Warwick Castle, England is an ancient castle in Warwick, Warwickshire which traces its legacy back to fortifications of Anglo-Saxon heritage, developing alongside the hallmark of the Norman Conquest’s influence – stone fortifications. In the historic county of Warwickshire, the castle is built upon sandstone at a meander in the River Avon.
Anglo Origins and Norman Evolution
The first records of development on the site at Warwick Castle are dated back to the year 914, where a fortified Anglo-Saxon burh was established by Æthelflæd, daughter of Alfred the Great. The fortification was built against Danish invaders, overlooking earlier settlements located on the riverside. To compliment the burh, a partial wall and ditch structure was implemented, allowing the fortification to dominate the Fosse Way (the ancient road built by the Romans).
After William the Conqueror’s victory at Hastings in 1066, the old Saxon fortification was revamped in favour of the newest citadel craze to hit the British Isles – a timber Motte-and-bailey castle. Warwick Castle was built in 1068 in order to dominate the midlands, as William built as he advanced further North to establish his control. Warwick Castle was one of the least recorded and most mysterious of the 11 urban castles built by 1086 – though we do know that four houses were torn down to make way for it. William appointed Henry de Beaumont as constable of the castle, who later became the first Earl of Warwick.
An introduction to English Civil Wars
By 1153, Warwick Castle was very strategically important. In this year, the wife of Roger de Beaumont was tricked into surrendering control of the castle to Henry of Anjou, fighting against Stephen I with his mother Empress Matilda during the Civil War (called the Anarchy). Allegedly, according to the chronicle the ‘Deeds of King Stephen’, Roger de Beaumont died after hearing the news that the castle had been surrendered so easily. As Henry of Anjou became King Henry II from 1154, the castle was later returned to the Earls of Warwick.
Henry II rejuvenated the castle, replacing timber with stone, making the fortification permanent in the latter half of the twelfth century. During the rebellion of Henry the Young King, alongside his family, the Earl of Warwick remained loyal to King Henry II. The castle was used to store provisions for the conflict against William the Lion, the invading Scottish king, in which Henry II was also successful. The Beaumont family held the earldom and the castle until 1253, after the death of Margaret de Beaumont, Countess of Warwick. The Castle was notably absent from the First Barons’ War in recorded history, yet in 1264, took centre stage for its sequel…
In 1264, the Second Barons’ War broke out against Henry III, led by perhaps the most influential figure in British Parliamentary History, Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester. As William Maudit, the Earl of Warwick, a supporter of Henry III was told to defend the castle by his king in 1264. Against trebuchets, the castle stood little chance, as the castle was partially destroyed (slighted) in order to lessen its strategic importance. De Montfort attacked from nearby Kenilworth Castle and took Warwick in a sweeping move, taking Maudit captive and holding him for ransom.
After Maudit’s death in 1267, the title and castle then passed to William de Beauchamp, and down through another seven generations of the Beauchamp family. However, the final chapter in Warwick Castle’s book of civil wars was yet to come. Piers Gaveston, Edward II’s favourite (and possible lover) was captured by Guy de Beauchamp in 1312. Gaveston had held great influence over the king, which the barons didn’t like, so they rebelled. Gaveston had returned from his exile and been pardoned by the king, so Guy de Beauchamp took it upon himself to imprison and execute Gaveston on June 9th 1312. Rebellion continued, with King Edward II eventually deposed by Roger Mortimer in 1326.
Over the course of this next 180 years, the Beauchamp family were responsible for most renovations and additions to the castle – including the huge Caesar and Guy’s Towers. A gatehouse and a barbican (a fortified gateway) were also added on the north eastern side. Caesar’s Tower is Warwick Castle’s tallest tower, at 147 feet tall, with 3 stories excluding the Gaol (the dungeon). You can actually see graffiti left by prisoners on the walls, awaiting their sentencing. Furthermore, the Watergate Tower is also dated from this period of improvements between 1330 and 1360.
The castle’s refortification is one of the most wonderful examples of fourteenth century military architecture, being constructed during the Hundred Years’ War. Warwick Castle hosted many tournaments, feasts and events for the greatest and bravest of the great chivalric age! Warwick Castle Dungeon could be found in the bottom of Caesar’s Tower, known as Poitiers tower at the time – either due to money, prisoners or both from the famous Battle of Poitiers!
