Kenilworth Castle

The original castle was founded by Geoffrey Clinton in the reign of Henry I (1100-35).  Either he or his son, another Geoffrey, were responsible for the first enclosure here and probably the great keep.  Other large rectangular keeps exist at Rochester, Dover, the Tower of London, Norham, Heddingham, Middleham, Newcastle, Appleby, Bamburgh, Guildford, Carlisle, Portchester, Pevensey, Colchester, Richmond and Brough.

It has been alleged that an earthen motte is encased within the great keep, but there is no tangible evidence for this.  The fortress was garrisoned for Henry II during his sons' rebellion against him in 1173-4 and was much loved by his son, King John (1199-1216).  He appears to have constructed much of the castle we see today.  In 1253 Henry III granted the castle to Earl Simon Montfort of Leicester (d.1265).  This was followed by the great siege of 1266 when the castle was eventually starved into submission despite heavy artillery and counter fire.  After the surrender the king granted it to his younger son, Earl Henry of Leicester.  From him it eventually passed to John of Gaunt, who upgraded it to become a lavish palace.  Earl Robert Dudley of Leicester, the favourite of Elizabeth I, made extensive changes.  The castle was slighted in the civil war.

The heart of the castle consists of the great keep, massive in scale, but only two storeys high, with large, rectangular corner turrets.  A forebuilding was built with the keep, but has been much altered.  The great keep occupies the NE side of a mostly destroyed inner bailey that was once ditched and of which little of the masonry defences have survived.  What traces remain are encased in later stonework.  Much of the inner ward was remodelled by John of Gaunt and his successors.

Concentrically surrounding the inner ward was a large outer ward.  This was surrounded by waterworks of various dimensions, the biggest being the mere to the S&W.  King John later built a defensive wall around this courtyard, which was strengthened on the landward side by three impressive towers and the Mortimer gate.  This began life at the end of the mere dam in the 12th century as a rectangular gatehouse, but was later rebuilt as a twin towered structure.  Documentary evidence indicates that several sections of the outer curtain were rebuilt during the fourteenth 
century, including part of the southern wall which is considerably thicker.

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 N&E of the castle.  The mere dam was considered to be such an important feature within the castle layout that a small tongue of land beyond the south end of the dam was incorporated within the castle defences by Simon Montfort in the mid thirteenth 
century.  Known as the Brays, it provided protection for both the dam and the medieval floodgate and is enclosed to the S&E by a crescent shaped bank and an external ditch.

For more detailed descriptions of the castle see the Archaeological Journal:


Copyright©2016 Paul Martin Remfry