Warwick Castle is a fine example of a medieval castle. Located in the town of Warwick, it stands on a cliff overlooking the River Avon. The castle is a Grade I listed building and protected as a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
Built on the site of an Anglo-Saxon burgh, the castle was one of the first motte and wooden bailey structures to be built by King William after the Norman Conquest.
The castle and the title Earl of Warwick were granted to Henry de Newburgh in 1088 and Warwick castle became home to future Earl’s for several generations. It was used as a fortification until early in the 17th century when it was converted by the Greville family into a country house.
As with all the Norman castles, Warwick has seen many alterations over the centuries. The original motte and bailey structure was demolished in the 12th century and construction of a stone fortress began. During the Hundred Years War (1337 1453) the side of the castle facing the town was refortified. This fine example of 14th century military architecture still stands today.
Entrance to the inner courtyard is through a gatehouse in the curtain wall that still retains the old portcullis. Some the towers in the wall reached up to 40 metres high. The keep was located in the centre of the north wall and was designed to repel attack, both from outside and from rebel mutineers within.
It was flanked by the Clarence Tower to the left and the Bear Tower to the right. The majority of the residential buildings were located along the eastern wall facing the river which along with the thick curtain walls provided them with an ample defence against marauders.
Warwick Castle was renovated in the 17th century and the magnificent collection of furniture and artworks by European masters date from this period.
Warwick Castle is now leased by Merlin Entertainments (the owners of Alton Towers and a number of other UK attractions) and is a very popular UK tourist attraction.
Warwick Castle History
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) licensed 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.
War of the Roses
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, which can be operated by members of the public under supervision. Jousting is held in the castle grounds during the annual summer pageants. Tickets and opening times are available from their website.