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Kenilworth Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Killingworth; Kenelworth; Kenelworde; Killingsworth; Chenilleworda

In the civil parish of Kenilworth.
In the historic county of Warwickshire.
Modern Authority of Warwickshire.
1974 county of Warwickshire.
Medieval County of Warwickshire.

OS Map Grid Reference: SP27847220
Latitude 52.34775° Longitude -1.59275°

Kenilworth Castle has been described as a certain Timber Castle, and also as a certain Masonry Castle, and also as a certain Palace.

There are major building remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.
This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law*.


The original castle is thought to have been a motte and bailey which was replaced by a fortified keep and a curtain wall towards the end of C12. In 1173-4 Kenilworth Castle was garrisoned for Henry II and became a royal castle which was to be refortified and redesigned over several centuries. In 1253 Henry III granted the castle to Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, but following his death in 1265, the castle was surrendered to the king who granted it to his younger son, the Earl of Lancaster. Following John of Gaunt's marriage to Blanche, daughter of the first Duke of Lancaster, Kenilworth Castle passed to him in 1361 and he was responsible for upgrading it to become, in effect a royal palace. In 1533 the castle was granted to John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, but following his execution, it returned to the Crown. The grant was renewed to his son, Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester and favourite of Elizabeth I, who made extensive changes. (PastScape)

