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Kenilworth Castle

Kenilworth Castle is located in the town of the same name in Warwickshire, England. Constructed from Norman through to Tudor times, the castle has been described by architectural historian Anthony Emery as "the finest surviving example of a semi-royal palace of the later middle ages, significant for its scale, form and quality of workmanship".[1] Kenilworth has also played an important historical role. The castle was the subject of the six-month-long Siege of Kenilworth in 1266, believed to be the longest siege in English history, and formed a base for Lancastrian operations in the Wars of the Roses. Kenilworth was also the scene of the removal of Edward II from the English throne, the French insult to Henry V in 1414 (said by John Strecche to have encouraged the Agincourt campaign), and the Earl of Leicester's lavish reception of Elizabeth I in 1575.

The castle was built over several centuries. Founded in the 1120s around a powerful Norman great tower, the castle was significantly enlarged by King John at the beginning of the 13th century. Huge water defences were created by damming the local streams, and the resulting fortifications proved able to withstand assaults by land and water in 1266. John of Gaunt spent lavishly in the late 14th century, turning the medieval castle into a palace fortress designed in the latest perpendicular style. The Earl of Leicester then expanded the castle once again, constructing new Tudor buildings and exploiting the medieval heritage of Kenilworth to produce a fashionable Renaissance palace.

Kenilworth was partly destroyed by Parliamentary forces in 1649 to prevent it being used as a military stronghold. Ruined, only two of its buildings remain habitable today. The castle became a tourist destination from the 18th century onwards, becoming famous in the Victorian period following the publishing of Sir Walter Scott's novel Kenilworth in 1821. English Heritage has managed the castle since 1984. The castle is classed as a Grade I listed building and as a Scheduled Monument, and is open to the public.

Henry VIII gave the castle to John Dudley in 1553. Dudley came to prominence under Henry VIII and became the leading political figure under Edward VI. Dudley was a patron of John Shute, an early exponent of classical architecture in England, and began the process of modernising Kenilworth. Before his execution in 1553 by Queen Mary for attempting to place Lady Jane Grey on the throne, Dudley had built the new stable block and widened the tiltyard to its current form.

Kenilworth was restored to Dudley's son, Robert, Earl of Leicester, in 1563, four years after the succession of Elizabeth I to the throne. Leicester's lands in Warwickshire were worth between 500 - 700 pound but Leicester's power and wealth, including monopolies and grants of new lands, depended ultimately on his remaining a favourite of the queen.

Leicester continued his father's modernisation of Kenilworth, attempting to ensure that Kenilworth would attract the interest of Elizabeth during her regular tours around the country. Elizabeth visited in 1566 and 1568, by which time Leicester had commissioned the royal architect Henry Hawthorne to produce plans for a dramatic, classical extension of the south side of the inner court. In the event this proved unachievable and instead Leicester employed William Spicer to rebuild and extend the castle so as to provide modern accommodation for the royal court and symbolically boost his own claims to noble heritage. After negotiation with his tenants, Leicester also increased the size of the chase once again. The result has been termed an English "Renaissance palace".

Elizabeth viewed the partially finished results at Kenilworth in 1572, but the complete effect of Leicester's work was only apparent during the queen's last visit in 1575. Leicester was keen to impress Elizabeth in a final attempt to convince her to marry him, and no expense was spared. Elizabeth brought an entourage of thirty-one barons and four hundred staff for the royal visit that lasted an exceptional nineteen days; twenty horsemen a day arrived at the castle to communicate royal messages. Leicester entertained the Queen and much of the neighbouring region with pageants, fireworks, bear baiting, mystery plays, hunting and lavish banquets. The cost was reputed to have amounted to many thousand pounds, almost bankrupting Leicester, though it probably did not exceed 1,700pounds in reality. The event was considered a huge success and formed the longest stay at such a property during any of Elizabeth's tours, yet the queen did not decide to marry Leicester.

Kenilworth Castle was valued at 10,401pounds in 1588, when Leicester died without legitimate issue and heavily in debt. In accordance with his will, the castle passed first to his brother Ambrose, Earl of Warwick, and after the latter's death in 1590, to his illegitimate son, Sir Robert Dudley.

Sir Robert Dudley, having tried and failed to establish his legitimacy in front of the Court of the Star Chamber, went to Italy in 1605. In the same year Sir Thomas Chaloner, governor (and from 1610 chamberlain) to James I's eldest son Prince Henry, was commissioned to oversee repairs to the castle and its grounds, including the planting of gardens, the restoration of fish-ponds and improvement to the game park. During 1611 - 12 Dudley arranged to sell Kenilworth Castle to Henry, by then Prince of Wales.[106] Henry died before completing the full purchase, which was finalised by his brother, Charles, who bought out the interest of Dudley's abandoned wife, Alice Dudley.




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