The End of the Beauchamps
The Warwick line of Beauchamp earls ended in 1449 with Anne de Beauchamp’s death. Next in line to the inheritance was possibly the most infamous noble in medieval history, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick – later dubbed ‘Kingmaker.’ Neville rebelled against two kings with varying degrees of success, at first, from 1455 alongside the Duke of York and his son. York’s son was later to become King Edward IV, making Warwick very important.
Edward later became dismissive of Warwick, preferring to go to his wife, Elizabeth Woodville, for advice. Warwick didn’t like this, as he had spent many years trying to get favour in France for a marriage of Edward and Bona of Savoy, the sister of the French Queen. Therefore, Warwick rebelled once more.
This time, Warwick captured Edward IV in the summer of 1469 and attempted to rule in the king’s name. Faced with pressure and protest from the king’s supporters, Warwick eventually freed the king, who was forced to flee to Burgundy. Edward later returned under the claiming that he was only in England for the Dukedom of York, not the throne! After his return, the nobles quickly lost faith in Warwick and the restored Henry VI. Edward fought and killed Warwick at the Battle of Barnet in 1471.
Warwick Castle then fell into royal hands; firstly George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence, before his betrayal of his brother Edward and execution. This meant the castle returned to the crown. After Clarence’s son Edward came of age, under Henry VII’s rule, he was barred from his inheritance and eventually executed in 1499 – allegedly for helping the pretender Perkin Warbeck in an escape attempt. The Earls of Warwick were no more!
A Royal Facelift
In the early 1480s, Richard III of England (famed for his lack of horse, curved spine, and being buried under a Sainsburys car park!) began the construction of two gun towers, the Bear and Clarence Towers. The towers were independent as a stronghold in their own right, and heavily armed, with a ‘Keeper of the Artillery’ position created in 1486.
The Castle underwent repairs and renovations using around 500 loads of stone, though the castle was soon put into the hands of John Dudley, the newest Earl of Warwick. Dudley claimed that the castle’s condition was poor, saying the castle “with also the dungeon tower is clearly ruinated and down to the ground.” Dudley was to be executed soon after trying to crown Lady Jane Grey queen, instead of Mary I in 1553.
The Dudley family did nothing to repair or reconstruct the old castle, despite Queen Elizabeth I visiting during a 1566 tour, and again in 1572 for four nights. Rather than have the Queen stay in the castle itself, a timber building was erected for her – and Ambrose Dudley, the newest Earl of Warwick, left the castle to the Queen.
After Ambrose’s death, Warwick Castle once more returned to the Crown, wherein it was decided to split the inheritance of the castle from the Earls of Warwick. A Royal survey dated to 1590 suggested that the castle was still in disrepair – noting that lead had been stolen from the rooves of some buildings, including the chapel.
By 1601, Sir Fulke Greville wanted to restore the castle to its former glory, saying that there would be ‘nothing left but a name of Warwick,’ if the castle was left in such a state. Greville was granted Warwick Castle in 1604 by the newly crowned King James I of England (James VI of Scotland). Warwick Castle was then involved in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, where Guy Fawkes’ conspirators awaited news of their plot in Warwickshire – attempting to steal cavalry horses from the castle to make an escape if they failed.
Warwick Castle was converted into a seventeenth century manor/country house, due to the decline in the use of fortifications and castles in the 15th and 16th centuries. Robert Smythson was commissioned to draw up plans of the castle, to help the Grevilles plan what changes were to be made. Fulke Greville, Baron Brooke, spent over £20,000 on the renovations of the castle, whilst occupying a suite of rooms in the Watergate Tower.
Baron Brooke was murdered on September 1st 1628, by Ralph Haywood, his manservant. Haywood had discovered that he was not in Greville’s will. To this day, Warwick Castle is said to be haunted, particularly in the Watergate tower, by his ghost…
Warwick’s defences were enhanced by Robert Greville, Fulke’s successor, in 1642, in preparation for conflict stemming from the English Civil War. This Greville supported Parliament, so Royalist forces laid siege to the castle under command of Spencer Compton, 2nd Earl of Northampton. The siege was relieved on August 23rd with the intervention of the Earl of Essex and his forces. Prisoners from The Battle of Edgehill, the first battle of the war, were subsequently held in the castle, and a garrison of 302 soldiers was maintained until 1660. By this time, extensive modernization of inside Warwick Castle had started, dating from 1669-78. The castle was renovated to such a high standard it was deemed good enough to host King William III on November 4th 1695.
