Warwick Castle

Posted: August 11, 2013 in Historic Buildings
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Warwick Castle is a medieval castle developed from an original built by William the Conqueror in 1068. Warwick is the county town of Warwickshire, England, situated on a bend of the River Avon. The original wooden motte-and-bailey castle was rebuilt in stone in the 12th century. During the Hundred Years War, the facade opposite the town was refortified, resulting in one of the most recognisable examples of 14th century military architecture. It was used as a stronghold until the early 17th century, when it was granted to Sir Fulke Greville by James I in 1604. Sir Fulke Greville converted it to a country house. It was owned by the Greville family, who became earls of Warwick in 1759, until 1978 when it was bought by the Tussauds Group.

An Anglo-Saxon burh was established on the site in 914; with fortifications instigated by Ethelfleda, daughter of Alfred the Great. The burh she established was one of ten which defended Mercia against the marauding Danes. Its position allowed it to dominate the Fosse Way, as well as the river valley and the crossing over the River Avon. Though the motte to the south-west of the present castle is now called “Ethelfleda’s Mound”, it is in fact part of the later Norman fortifications, and not of Anglo-Saxon origin.

After the Norman conquest of England, William the Conqueror established a motte-and-bailey castle at Warwick in 1068 to maintain control of the Midlands as he advanced northwards. Building a castle in a pre-existing settlement could require demolishing properties on the intended site. In the case of Warwick, the least recorded of the 11 urban castles in the 1086 survey, four houses were torn down to make way for the castle. A motte-and-bailey castle consists of a mound – on which usually stands a keep or tower – and a bailey, which is an enclosed courtyard. William appointed Henry de Beaumont, the son of a powerful Norman family, as constable of the castle. In 1088, Henry de Beaumont was made the first Earl of Warwick. He founded the Church of All Saints within the castle walls by 1119; the Bishop of Worcester, believing that a castle was an inappropriate location for a church, removed it in 1127–28]

In 1153, the wife of Roger de Beaumont, 2nd Earl of Warwick, was tricked into believing that her husband was dead, and surrendered control of the castle to the invading army of Henry of Anjou, later King Henry II. According to the Gesta Regis Stephani, a 12th-century historical text, Roger de Beaumont died on hearing the news that his wife had handed over the castle. Henry later returned the castle to the Earls of Warwick as they had been supporters of his mother, Empress Matilda, in The Anarchy of 1135–54.

From 1088, the castle had traditionally belonged to the Earl of Warwick, and it served as a symbol of his power. The castle was taken in 1153 by Henry of Anjou, later Henry II. It has been used to hold prisoners, including some from the Battle of Poitiers in the 14th century. Under the ownership of Richard Neville – also known as “Warwick the Kingmaker” – Warwick Castle was used in the 15th century to imprison the English king, Edward IV.

During the reign of King Henry II (1154–89), the motte-and-bailey was replaced with a stone castle. This new phase took the form of a shell keep with all the buildings constructed against the curtain wall. During the barons’ rebellion of 1173–74, the Earl of Warwick remained loyal to King Henry II, and the castle was used to store provisions. The castle and the lands associated with the earldom passed down in the Beaumont family until 1242. When Thomas de Beaumont, 6th Earl of Warwick, died the castle and lands passed to his sister, Lady Margery, countess of Warwick in her own right. Her husband died soon after, and while she looked for a suitable husband, the castle was in the ownership of King Henry III. When she married John du Plessis in December 1242, the castle was returned to her. During the Second Barons’ War of 1264–67, William Maudit, 8th Earl of Warwick, was a supporter of King Henry III. 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 of the castle were slighted so that it would be useless to the king. 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, 9th Earl of Warwick. Following William’s death, Warwick Castle passed through seven generations of the Beauchamp family, who over the next 180 years were responsible for most of the additions made to the castle. In 1312, Piers Gaveston, 1st Earl of Cornwall, was captured by Guy de Beauchamp, 10th Earl of Warwick, and imprisoned in Warwick Castle until his execution on 9 June 1312. A group of magnates led by the Earl of Warwick and Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster, accused Gaveston of stealing the royal treasure.

Under Thomas de Beauchamp, 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, named Caesar’s Tower and Guy’s Tower. The Watergate Tower also dates from this period.

Caesar’s and Guy’s Towers are residential and may have been inspired by French models (for example Bricquebec). Both towers are machicolated and Caesar’s Tower features a unique double parapet. The two towers are also vaulted in stone on every storey. Caesar’s Tower contained a “grim” basement dungeon; according to local legend dating back to at least 1644 it is also known as Poitiers Tower either because prisoners from the Battle of Poitiers in 1356 may have been imprisoned there or because the ransoms razed from the battle helped to pay for its construction. The gatehouse features murder holes, two drawbridges, a gate, and portcullises – gates made from wood or metal. The towers of the gatehouse were machicolated.

The facade overlooking the river was designed as a symbol of the power and wealth of the Beauchamp earls and would have been “of minimal defensive value”; this followed a trend of 14th-century castles being more statements of power than designed exclusively for military use.

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