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Kenilworth Castle: a motte and bailey and enclosure castle with mere, dams and 16th century gardens

A Scheduled Monument in Kenilworth, Warwickshire

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Latitude: 52.347 / 52°20'49"N

Longitude: -1.5911 / 1°35'27"W

OS Eastings: 427950.573945

OS Northings: 272186.618012

OS Grid: SP279721

Mapcode National: GBR 5LC.SNY

Mapcode Global: VHBX9.C8QL

Entry Name: Kenilworth Castle: a motte and bailey and enclosure castle with mere, dams and 16th century gardens

Scheduled Date: 8 February 1915

Last Amended: 4 January 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1014041

English Heritage Legacy ID: 21576

County: Warwickshire

Civil Parish: Kenilworth

Built-Up Area: Kenilworth

Traditional County: Warwickshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Warwickshire

Church of England Parish: Kenilworth St Nicholas

Church of England Diocese: Coventry


The monument is situated on the north western outskirts of Kenilworth and
includes the standing, earthwork and buried remains of Kenilworth Castle, an
enclosure castle, and the earthwork remains of its associated water control
features. The majority of the site is in the care of the Secretary of State
and the castle's standing remains are also Listed Grade I.
Kenilworth formed part of the royal manor of Stoneleigh at the time of the
Domesday Survey (1086), but early in the 12th century it was granted by Henry
I to his chamberlain, Geoffrey de Clinton. The original castle at Kenilworth
is thought to have been a motte and bailey castle which was replaced by a
fortified keep and a curtain wall towards the end of the 12th century. The
castle defences were strengthened by damming local streams to create a large
lake or mere to the west which in turn provided the water supply for a moat
and a pool to the north and east of the castle. In 1173-4 Kenilworth Castle
was garrisoned for Henry II and became a royal castle which was to be
refortified and redesigned over several centuries. In 1253 Henry III granted
the castle to Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, but following his death at
the Battle of Evesham in 1265, the castle was surrendered to the king who
granted it to his younger son, the Earl of Lancaster. Following John of
Gaunt's marriage to Blanche, daughter of the first Duke of Lancaster,
Kenilworth Castle passed to him in 1361 and he was responsible for upgrading
it to become, in effect, a royal palace. In 1533 the castle was granted to
John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, but following his execution, it returned
to the Crown. The grant was renewed to his son, Robert Dudley, the Earl of
Leicester and favourite of Elizabeth I, who sponsored extensive structural
development at Kenilworth until his death in 1588. During the Civil War
Charles I's forces initially occupied the castle but the king withdrew his
garrison from Kenilworth and it was occupied by the Parliamentarians who
demolished the north wall of the keep and the north curtain wall to render the
castle untenable. By the late 17th century the castle's northern gatehouse had
been converted into a residence which was inhabited through to the 20th
century but the remainder of the buildings were gradually abandoned.
The remains of the motte of the original castle are believed to take the form
of an artificial mound, approximately 3m-4.6m high, which is now enclosed
within the keep, whilst the inner court of the castle is thought to occupy the
site of the original bailey. The buildings of the early 12th century castle
are thought to have been timber structures which were subsequently replaced by
stone built ones.
The inner court is located on a bluff of higher ground from which the ground
falls away on all sides except to the east. Excavations immediately to the
north of the keep have recovered evidence to indicate that the inner court was
surrounded by a ditch which is thought to date from at least the late 12th
century. A section of this ditch remains visible as an earthwork on the
eastern side of the inner court, north of Leicester's Building. Access into
the inner court is via a causeway across the eastern section of this ditch and
a portcullis groove and part of an archway visible at the south eastern corner
of the keep represent the remains of this fortified gate. From the 12th
century onwards the inner court was surrounded by a curtain wall, parts of
which still stand incorporated within later buildings. A short section of the
wall's foundations is visible on the south eastern side of the inner court,
but further remains will survive as buried features. The keep is thought to
have been one of a number of buildings which occupied the inner court during
the 12th century and although there is no surface evidence for these other
structures, they will survive as buried features beneath the standing remains
of the court's later buildings.
The sandstone keep occupies the north eastern side of the inner court and is a
massive rectangular building with large square corner turrets. The main part
of the keep has two storeys with an additional gallery and a wall walk. Some
of the original window openings remain visible within the keep, but most were
altered during the 16th century to allow more light into the building. Access
into the keep is via a forebuilding which has been constructed against the
keep's western side, protecting its main entrance and providing extra rooms.
