Warwick Castle is one of the most exciting and impressive castles in the UK, and due to the extensive rebuilding and restoration work carried out it is now a working castle and is a living museum of the life and times of several periods of history.
The castle stands on the banks of the River Avon, on what would originally have been the site of a fortification and riverside settlements constructed in 914 by Ethelfleda, daughter of Alfred the Great and Chieftain of the Mercians, following the attacks of Viking raiders. Ethelfleda’s Mound is still in existence and can still be seen within the castle grounds.
Following the Norman Conquest in 1066, the original fortifications were replaced in 1068 by a Norman motte and wooden bailey.
William the Conqueror gave the lands and title of Earl of Warwick to Henry de Newburgh in 1088, when the wooden fortifications were demolished and the stone castle began construction in 1260. Warwick Castle was home for the Earls of Warwick for many generations and it was one of the five areas in England where jousting tournaments could take place.
Jousting had originally been banned by Henry II on the grounds that they caused unnecessary injury to knights whose strength and skills would be needed in battle, but under an order named Conflictus Gallicus, his son Richard I (Richard the Lionheart) licenced jousting in those five areas in England upon payment of a licence fee. It was felt that by allowing knights to practice jousting or ‘tourneying’ they would be better able to match the skills of knights abroad, who were famed for their military skills.
From the fourteenth century Warwick Castle became the home of the Beaumonts in whose family the castle stayed for generations until the present day.
During the Wars of the Roses, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick was a staunch Yorkist in favour of the Duke of York and in opposition to the Lancastrians and King Henry VI. The King was captured by the Yorkists in 1460 and his son Edward declared King as Edward IV. It’s his direct involvement with the plot to unseat King Henry and to bring Edward IV to the throne that earned him the title of Kingmaker.
In the eighteenth century Lancelot Brown (Capability Brown, so named because he would survey the grounds of a stately home and pronounce that they had ‘capabilities’) was commissioned to redesign the gardens of Warwick and in 1750 brought a new fashion of landscaping using classical influences and artistic talent to the grounds of Warwick.
Warwick Castle was bought by the Tussaud Group in 1978 and then in 2007 was taken over by Merlin Entertainments who now operate a lease for the castle. You can see a full size working trebuchet, the medieval siege machine, and which can be operated by members of the public under supervision, and jousting is held in the castle grounds during the annual summer pageants. Tickets and opening times are available from their website.