Kenilworth Castle is a well preserved example of a very large enclosure castle which evolved over many centuries from its origins as a small motte and bailey castle into a spectacular medieval royal residence. Its direct links with the crown of England from the 12th century through to the 16th century have ensured that the site is exceptionally well documented through both written and pictorial records providing details of the major construction periods, the costs and dates of repairs and alterations to existing structures, and detailed ownership information. Part excavation has indicated that structural and artefactual evidence for the original timber and stone structures which occupied the inner court will survive beneath the ground surface. These buried remains will contain valuable information on less well documented early history and occupation of the site. The latter phases in the castle's development in particular, retain outstanding examples of structures which are typical of late medieval high status residences, for example, the great hall and Leicester's Building. The standing remains of these state apartments clearly reflect, both in their size and their elaborate internal decoration, the pretensions of the castle's inhabitants. The importance of water as a medieval defensive feature is clearly seen at Kenilworth where the whole of the castle was defended by water and many exemplary water control features are preserved: the artificial mere, the Lower Pool, the northern moat and the Brays' external ditch system; but, at the same time, the mere was evidently seen as a picturesque feature, lending grandeur to the castle's setting. The accumulated silts within these features provide conditions suitable for the preservation of environmental evidence and artefacts related to the castle's occupation and the landscape in which it was set. The alterations to the mere dam in the 16th century which allowed it to be used for tilting are well documented and reflect the importance of sporting pastimes for the highest orders of 16th century society. The Tiltyard at Kenilworth is a particularly rare feature nationally (the only other example yet identified is at Tattershall Castle in Lincolnshire). The site as a whole provides a valuable illustration of the display of wealth and status during the medieval and Early Renaissance periods amongst the royal family and the aristocracy. As a site in the care of the Secretary of State and open to the public, the castle is a valuable educational resource and public amenity.
The monument is situated on the north western outskirts of Kenilworth and includes the standing, earthwork and buried remains of Kenilworth Castle, an enclosure castle, and the earthwork remains of its associated water control features. The majority of the site is in the care of the Secretary of State and the castle's standing remains are also Listed Grade I. Kenilworth formed part of the royal manor of Stoneleigh at the time of the Domesday Survey (1086), but early in the 12th century it was granted by Henry I to his chamberlain, Geoffrey de Clinton. The original castle at Kenilworth is thought to have been a motte and bailey castle which was replaced by a fortified keep and a curtain wall towards the end of the 12th century. The castle defences were strengthened by damming local streams to create a large lake or mere to the west which in turn provided the water supply for a moat and a pool to the north and east of the castle. In 1173-4 Kenilworth Castle was garrisoned for Henry II and became a royal castle which was to be refortified and redesigned over several centuries. In 1253 Henry III granted the castle to Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, but following his death at the Battle of Evesham in 1265, the castle was surrendered to the king who granted it to his younger son, the Earl of Lancaster. Following John of Gaunt's marriage to Blanche, daughter of the first Duke of Lancaster, Kenilworth Castle passed to him in 1361 and he was responsible for upgrading it to become, in effect, a royal palace. In 1533 the castle was granted to John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, but following his execution, it returned to the Crown. The grant was renewed to his son, Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester and favourite of Elizabeth I, who sponsored extensive structural development at Kenilworth until his death in 1588. During the Civil War Charles I's forces initially occupied the castle but the king withdrew his garrison from Kenilworth and it was occupied by the Parliamentarians who demolished the north wall of the keep and the north curtain wall to render the castle untenable. By the late 17th century the castle's northern gatehouse had been converted into a residence which was inhabited through to the 20th century but the remainder of the buildings were gradually abandoned. The remains of the motte of the original castle are believed to take the form of an artificial mound, approximately 3m-4.6m high, which is now enclosed within the keep, whilst the inner court of the castle is thought to occupy the site of the original bailey. The buildings of the early 12th century castle are thought to have been timber structures which were subsequently replaced by stone built ones. The inner court is located on a bluff of higher ground from which the ground falls away on all sides except to the east. Excavations immediately to the north of the keep have recovered evidence to indicate that the inner court was surrounded by a ditch which is thought to date from at least the late 12th century. A section of this ditch remains visible as an earthwork on the eastern side of the inner court, north of Leicester's Building. Access into the inner court is via a causeway across the eastern section of this ditch and a portcullis groove and part of an archway visible at the south eastern corner of the keep represent the remains of this fortified gate. From the 12th century onwards the inner court was surrounded by a curtain wall, parts of which still stand incorporated within later buildings. A short section of the wall's foundations is visible on the south eastern side of the inner court, but further remains will survive as buried features. The keep is thought to have been one of a number of buildings which occupied the inner court during the 12th century and although there is no surface evidence for these other structures, they will survive as buried features beneath the standing remains of the court's later buildings. The sandstone keep occupies the north eastern side of the inner court and is a massive rectangular building with large square corner turrets. The main part of the keep has two storeys with an additional gallery and a wall walk. Some of the original window openings remain visible within the keep, but most were altered during the 16th century to allow more light into the building. Access into the keep is via a forebuilding which has been constructed against the keep's western side, protecting its main entrance and providing extra rooms. In 1570 the interior of the forebuilding was altered by the Earl of Leicester, transforming it into an arcaded gallery to provide access from the inner court to a pleasure garden which was laid out within the outer court to the north. Under John of Gaunt the existing structures within the inner court were either remodelled or rebuilt with more luxurious proportions. A new suite of state apartments was erected along the south and west sides of the inner court with kitchens to the north, an arrangement which is typical of the later medieval period, but which may suggest that