History of Kenilworth Castle

Kenilworth Castle is one of England’s great historical sites. It was a royal castle for much of its history and the walls enclose a series of outstanding medieval and Renaissance structures.

Geoffrey de Clinton's great tower

Geoffrey de Clinton's great tower

From castle to palace

 

The first castle was established in the 1120s by the royal chamberlain, Geoffrey de Clinton. He built most of the Norman keep, and founded the nearby priory. In the early 13thy century, King John added an outer circuit of stone walls, and a dam to hold back a great lake, thus creating one of the kingdom’s most impressive castles.

Subsequently the castle was developed as a palace. John of Gaunt, son of Edward III, constructed the great hall and associated apartments. In the 15th century, the castle was the favoured residence of the Lancastrian kings, drawn here by the excellent hunting. Henry V built a retreat – the Pleasance in the Marsh – at the far end of the lake. 

The great hall, built by John of Gaunt between 1373 and 1380, was the architectural centrepiece of the castle's inner court

The great hall, built by John of Gaunt between 1373 and 1380, was the architectural centrepiece of the castle's inner court

Elizabeth I at Kenilworth

In 1563, Elizabeth I granted the castle to her favourite, Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester. He turned Kenilworth into a great Renaissance 'prodigy house', designed to receive the queen and her court on their ceremonial 'progresses' around her realm.

Striking evidence of Dudley's transformation can still be seen everywhere at Kenilworth, not least in the form of the new garden, recreated by English Heritage on the basis of a contemporary description, representing the one that Dudley had made for the 19 days of festivities laid on for Elizabeth I's visit in 1575.

Leicester's Building was erected in 1571 to accommodate Elizabeth I and her close servants on her visits to Kenilworth in 1572 and 1575

Leicester's Building was erected in 1571 to accommodate Elizabeth I and her close servants on her visits to Kenilworth in 1572 and 1575

The epitome of romance

 

The castle's fortifications were dismantled in 1650, after the Civil War. In 1821, the ivy-clad ruins became famous as the setting for Sir Walter Scott’s novel, ‘Kenilworth’, which romanticised the story of Robert Dudley, Elizabeth I and Amy Robsart. In 1958, Lord Kenilworth gave the castle to the town, and since 1984, it has been managed by English Heritage.

Phased plans of Kenilworth Castle

 

Phased plans of Kenilworth Castle and grounds can be downloaded from the right-hand side of this page.

Portico: Researching English Heritage Sites

RELATED DOCUMENTS