Excuse my directness, but, personally, I have a massive historical girl-boner for Kenilworth. Yes, it’s a huge medieval fortress, yes it had a gatehouse, yes it was the location for Roger Mortimer (grandfather to the Roger Mortimer who forced Edward II from the throne) and his grand tournament, which seems to have been the origin of Winchester Great Hall’s round table, and yes, it has one of the finest ruined great halls in the country, etc.
But it’s these:
These are the steps to the private apartments of The Great Fornicator himself, John of Gaunt, King of Castile (disputed), Duke of Lancaster (married into), Earl of Derby (married into), prince of England (though there were rumours) etc. Honestly, we don’t have time to go through every friggin’ title this man held.
If you’re wondering what the eff this obsession is with John of Gaunt it has nothing to do with the fact he was the favourite son of Edward III, brother to the Black Prince, a clearly virile lover (kids coming out of his eyeballs) in modern wealth comparatively a billionaire, and literally towered over his contemporaries (the Plantagenets were known for the giantlike men - Edward I was recorded as being over 6ft on exhumation, Gaunt’s brother Lionel of Clarence recorded as being about 6’6″…). Genuinely, it has nothing to do with that.
I may in future do a post about Gaunt and his massive estate (not an euphemism), because he was actually a fascinating oxymoron of a man and deserves it, but let us return to Kenilworth.
Once upon a time this green and pleasant land surrounding the castle (or the mere) was actually flooded, purposefully. I believe it served both as a defensive addition, and also looked rather pretty and could be fished. The castle was originally built in the Norman era, and the great keep (to the right of the above image) is the core of the original complex, though, as always, it has been heightened and lengthened since. From inside, you can see just how thick the old walls are from both the damage on the rear (not in this pic unfortunately) and the great windows on each level. The ones on the bottom right are actual windows and not doorways…
It suffered a full-scale siege in 1266, after Simon de Montfort was killed, and his son promised to surrender the castle. Simon’s men inside had other ideas, and barricaded. Henry III, a king historically on par with Edward II (being rather bad at his job), but maybe even more disliked, got into a huff about it and tried to breach. It’s said the trebuchets he brought were no match to the war machines inside the castle, and he had to send to London for better ones. After failed attacks over the mere (for which he had to send to Chester for barges), as it prevented the undermining of the castle, Henry offered terms of surrender, which, once disease and starvation hit the inhabitants, were accepted.
One man who was fighting against de Montfort at Evesham, where the Republican was killed, was Roger Mortimer of Wigmore, the father to Roger Mortimer of Chirk, and grandfather to Roger Mortimer of Wigmore. If you think the English got any more inventive with their names after the Middle Ages, I’m afraid you’re in for a shock. The Welsh are worse – have a look on Ancestry.com and search for glorious names like Thomas Thomas, or William Williams and try to work out which line belongs where…
Anyhow, Roger Mortimer (of Wigmore) of Kenilworth fame hosted a grand tournament here, and the castle boasts a tiltyard right outside. This was the presumed site that first presented the great Round Table in Winchester Castle. Many people, I’m sure, would like to believe it’s genuinely Arthurian, but it’s not. Whether it is the actual Mortimer table I think is still debatable, however, tournaments were very often themed, and this particular one was dedicated to the Arthurian round table.
There is, of course, another thing Kenilworth is both famous and treasured for:
John of Gaunt’s Great Hall. It may not look like much now (well, to me, it’s all girl-bonery again), but insert floorboards and tiling, the rest of the walls, some lavish tapestries, trestles, food, medieval hotties and minstrels as you’ve got yourself a medieval party. The remnants of Gaunt’s lavish architectural feat are some of the most boasted about features in any English castle, or British castle, I might add. Windows like the great cathedrals, vaulting (sadly gone), the finest and most expensive tapestries adorning the walls, at least six fireplaces – where many a great hall still had fires burning in the middle of the floor – fine wooden tiles for dancing (he loved to dance), and a grand entrance up one flight from ground level, fit for the new regal status he had assumed, that of King of Castile, through marriage to its heir, Constanza.
It had the widest great hall roof in England, bar one (that of Westminster Hall, at Parliament in London, which, if you’ve ever been, you can probably understand why), and so the ceiling beams would have probably been more beautiful than the ones at Stokesay.
I am almost certain I was born in the wrong century.
Kenilworth was also host to Elizabeth I, and boasts a pleasure garden – reconstructed from the Tudor design that was ordered by the famous Robert Dudley. The first time I went I don’t remember it at all, so it was a nice surprise, and it’s extremely pretty in summer, being a stark contrast to the sandy walls of the fortress on the other side.
Unfortunately for me, Kenilworth doesn’t feature at all in my HWIP, and if it did, it would be too early to admire the astonishing great hall or chance upon John of Gaunt. What is true, though, is that this is a stunning relic of our history, and, personally, one of the most inspiring buildings I’ve had the pleasure to see. Then again, I’m pretty sure I recommend everywhere I go, as I’ve apparently rather good taste, eh?