Warwick Castle, home of the Kingmaker — Seeing the past (2022)

Table of Contents
Warwick Castle is one of the finest in the UK and a historical feast for all the ages What’s in the Warwick Castle blog menu? The best way to plan your visit and avoid the crowds The state rooms Guy’s Tower The Gatehouse and Barbican The original Motte and Bailey Castle The Curtain Walls and Battlements The Great Hall Why did William the Conqueror build Warwick Castle? The need for speed Who lived at Warwick Castle and how did Warwick feature in the twelfth century civil war known as the “Anarchy”? What were Warwick’s links to Simon de Montfort, the Second Baron’s Revolt 1264-67 and the birth of parliament? Where did the money come from to build Warwick Castle? “Who was Warwick the Kingmaker” (for a more in depth account see our blog on the Wars of the Roses.) What happened to Warwick Castle after the Wars of the Roses? Warwick Castle and the English Civil War Find out more; Getting there By Car Opening times and Tickets for Warwick Castle Articles that may interest you Why did people build castles in England? Did the reasons for building later versions of castles change and when did they begin building castles are all key questions to be answered in this blog.The story of castles in England really begins with William the Conqueror and his victory in the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Before 1066, a couple of Normans living in England and friends of the English King, Edward the Confessor had built castles but on the whole, castles were not part of the English landscape. When William won the battle, he only had about 8 000 men but unfortunately for him, there were 2.5 million Saxons who loathed him and were prepared to take him on despite him defeating Harold Godwinson, the former king of England. This conquest by a foreigner was not to be tolerated. William knew this and so the main reason for building castles was for his protection and control of the English. William was not only a foreigner, he had a terrible reputation. On arrival in England his men destroyed property in Sussex, pillaging, raping and killing as they went. His cruel reputation was created before he arrived however, with stories of “skinning people alive” and putting out men’s eyes! Protective castles were therefore needed to safeguard a man and his Norman followers from rebellious and vengeful Saxons.

Warwick Castle, home of the Kingmaker — Seeing the past (1)

Warwick Castle is one of the finest in the UK and a historical feast for all the ages

For history geeks, there are a lot of historical features to seek out, such as its amazing barbican.

It was very much at the centre of English history after William the Conqueror gained powering 1066 and played a huge part in the Wars of The Roses as the home of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, who became known as the Kingmaker.

For a brief period, Neville could be seen as the most powerful man in England with Henry VI overthrown and imprisoned in the Tower of London and his successor, Edward IV, being captured and held in Warwick Castle.

Later, whilst staying at Warwick Castle, Sir Thomas More suggests King Richard III gave the order to execute the two “Princes in the Tower”! (Please note that More was the chancellor from Henry VII, the son of Henry VII who defeated Richard III and was not a witness to any of this!)

For families there is plenty to take you back to a bygone era such as archery, jousting and falconry displays. Warwick boasts the biggest trebuchet in the world with live demonstrations on certain days.

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Warwick Castle, home of the Kingmaker — Seeing the past (3)

Warwick Castle, home of the Kingmaker — Seeing the past (4)

What’s in the Warwick Castle blog menu?

*Plan your visit

*Typical castle features to be seen at Warwick

*The history of Warwick Castle

*Essential information

The best way to plan your visit and avoid the crowds


On entering the castle it is a good idea to visit the Great Hall first because the queue lengthens throughout the day.

Inside you will see an awesome weapons display from a variety of periods. Another early item on your to do list to avoid too much queuing will be to walk around the top of the battlements or wall walk.

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Warwick Castle, home of the Kingmaker — Seeing the past (7)

Warwick Castle, home of the Kingmaker — Seeing the past (8)

Warwick Castle, home of the Kingmaker — Seeing the past (9)

The state rooms

As well as seeing key features of the medieval world, visitors can wander through a series of quite stunning state rooms enhanced by a collection of wax figures with the theme of "The Royal Weekend Party.”

This depicts a typical event once held at the castle the turn of the last century and featuring nationally important characters such as Winston Churchill and the future George V.

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Warwick Castle, home of the Kingmaker — Seeing the past (11)

Warwick Castle, home of the Kingmaker — Seeing the past (12)

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Guy’s Tower

The first stand out feature that you will notice on passing through the ticket office is this massive 14th century, twelve sided, tower. However, this medieval tower has been modified with windows rather than arrow slits.

