Queen Elizabeth I, Robert Dudley and Kenilworth Castle

Kenilworth's Norman Keep

Kenilworth’s Norman Keep

Kenilworth was the site of unrequited love, and unlike most of the castles we visited, saw military action.  The castle and its many owners’ struggles  played a major part in the consolidation of the English monarchy.

The castle is most noted now for its romantic history.  Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley knew each other as children and became friends, very close friends.  That’s what made Kenilworth more than just another castle ruin.

958In the 12th century, Kenilworth had a curtain wall surrounded by a bank and ditch and possibly a gate.  The inner court enclosed a huge square Norman keep built between 1124 and 1130.  Between 1210 and 1215, King John replaced the bank with an outer stone wall with towers at strategic points and an impressive gate.   A river was dammed and the castle surrounded by a lake which played a key role in the defense of the castle during a six-month long 1266 siege.

In the 1370s, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and fourth son of Edward III, added large apartments on the side of the keep thus turning the castle into a palace.

987In 1564, Queen Elizabeth made her friend Robert Dudley the first Earl of Leicester, owner of Kenilworth and one of the largest landholders in England.  There is evidence Dudley always hoped Elizabeth would marry him.  He extensively remodeled the estate.  He added a large gate house.  He improved both the state apartments and the keep in the 1570s.  He enlarged windows both to give light to his collection of paintings and to make it more comfortable for visits by Elizabeth I.  He added a large high stable in the outer court which records showed could hold 50 horses.

The stable

The stable

Elizabeth visited in 1566 and 1568, but it was in a final attempt to persuade her to marry him in 1575 that Dudley went all out with construction and entertainment.  Dudley created a magnificent garden to show off his status and to impress Elizabeth on this her last visit.  Robert Langham, who was present at the time, left such a detailed description of the garden that English Heritage, a trust that manages great English properties (see July 2015 post), was able to recreate the garden just as it was when Elizabeth saw it, and now you can see it too.

Elizabethan Garden, Kenilworth

Elizabethan Garden, Kenilworth

Elizabeth’s entourage included 31 barons and a staff of 400.  She stayed nineteen days and the cost of her visit came close to bankrupting Dudley, but she still did not marry him.  By remaining single, she kept tight control on the monarchy.  Marriage, a husband and in-laws would only weaken that control.

After the 1640s Civil War, Parliament had one wall of the keep “slighted” or destroyed to keep it from being used militarily in the future.  It declined into a “romantic ruin, ” subject of Sir Walter Scott’s novel, Kenilworth.  The gatehouse was maintained as a private residence from 1650 to 1938.

Gatehouse with the entrance passage filled in.

Gatehouse with the entrance passage filled in.

After the restoration, King Charles II gave the property to the Earl of Clarendon.  It remained the property of the Clarendons until 1937 when it was sold to Sir John Siddeley.  Siddeley’s son gave the castle to the town of Kenilworth in 1958. English Heritage has managed the property since 1984.

Click on photos to enlarge.


About ralietravels

Ray and Alie (Ralie) are a retired couple who love to travel. Even during our working years, we squeezed a trip in whenever we could, often when we had to stretch the budget to do so. We have been fortunate to vacation in all 50 states, all the provinces of Canada and one territory and a little more than 50 countries. We like to drive, but we particularly love to travel back roads to find unusual sights, people, and experiences.
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6 Responses to Queen Elizabeth I, Robert Dudley and Kenilworth Castle

  1. Great information and it looks beautiful.


  2. Keith & Loraine says:

    Very interesting history as all of your travel histories. The castle and garden are beautiful. Architecture in that country is outstanding. Thanks. LK&W


  3. Great history lesson. Imagine having to entertain 400 people for 19 days. –Curt


  4. JohnRH says:

    I won’t give up all my other history reading but I see I’ve found a valuable addition.


  5. ralietravels says:

    Thank you. Learning a bit about the history of a place does make travel more interesting.


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