In 1570 the interior of the forebuilding was altered by the Earl of Leicester,
transforming it into an arcaded gallery to provide access from the inner court
to a pleasure garden which was laid out within the outer court to the north.
Under John of Gaunt the existing structures within the inner court were either
remodelled or rebuilt with more luxurious proportions. A new suite of state
apartments was erected along the south and west sides of the inner court with
kitchens to the north, an arrangement which is typical of the later medieval
period, but which may suggest that they occupy the site of earlier building
ranges. The remains of the kitchens date mostly from the 1380s and stand to
the east of the keep. They have been built against the curtain wall, and three
contemporary fireplaces are visible within their northern wall, whilst those
at the eastern end are 15th century insertions.
The central feature of this work is the great hall which is considered to have
been one of the largest and finest secular apartments of 14th century Britain.
This building appears to be a remodelling of its predecessor, which was itself
reroofed in 1347, though the work was not complete until c.1390. The arcades
of pre-existing structures were swept away to be replaced by the widest
single span trussed roof of its day and a vaulted undercroft, which was
inserted below the hall. The transomed two light windows and fireplaces, which
survive at first floor level, were also added during this period. Attached to
the north west corner of the hall is the Strong Tower which provided access to
both levels of the hall and to the kitchens. The tower was vaulted on all
three levels, and contained chambers and storerooms. At its south west corner,
the Strong Tower is balanced by the Saintlowe Tower which connected the hall
to the state apartments to the south east.
The southern side of the inner court is occupied by several buildings dating
from the 14th and 16th centuries. South east of the great hall are the remains
of a range of private chambers located on either side of an octagonal porch
which has fine traceried windows on its first floor. The White Hall or Great
Chamber to the west is considered to be a 14th century rebuilding of an
earlier private apartment, whilst to the east are the standing remains of
Gaunt's Tower. This building retains paired garderobes at ground and first
floor levels and chambers within its upper two storeys. The foundations of a
small chapel are visible approximately 21m to the north east of Gaunt's Tower.
It is believed to have been built in the 13th century and there are references
to a timber framed chapel on its first floor. Documentary and pictorial
records indicate that a partly timber framed building range was erected
between the chapel and the keep thus defining the eastern side of the inner
court. It was referred to as `newly buylded' in a survey of c.1545 but is
believed to have been completed by 1532. This range, which later became known
as Henry VIII's Lodgings, has since been demolished but its foundations will
survive beneath the ground surface.
Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, undertook a range of improvements,
modernisations and refurbishments at Kenilworth Castle to bring it up-to-date
with 16th century fashions. A section of the curtain wall was demolished in
order to construct a new three storey residential building in the south
eastern part of the inner court and this provided accommodation for
distinguished guests staying at the castle. Leicester's Building projects
southwards beyond the inner court and overlies an infilled section of the
original inner court ditch. It is built of stone and is rectangular in plan
with a tower projecting from its south western corner which is thought to have
contained a staircase. The building is subdivided into three sections, two of
which stood three storeys high and one of two floors with a basement below.
Each floor contained a suite of rooms, including a service room, a bedroom and
a principal room facing east. The interior of the building retains a number of
architectural features including ornamental fireplaces and doorways. During
the 18th century it was occupied by weavers from Coventry.
The inner court is situated within a larger, outer court which was defended by
a bank and waterfilled moat to the north, by the Lower Pool to the east and
south east, and to the west and south west by the mere. The water for the moat
was supplied from the mere, but due to the differences in water level in the
north eastern part of the site the moat and Lower Pool were separated from
each other by a buttressed retaining wall. This wall remains visible to the
east of Leicester's Gatehouse. The Lower Pool is now mostly dry and covers an
area of approximately 0.9ha. It has a square plan and is bounded on its
western, southern and eastern sides by earthen banks. The water for the pool
was supplied from the northern moat and a break within the southern bank is
thought to represent its outlet channel.
King John was responsible for the construction of a curtain wall around the
outer court which was strengthened at strategic intervals by angle towers. The
north western corner of the wall's circuit is occupied by the Swan Tower,
whilst its north eastern and south eastern corners are defended by Lunn's
Tower and the Water Tower respectively. There is no evidence for towers along
