Sunday, April 22, 2012

Kenilworth Castle

Even though I have lived in Warwickshire for about a year and a half, I have not been to Kenilworth Castle until about a week ago.  Kenilworth is a town about 40 minutes by bus from Stratford-upon-Avon that is dominated by the remains of famous castle.  The picture above is me celebrating finally using my English Heritage membership enough that it has now paid for itself!  HUZZAH!  The building of the castle began by Geoffrey de Clinton in the 1120's.  There are three main areas buildings: the Norman Keep (built mostly de Clinton, but changed later by King john and others), John of Gaunt's Palace and the palace built by Leicester in the 1560s and 1570s to accommodate the visits of Elizabeth I (who he was trying to convince to marry him).

This is one side of the Norman Keep.  The large windows are later additions, as building practices in the time with was built meant that large windows were very difficult to make without affecting the stability of the walls.  Also, larger windows were more dangerous: projectiles could be thrown in and the walls are weaker.  The larger openings were added in a time when the threat of siege or direct attack on the castle was no longer such a problem.  The area around the castle was flooded, creating a lake that surrounded the castle for hundred's of years.  It is believed by some that in the hall in this building is where King Edward II (1284-1327) was forced to abdicate the throne for his son, Edward III.  In reality his wife, Queen Isabella, conspired with a Lord (Mortimer) to start a civil war.  Edward was not a very good king according to many historians.  He was gay (most likely) and was in love with a man named Gaveston, who the Barons that revolted had killed.  Christopher Marlowe wrote a play about Edward II (called Edward II) that I would love to produce in the hall in this keep.  Edward was taken to Berkeley Castle, where he  was killed by having a red hot poker shoved up his bum.  It is said that people in the surrounding village of Berkeley could hear his screams.  Edward III later had Mortimer executed, but only after he and Isabella effectively ran the country while Edward III was  boy.

John of Gaunt, First Duke of Lancaster (1340-1399) was the third surviving son of Edward III and Phillipa of Hainault. John made renovations to the existing Norman building and built his own palace next to it.  By john's time architectural techniques and tastes and both advanced from Geoffrey de Clinton's time.  His palace was a enormous and beautiful (he was, after all, a royal).  Above is the window of the great hall he built in the palace.

 This is the undercroft of the great hall, the basement essentially.  It was here that food, wine and other goods were stored.  The first floor (which no longer exists) is the floor of the hall.  Some believe that it was in this hall in 1414 (or 1415, I forget which) that the French Dauphin's messenger ('Dauphin' is the French word for Dolphin, and is the name for the next in line to the French throne) presented Henry V with tennis balls in response to his claim to area of France. The tennis balls were a reference to the youth of Henry.  This event led to Henry's invasion of France, which ended with the Battle of Agincourt, one of England's most important victories over the French.

This is my friend Jamie standing near the undercroft of the hall.  

This is the back of Gaunt's hall.  behind me is the wall that surrounds the castle.  This area is now a green lawn that kids play in when they visit the castle, it was once the site of hundreds of houses and other dwellings.  

This is the front of the palace built and expanded by Robert Dudley,  First Earl of Leicester for the three visits of Elizabeth I to the castle in the 1560s and 1570s.  The large windows were very rare in the time period, and were seen as a luxury and display of the wealth and power of Leicester.  The apartments built for Elizabeth were in this building.  You can see in the background, on the right, the palace of John of Gaunt.

The interior of Leicester's tower.  The holes in the wall are fireplaces.

Leicester's palace viewed from the place of the former kitchen.  Elizabeth's 'long visit' (which lasted three weeks) included dozens of entertainments, most of which involved the theme of love and marriage.  On one night hundreds of fireworks were set off.  The display lasted so long that some people were forced to go to bed before it was over.

In order to impress and accommodate Elizabeth Leicester had a privy (private) garden built next to the Norman Keep.  

In the center is a large fountain.  The boxy-looking thing in the background is an aviary that houses a bunch of different birds.  The garden today was recreated from accounts of what the original looked like.   

This is a shot of the aviary.  The pheasant on the outside was a wild one that was very interested in the one inside.  He was there, walking on the ledge, for about twenty minuted until we left.

Kenilworth also had a large abbey prior to the reformation.  Not much is left of it today.  This is the old gate house, right next to a modern play ground.

This is another view of the gatehouse.

The largest building left of the abbey is this church, the Priory Church of St Mary.  It is a Norman building that is still used as the local parish church.

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