This is explained by the need to use hand held cannons during the English Civil War, (1642-51) which required larger openings.

At the top of the tower, machicolations were built. In many castles these are a fake design feature but in Guy’s Tower there are openings through which defenders can drop rocks and unsavoury items on the attackers below.

One such substance was “Quick Lime” which is a strong alkaline substance that burns skins and people’s eyes if they are looking upwards at the time of the pouring taking place. One suggested antidote to this to neutralise it with an acid! How does an attacker get an acidic substance in such an emergency, he uses urine. Yes, the army may have to “wee” on each other!

Some people have suggested that they dropped boiling water on the attackers but in many cases, water was precious and under no circumstances would it be wasted. When dying of thirst, defenders in some castles even attempted to bury themselves up to their necks in the vain hope of absorbing water through their skin!

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Some defenders even resorted to killing their valuable horses to drink their blood! The tower was used to accommodate important and influential guests, but was also occasionally as a prison for important prisoners. These people were key political prisoners and some that were held for ransom.

The chivalric code between knights meant that knights did not usually kill other knights but would hold them to ransomed profit from fighting. The knights relatives would also have to pay for the return of his armour or see it sold to the highest bidder!

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The Gatehouse and Barbican

The weakness of any castle was the entrance. It had to be big enough to let horses and carts in, but strong enough to prevent any potential enemy to enter.

Doors made of solid oak could be made but they could be attacked by a battering ram or set alight. When moats were created to surround the walls, a means of crossing them had to be built and this was a further potential weak point.

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The defence of the gatehouse was heightened when the “Barbican” was invented.

This was an extra construction built in front of the gatehouse consisting of towers, portcullises, a “killing ground” between the portcullises using “Murder holes” as well as the mechanism to raise and lower a drawbridge across the moat.

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Even if the attacker got past the first portcullis before it reached the ground, there was every chance that he wouldn’t get past the second one and then be in the “killing Ground”.

Arrows could then rain down on him!

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The original Motte and Bailey Castle

You can see how steep the Motte is and therefore, how difficult it was to attack the wooden tower at the top.

Soil from the ditch would make to build the motte and having a ditch meant the wooden walls were harder to attack. The problem was of course, that wood can rot, is easy to burn and holes can be created with an axe!

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Warwick Castle, home of the Kingmaker — Seeing the past (20)

The Curtain Walls and Battlements

Defenders can easily avoid being killed by arrows by ducking down behind the merlons.

They can also fire at various angles through the cross shaped arrow loops or stand in the embrasure. The wall walk provides the opportunity for defenders to move around the walls to defend the area under attack.

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Warwick Castle, home of the Kingmaker — Seeing the past (22)

The Great Hall

Entry into the Great Hall will take your breath away.

A Great Hall was first constructed on this site in the 14th century and was later reconstructed in the 17th century only to reconstructed again in 1871 after destruction by a large fire.

You can see a large collection of weapons and suits of armour as well as the two knights on horseback.

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Warwick Castle, home of the Kingmaker — Seeing the past (24)

Warwick Castle, home of the Kingmaker — Seeing the past (25)

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Why did William the Conqueror build Warwick Castle?

The building of Warwick Castle solved various problems for William the Conqueror.

When he won the Battle of Hastings, defeating the local candidate, Harold Godwinson, William knew that he was highly unpopular in a hostile country. There were at least 2 million Saxons in England and he had just over 5000 soldiers! Not all of the Anglo-Saxon landowning nobility died or even fought at Hastings and therefore presented a lot of possible trouble for William.

Added to this, there was still a possible threat from the Vikings in Scandinavia who had friends and relatives living in the north east of England and could call on them for support and vital supplies. Beyond northern England, the King of Scotland could also cause trouble and to the west of England, the Welsh princes would also have to be contained.

His solution was to reward his Norman with land, be generous to existing Anglo-Saxon lords hoping to win them over and to build numerous castles. These would act as bases for his ennobled followers and and their small armies as well as symbols of Norman power over the local population. Every time a peasant stopped working in his field and looked up, in the distance would be a large mound topped with a tower letting him know who was in control and his lowly, powerless position in the new Norman world!

