Address: Warwick, Warwickshire CV34 4QU

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Phone: +44 (0) 871 2652000

 

Warwick Castle History

The earliest mention of site fortification was in 914 when the Anglo-Saxons built earth mounds and buildings to defend against Danish attack. But as with a number of castles in Britain, the first main structure followed the Norman invasion of 1066 when William the Conqueror established a fort.

This was in 1068 and was to strengthen his stronghold in the Midlands. It was of classic Norman design, a motte (a huge earth mound) with a bailey (large enclosed courtyard), with wooden buildings on top of the motte. The huge earth mound, named Ethelfleda’s Mound, can be seen today at the far end of the courtyard as you walk through the gatehouse.

In 1088, William pronounced one of his trusted men the first Earl of Warwick and his name was Henry de Beaumont (a name subsequently changed to de Newburgh). The title survives to this day in the hands of the Greville family, having been first given to them in 1759.

The 11th and 12th centuries were a pretty hostile time in English history and within a hundred years, during the reign of Henry II, the castle was rebuilt, this time in stone. The castle was attacked in 1264 during the Barons War, this being an uprising by the barons against the Crown. The Earl at the time was William Mauduit, who sided with the Crown and as the leader of the Barons, Simon de Montfort, was based at Kenilworth Castle just a few miles away, the attack wasn’t unexpected. Mauduit survived and was succeeded by the de Beauchamps. They had great influence at the time and held the castle for 148 years during what is generally believed to be one of its grandest periods. At one point during this time, the Earl of Cornwall, a member of the King’s court, stood trial in the castle and was executed soon after.

One of the de Beauchamps, Thomas, fought under Edward III in the Hundred Years War, serving at Crecy and Poitiers. He was a military commander and advisor to Edward’s son, the Black Prince. The castle was used to hold French prisoners of war and at one time Caesar’s Tower (to the left of the gatehouse upon entry and with the double parapet) was known as Poitiers Tower. Thomas also began a huge restoration of the estate. His son Richard who was tutor to the future Henry VI and was superintendent in the trial of Joan of Arc, continued this building programme with Caesar’s and Guy’s Towers being built during his time.

Through marriage, the title passed on to Richard Neville who, through his close association to kings Henry VI and Edward IV, became known as Warwick the Kingmaker. The Wars of the Roses took place between 1455 and 1485 and were between the Houses of York and Lancaster (white and red roses). Henry was a Lancastrian and Edward was from the House of York. Warwick’s allegiance changed during the war and at one point he plotted with Edward’s brother, the Duke of Clarence, to overthrow Edward and put Clarence on the throne. They captured Edward, briefly holding him at the castle, but he was soon back on the throne and Warwick was killed at the Battle of Barnet in 1471.

The castle eventually came under royal ownership and continued to be during the reign of Henry VIII. Henry was succeeded by the infant Edward VI, and the young king bestowed the earldom on John Dudley a member of the Protectorate, a body established to run the country until Edward became of age. Edward died in childhood and Dudley plotted to put his daughter in law, Lady Jane Grey on the throne, this to ward off the expected succession to power of Mary Tudor. The plot failed and in 1553, Dudley and Grey were executed.

The castle went in and out of royal ownership over a number of years and in 1604 was given by James I to Sir Fulke Greville. It has been in the family ever since.

The castle saw action during the English Civil War of 1642-6 when it came under siege. The Earl of Warwick, Robert Greville was a Parliamentarian and repelled the Royalists and held captured prisoners at the castle.

Whilst the Grevilles owned the castle, they didn’t hold the Earldom, as the title of Earl of Warwick was bestowed on Lord Rich in 1618 and was with the Rich family until 1759. With no successor in the Rich family at this point, the castle owner at the time, Francis Greville was made Earl of Warwick.

The Grevilles began turning the fortification into a country house with much renovation over a long period of time. By the 1890’s, the castle was a frequent destination for royalty and nobility and the parties of the Earl and his wife Frances (Daisy) were legendary, being recreated in the ‘Royal Weekend’ exhibition in the castle today.

