You can't really see Kenilworth Castle, until you get into the parking lot. Then you see it in the distance, where it is accessed along a ridge across large flat meadows. The gift shop and ticket office are at the start of the ridge, and when you leave these, you have to turn back the centuries in your mind, to when there used to be a medieval dam downstream on the little brook, and all the meadows surrounding the castle formed an enormous shallow lake.
There were three main stages to the castle. First was the usual Norman Keep – a tall tower structure. This was built in 1120. In the early 1200s, King John had the castle enlarged, and had the dam built, which created the protective lake.
In 1266, the castle was besieged by Royalist forces, because it was the seat of Simon de Montfort, who was rebelling against Royal authority, during the Baron's War.
In the late 14th Century, John of Gaunt became owner of the castle, having married the Countess of Leicester. Gaunt was the Duke of Lancaster, so Kenilworth Castle became embroiled in the bitter struggle, known as the War of the Roses, when competing, but related, dynasties from Lancaster and York vied for the English throne. Gaunt is also known as the political protector of the early reformer and Bible translator, John Wycliffe.
Kenilworth Castle again came to prominence in Tudor times. The Earl of Leicester at that time was Robert Dudley, and he wanted to woo Queen Elizabeth. He had extensive and expensive additions made to the castle, in order to invite Elizabeth to stay, as part of her Royal Progress in 1575. It was in vain – Elizabeth remained unmarried.
The English Civil War broke out in 1642. Kenilworth Castle was in the hands of the Royalist supporters of Charles I, whereas nearby Warwick Castle was a base for the Parliamentarians. Today, Warwick Castle is largely intact, whereas Kenilworth is in ruins – a vivid statement of the outcome of the War. Cromwell had the lake drained and portions of the castle demolished, to prevent it becoming a source and refuge for unreconstructed Royalists.
Today, Kenilworth is a place of romantic beauty. It is a highly photogenic castle, with good views from all sides. Inside the castle, English Heritage have recreated Tudor Gardens, to show something of the beauty that the famous royal visitor would have seen. A couple of the buildings actually remain intact, with one housing an excellent tea room.
Kenilworth Castle and town are situated just a mile off the main A46 highway, and is well signposted. As well as the castle tea room, there are a couple of restaurants nearby, and cafés and sandwich shops in the nearby town centre.
The images on this page are from Wikimedia Commons, and released under the Creative Commons Licence.