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Medieval Castles > Castles England > Warwick Castle
Location: The town of Warwick, county of Warwickshire, in central England.
Built in: Erected by Ethelfleda, daughter of king Alfred the Great, in the year 914.
England is not so rich in varied combinations of palace, abbey, and tower as is France, for instance, and particularly Touraine. Many of England's most famous mediaeval castles have been suffered to fall into decay, or, worse still, have been improved into modern shape by the rash hand of idle innovators. There is one among english castles, however, which neither Time's defacing fingers nor man's innovating hand has despoiled - Warwick Castle.
Possibly there is no place of this sort so well known to the whole English world over, situated as it is within that Shakespeare country from which proceeded those melodious sounds that yet fill the world.
Nearly half a century ago Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote for an American magazine a series of sketches, in one of which, entitled "About Warwick," he tells us how "through the vista of willows that droop on either side into the water we behold the grey magnificence of Warwick Castle uplifting itself among stately trees and rearing its turrets above their loftiest branches. We can scarcely think the scene real, so completely do the machicolated towers, the long line of battlements, the massive buttresses, the high-windowed walls, shape out our indistinct ideas of the antique time."
After all a castle, even so famous a one as Warwick, is not so interesting in itself as the scenes it has witnessed and the people who have lived in it or have visited it. The history of Warwick Castle, for the last four hundred and fifty years at least, has been no small part of the history of England.
Personal and local history in England does not so much begin with the Reformation as it does in other countries; but this one thing is certain, that between the pre-Reformation world and ourselves there is a great gulf fixed which the historian has tried in vain to bridge. Not that the place before that could have been devoid of interest: no castle in the stormy times of the Wars of the Roses could have enjoyed the happiness of having no history; and, surely, if any did, Warwick was not one of them. Its very position, situated in the heart of England, must, from the time when the Great Alfred's daughter built the keep ("the monument of the wisdom and energy of the mighty Ethelfleda"), have been such that, in all the numerous brawls and butcheries dignified by the name of civil war, the possession of it must have been a matter of supreme importance.
And so it was nearly four centuries before the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses that William the Conqueror had made Warwick the base of his operations for his campaign in the North. The fortress he built there has gone not one stone left upon another, and so utterly perished that the very site of it is pure guesswork. The legendary Guy and all his feats may be dismissed from any account which makes any pretence to be historical. There is a curious account of the garrison of Warwick Castle in the time of Henry II, when all his legitimate sons were in arms against him, and the two illegitimate sons of Fair Rosamond alone remained faithful. It was occupied for the King; and the sheriff's account rendered for the victualling of the place was this: "xi. li. xiii. d. for 20 quarters of Bread Corn ; xx. s. for 20 quarters of Malt; c.s. for 50 Biefs salted up; xxx. s. for go cheeses; and xx. s. for salt then laid in for the victualling thereof."
Of the importance of Warwick Castle in the Middle Ages we can well form an idea from Dugdale's statement: "Of what regard it was in those times may be discerned by the King's precept to the Archbishop of York, for requiring good security of Margery, sister and heir to Thomas, then Earl of Warwick, that she should not take to husband any person whatsoever in whom the said King could not repose trust as in his own self: the chief reason being given in these words, I Because she has a Castle of immense strength, and situated towards the Marshes."
No mention of Warwick Castle would be complete if it left out the famous Earl - "the King-Maker," and the "Last of the Barons." Never was the "Bear and Ragged Staff" held in such high esteem as between 1455 and 1470. And when, a few years after the King-Maker's death, the avaricious Henry VII annexed his various manors to the Crown, he got possession of over a hundred of them, to say nothing of the whole of the Channel Islands. A contemporary tells us that "at the Earl's house in London six oxen were usually eaten at breakfast, and every tavern was full of his meat, for he that had any acquaintance in his family should have as much sodden i.e., boiled as he could carry on a long dagger."
The Castle had remained for a very considerable period in the possession of the successive earls. It next passed to the ill-starred George, Duke of Clarence, and upon his death, "being seized into the King's hands, it continued in the Crown a great while."
When the famous John Dudley became Earl of Warwick, the Castle was granted to him, as well as divers lands which had belonged to former earls. Of his fate in connection with the unhappy Lady Jane Grey there is no need to speak here. The Castle and all his estates, upon his attainder, escheated to the Crown. Thanks to the favour with which Robert Dudley, better known as the Earl of Leicester, was regarded by Queen Elizabeth, his brother Ambrose received from that queen a grant of Warwick Castle, together with the dignities of Earl of Warwick and Baron de l'Isle, in 1561. Three years later his brother Robert became Earl of Leicester.
There were other subjects beside Lord Burghley who groaned inwardly under the extraordinary. chardg in Enterteynment of the Queen." Elizabeth had more than the ordinary passion of the time for "rich shews, pleasant devices and all manner of sports that could be devised." Notwithstanding the extent of her various progresses east and west and north and south, there seemed to be always something freshly arranged for her entertainment. In 1572 on her way to Kenilworth, she stayed at Warwick, and visited the Earl of Warwick at the Castle she had granted him eleven years before. She came to Warwick "on the 12th day of August, after dinner, about three of the clock, with the Countess in the same coach."
Evelyn, as the author of Silva well might do, did not think much of the gardens in 1654. To bring them to perfection was reserved for that luckless of the heads of the Grevilles, George, the second Baron, who "planned the park by his taste and planted the trees with his hand." The second son, Robert, who became the fourth Lord Brooke, was one of the six lords sent by the House of Peers, together with twelve of the members of the House of Commons, to, present to Charles II at the Hague, "the humble invitation and supplication of the Parliament: That His Majesty would be pleased to return and take the government of the Kingdom into his own hands." - He was made Recorder of Warwick, and being a great traveller added much to the embellishment of the Castle.
