From the beginning of the 11th Century Kenilworth had just a lone watchtower atop the rocky knoll where the Stone Keep sits today. In this chapter I will describe the changes made to Kenilworth Castle over time, what, why and how affected these changes and who influenced their construction. In 1120 the first major building work took place at Kenilworth, a Motte and Bailey castle was built on the rocky, gravely hill in the place of the old Watchtower, fifty two years after a Motte and Bailey structure had appeared down the road at Warwick.
The first tenant of Kenilworth Castle was Geoffrey De Clinton, after being granted the royal manor of Stoneleigh, he needed to defend himself against his neighbours the earls of Warwick. Between 1174-84 a heated political feud between Henry II and his son boiled over, resulting in Kenilworth Castle and others being provisioned and garrisoned by Henry. At this time the castle was rebuilt in stone, in Kenilworth’s case red sandstone, a material easily come across in the area. Built with thick walls, latest state of the art defences such as Slit windows, parapets, a secure water supply and a single spiral staircase leading up the keep.
The whole structure was crafted upon a sandstone plinth, heightening the keep further. The keep was an oblong shape building with square towers. It was designed this way to spread the Keeps weight; the idea was that attackers couldn’t mine the wall down. Within the walls were also a chapel, stables, kitchen and hall, making the castle self-sufficient. Henry’s motive for this mammoth renovation of the castle was to arm the castle in case of further rebellions and uprisings in the area. Circa 1190-99 Richard I granted Kenilworth Castle the right to hold jousting tournaments, a permanent tiltyard was constructed near the castle gatehouse.
At this time, jousting and imitation warfare were popular attractions. Around 1210-15, King John further extended the castle; an additional perimeter wall was added along with towers to protect strategic points in the defence. The original ditch was filled in and replaced with a larger outer one. A small river was dammed nearby in order to flood the new ditch to create a mere, a kilometre long and wide, surrounding the castle. This was done to add defensibility to the castle and later on in the castle history, used for recreational use, such as sailing.
In 1253 the De Momforts held out in the Castle for 9 months as the crown laid siege to the castle when the family turned against the King in the baronial war. 1389-94 was a period of stability. After the signing of the Magna Carta and the death of King John but Kenilworth’s towers ‘suggest readiness in case if civil unrest’. At this point John Of Gaunt owned the castle and aims to increase the castles’ prestige and opulence. Kenilworth now started to become a grand residence, as John Of Gaunt demonstrates his wealth by building the Great Hall an impressive ornamental room, built for meetings, banquets and administration.
The hall was built in the latest style and contained many luxurious features new to the time. The building was equipped with kitchens, chambers and a chapel. John Of Gaunt also built three new towers all with symmetrical roof patterns to match the Great Hall. These three towers The Strong, Saint Lowe and Gaunt’s Tower were built to cater nobles residing at the Castle, rather as defensive features. All these new features were to show his power and wealth, and to bring nobles to his residence.