A Brief History of Kenilworth Castle

Jun 18, 2018

Warwickshire’s Kenilworth Castle, nestled not far from Coventry, has played an integral role in British history over the centuries. Now one of the region’s premier tourist attractions, this former semi-royal stronghold has a rich background that has included sieges, war and the politics of monarchy.

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Life at Kenilworth Castle began in the early 1120s, founded as a traditional motte by Henry I’s Lord Chamberlain, Geoffrey de Clinton.

Originally in royal favour, the Clintons’ importance with the courts steadily wavered over the following decades and within 50 years, the Castle grounds had been seized for royal possession.

It wasn’t until 1208, under the reign of King John, that expansion work on the Castle grounds began in earnest. The princely sum of £1115 was spent on improving the defences at Kenilworth, including replacing much of the woodwork with stone.

The result was to turn Kenilworth Castle into a fortress, and one of the largest and most elegant castles in the nation at the time.

The castle was granted to Simon De Montfort, Earl of Leicester, a chief figure in the rebellions of the Second Baron’s War against the king. The King’s son, Prince Edward, was captured during the conflicts and held hostage at Kenilworth until his release in 1265. The Prince then returned to lay siege to his former captors.

The Siege of Kenilworth Castle lasted months and is thought of as the longest siege in English history.

Following the surrender in December 1266, the castle passed to Prince Edmund, 1st Earl of Lancaster. Over the next centuries, Kenilworth would be expanded upon by its various owners and tenants. Most notably, John of Gaunt, who constructed a Great Hall, with new kitchens, apartments, services, bridges, and a landscaped garden over the course of 20 years.

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The Castle remained a cornerstone of the Lancastrian monarchy for near 150 years, and then later as a residence and hunting getaway for the Tudors.

It was in 1563 that Elizabeth I granted the Castle to her life-long friend, John Dudley. Kenilworth underwent huge developments under Dudley in the Earl’s attempts to woo the Queen, including the additions of a gatehouse, an enclosed hunting park, and a private residence for the monarch herself.

Kenilworth fell to Parliamentary forces during the Civil War, and in the years after the conflict, the estate was ransacked and sold. The grounds passed to Laurence Hyde, 2nd Earl of Clarendon, whose family would retain the estate until the 20th century.

In 1937, the ruins of Kenilworth were brought by car manufacturer Sir John Siddeley, who passed the derelict building to the Ministry of Works along with funding to begin regeneration and repairs to the estate.

By the early 21st century, much of the Castle had been restored and recreated; a window into life in the royal courts throughout British history. Nowadays, Kenilworth Castle is one of the region’s top tourist attractions and an integral part of the history of Coventry, bringing tens of thousands of visitors a year.

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