She’s had over 36 individual owners, but with her latest incarnation as a top tourist destination, Warwick Castle continues to demand that her master either moves with the times or she moves on!
She’s come a long way from being an Anglo-Saxon burgh fortified by Ethelfleda (yes, THAT Ethelfleda)* in the year 914. By 1068 she’s caught the eye of William The Conqueror and kept under the protection of the first Earl of Warwick, Henry de Beaumont. Ah, but Warwick Castle is highly coveted and she knows it. She doesn’t waste time with a prospective owner unless he has the money, clout and cunning to play a major supporting role in most of the turning points in English history. In fact, in 1153 the 2nd Earl of Warwick’s wife was tricked into believing her husband was dead so that Henry of Anjou (future Henry II) can lay claim to Warwick Castle and all she has to offer. Henry II looked after her and made her into a stone castle complete with curtain wall. She was only given to her next keeper after the nobleman supported Henry II’s mother, Empress Matilda, during The Anarchy (1135-54).
It wasn’t always all fun and games for Warwick Castle, she was attacked by Simon de Montfort in 1264, later he became the de facto ruler of England, establishing the Model Parliament that serves as the basis for parliamentary democracy today. Worse was to come, in 1312 she witnessed a power-hungry master sentence Edward II’s lover, Piers Gaveston, to death and in 1431 her owner supervised the trial and execution of Joan of Arc.
By the 15th century, no less than Edward IV was reduced to being her humble prisoner. During her tumultuous association with Richard Neville, he rose to prominence in the Wars of the Roses and became known as The Kingmaker, putting not one but two men on the throne. During this time King Richard III gave her two gun towers. She is also associated with a major player in the Tudor era, when during the reign of King Edward VI (son of Henry VIII), her owner was John Dudley, aka 1st Duke of Northumberland, up to the point when he was beheaded for treason after his plan to put his daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey, on the throne fell through. Somehow Warwick Castle managed to survive the Tudors, being acquainted with Queen Elizabeth I during her Tour of the Country.
She showed signs of ageing during the reign of James I and VI, and was adapted to become a country house for the poet, dramatist and statesman Sir Fulke Greville, who spent lavish amounts of money on her until he was murdered by his servant. Perpetrators of the Gun Powder plot are rumoured to have stolen horses from her stables.
During the English Civil War, the Parliamentarians had her and Royalist forces became her prisoners. Centuries of plotting and greed have left their mark on her features, but for her status she was still considered worthy to host King William III in 1695. In 1749, Lancelot “Capability” Brown landscaped her gardens, gaining the admiration of Horace Walpole. Warwick Castle’s walls have weathered much through the ages, her secrets and failings are exposed, but this is the price of glory and attention.
Since the Victorian period, hordes of tourists have been willing to pay for the privilege of visiting and spending time with her. They try to hear each other through the shrieks of excited children and pretend they don’t mind paying £10 for parking or £5 for a charred burger from surly staff in unconvincing medieval garb, as they relive her stories and watch pretend knights joust. They understand there is nothing to be gained by judging the fallen, and content in the knowledge that after 950 years, she has finally acknowledged those who couldn’t gain anything from her.
* Daughter of Alfred the Great