the southern and western sections of the curtain wall and here the wall was
strengthened by buttresses and defended by the mere beyond. The curtain wall
was constructed at the beginning of the 13th century, but documentary records
indicate that several sections were rebuilt during the 14th century, including
part of the southern wall which is considerably thicker. The western curtain
wall retains a small gateway with steps beyond, which originally provided
access to the mere. The northern curtain wall originally included two small
towers, one of which is known from excavation to have contained a postern
gate. This is believed to have fallen into disuse by the mid-16th century
following the construction of Leicester's Gatehouse. The northern curtain wall
was demolished after the Civil War. Its foundations and those of the two
associated towers however, will survive as buried features.
Robert Dudley was responsible for altering the entrance arrangements to the
castle by erecting a gatehouse at the northern end of the outer court which
superseded Mortimer's Tower (at the south eastern angle of the outer court) as
the main entrance into the castle. Leicester's Gatehouse formed an imposing
approach from the main Coventry road and provided easier access to the
castle's deer park to the west. It is a two storeyed, rectangular sandstone
building with octagonal corner turrets and mullioned and transomed windows. In
the 1650s, following the Civil War, it was converted to a private residence by
blocking the gate passage to create a basement and ground floor, and by adding
an extension on the east side of the building. Leicester's Gatehouse is Listed
Grade I and is not included in the scheduling, although the ground beneath the
building is included. A further elaborate improvement to the castle by Robert
Dudley was the construction of a stable block along the eastern side of the
outer court. It is built against the outer curtain wall and an excavation in
1976-84 within the interior of the building has indicated that it overlies an
earlier structure of similar dimensions. Leicester's Stables measures 49m in
length, its lower storey is of stone with brick and half timbering above.
There are four ground floor entries all of which are on the east side of the
building. The two round headed arched openings at the northern end are
original, whilst the principal entry through a central porch and a wide entry
to the south have been rebuilt.
Immediately to the west of the stables are the foundations of a building which
has been identified as the remains of a second chapel erected by Thomas, Earl
of Lancaster in 1313 to serve as a chantry or collegiate church. Documentary
evidence indicates that it was more or less completed by 1318, but a chantry
was never founded. Evidence for further buildings which originally stood in
the outer court are visible to the south of the great hall. Here, the internal
face of the curtain wall retains a fireplace and three narrow window openings
which represent the remains of an early 13th century building which was
erected against the curtain wall.
Approximately 800m north west of the castle, at the western edge of the mere
are the earthwork remains of an elaborate moated site, known as the Pleasance.
This was laid out by Henry V in c.1414 as a pleasure garden and a place of
entertainment for a restricted circle of medieval aristocrats, including the
king himself. In the 16th century, the Pleasance was abandoned and Henry VIII
reerected its timber framed banqueting hall in the north western part of the
outer court. The building stood in a triangular, walled enclosure to the south
of Swan Tower and, although it has since been demolished, its foundations are
thought to survive as buried features. The Pleasance itself is the subject of
a separate scheduling. A pleasure garden was laid out to the east of this
banqueting house by Robert Dudley prior to Elizabeth I's visit to Kenilworth
in 1575. It was a formal, ornamental garden which occupied an area of almost
1ha and was divided into quarters with the walks meeting at a fountain. A
levelled terrace is visible parallel to the northern wall of the keep and this
is believed to be the remains of a terraced walkway, originally 3m high, from
which the gardens could be viewed. The site of the garden was under
cultivation until the 1930s and in 1970 it was partly excavated and then
reconstructed using a 17th century plan and description. Further garden
remains are visible within the outer court, situated immediately to the west
of the great hall. Here the ground surface has been considerably raised and
levelled and the area is thought to be the remains of a second ornamental
garden which was added by either John of Gaunt or Robert Dudley and provided
fine views over the mere.
The mere covered an area of approximately 100 acres to the south and west of
the core of the castle and, together with the Lower Pool and the northern
moat, made Kenilworth Castle almost impregnable. During the later medieval
period and the 16th century the mere became increasingly important as a
decorative feature which enhanced the setting of the castle. The massive dam
which retained the water within the mere runs south eastwards from the
southern side of the outer court and is approximately 150m long and 40m wide
at its base. In the 12th century a wall, strengthened by pilaster buttresses,
ran along the east side of the dam, whilst during the 13th century a wall was
