Kenilworth, Warwickshire, England
Situated in the middle of England, Kenilworth Castle is 8 miles north of Stratford on Avon.
The red sandstone ruins are surrounded by a curtain wall. The castle has recently undergone a restoration project which includes the Elizabethan gardens, stables and the gatehouse, with the rest of the site including the three storey Norman tower being left unrestored.
Open daily throughout the year between 10am and 5pm, and until 4pm November to March, visitors can stroll around the castle’s ruins and to now also visit the newly restored ‘Leicester’s Gatehouse’.
One of the gatehouse’s exhibitions brings to life the love story between the Earl of Leicester, Sir Thomas Dudley and Queen Elizabeth I. It has major items on loan from private collectors and museums which include a copy of the letter that the Earl of Leicester sent to the Queen; a letter she kept by her bedside until her death. The gatehouse also has another exhibition, authentic room displays, an audio tour detailing the history of the castle and its occupants as well as a shop, visitor centre and tea room.
As well as the audio tour the castle also offers two other tours the first entitled ‘From Fortress to Palace’ is a description of the castle’s history and development; two weeks advance booking is required. The second tour is a tour of the gardens. A member of the gardening team takes visitors through the inspiration behind the garden design by the Earl, the tour also tells the tale of the love story between the Earl and his Queen.
The first building on the site was a Saxon fortification, around 1125 Geoffrey de Clinton was responsible for building a square stone tower on the site. King Henry II took possession of the castle and during his reign it was extensively enlarged, strengthened and transformed into a great palace. In the 1560’s the castle was again improved and modernized by Robert, Earl of Leicester, he added a gatehouse on the northern boundary wall and a suite of luxurious Tudor apartments; known as Leicester’s Building, and formal gardens. Leicester and Queen Elizabeth I were close friends and she was entertained at the castle on many occasions including one occasion in 1575 where she stayed for nearly three weeks during which time she was entertained with music, dancing, feasts and pageants, it was the most lavish extravaganza that England had ever seen.
After Leicester’s death the castle once again came into the hands of the monarchy and throughout the Civil War was taken by both the parliamentarians and the royalists. After the end of the English Civil War in 1649, Oliver Cromwell’s parliamentarian partially demolished the castle, with one wall of the keep being blown up and the battlements destroyed. During the 1650’s the gatehouse was converted to living accommodation and the lake drained and in 1984 the castle and grounds were handed over to English Heritage.
The festivities held for Queen Elizabeth were said to have been the inspiration for William Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer nights Dream’.
Other Castles in the Area
Warwick Castle, Warwickshire