Monday after Easter Sunday being a bank holiday was predicted to be sunny and dry – and thus a fine morning to plan a family day out in the English country side. The possibility of reaching a vast medieval fortress, an hour’s drive from Edingale on the way to Cambridge, made it even more inviting. Forts, as you may already know from some of my earlier blog posts, are my most favourite kind of historical monuments.
Kenilworth went on to become an Elizabethan palace and is among Britain’s biggest historic sites. Then ofcourse, there’s the added pathos in imagining the royal love story of Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley.
Castle history – bite size
- It is located in Kenilworth, in Warwickshire, England.
- Constructed and embellished from Norman to Tudor times, over several centuries.
- The 1266 siege of Kenilworth is believed to be the longest in Britain that lasted 6 months
- The castle was partly destroyed and ruined, only two of its buildings remain habitable now.
- It was John of Gaunt who turned the fortress castle into a palace in the 1360s. He enlarged the domestic quarters and built the Great Hall which you can see today while imagining the grandeur.
- It has been a tourist destination since the 18th century. During this Victorian period it became famous after the publication of Sir Walter Scott’s novel Kenilworth which narrated the story of Amy Dudley’s tragic death, her passionate love for Robert Dudley, the 1st Earl of Leicester – who in turn, keeping his marriage a secret, courts Queen Elizabeth I.
Castle facts – enjoy!
As you scale the heights of the Leicester’s building you can pause and take in the absolutely majestic sights from the tower built by Robert Dudley to woo Queen Elizabeth I. The space that would have been the Queen’s private rooms with the tall windows open out to lovely fields which showed us glimpses of the greens and the bright yellows of the oilseed rape fields.
We absorbed the grand view and the largeness of the Great Hall of John of Gaunt and walked around the Norman Keep which would have been the heart of the castle for almost 500 years.
The recreated garden which is known to be the most complete picture of an Elizabethan garden anywhere in the world, was starting to blossom. Perhaps the months of May to July would see it attain it’s full glory.
The castle entrance that was built in 1570s can now be seen as it looked when it’s last caretaker left it in the 1930s. The Exhibition in the Gatehouse (the imposing castle entrance built in the 1530s) has plenty of information and tells the story of one of England’s most famous love story and includes Dudley’s last letter to Elizabeth, written a few days before his death.
It was in 1563 that Elizabeth I granted Kenilworth to Robert Dudley. Her childhood friend and favourite. She would visit him often; the longest one was during the summer of 1575 when Dudley tried his best to impress her with embellishments to the castle. He created an enclosed hunting park, the four-storey tower block that is the Leicester building, the park with seats and walks, a privy garden and an aviary.
Dudley spent lavishly on the castle and turned it into a Tudor palace for the Queen’s visit that is said to have almost bankrupted him. The pageantry planned for Elizabeth was lavish and is said to have been heard from twenty miles away. William Shakespeare was about 11-year-old at the time from Stratford-upon-Avon, a nearby town and could have been amongst the crowd of locals. It is said that the festivities were the inspiration for his opus A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Stories told by actors in costumes and plenty of theatre in this very atmospheric place kept the children (and many of us adults and the pets) quite entertained.
The light snacks and tea at the Stables Tearoom kept us going for more than a few hours at the end of which we drove into the Kenilworth town that offered us plenty of choices for lunch and drinks late into the afternoon.
Kenilworth was well worth it!