added to the west side in order to fortify the whole of the dam and enlarge
the area covered by the mere. Documentary records indicate that the height of
the northern end of the dam was further increased in the mid-16th century in
order to make it suitable for tilting, a favourite aristocratic sporting
pastime, and it became known as the Tiltyard. Following the Civil War the dam
was breached in order to drain the mere and prevent it being reflooded.
Fragments of medieval masonry are exposed in places along the dam and,
together with the surviving walls and foundations, indicate the great
complexity of this structure. A 10m wide sample section of the floor of the
mere adjacent to the dam, together with the dam itself, are included in the
The dam served a dual function; it was not only an essential defensive
feature, but was also the principal means of access into the castle until the
16th century. The original gatehouse of the outer court, Mortimer's Tower,
occupies the northern end of the dam and two periods of construction are
visible. It was originally a 12th century square gate tower, to which two drum
towers which flank the gate passage, were added in the 13th century. At the
dam's southern end are the standing remains of the rectangular Gallery Tower
which was erected to defend this end of the dam. In the 16th century Robert
Dudley converted this structure into an observation gallery for tournament
spectators. Beyond the Gallery Tower is the site of the medieval floodgate
which controlled the level of the mere and the water supply to the Lower Pool.
This was protected by walling and a masonry tower.
The mere dam was considered to be such an important feature within the castle
layout that a small tongue of land beyond the southern end of the dam was
incorporated within the castle defences by Simon de Montfort in the 13th
century. Known as the Brays, it provided protection for both the dam and the
medieval floodgate and is enclosed to the south and east by a crescent shaped
bank and an external ditch. Five levelled earthen mounds are visible at
intervals along the top of the bank and it has been suggested that they were
areas for tents or pavilions for tournament spectators rather than defensive
works. There is a gap in the bank on the eastern side of the enclosure and
this is occupied by the remains of two circular towers and a length of
walling. These ruins are believed to be the facade of an elaborate entrance
into the Brays which was built by Robert Dudley in the 16th century prior to
one of Elizabeth I's three visits to Kenilworth between 1563 and 1575.
The external ditch around the Brays measures up to 12m deep and 30m wide and
was originally waterfilled. It was fed from the mere and its water level was
controlled by several sluice gates. In 1962 an excavation at the north eastern
end of the Brays located a stone dam and a sluice gate within the ditch,
whilst an earthwork dam is visible at the southern angle. Beyond the south
eastern part of the Brays the ground falls away quite steeply and the
construction of a counterscarp bank here will have been necessary in order to
retain water within the ditch. A second ditch is visible running east below
the earthen dam at the southern angle; this is thought to be the remains of
the outlet channel for the water defences of the Brays. It originally
continued eastwards but has been infilled and modified by the construction of
numbers 23-33 Castle Street and their gardens. A 30m length of the outlet
channel is included in the scheduling in order to preserve the relationship
between this feature, the dam and the external ditch. To the south and south
west of the Brays are the earthwork remains of a further ditch which runs
parallel to the external ditch and then turns east alongside the outlet
channel. It is thought to have originally formed part of the castle's complex
water management system and was one of several overflow channels which
controlled water levels within the mere. It originally continued north
westwards, parallel with the western facing ditch around the Brays, and
connected with the mere, but this area has been modified by subsequent
quarrying. The earthwork remains of the overflow channel, which are visible to
the south of the Brays, are included in the scheduling.
After the Civil War Kenilworth was purchased by a group of Parliamentarians
who divided the estate between themselves, but following the Restoration, it
was granted to the Hyde family, Earls of Rochester and Clarendon in 1665.
Kenilworth Castle remained in the family's possession until 1937 when it was
purchased by Sir John Davenport Siddeley who placed it in the care of the
Approximately 400m to the north east of Kenilworth Castle are the ruins,
earthwork and buried remains of St Mary's Abbey which is the subject of a
separate scheduling. Leicester's Gatehouse, a Grade I Listed building, the
English Heritage kiosk to the north of Mortimer's Tower, the modern toilet
block and the garage of Purlieu Gate Cottage in the northern part of the site,
and The Cottage which occupies the central part of the Brays are excluded from
the scheduling. The modern bridges which provide access across the Tiltyard,
all fence posts and iron railings, electricity poles, litter bins,
floodlights, signposts, inspection chambers and the surfaces of all paths and
driveways are also excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath
all these features is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