The castle continued as the seat of the Earls of Warwick through the 20th century until 1978 when it was sold to the Tussauds Group who set up the commercial venture that is seen today. It is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and a Grade 1 listed building.

 

Warwick Castle Visit

This place is fun for all the family. As with most castles, the attraction probably started with the basic castle after which they gradually added themed amenities. It now offers a great experience to the visitors. Many castles and theme parks offer much, but Warwick Castle seems to offer that little bit more, employing a host of professional actors who play the parts of historic characters with real zest.

The site as a whole can be broken down into parts. The main house has two themed areas, but together they allow visitors to see most of the rooms, with one part having a number of model figures portraying royalty and nobility from the past, and the other featuring actors in period costume.

In another part of the mansion you’ll find the ‘Kingmaker’ exhibition. This is a multi-room display showing fifteenth century battle preparation, with all manner of craftsmen and battle equipment shown. This is wonderful viewing and is an attraction visited in 1996 by the Queen, who unveiled a commemorative sword.

One of the most popular attractions is the dungeon. The entrance is just to the left of the portcullis as you enter the castle. The tours go every half an hour or so and take groups of about 20 people. It’s pretty dark and you’re led from room to room, treading carefully, with each room having an actor playing an historic character. Amongst the characters are a judge passing sentence, a torturer and a doctor dealing with plague victims. These actors can be hostile and rude at times and you do get a feeling of relief when you go on to the next room. But it’s all in keeping with the surroundings and history and you have a great time. They advise young kids not to go along and you understand why. There’s a degree of audience participation which enhances the experience.

There is the Merlin tower experience in the Princess Tower, and if you’ve got kids they’ll probably enjoy it, but if on your own it may be one to miss. But it’s helpful to miss certain things as there are set times for certain core activities and it’s hard to see all. So it’s very important to plan. The jousting is traditional and a popular spectacle and involves knights on horseback with foot soldiers joining in the sword fighting at the end.

The trebuchet was a huge and very effective weapon in years gone by. It was a wooden structure that was pulled back in tension, loaded and then released, like a giant catapult. This is shown in action with the winding process being done by men running in a drum, like a bigger version of the wheel in a hamster’s cage. There’s a person giving a commentary and he explains that they had to have a person on the outside of the wheel checking on the condition of the runner inside as one slip or loss of concentration and the wheel would keep rotating which could kill the fallen runner by throwing him around inside.

There are acting scenes around the grounds, with one being a staged fight on the green in front of the main house. The jousting and trebuchet take place down by the river with the action taking place on one side and the spectators viewing from the bank on the other side. Another period feature is archery and near the castle entrance is a display by a professional archer. Inside the castle you’ll find the opportunity to have a go yourself. The castle wall walk is another enjoyable feature, although it does feature hundreds of steps, so you need to be mobile. There’s also plenty for kids to do, including face painting, archery and a playground.

There are also gardens. The Peacock Garden is a nice garden area adorned, as the name suggests, by the occasional roaming peacock. Next to the garden is the conservatory containing a replica of the great Roman Warwick Vase and exotic plants. The other garden is the Victorian Rose Garden which is found near the entrance. It was first laid in 1868, but was converted into a tennis court in the twentieth century. By using the architect’s original drawings, it was rebuilt and then opened in 1986 by the Princess of Wales.

There’s much to see at the castle and you can see all in a day, but you do need to make sure your viewing activities don’t clash. You may have put yourself down for the 12.30 slot to see the dungeons, but then find the jousting is on at the same time, but if you delayed the dungeons until 1.30, that may be the time that the trebuchet was fired…and so on. The people at the ticket office are very helpful in planning for you, but it does help to understand that there’s a timetable system and you need to make sure it fits into what you want to see, so a good idea to get there fairly early if you want to see all or most. If in doubt, give them a ring first.

The cost is about £5 to park your car and the cost of castle entry, Dungeon and Merlin Tower is around £30 for an adult.