Castle of the Week 97 – Warwick
Warwick Castle towers over the River Avon, one of the most popular tourist attractions in England.
Alfred the Great’s daughter, Ethelfleda, built earth ramparts to protect the small town of Warwick from the threat of a Danish invasion in 914. After William the Conqueror’s invasion, a wooden motte and bailey castle was built on the same site in 1068. In 1088 the first Earl of Warwick was created – one of William I’s followers, Henry de Beaumont – to act as constable of the castle.
The wooden castle was replaced by a stone one in 1260. William Maudit, the incumbent earl, sided with the King in the Barons’ War and, in 1264, the castle was successfully attacked by Simon de Montfort, leader of the rebellious barons, holding the Earl to ransom. In 1268 William died and was succeeded by his nephew, William de Beauchamp, the first of the dynasty that would bring fame and fortune to the castle.
During the 14th century there was much new construction by Thomas de Beauchamp & it’s mainly these buildings that can be seen today. A drawbridge over a dry ditch led to a huge barbican with a portcullis guarding a narrow roofed passage with arrow slits each side and murder holes in the ceiling, ending in huge wooden doors. Once through those, the gatehouse was ahead with another portcullis, passage and door. Two new towers were built. Caesar’s Tower, a clover leaf shape rising straight from solid rock by the river, which is 3 storeys high topped by a crenellated platform and, behind the platform, another storey with a hexagonal guardhouse. Underneath the tower is the Dungeon approached by a narrow flight of stairs. The other tower to be built was the 12-sided, 5-storeyed Guy’s Tower. He restructured the Great Hall, the largest room in the castle, and constructed a strong curtain wall. Two years later, Thomas de Beauchamp confessed to treachery and was exiled to the Isle of Man by Richard II. When Henry IV usurped the throne in 1399 he was allowed back.
In 1449, Richard Neville became Earl after marrying Henry de Beaumont’s sister. During the Wars of the Roses he helped to depose both Henry VI & Edward IV, earning himself the name ‘Warwick the Kingmaker’. He was killed at the Battle of Barnet in 1471 and the castle was awarded by Edward IV to his brother George, Duke of Clarence. Clarence was accused of plotting against his brother and, in 1478, he was imprisoned and killed. His son, Edward, kept the title but was imprisoned in the Tower of London as he was the last Plantagenet and a possible rival to Henry VII. He was executed in 1499 for supposedly conspiring with Perkin Warbeck, a pretender to the throne.
Richard of Gloucester (the future Richard III) took over the castle during Edward’s imprisonment. He started to build a huge Royal Keep to withstand attacks from both inside & within the castle. Wells were dug and ovens installed to enable those inside to withstand a siege. Arrow loops and holes for cannon were made in the walls. However in 1485 Richard was killed at Bosworth so the building stopped. All that remains are two stunted towers – the Clarence, named after his elder brother, and the Bear which probably housed bears for baiting.
In 1540 the southern walls were strengthened and a new tower, the Spy Tower, was built. A new roof was put on the kitchens and the State Rooms were extended. In 1572 Elizabeth I visited the castle.
Over the next few years the castle started to decay until in 1604 James I granted it to Fulke Greville without the Earldom which was given elsewhere. Fulke spent a lot of his large income turning the semi-derelict castle into a stately residence, so much so that James I visited in 1617. He built a small chapel, possibly on the site of a 12th century chapel, however it didn’t do him any good as, in 1628, he argued with one of his servants over the contents of his (Greville’s) will and the manservant, convinced he wasn’t going to receive his due, stabbed him and then turned the knife on himself. Greville’s ghost is said to haunt the Ghost Tower where he lived, appearing from a portrait hanging over the study fireplace and walking through the rooms in the tower.
In 1642 Robert Greville declared for Parliament in the Civil War and became Commander-in-Chief of the forces in Staffs & Warks. The 5th storey of Guy’s Tower, normally a hexagonal guardroom, had its windows enlarged to take small hand-held cannons. The Royalists promptly besieged the castle which was only being held by a few soldiers in Greville’s absence. However they weren’t very effective and, two weeks later, they left again. Greville himself was killed at the Siege of Lichfield in 1643.
As its military importance declined, the castle became more of a stately home. In 1750 Capability Brown landscaped the gardens incorporating the octagonal shell keep on the mound and, nine years later, Francis Greville successfully petitioned for the title Earl of Warwick so the earldom and castle were united once again. In 1763 the State dining room was built by leading English craftsmen and in 1786 the conservatory was added.
In 1978 the castle was sold by the Earl of Warwick to the Tussaud’s Group who restored where necessary and added attractions such as wax figures portraying the life of the castle and exhibitions of the castle’s past as well as jousting displays.