Last weekend, I decided to make the most of the dry weather – not stormy nor snowy but cold – and have a weekend away, the first this year. Perused my list of places to visit, most of which are shut for the winter; from the limited choice, decided on Kenilworth Castle, about 5 miles from Coventry.
A beautiful day, the sun shone on a beautiful setting, but, oh my lord, it was windy and cold! Which shouldn’t be at all surprising, considering the time of year. But hey, I’m from a tropical country, so even after all these years, I will still comment on the temperatures ;)
As usual, before the pictures, the history ‘lesson’ … And before that, an apology – because of the cold, I kept my gloves on, which made using the camera a bit awkward. And because of the cold, I didn’t pay as much attention to the pictures I took, they aren’t the best. But hopefully, they’ll give an idea of how splendid the place is.
According to the guide, Kenilworth Castle “ is one of the largest and most splendid historic sites in Britain.” In the 1120s, King Henry gave the Royal Estate of Stoneleigh to his chamberlain and treasurer, Geoffrey de Clinton. On one part, de Clinton established Kenilworth Castle, and on the other, Kenilworth Priory. About 50 years later, the castle was garrisoned for Henry II when his sons rebelled against him. During this time, de Clinton died, and the castle was taken into royal control.
In 1244, the castle was given to Simon de Montfort, who had been created earl of Leicester after marrying Eleanor, the daughter of King John and sister of Henry III; almost 10 years later, he was given the castle for life. [ A little aside – Eleanor was the widow of the son of William Marshal, also called William.] Despite being the king’s brother-in-law, de Montfort went on to lead the Second Barons’ War against Henry III. This led to his defeat and death at the battle of Evesham in 1265. The supporters of his eldest surviving son, Simon the younger, held Kenilworth for a year after the battle. The siege at Kenilworth, lasting over 6 months, was one of the longest in English history, and only ended when disease and famine took hold of the castle. After the surrender, Henry III granted Kenilworth to his younger son, Edmund, who was created earl of Lancaster in 1267. The castle remained in the ownership of the house of Lancaster for the next 200 years.
John of Gaunt, the fourth son of Edward III, acquired the castle through his marriage to Blanche of Lancaster and on her father’s death. In 1362, Gaunt was created duke of Lancaster and took possession of his wife’s vast Lancastrian estates. Acting as protector for the young Richard II, Gaunt remodelled the buildings into a palace, and built the great hall and private apartments. The Great Hall with its hammer-beam roof was the prototype for Westminster Hall. When John of Gaunt’s son, Henry Bolingbroke, became King Henry IV, Kenilworth was once again Royal property, and remained so through to the reign of Elizabeth I.
Henry V built himself a retreat and banqueting hall; it was here that he received the insulting gift of tennis balls from the French Dauphin, and it was to here that he returned after his success at the Battle of Agincourt. It was at Kenilworth that he was reunited with his new queen, Katherine, her first time on English soil.
In the 16th century, the castle was acquired by the Dudley family. By ingratiating themselves with the Tudor monarchy over 3 generations, they rose to prominence. John Dudley served Henry VIII through military service, becoming earl of Warwick then duke of Northumberland. As chief minister to Henry’s son, Edward VI, John Dudley exerted no small influence over the teenage monarch. Dudley’s son, Lord Guildford, was married to Lady Jane Grey, one of Henry VII’s great-granddaughters. Possibly due to John Dudley’s influence, as the 15-year-old Edward lay dying, he nominated Jane as successor to the Crown, subverting the claims of his half-sisters, Mary and Elizabeth. But the Privy Council changed sides and proclaimed Mary Tudor queen, and Jane, queen for all of 9 days, was convicted of treason, along with her husband and father-in-law. Initially her life was spared, but a rebellion led by Thomas Wyatt against Queen Mary’s plans to marry Philip of Spain led to the execution of Lady Jane, her husband and John Dudley. She was only about 16 or 17 years old.
'The Execution of Lady Jane Grey' ~ Paul Delaroche
Having blindfolded herself, Lady Jane could not find the block with her hands and cried, "What shall I do? Where is it?" It was probably the Deputy Lieutenant of the Tower who helped her.
When Mary’s sister, Elizabeth, ascended the throne, the Dudleys were back in favour, thanks to Robert Dudley’s close relationship with the queen. As earl of Leicester, Robert Dudley continued the building and modernisation work, and the creation of formal gardens. The building of a luxurious suite of Tudor apartments meant the castle was ready to entertain the queen who visited several times. After the death of Robert Dudley, the castle returned to the Crown.
During the Civil War, it changed hands several times, and after the war, Cromwell ordered the demolition of parts of the Keep, and the draining of the Mere to ensure that it could not be used as a defensive fortress again. In 1958, Lord Kenilworth gave the castle to the town of Kenilworth; since 1984 it has been managed by English Heritage.
Leicester's Building (on the left), and the Great Tower
Stables, houses the introductory exhibition and the Tea Room
The Great Tower, built by Geoffrey de Clinton as the defensive heart of the castle; later remodelled by Robert Dudley as a space for entertaining
Leicester's Building, primarily to provide private accommodation for the queen and her close servants
The great hall, built by John of Gaunt
Leicester's Gatehouse; after 1650 it was converted into a grand house. Elizabeth I attended Sunday service here in 1575
Leicester's Gatehouse - entrance
One of 2 arbours on the terrace leading down to the garden...
... the second arbour at the other end of the terrace
The centrepiece of the Elizabethan garden. Like the original, it is made of white marble from Tuscany. The base was covered, which was a shame; I'd have liked to see it as the panels depict scenes from Ovid's 'Metamorphoses'. The statues are 2 Athlants, mythological giants who held up the sky.
Inside the great hall ...
Steps and viewing platforms have been erected inside Leicester's Building, allowing people to climb almost to the top, and get a sense of being in the space where the queen's bedchamber would have been. The views are stunning ...
Near the top, I could hear cooing, but couldn't see any pigeons. On looking up, this little guy appeared and peered down, with a questioning 'coo?' as if to ask who was disturbing his peace
It didn't take long to walk from the castle to Kenilworth town. Went for a walk through Abbey Fields - beautiful, wide open space - at the end of which is the parish church of St Nicholas. This may sound macabre, but I find old gravestones beautiful ... these were mainly 19th century, though there were some that were older.
St Nicholas Church
On Sunday, back in Coventry, there was time before my train back home … before the convoluted train journey that involved delays, hot-footing it between stations, and standing for about 2 hours, packed like sardines …
Visited the ruins of Coventry Cathedral, bombed by the Luftwaffe on the night of 14th November 1940; the cathedral and the city burned. Afterwards, it was noticed that 2 of the charred medieval roof timbers had fallen in the shape of a cross. Later they were placed on an altar of rubble with the words, ‘Father Forgive’, inscribed on the Sanctuary wall. Next to the ruins is the new cathedral, with St Michael near the entrance, and etchings of angels on the glass panels by the entrance.
Still possible to make out the remains of the stained glass on the window frames
'Choir of Survivors' - a gift from the Frauenkirche in Dresden, a church that was destroyed by allied bombing, and is dedicated to civilians killed or injured in aerial bombing.
The Golden Cross, one of the oldest pubs in Coventry, dated 1583
I do love my weekends away, a real chance to recharge my batteries, to get away from ‘negativity’ … Every small thing adds up to make it complete and special, like taking the time to sit in a darkened room, listen to soft music and gaze at the night sky lit by a solitary star … not the sort of thing I do when I’m at home, just seems ‘easier’ to do elsewhere …