The need for speed

William desperately needed a castle in the middle of his new realm and so he quickly built a motte and bailey castle at Warwick. He used the bend in the river Avon to stop access to his new castle and its high position. Soldiers based at Warwick Castle could now move quickly in the Midlands to suppress any uprisings. It could also be used as a stepping stone to the “troublesome north!”. William appointedthe son of a loyal and powerful Norman family, Henry de Beaumont, later the Earl of Warwick, as constable of the castle.

By 1069, there had been several rebellions in the north involving key Anglo-Saxons such as Earls Edwin, Morcar, Gospatric and the surviving claimant to the throne, Edgar the Atheling. In January 1069, Gospatric lost his title and was replaced by one of William’s key officials, Robert Cumin( or Comyn). He was sent north via Warwick to suppress all revolt and teach the rebels and their supporters a lesson .

Comyn attacked and looted towns and villages as he progressed north but when he got to Durham he faced a surprise rebel attack and was killed! For this, William was determined to teach a very harsh lesson to the people of the North that they would never forget. The action has gone down in history as “The Harrying of the North”.

His army was directed to destroy all crops, food and livestock as well as shelters which resulted in the deaths of over 100 000 people through starvation. William believed that knowledge of such a cruel punishment would keep the remaining Englishmen in line.

Furthermore, his action was designed to remove large numbers of former Vikings or “Anglo-Danes”, from Northumbria and so would curtail any local Viking support for any invasion from Scandanavia.

Who lived at Warwick Castle and how did Warwick feature in the twelfth century civil war known as the “Anarchy”?

In 1135, William’s son, Henry I died leaving a female heir, Matilda (sometimes known as Maud) to rule a male dominated kingdom. His nephew, Stephen of Blois, did not accept this and quickly rode to London and claimed the throne! He became known as King Stephen I.

Civil war between the two rivals ensued until both sides, exhausted through war, came to an agreement and acknowledged that Matilda’s son, Henry (II) would be king on Stephen’s death.

In 1153, the second Earl of Warwick was in London supporting King Stephen in the war, when Warwick was besieged by the young Henry on behalf of his mother. Sieges always take a long time to succeed and this was no exception until Henry’s side came up with the idea of tricking the Earls wife, Gundred by informing her that her husband, the Earl of Warwick, was dead! With so may deaths in this period it is easy to see why Hundred believed this story.

As a consequence, she saw no point in continuing the fight and surrendered the castle! Under the newly crowned Henry II, the castle was returned to its former owners.

In Henry II’s reign, several illegal castles had been built by unruly Barons, who believed that they could do as they pleased. One of his first tasks was to destroy such castles and reassert royal power. His own castles were redesigned and made far more secure. As a consequence, Warwick Castle was now rebuilt out of stone.

What were Warwick’s links to Simon de Montfort, the Second Baron’s Revolt 1264-67 and the birth of parliament?

King John fell out with his nobles in the early 13th century and in 1264, his son Henry III fell out with his nobles about similar issues.

This time the rebels were led by Simon de Montford, the Earl of Leicester who was based at Kenilworth Castle just under 5 miles away from Warwick. At this time Warwick Castle just been inherited by William Mauduit who was a loyal follower of the king but was very ill prepared to an attack. In 1264 Warwick Castle fell to the rebels and Mauduit and his wife were held prisoners. Chivalry dictated that Mauduit should be ransomed and eventually he was back in charge of his castle.

Watch this short video on the Second Baron’s Revolt and the birth of parliament.

Where did the money come from to build Warwick Castle?

Massive redevelopment was financed by dealings in the Hundred Years’ War.

Many of the features of Warwick Castle were built with the money made from participating in the “Hundred Years’ War”. In 1337 Edward III claimed his right to inherit the French throne after the death of King Philip IV and this began a lengthy war between England and France. The Earl of Warwick, at that time, was Thomas Beauchamp, rose to be one of Edward’s top commanders. He was present at the historic English victories at the battles of Crecy in 1346 and Poitiers in 1356.

In the process, Thomas Beauchamp was allowed to ransom captured French Knights as well all of their weapons and armour. The armour of a captured or killed knight could be sold for £400 which would be twice as much as could earned from English estates! Thomas Beauchamp also, no doubt, found numerous other methods to obtain money from the French because he returned to Warwick with a vast fortune which was used to finance the building of Warwick’s towers as well as other features.

