Kenilworth Castle is a Norman castle built in about 1120. The great tower was built later during the reign of Henry I by the Chief Justice of England, Geoffrey de Clinton (who had also been Lord Chamberlain and Treasurer to Henry I). The castle passed to Henry II in 1173. Henry ordered work to improve the strength of the castle and by about 1240 the castle was in its current form. It had been surrounded on three sides by a large artificial lake, known as the Mere, designed to keep siege engines out of range. It also created a formidable barrier for any attack.
After completing the works, the castle was granted to Simon de Montfort, who was later a prominent leader in the Second Barons' War. Kenilworth Castle was used as his base and was used as a prison for Prince Edward, the heir of Henry III. Edward escaped and later lead forces against de Montfort at Evesham, defeating them and killing de Montfort.
In 1266 the siege of Kenilworth Castle began, the longest in English history. The besiegers, lead by Lord Edward, were unable to breach the defenses and, after nearly a year, the dispute was settled by agreement. Henry III then passed the castle to his youngest son through him it was eventually inherited by John of Gaunt. John of Gaunt and is grandson, Henry V, slowly converted Kenilworth from a structure that was solely defensive to a more comfortable home.
Kenilworth Castle passed out of royal hands in 1563, becoming a possession of the Dudley family, before returning after his death. During the English Civil War the castle was captured by the Parliamentarians and later dismantled with the materials sold. After the restoration, the castle was passed to the Earl of Clarendon, who retained possession until 1937. Eventually the castle was given to English Heritage in 1984.
Design of the Castle
Kenilworth Castle began as a motte and bailey castle with wooden walls. It is built on a rock knoll, surrounded by marsh land giving it a naturally strong position. As the castle was developed, the primary material used in the construction was sandstone, sourced from local quarries.
The keep is the strongest part of the castle. The design spreads the enormous weight of the walls across a large area, making them far less likely to collapse if undermined. The walls are thick and were unlikely to be vulnerable to battering. They are looped and also contain a number of windows, the larger ones being added during the Tudor period when defensive strength was less important than comfort. The keep was entered through a forebuilding which was later converted to a gallery leading to the gardens.
Adjoining the keep are the kitchens and the Strong Tower. The kitchen was physically separate due to the fire risk and had accommodation for the domestic servants. The Strong Tower contained the main service facilities including the pantry and buttery.
John of Gaunt's Hall was constructed in the 14th century. Leicester's Building is an Elizabethan three-story building containing living accommodation in the form of suites. Each contained decorative fireplaces, a bedroom and a public room with large windows. Mortimer's Tower is a gatehouse controlling the entrance to the castle's outer court. When constructed the mere protected the tower, rising to the very base of the tower. The tower has arrow loops and grooves for a portcullis.
Lunn's Tower is part of King John’s wall. It contained no living quarters or storage areas. The walls are looped and cover the north east corner of the defence. The Water Tower was part of the living accommodation and had little defensive value due to its large windows. Leicester's Gatehouse is a gatehouse built to serve as the main entrance to the castle. It was constructed by Dudley when the defensive qualities of the castle were much less important. The entrance was made wide enough for wheeled carriages to use.
- Morris, Richard K. (2010). Kenilworth Castle. English Heritage. ISBN 9781848020757.