History and Stories
Kenilworth Castle seen from across the mere

Kenilworth Castle: History and Stories

Kenilworth Castle is one of the great historical sites of the United Kingdom. First built in the 1120s and a royal castle for most of its history, it was expanded by King John, John of Gaunt and Henry V. In 1563 Elizabeth I granted it to her favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who converted the castle into a lavish palace fit to entertain his queen.

Although the castle’s fortifications were dismantled in 1650, many of the buildings remain unaltered since Elizabeth I’s reign, and the spectacular ruins reveal much of Kenilworth’s medieval and Tudor past. 

 

 

The keep at Kenilworth Castle, viewed from across the recreated Elizabethan garden
The keep at Kenilworth Castle, viewed from across the recreated Elizabethan garden

Key facts

  • The first castle was established in the 1120s by the royal chamberlain, Geoffrey de Clinton, who built most of the Norman keep. 
  • In the early 13th century King John added an outer circuit of stone walls and a dam to hold back a great lake, so creating one of the most formidable fortresses in the kingdom.
  • In 1266 Simon de Montfort held Kenilworth against the king through an extraordinary six-month siege – the longest in English medieval history.
  • In the 14th century John of Gaunt, son of King Edward III, developed the castle into a palace, building the great hall and lavish apartments.
  • The castle was a favoured residence of the Lancastrian kings in the later Middle Ages – Henry V even built a retreat here at the far end of the lake. 
  • In 1563 Elizabeth I granted the castle to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who transformed Kenilworth into a magnificent palace. Famously he entertained the queen here for 19 days of festivities in 1575.
  • The castle’s fortifications were dismantled in 1650 after the English Civil War. Later, the ruins became famous thanks in part to Walter Scott’s 1821 novel Kenilworth, which romanticised the story of Robert Dudley, his wife Amy Robsart, and Elizabeth I.

Discover the castle’s history

  • History of Kenilworth Castle

    Read a comprehensive overview of the history of the castle, from its Norman origins through its long connection with many English monarchs. 

  • The Siege of Kenilworth Castle

    Find out how Henry III’s assault on Kenilworth Castle, which began on 25 June 1266, turned into the longest siege in English medieval history.

  • Henry V and His ‘Pleasance in the Marsh’

    Discover how Henry V escaped the burdens of kingship with the help of a secluded lodge across the mere at Kenilworth Castle.

  • Queen Elizabeth and Robert Dudley

    Over the centuries, layers of myth and fiction have obscured the story of the relationship between Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley. We uncover the truth behind the myth.

  • The Man Who Saved Kenilworth Castle

    Little is known about the man responsible for keeping Kenilworth open to the public. Discover the story of Sir John Siddeley and his impact on the castle’s history.

Explore the castle

  • Kenilworth Castle’s Elizabethan Garden

    Use this interactive tour to explore the castle’s Elizabethan garden, a recreation of the one built by Robert Dudley for Elizabeth I’s visit in 1575.

  • Description of Kenilworth Castle

    The spectacular ruins, built mostly from the local red sandstone, reveal much of the castle’s long history as a royal residence.

  • Download a plan

    Download this PDF plan of Kenilworth Castle to see how the castle developed over the course of its 900-year history.

More resources

  • Why Kenilworth Castle matters

    Kenilworth has an exceptionally long and rich history, and is remarkable not just for its buildings but for the great landscape that once surrounded it.

  • Research on Kenilworth Castle

    Read a a review of the major studies that have contributed to our growing understanding of Kenilworth Castle.

  • Sources for Kenilworth Castle

    Use these lists of the main sources for our knowledge and understanding of Kenilworth Castle to research further into its history.

  • More histories

    Delve into our history pages to discover more about our sites, how they have changed over time, and who made them what they are today.

Visit Kenilworth Castle

  • Plan your visit to Kenilworth Castle

    Scale the heights of the tower built to impress Eliizabeth I, marvel at the mighty Norman keep, and explore the recreated Elizabethan garden.

  • Buy the guidebook

    This comprehensive guidebook includes a tour and history of the house, with many reconstruction drawings and historical images.

  • A short break in the West Midlands

    A long weekend in the West Midlands has a lot to offer. We’ve put together this guide to some of the best historic places to see in the region.

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