It was to him that the fitting up of the state apartments is due, and he worthily continued to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors in the title. His successors from one generation to another took pride above everything else in the adornment and beautification of their castle. In 1746 the eighth Baron was created Earl Brooke, and in the last year of the reign of George II the Earldom of Warwick, which had been conferred in 1618 on the family of Rich, becoming extinct, devolved upon Lord Brooke.
The son of this first Earl of Warwick was one of the most reckless of all connoisseurs, and Warwick Castle is indebted to him for many valuable gems which his uncle, Sir William Hamilton, collected. Many of the finest specimens of artistic work at Warwick bear testimony to his taste, but the enlargement and improvement of the grounds about the Castle are his special work, and he expended over 100,000 Pounds in beautifying the interior of his home.
The entrance to the Castle consists of a plain embattled gateway, leading to a picturesque winding roadway, cut, for upwards of a hundred yards, through the solid rock, and overhung with shrubs, creepers, and trees. This roadway conducts to the outer court, where a grand view of the outer walls suddenly bursts upon the visitor, the main features of which are Guy's Tower on the right, the Gateway in the middle, and Caesar's Tower on the left.
Guy's Tower, so named in honour of the legendary warrior, was built by the second Thomas de Beauchamp in the reign of Richard II, being completed in 1394, It is twelve-sided, thirty feet in diameter at the base, with walls ten feet thick, and rises to a height of a hundred and twenty-eight feet. This tower contains five floors, each floor having a groined roof and being subdivided into one large and two small rooms, the sides of which are pierced with numerous loopholes, commanding in various directions the curtains which the tower was intended to protect. A staircase of a hundred and thirty-three steps leads to the summit, which is crowned by a machicolated parapet.
The vault beneath has been constructed of great strength, apparently for the purpose of supporting on the roof some ponderous and powerful engine, calculated to annihilate anything which could be brought against it. The details of the Castle can be best observed from this tower, and it commands a fine view of the surrounding country, extending for many miles. The second-floor chamber, was the place of confinement of the Earl of Lindsey, who, with his father, was taken prisoner at the battle of Edge Hill.
Caesar's Tower was erected between 1350 and 1370 by the first Thomas de Beauchamp, and it is a marvel of constructive skill. It is an irregular polygon, a hundred and forty-seven feet in height, containing four stories, each with a groined roof, arid is crowned by a boldly projecting machicolation. The part facing outward forms three segments of a circle, the general construction being such as to constitute it a fortress of the most formidable character. It is, built on the solid rock, and was therefore impervious to the miner. The loopholes throughout are most scientifically contrived, not being cut in the centre of the merlons in each instance, but being pierced in positions commanding the most advantageous situations, and being made available for the long or crossbow.
The lower edges of the loopholes are also sloped at the exact angle requisite to clear the gallery below. The archers were securely protected by wooden screens, termed mantlets, and by leather curtains, as well as by the roofs above them. The sloping base of the tower constituted another formidable medium for launching missiles against the enemy, being so constructed that a stone or metal projectile, launched from the machicolation above, would rebound with a point blank aim into the breasts of the attacking force beneath.
The Gateway was constructed in the Fourteenth Century, - and was in ancient times approached by a drawbridge, which formerly spanned the moat, but is now replaced by a stone arch. On the inner side of this is the Barbican, projecting some fifty feet from the wall, and rising two stories in height above the archway. It is flanked by two octagonal turrets, loopholed for the purpose of defending the bridge and its approaches. Within the drawbridge is a portcullis, and behind the portcullis are four holes overhead, through which biazing pitch, hot lead, or other scarifying compounds could be poured on the heads of the assailants...
The spacious Inner Court is nearly two acres in extent. In front stands the Mound or Keep, studded with trees and shrubs, and crossed by the fortifications, in which the Northern Tower forms a prominent object. On the right, connected by walls of enormous strength, are two incomplete towers, termed the Bear and Clarence Towers, the former begun by Richard III, and the latter probably by his brother, George, Duke of Clarence. On the left, extending to the Hill Tower at the base of the Mound, is the inhabited part of the Castle, altered and enlarged at various times since it was first built, but with so much skill as to be in perfect keeping with the general aspect of the whole.
A fortress is said to have existed here in Roman times; and Ethelfleda, daughter of Alfred the Great, is stated to have erected a keep or dungeon on the Mound in the year 915, and this again is stated to have been enlarged in the time of the Conqueror.
Warwick Castle still stands by itself amongst English castles. It not only brings before us the people whom it had witnessed itself, from William the Conqueror down to Queen Victoria, but it enables us to represent what the baronial castles - Kenilworth and a host of others, which have fallen into decay - once were: by it we can reconstruct their halls and their bowers, their chapels and their dungeons, and can reproduce them to ourselves as they were when great kings and dukes and lords, who have long since crumbled into dust, filled them with their sound and fury, which now signifies nothing: we can see the Beauchamps and the Nevills and the Plantagenets, and those that went before them and those that came after them, pass through its galleries in knightly procession: we can be present there with Queen Elizabeth and Lord Leicester when all was revelry and mirth; or with the stout old Sir Edmund Peto, in that dark hour when he hung out a cross with a flag upon it in defiance of the Papists.
As we walk from gallery to gallery, and from apartment to apartment, we can see, as in some splendid and stately museum, everything which has beautified and adorned the lives of seven centuries of English nobles. Over and above all this, we can see in Warwick Castle the continuity of English life, ever changing but yet ever the same; and as we view objects which illustrate the arts and fashions and tastes and fancies of a bygone world, we can feel conscious of the debt we owe to those who, mindful of the responsibility bequeathed to them, have not been backward in amassing treasures to be an "everlasting possession, not a sight to be seen and then forgotten."