they occupy the site of earlier building ranges. The remains of the kitchens date mostly from the 1380s and stand to the east of the keep. They have been built against the curtain wall, and three contemporary fireplaces are visible within their northern wall, whilst those at the eastern end are 15th century insertions. The central feature of this work is the great hall which is considered to have been one of the largest and finest secular apartments of 14th century Britain. This building appears to be a remodelling of its predecessor, which was itself reroofed in 1347, though the work was not complete until c.1390. The arcades of pre-existing structures were swept away to be replaced by the widest single span trussed roof of its day and a vaulted undercroft, which was inserted below the hall. The transomed two light windows and fireplaces, which survive at first floor level, were also added during this period. Attached to the north west corner of the hall is the Strong Tower which provided access to both levels of the hall and to the kitchens. The tower was vaulted on all three levels, and contained chambers and storerooms. At its south west corner, the Strong Tower is balanced by the Saintlowe Tower which connected the hall to the state apartments to the south east. The southern side of the inner court is occupied by several buildings dating from the 14th and 16th centuries. South east of the great hall are the remains of a range of private chambers located on either side of an octagonal porch which has fine traceried windows on its first floor. The White Hall or Great Chamber to the west is considered to be a 14th century rebuilding of an earlier private apartment, whilst to the east are the standing remains of Gaunt's Tower. This building retains paired garderobes at ground and first floor levels and chambers within its upper two storeys. The foundations of a small chapel are visible approximately 21m to the north east of Gaunt's Tower. It is believed to have been built in the 13th century and there are references to a timber framed chapel on its first floor. Documentary and pictorial records indicate that a partly timber framed building range was erected between the chapel and the keep thus defining the eastern side of the inner court. It was referred to as 'newly buylded' in a survey of c.1545 but is believed to have been completed by 1532. This range, which later became known as Henry VIII's Lodgings, has since been demolished but its foundations will survive beneath the ground surface. Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, undertook a range of improvements, modernisations and refurbishments at Kenilworth Castle to bring it up-to-date with 16th century fashions. A section of the curtain wall was demolished in order to construct a new three storey residential building in the south eastern part of the inner court and this provided accommodation for distinguished guests staying at the castle. Leicester's Building projects southwards beyond the inner court and overlies an infilled section of the original inner court ditch. It is built of stone and is rectangular in plan with a tower projecting from its south western corner which is thought to have contained a staircase. The building is subdivided into three sections, two of which stood three storeys high and one of two floors with a basement below. Each floor contained a suite of rooms, including a service room, a bedroom and a principal room facing east. The interior of the building retains a number of architectural features including ornamental fireplaces and doorways. During the 18th century it was occupied by weavers from Coventry. The inner court is situated within a larger, outer court which was defended by a bank and waterfilled moat to the north, by the Lower Pool to the east and south east, and to the west and south west by the mere. The water for the moat was supplied from the mere, but due to the differences in water level in the north eastern part of the site the moat and Lower Pool were separated from each other by a buttressed retaining wall. This wall remains visible to the east of Leicester's Gatehouse. The Lower Pool is now mostly dry and covers an area of approximately 0.9ha. It has a square plan and is bounded on its western, southern and eastern sides by earthen banks. The water for the pool was supplied from the northern moat and a break within the southern bank is thought to represent its outlet channel. King John was responsible for the construction of a curtain wall around the outer court which was strengthened at strategic intervals by angle towers. The north western corner of the wall's circuit is occupied by the Swan Tower, whilst its north eastern and south eastern corners are defended by Lunn's Tower and the Water Tower respectively. There is no evidence for towers along the southern and western sections of the curtain wall and here the wall was strengthened by buttresses and defended by the mere beyond. The curtain wall was constructed at the beginning of the 13th century, but documentary records indicate that several sections were rebuilt during the 14th century, including part of the southern wall which is considerably thicker. The western curtain wall retains a small gateway with steps beyond, which originally provided access to the mere. The northern curtain wall originally included two small towers, one of which is known from excavation to have contained a postern gate. This is believed to have fallen into disuse by the mid-16th century following the construction of Leicester's Gatehouse. The northern curtain wall was demolished after the Civil War. Its foundations and those of the two associated towers however, will survive as buried features. Robert Dudley was responsible for altering the entrance arrangements to the castle by erecting a gatehouse at the northern end of the outer court which superseded Mortimer's Tower (at the south eastern angle of the outer court) as the main entrance into the castle. Leicester's Gatehouse formed an imposing approach from the main Coventry road and provided easier access to the castle's deer park to the west. It is a two storeyed, rectangular sandstone building with octagonal corner turrets and mullioned and transomed windows. In the 1650s, following the Civil War, it was converted to a private residence by blocking the gate passage to create a basement and ground floor, and by adding an extension on the east side of the building. Leicester's Gatehouse is Listed Grade I and is not included in the scheduling, although the ground beneath the building is included. A further elaborate improvement to the castle by Robert Dudley was the construction of a stable block along the eastern side of the outer court. It is built against the outer curtain wall and an excavation in 1976-84 within the interior of the building has indicated that it overlies an earlier structure of similar dimensions. Leicester's Stables measures 49m in length, its lower storey is of stone with brick and half timbering above. There are four ground floor entries all of which are on the east side of the building. The two round headed arched openings at the northern end are original, whilst the principal entry through a central porch and a wide entry to the south have been rebuilt. Immediately to the west of the stables are the foundations of a building which has been identified as the remains of a second chapel erected by Thomas, Earl of Lancaster in 1313 to serve as a chantry or collegiate church. Documentary evidence indicates that it was more or less completed by 1318, but a chantry was never founded. Evidence for further buildings which originally