But this was not the end of renovation, as Francis Greville, the 8th Baron Brooke, took it upon himself to continue improvements to the castle and its grounds. Francis Greville was made Earl of Warwick, reuniting the castle and earldom.
Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, the genius landscaper, was called in by Lord Brooke in 1749 in order to give Warwick Castle a more natural and flowing connection to its river. To this day, the long narrow stretch of castle falls off into a lawn right into the riverbank. Daniel Garrett was also brought on board in 1748, in order to create the Gothick inside of Warwick Castle’s chapel that remains to this day.
Greville further commissioned Brown to rebuild the exterior entrance porch, alongside the stairway to the Great Hall, whilst William Lindley provided a new Dining Room and other alterations. However, George Greville got the family into massive debts, losing the castle to the Earl of Galloway and John Fitzpatrick – though it was eventually returned in 1813.
The architect Anthony Salvin was responsible for the restoration of the Watergate Tower in 1861-63, and further repairs through public donations in 1872-75, after an enormous fire in 1871 damaged a significant portion of the inside of Warwick Castle.
Warwick Castle’s history and prestige made it the perfect place to encourage tourism, which has continued from the early 17th Century up until the present day. In 1858 Queen Victoria visited for local celebrations, and since then the Earls of Warwick have consistently encouraged tourism up until 1978, when the Castle was sold after 374 years in the Greville family, to Tussauds Group for £1.3 million.
Tussauds Group extensively renovated the castle in preparation for opening as a tourist attraction, creating 12 apartments which are open to hire from tourists. Warwick Castle has since become home to one of the world’s largest siege engines, in the form of its 18 metre, 22 tonne trebuchet which sits on the riverbank next to the castle, making visiting Warwick Castle in England a top priority for medieval history fans, family day-outers and longer term stay tourists alike!
Warwick Castle Tickets
Warwick Castle is to this day open to the public, with day tickets being priced at £17 online, or £22 on the day per person – so is definitely worth booking in advance for a day of exploring. You can also go inside Warwick Castle dungeon is also bookable at a rate of £6 per person, or go to see the Kingmaker exhibition, housed in the undercroft – which is not to be missed!
You could also stay at in the Castle itself! Warwick Castle offers Glamping services to customers looking to get the full experience of medieval life, without the discomfort! You can stay in the Knights Village, in glamp-style or in a beautiful lodge, or stay in the ancient Caesar’s Tower, in a suite fit for your choice.
From there you could explore the beautiful Victorian Rose Garden, or the Ghost Tower of Sir Fulke Greville! Warwick Castle’s glamping facilities are second to none, so a longer stay must be on the bucket-list! Longer stay tickets can be found here, but price is dependent on seasonal trends and demand.
Warwick Castle events
The castle holds many events which are spaced across the calendar year. These include Warwick Castle at Halloween and Warwick Castle at Christmas. The Castle also holds other fabulous events across the year, like having international music stars play, or showcasing Warwick’s very own Open Arms beer garden – giving that authentic English experience, making any time of year a perfectly good time to visit!
Warwick Castle at Halloween
Warwick Castle at Halloween is a sight to behold, with an amazing atmosphere and haunted attractions for the whole family to enjoy the darkest secrets that the castle and its history have to offer. The Halloween events run usually for a week in late October until November 1st. The event usually includes delicious street food and an unforgettable Halloween-themed experience you are unlikely to forget.
Warwick Castle at Christmas
Warwick Castle’s Christmas event can usually be booked from around £16-£20 per person, depending on the scale of events each year, running from mid-December to mid-January. Events include Winter Stalls, a spectacular look into the Great Hall and State Rooms, decorated in festive fashion, Christmas themed historical tours and other events like scavenger hunts and falconry.
For 2020, Warwick Castle’s Light Trail was the main attraction, an atmospheric light show across the picturesque grounds after sunset around 5pm, included within the price of Light Trail tickets. See more about the fascinating transformation of Warwick Castle at Christmas on C4’s documentary! Tickets to the event can be booked seasonally by following the website guidance here.
You can read about other famous castles in England here.