An enclosure castle is a defended residence or stronghold, built mainly of
stone, in which the principal or sole defence comprises the walls and towers
bounding the site. Some form of keep may have stood within the enclosure but
this was not significant in defensive terms and served mainly to provide
accommodation. Larger sites might have more than one line of walling and there
are normally mural towers and gatehouses. Outside the walls a ditch, either
waterfilled or dry, crossed by bridges may be found. The first enclosure
castles were constructed at the time of the Norman Conquest. However, they
developed considerably in form during the 12th century when defensive
experience gained during the Crusades was applied to their design. The
majority of examples were constructed in the 13th century although a few were
built as late as the 14th century. Some represent reconstructions of earlier
medieval earthwork castles of the motte and bailey type, although others were
new creations. They provided strongly defended residences for the king or
leading families and occur in both urban and rural situations. Enclosure
castles are widely dispersed throughout England, with a slight concentration
in Kent and Sussex supporting a vulnerable coast, and a strong concentration
along the Welsh border where some of the best examples were built under Edward
I. They are rare nationally with only 126 recorded examples. Considerable
diversity of form is exhibited with no two examples being exactly alike. With
other castle types, they are major medieval monument types which, belonging to
the highest levels of society, frequently acted as major administrative
centres and formed the foci for developing settlement patterns. Castles
generally provide an emotive and evocative link to the past and can provide a
valuable educational resource, both with respect to medieval warfare and
defence and with respect to wider aspects of medieval society. All examples
retaining significant remains of medieval date are considered to be nationally

