Warwick Castle

Warwick Castle, WestsideWarwick Castle, steeped in a thousand years of British history, has weathered the storms and vagaries of rebellion, war, pestilence and neglect and emerged as one of the finest examples of a Norman Castle in Great Britain.

The Gatehouse But despite its venerable age and status, and given a full refurbishment it would be hard pressed to withstand even a modest modern-day attack.

A small squad of well trained soldiers with a full array of modern weaponry, weaponry that the original builders could never have envisioned, would raise it to the ground in very short order.

Guys TowerNot that it would be a walk in the park. The primary purpose of a castle is defense and to that end the walls were built thick, were built to last. Given an equal number of committed defenders it could hold out for a considerable period.

Motte & BaileyIt was William the Conqueror, following his conquest of England in 1066, who established a motte-and-bailey castle, (a motte is normally a mound upon which stands a keep or tower while a bailey is an enclosed courtyard), on the Avon at Warwick in 1068 to maintain control of the Midlands as he advanced northwards. William appointed Henry de Beaumont, the son of a powerful Norman family, as constable of the castle, and then in 1088 created him the first Earl of Warwick.

TowersSince then the castle and lands has traditionally belonged to the Earl of Warwick, serving as a symbol of his wealth and power. During the reign of King Henry II (1154–89), the motte-and-bailey was replaced with a stone castle, forming a shell keep with the buildings constructed against the curtain wall.

The earldom of Warwick and the Castle and lands associated with it remained in the de Beaumont family until 1242, when Thomas de Beaumont, the 6th Earl, died and the estate passed to his sister, Lady Margery who became a countess of Warwick in her own right.

2014-03-05 14.35.28Shortly afterward Lady Margery’s husband died and while she looked for another suitable husband, ownership returned to King Henry III. When she married John du Plessis in December 1242, the castle was returned to her.

Main Hall aDuring the Second Barons’ War of 1264–67, William Maudit, 8th Earl of Warwick, was a supporter of King Henry III. When the castle was taken in a surprise attack by the forces of Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester, from Kenilworth Castle in 1264 the walls along the northeastern side were sabotaged so that it would be useless to the king.

Stained Glass (2)William Maudit and his countess were taken to Kenilworth Castle and held until a ransom was paid. After the death of William Mauduit in 1267, the title and castle passed to his nephew William de Beauchamp, who became the 9th Earl of Warwick.

Following William’s death, Warwick Castle the remained with the de Beauchamp family for a further seven generations, (or about 180 years) who were responsible for most of the additions made to the castle.

Cannon.02In 1312, Piers Gaveston, 1st Earl of Cornwall, was captured by Guy de Beauchamp, 10th Earl of Warwick, charged with the misappropriation of royal treasure and imprisoned in Warwick Castle until his execution on 9 June.

Under Thomas de Beauchamp, the 11th Earl, the castle defences were significantly enhanced in 1330–60 on the north eastern side by the addition of a gatehouse, a barbican (a form of fortified gateway), and a tower on either side of the reconstructed wall, one named Caesar’s Tower, the other Guy’s Tower while The Bear and Clarence Tower’s were built by King Richard III in the 1480’s.

Body Cage, Warwick CastleCaesar’s and Guy’s Towers are primarily residential in the French style but both towers are vaulted in stone on every storey. Caesar’s Tower also contains a “grim” basement dungeon  which, according to local legend is also known as Poitiers Tower. This was either because prisoners from the Battle of Poitiers in 1356 could have been imprisoned there or because the ransoms raised from their families paid or its construction. The gatehouse features murder holes, two drawbridges, a gate, and giant portcullises (gates made from latticed wood or metal)

River Avon from the CastleThe 14th century trend of castles becoming more statements of power and status, rather than for military use, led to the facade overlooking the river being re-designed as a symbol by the de Beauchamp earls and would have been of minimal defensive value.

The line of de Beauchamp earls ended in 1449 when Anne de Beauchamp, 15th Countess of Warwick, died. Richard Neville became the 16th Earl of Warwick through his wife’s inheritance of the title.

During the summer of 1469, Richard Neville rebelled against King Edward IV and imprisoned him in Warwick Castle.

The Arms of Richard Neville, Earl of WarwickHe then attempted to rule in the king’s name but constant protests by the king’s supporters forced the Earl to release the king. Richard Neville was subsequently killed at the Battle of Barnet, fighting against the same King Edward IV in 1471 during the Wars of the Roses.

Warwick Castle then passed from Neville to his son-in-law, George Plantagenet until he was executed in 1478 and his lands passed to Edward Plantagenet, who at two years old became the 17th Earl of Warwick.

Trebuchet at Warwick Castle However, being a mere babe-in-arms Edward’s lands were taken in the custody of The Crown and because he also had a claim to the throne itself he was imprisoned first by Edward IV, then Richard III, and finally by Henry VII.

Stained GlassHe was held in the Tower of London until he was executed for high treason by Henry VII in 1499 at the age of only 23.

Despite spending the majority of his life in prison, Edward remained the 17th Earl of Warwick though dying without heir was to be the last of that venerable title’s first creation.

To be continued . . .


Warwick Castle, the east front by Canaletto, 1752

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