Warwick was not the only castle to benefit in this way. Sir Robert Knollys has been described by Dr Marc Morris as, “perhaps, the most notorious individual of his age…..He owed his reputation to his own savagery; even in a brutal age, Knollys stood out as a man more brutal than anyone else.” He made his fortune on several trips to France in the Hundred Years’ War.

He raided places of all sizes from cities to towns, he plundered and looted whenever possible and held knights and even whole villages, to ransom! Sir Edward Dallingridge’s crossed to France at least six times in the 1360s and 1370s and from his exploits, financed the development of the beautiful Bodiam Castle.

“Who was Warwick the Kingmaker” (for a more in depth account see our blog on the Wars of the Roses.)

Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, (1449-71)the husband of Anne de Beauchamp, had a major role to play in what is now called the Wars of the Roses. The “Wars of the Roses” was a long civil war between two families, both claiming the throne of England. The Earl of Warwick initially supported the Yorkists against the ruling Henry VI but later on fell out with Edward IV and changed sides to defeat Edward and bring back Henry to rule once more. The series of battles lasted from 1455 to 1487 and was the longest period of civil war in England. In 1461, 50 00 men took part in the Battle of Towton of which 28 000 were slaughtered. This figure is worse than the horrific number who died on the first day Battle of the Somme in 1916, often cited as the worst ever casualty total in one day. Key participants in these battles were, for the Lancastrians, they red roses, Henry VI, and Henry VII and for the the Yorkists, the white roses Edward IV and Richard III. As stated earlier, the Earl of Warwick switched sides and after his death, he became known as the “Kingmaker” for helping Edward IV to gain the crown and Henry VI to reclaim it. At various points the kingmaker held Henry Vi prisoner and at other times, held Edward IV. With Henry VI in power, Warwick’s influence over English government was at its highest but was to be short-lived. Edward once again raised an invasion force and this time Warwick was killed after losing the Battle of Barnet in April 1471. The ultimate victor in 1485 was the first Tudor, Henry VII whose aim was to die a natural death in his bed and be succeeded by his son without any hassle, the young Henry VIII.

What happened to Warwick Castle after the Wars of the Roses?

After Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick died, Warwick castle’s prominent place in national affairs began to decline. Edward IV gave it firstly to his brother, George Duke of Clarence and after he rebelled, to his other brother Richard Duke of Gloucester who would become Richard III. Richard, famous for the “Mystery of the disappearance of the Two Princes in the Tower”, ruled for less than 2 years and after the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, the castle came into the possession of the Tudors. The castle began to fall into disrepair and some areas were simply abandoned. By the start of the reign of the Stuart King James I it was in such a poor state that it was scheduled for demolition! Fortunately it was saved and over time began to be restored. One of its saviours, Sir Fulke Greville has gone down in history for his horrible murder by his manservant, Ralph Haywood in 1628.

Warwick Castle and the English Civil War

In the summer of 1642, the King Charles I had fallen out with Parliament for the last time and declared war on it. Sir Fulke had been succeeded by Robert Greville, who at the outbreak of the War was promoted to Commander of the Parliamentary forcers for Warwickshire and Staffordshire. As a consequence, Warwick castle had to experience a three week siege by the king’s army and it managed to come through it. We are now in the time of canons, rather than trebuchets and musket balls rather than arrows but it survived.

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Find out more;

👉Guide for when visiting castles.

👉 Why did people build castles?

👉 What were the Wars of the Roses?

Getting there

By Car

Warwick Castle is two miles from junction 15 of the M40 and there are plenty of signposts to keep you on the best route. The address for your SAT Nav is : Warwick Castle, Warwick, Warwickshire, CV34 6AH (for standard parking).

Parking at Warwick Castle.

In normal, non Covid times, our advice is to arrive early to ensure a parking place. However, Covid restrictions mean that parking arrangements may be different and therefore see Warwick Castles website https://www.warwick-castle.com for up to date information.

By Rail

Warwick Station is approximately one mile from the Castle. A direct service into London Marylebone (1 hour 45 minutes) or Birmingham Snow Hill is available. For information visitwww.westmidlandsrailway.co.ukorwww.chilternrailways.co.uk

Opening times and Tickets for Warwick Castle

See https://www.warwick-castle.com for current times, prices and procedures. Tickets are limited and have to be booked in advance.

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