Kenilworth Castle

enilworth Castle was founded in around 1120 by Geoffrey de Clinton who was Henry I's Lord Chamberlain. The castle he built was probably a wooden motte and bailey type construction. If there was a motte on the site it would probably have been located where the current keep now stands. The stone keep that now stands at the castle was most likely built by Geoffrey's son, Geoffrey II during the reigns of King Stephen or Henry II and is built of soft red sandstone with 14ft thick walls. The keep is rectangular, being roughly 90 feet by 60 feet and around 80 feet high. At the corners are towers that project out from the main walls. Originally the windows of the keep would have been small openings common for the time in which it was built, but in Elizabethan times the keep was altered and much larger Tudor style windows inserted.

At first the castle was leased to the king in the time of Henry II and then some time later it became the property of the crown. The castle was used by Henry II, King John and Henry III who between them improved the defences greatly. In the time of King John the Finham brook was dammed so that a moat was formed on the southern, western and eastern sides of the castle. This created a large expance of water that made the castle almost impossible to capture. Castles with a similar sized lake used for protection include Caerphilly Castle in South Wales and Leeds Castle in Kent. On the northern side of the castle a deep ditch was dug to provide defence. It was on this northern side that a gatehouse served as the main entrance to the castle. On the southern side of the castle the top of the dam also provided access to the castle. The narrow strip of land was protected by two tower gatehouses, one at each end.

The layout of the castle consists of a large outer ward surrounded by a curtain wall. Offset to the south-west is an area of higher ground where the keep and inner bailey are located. Several towers are built into the outer curtain wall including Lunns Tower and the Water Tower on the east side, Mortimer Tower protecting the southern entrance and Swan Tower on the north-west corner.

In 1243 Henry III granted the castle to Simon de Montfort but later Simon became Henry's enemy and was defeated and killed at the battle of Evesham. After the battle of Evesham Simon's son held out at Kenilworth Castle against Henry III for six months until finally running out of food and water. Edmund Earl of Lancaster, Henry III's son, was then granted ownership of the castle. The Lancasters were then associated with the castle including John of Gaunt, Earl of Lancaster, whose son became King Henry IV and during his reign the castle became a royal residence again.

Kenilworth Castle Key Facts
CountyWarwickshire (8 castles)
CategoriesStone / Norman Square Keep / Lake Fortress
OwnershipBaronial castle
RemainsNot complete but much survives
Access to siteOnly open at certain times
Outer Defences
MoatThis castle did not have a normal moat but the stream that passes the castle was damned in medieval times to provide a large lake.
TimeRef Rating


Kenilworth Castle is located just a few miles to the north of Warwick Castle and a few miles to the south west of Coventry.

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1120   Kenilworth Castle constructed
 Henry I gave a portion of the Stoneleigh estate to Geoffrey de Clinton his chamberlain. de Clinton built a motte and bailey on the land and formed a lake to provide better defences.[1] 
1122   Kenilworth Abbey Founded
 A priory of Austin Canons was founded in Kenilworth by Geoffrey de Clinton, the Chamberlain of King Henry I. The Priory was raised to the status of an abbey in the reign of Henry VI. [2] 
1173   Henry takes control of Kenilworth
 With the threat of attack from the Barons and his own sons, Henry II took control of Kenilworth Castle and defended it with a small army of men. [1] 
1180   Kenilworth Castle keep
 The massive keep at Kenilworth was under construction during this period.[1] 
1182   Kenilworth Castle becomes the King's property
 Henry de Clinton exchanged Kenilworth Castle for other land?[1] 
1210 - 1215 Kenilworth Castle defences improved
 King John spent time and money on the castle at Kenilworth, building outer walls and raising the height of the lake.[1] 
1243 Spring  Simon de Montfort gets custody of Kenilworth castle
 Henry III bestowed the custody of Kenilworth castle to Simon de Montfort. Simon's wife Eleanor (Henry's sister) already owned Odiham Castle so Simon had two of the strongest fortresses in England under his control.[3] 
1258 Jun  Odiham and Kenilworth handed over to the King
 As an act of faith, Simon de Montfort handed over his castles at Odiham and Kenilworth as part of the proposals put forward in the Provisions of Oxford.

Episode: The Second Barons' War  
1264 Summer  Edward moved to Kenilworth
 Edward (I) was held captive at Wallingford Castle but after an escape attempt he was moved to Kenilworth Castle.[3]

Episode: The Second Barons' War  
1265 Summer  Armies march
 Simon's son was sent to London to raise money and troops. He diverted back through Winchester which was loyal to the king and then moved through Oxford and Northampton. Edward (I) moved from Worcester to Bridgnorth destroying bridges and means of allowing Simon who was on the Welsh side of the Avon from crossing back. The people of Bristol, friendly to Simon's cause sent ships to Newport to help Simon cross, but they were intercepted and destroyed by Edward.[3]

Episode: The Second Barons' War  
 Aug 1  Younger Simon attacked at Kenilworth
 Simon's son was attacked at Kenilworth during the night being taken completely by surprise and having no chance to defend himself. They had decided to stay in the village rather than in the castle. The younger Simon managed to reach the safety of the castle. 
 Aug 4  Battle of Evesham
 Using the banners of Simon's son captured at Kenilworth, Edward (I) approached Simon's position at Evesham. Simon was hemmed in the bend of the river Avon and forced to fight. Simon was defeated and killed. Simon's youngest son took refuge in Kenilworth castle , where prepared for a long siege, managed to hold out until December 1267.[3]

Episode: The Second Barons' War  
 Sep 16  Peace with the Barons
 After the defeat of Simon de Montfort at Evesham, a limited agreement of peace was declared between Henry and the barons. Some resistance remained at Kenilworth and the Isle of Ely until 1267.

Episode: The Second Barons' War  
1266 Oct  Mise of Kenilworth
 The rebel barons were given the option by Edward to buy back their properties. Edward was careful not to cause friction between the king and the barons that may have restarted a war.[4] 
1326 Nov  Edward captured
 The King was captured in Wales at the Abbey of Neath. He had hoped to get some support in Wales but that was not to be the case. The Despensers were also captured. Hugh Despenser was given a short trial and executed as a traitor. Edward was taken to Kenilworth castle and imprisoned.[5]

Episode: Isabella, She-Wolf of France and death of Edward II  
1361 - 1399 John of Gaunt owns Kenilworth
 John of Gaunt married Blanche, the daughter of Henry, Duke of Lancaster. Henry owned Kenilworth Castle and when he died (?) John became Duke of Lancaster and took ownership of the castle. Gaunt rebuilt the hall and constructed new grand apartments.[1] 

Norman Square Keeps

White Tower, London

More about Norman square keeps

One of the most important types of building in the time of William the Conqueror and William Rufus were the Norman keeps. Although many were rebuilt in the following century there are many good examples still remaining. The White Tower in London (pictured left), Dover and Rochester in the south east, Newcastle, Appleby, Carlisle, Brough, Richmond in the north are all examples of this type of castle. Other examples include Portchester, Guilford, Goodrich, Norwich, Castle Rising, Hedingham and Colchester. The castles are all built from a roughly uniform plan. A massive square tower with a square turret at each of the corners that project slightly. Each of the main faces of the castle has a flat buttress running up the centre of the wall for extra strength. The only parts that have decoration are usually the main doorway at the entrance and the chapel. At the centre of the keep are large halls. Some keeps have a dividing wall down the middle. Access to different levels and sections of the castle are by passages and spiral staircases built into the thick walls.


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