.

Psychological Warfare
In July 1266, the Archbishop of Canterbury stood before the castle walls and excommunicated the beleaguered followers of de Montfort. Unimpressed by this early example of psychological warfare, the defenders dressed one of their number in clerics' garb and promptly excommunicated the King and Archbishop!

After a 6 month siege, the barons were overcome by disease and famine and finally surrendered.

For more information, see a copy of The Great Siege of Kenilworth 1266 in Kenilworth reference Library.

Kings Edward
King Edward I bestowed the castle upon his youngest son Edmund, Earl of Lancaster, who was also on this occasion made Earl of Leicester. The castle was inherited by Edward II who was imprisoned there by Henry, Earl of Lancaster, and ultimately murdered. Henry Earl of Lancaster received the castle, which then passed through his son and grand-daughter, to John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster.

John of Gaunt
In 1364 John of Gaunt turned the fortress castle into a palace with the addition of domestic quarters. The Duke greatly improved and enlarged the castle, the centre-piece of his work being the Great Hall.

When John of Gaunt's son, Henry Bolingbroke, became king, his possessions as Duke of Lancaster were united to the crown. Kenilworth therefore remained a royal property without interruption until the reign of Elizabeth I.

Robert Dudley
In 1563 - the fifth year of her reign - Queen Elizabeth I bestowed Kenilworth castle upon Robert Lord Dudley, her favourite. A year later she titled him Baron of Denbigh and Earl of Leicester. He made extensive additions and alterations to the castle to continue John of Gaunt's transformation of the fortress into a palace. Some of the Norman features were modernised with fashionable Tudor to please Elizabeth. For example, he replaced arrow slits in the Keep with large windows to allow more light into the building.

Queen Elizabeth
Queen Elizabeth I visited Robert Dudley at Kenilworth Castle in the years 1566, 1568, and 1575. No expense was spared during this final trip, which lasted for 19 days in mid July and cost Dudley 1000 per day. The splendour of the pageantry eclipsed anything that had been seen before in the whole of England.

Water pageants were provided for Elizabeth's entertainment at the mere, a large defensive lake outside the perimeter walls, and the 'Pleasance' was laid out on the North side of the castle as a pleasure garden during her visit.

One historical account records that the Queen arrived at the castle at 8 o'clock in the evening. On approaching it she was accosted by an oracle, "comely clad in a pall of white silk," who in poetic manner expressed the delight her arrival gave, and prophesied that she should enjoy a long and prosperous reign. On arriving at the first castle gate, six massive statues of trumpeters appeared upon the battlements, a fanfare welcomed the Queen, and she was presented with the gate keys. When the queen entered the gate and came into the court, she was met by the legendary Lady of the Lake, who, attended by two nymphs arrayed in silk, floated towards her from the middle of the pool upon a moveable island, blazing with torches. According to the report, the sound of drums, fifes, and trumpets, the firing of guns, and a grand display of fireworks were heard twenty miles away.

A Midsummer Night's Dream?
William Shakespeare was just 11 years old and likely among the crowd that witnessed the occasion with its expensive and complex arrangements. 20 years later he wrote Midsummer Night's Dream, which according to experts, bears strong evidence of his visit in 1575 to see the festivities.

Oliver Cromwell
The Restoration in 1660 revived the monarchy and saw the accession to the throne of King Charles II. He gave the castle to Sir Edward Hyde, whom he created Baron Kenilworth and Earl of Clarendon. The castle remained the property of the Earl of Clarendon until 1937 when it was purchased by Sir John Siddeley, later Lord Kenilworth. The second Lord Kenilworth presented the castle to Kenilworth in 1958, on the 400th anniversary of the accession of Elizabeth I to the throne. English Heritage has looked after the ruins since 1984.
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