stood in the outer court are visible to the south of the great hall. Here, the internal face of the curtain wall retains a fireplace and three narrow window openings which represent the remains of an early 13th century building which was erected against the curtain wall. Approximately 800m north west of the castle, at the western edge of the mere are the earthwork remains of an elaborate moated site, known as the Pleasance. This was laid out by Henry V in c.1414 as a pleasure garden and a place of entertainment for a restricted circle of medieval aristocrats, including the king himself. In the 16th century, the Pleasance was abandoned and Henry VIII reerected its timber framed banqueting hall in the north western part of the outer court. The building stood in a triangular, walled enclosure to the south of Swan Tower and, although it has since been demolished, its foundations are thought to survive as buried features. The Pleasance itself is the subject of a separate scheduling. A pleasure garden was laid out to the east of this banqueting house by Robert Dudley prior to Elizabeth I's visit to Kenilworth in 1575. It was a formal, ornamental garden which occupied an area of almost 1ha and was divided into quarters with the walks meeting at a fountain. A levelled terrace is visible parallel to the northern wall of the keep and this is believed to be the remains of a terraced walkway, originally 3m high, from which the gardens could be viewed. The site of the garden was under cultivation until the 1930s and in 1970 it was partly excavated and then reconstructed using a 17th century plan and description. Further garden remains are visible within the outer court, situated immediately to the west of the great hall. Here the ground surface has been considerably raised and levelled and the area is thought to be the remains of a second ornamental garden which was added by either John of Gaunt or Robert Dudley and provided fine views over the mere. The mere covered an area of approximately 100 acres to the south and west of the core of the castle and, together with the Lower Pool and the northern moat, made Kenilworth Castle almost impregnable. During the later medieval period and the 16th century the mere became increasingly important as a decorative feature which enhanced the setting of the castle. The massive dam which retained the water within the mere runs south eastwards from the southern side of the outer court and is approximately 150m long and 40m wide at its base. In the 12th century a wall, strengthened by pilaster buttresses, ran along the east side of the dam, whilst during the 13th century a wall was added to the west side in order to fortify the whole of the dam and enlarge the area covered by the mere. Documentary records indicate that the height of the northern end of the dam was further increased in the mid-16th century in order to make it suitable for tilting, a favourite aristocratic sporting pastime, and it became known as the Tiltyard. Following the Civil War the dam was breached in order to drain the mere and prevent it being reflooded. Fragments of medieval masonry are exposed in places along the dam and, together with the surviving walls and foundations, indicate the great complexity of this structure. A 10m wide sample section of the floor of the mere adjacent to the dam, together with the dam itself, are included in the scheduling. The dam served a dual function; it was not only an essential defensive feature, but was also the principal means of access into the castle until the 16th century. The original gatehouse of the outer court, Mortimer's Tower, occupies the northern end of the dam and two periods of construction are visible. It was originally a 12th century square gate tower, to which two drum towers which flank the gate passage, were added in the 13th century. At the dam's southern end are the standing remains of the rectangular Gallery Tower which was erected to defend this end of the dam. In the 16th century Robert Dudley converted this structure into an observation gallery for tournament spectators. Beyond the Gallery Tower is the site of the medieval floodgate which controlled the level of the mere and the water supply to the Lower Pool. This was protected by walling and a masonry tower. The mere dam was considered to be such an important feature within the castle layout that a small tongue of land beyond the southern end of the dam was incorporated within the castle defences by Simon de Montfort in the 13th century. Known as the Brays, it provided protection for both the dam and the medieval floodgate and is enclosed to the south and east by a crescent shaped bank and an external ditch. Five levelled earthen mounds are visible at intervals along the top of the bank and it has been suggested that they were areas for tents or pavilions for tournament spectators rather than defensive works. There is a gap in the bank on the eastern side of the enclosure and this is occupied by the remains of two circular towers and a length of walling. These ruins are believed to be the facade of an elaborate entrance into the Brays which was built by Robert Dudley in the 16th century prior to one of Elizabeth I's three visits to Kenilworth between 1563 and 1575. The external ditch around the Brays measures up to 12m deep and 30m wide and was originally waterfilled. It was fed from the mere and its water level was controlled by several sluice gates. In 1962 an excavation at the north eastern end of the Brays located a stone dam and a sluice gate within the ditch, whilst an earthwork dam is visible at the southern angle. Beyond the south eastern part of the Brays the ground falls away quite steeply and the construction of a counterscarp bank here will have been necessary in order to retain water within the ditch. A second ditch is visible running east below the earthen dam at the southern angle; this is thought to be the remains of the outlet channel for the water defences of the Brays. It originally continued eastwards but has been infilled and modified by the construction of numbers 23-33 Castle Street and their gardens. A 30m length of the outlet channel is included in the scheduling in order to preserve the relationship between this feature, the dam and the external ditch. To the south and south west of the Brays are the earthwork remains of a further ditch which runs parallel to the external ditch and then turns east alongside the outlet channel. It is thought to have originally formed part of the castle's complex water management system and was one of several overflow channels which controlled water levels within the mere. It originally continued north westwards, parallel with the western facing ditch around the Brays, and connected with the mere, but this area has been modified by subsequent quarrying. The earthwork remains of the overflow channel, which are visible to the south of the Brays, are included in the scheduling. After the Civil War Kenilworth was purchased by a group of Parliamentarians who divided the estate between themselves, but following the Restoration, it was granted to the Hyde family, Earls of Rochester and Clarendon in 1665. Kenilworth Castle remained in the family's possession until 1937 when it was purchased by Sir John Davenport Siddeley who placed it in the care of the nation. Approximately 400m to the north east of Kenilworth Castle are the ruins, earthwork and buried remains of St Mary's Abbey which is the subject of a separate scheduling. (Scheduling Report)
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This record last updated 02/08/2017 08:26:56

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