Kenilworth Castle is a well preserved example of a very large enclosure castle
which evolved over many centuries from its origins as a small motte and bailey
castle into a spectacular medieval royal residence. Its direct links with the
crown of England from the 12th century through to the 16th century have
ensured that the site is exceptionally well documented through both written
and pictorial records providing details of the major construction periods,
the costs and dates of repairs and alterations to existing structures, and
detailed ownership information.
Part excavation has indicated that structural and artefactual evidence for
the original timber and stone structures which occupied the inner court will
survive beneath the ground surface. These buried remains will contain valuable
information on less well documented early history and occupation of the site.
The latter phases in the castle's development in particular, retain
outstanding examples of structures which are typical of late medieval high
status residences, for example, the great hall and Leicester's Building. The
standing remains of these state apartments clearly reflect, both in their size
and their elaborate internal decoration, the pretensions of the castle's
inhabitants. The importance of water as a medieval defensive feature is
clearly seen at Kenilworth where the whole of the castle was defended by water
and many exemplary water control features are preserved: the artificial mere,
the Lower Pool, the northern moat and the Brays' external ditch system; but,
at the same time, the mere was evidently seen as a picturesque feature,
lending grandeur to the castle's setting. The accumulated silts within these
features provide conditions suitable for the preservation of environmental
evidence and artefacts related to the castle's occupation and the landscape in
which it was set.
The alterations to the mere dam in the 16th century which allowed it to be
used for tilting are well documented and reflect the importance of sporting
pastimes for the highest orders of 16th century society. The Tiltyard at
Kenilworth is a particularly rare feature nationally (the only other example
yet identified is at Tattershall Castle in Lincolnshire).
The site as a whole provides a valuable illustration of the display of wealth
and status during the medieval and Early Renaissance periods amongst the royal
family and the aristocracy. As a site in the care of the Secretary of State
and open to the public, the castle is a valuable educational resource and
public amenity.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Salzman, L F, Wells, H B, The Victoria History of the County of Warwickshire , (1951), 135
Strong, R, The Renaissance Garden in England, (1979), 51
Thompson, M W, Kenilworth Castle, (1977)
Thompson, M W, Kenilworth Castle, (1977), 22
Thompson, M W, Kenilworth Castle, (1977), 15
Thompson, M W, Kenilworth Castle, (1977), 25
Thompson, M W, Kenilworth Castle, (1997)
Drew, J H, 'Transactions of the Birmingham Archaeology & Historical Society' in Notes On The Water System At Kenilworth Castle, , Vol. LXXXI, (1964), 77
Ellis, P, Ratkai, S, 'Birmingham University Field Archaeology Report' in The Elizabethan Gardens and Leicester's Stable at Kenilworth, , Vol. 271, (1993), 12
Ellis, P, Ratkai, S, 'Birmingham University Field Archaeology Report' in The Elizabethan Gardens and Leicester's Stable at Kenilworth, , Vol. 271, (1993), 33
Ellis, P, Ratkai, S, 'Birmingham University Field Archaeology Report' in The Elizabethan Gardens and Leicester's Stable at Kenilworth, , Vol. 271, (1993), 7
Ellis, P, Ratkai, S, 'Birmingham University Field Archaeology Report' in The Elizabethan Gardens and Leicester's Stable at Kenilworth, , Vol. 271, (1993), 1
Ellis, P, Ratkai, S, 'Birmingham University Field Archaeology Report' in The Elizabethan Gardens and Leicester's Stable at Kenilworth, , Vol. 271, (1993), 7
Ellis, P, Ratkai, S, 'Birmingham University Field Archaeology Report' in The Elizabethan Gardens and Leicester's Stable at Kenilworth, , Vol. 271, (1993), 7
Harvey, J H, 'Archaeology Journal' in Sidelights at Kenilworth Castle, (1944), 99
Harvey, J H, 'Archaeology Journal' in Sidelights at Kenilworth Castle, (1944), 97
Harvey, J H, 'Archaeology Journal' in Sidelights at Kenilworth Castle, (1944), 96
Harvey, J H, 'Archaeology Journal' in Sidelights at Kenilworth Castle, (1944), 95
Thompson, M W, 'Medieval Archaeology' in Two Levels of the Mere at Kenilworth Castle, , Vol. IX, (1965), 158
Thompson, M W, 'Medieval Archaeology' in Two Levels of the Mere at Kenilworth Castle, , Vol. IX, (1965), 156
Thompson, M W, 'Medieval Archaeology' in Two Levels of the Mere at Kenilworth Castle, , Vol. IX, (1965), 160
Guthrie, J L, Water System around the Brays, (1994)

Source: Historic England

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