Warwick Castle

The Finest Medieval Castle in Britain

About Warwick Castle

The Armoury was originally added to Warwick Castle in 1669 as a brewery it was later used as a library before finally being converted into the Armoury as we see it today.

Centre stage at the Armoury is the Knight. Kitted out in 1570s Italian jousting armour, astride his ebony steed, he oversees a collection of weapons, armour and paraphernalia of war dating back to the first century AD.

Among the oldest displays is a 5ft 5¼ inch long-sword. Legend has it that Guy Of Warwick was despatched by King Athelstan to kill a giant monster which had been plaguing villagers in 962AD. The monster turned out to be a large cow, but this giant two-handed sword that Guy is reputed to have used to dispatch the ‘monster’ is one of the many prized displays in the armoury.

The English Civil War features highly in the armoury display, as you would expect given key part that the Earl of Warwick and the castle played in proceedings. Visitors can wonder at the weight and inflexibility of a typical foot soldier’s armour and admire a metal hat similar to those worn by Charles 1st; although it should be noted the King’s protective headgear was covered with velvet and dressed with a feather!  Worthy of special mention is a horseman’s helmet; this particular helmet worn by one Oliver Cromwell.

Crossbows, longbows, claymores and hunting swords; the armoury at Warwick provides a fascinating and comprehensive insight into medieval warfare. But it doesn’t end there, there are also flintlocks and pistols a plenty dating from the 1600s onwards. Among the most intriguing items is a collection of hunting swords complete with built in flintlock pistols. All are to be admired not just for their killing prowess but for the intricacy of their design and in many cases their beauty.

“MasTER john SMYTH GUNER TO HIS MAJESTYE HighNESS WAS A PRISNER IN THIS PLACE AND LAY HERS from 1642 TELL th…”  these chilling words are etched into the dungeon walls at Warwick.  Master Smyth was one of many who over the years were incarcerated at Warwick Castle. Prisoners were brought to Warwick from the Hundred Years War in 1356, others were captured Royalists from the English Civil War. Wherever prisoners were taken from, the experience of being held in the dungeon at Warwick would have been horrific. A visit to Warwick Castle today allows us to visit and view the dungeon space, but the terror of being imprisoned there can only be imagined.

Whilst the castle and grounds are stunning in their beauty and majesty, the dank horror of the dungeons a mere 24 steps underground are equally stunning for other, more sinister, reasons.  Starved of a decent diet, seeing not a glimmer of daylight and denied all exercise even mentally strong prisoners would soon find their bodies weak and frail. It can only be imagined what psychological anguish followed. For some a sentence in the dungeons could last days or weeks; for others months and even years. There was no sanitation to speak of, only a roughly hewn drainage ditch stretched across the middle of the floor and this was likely filled with stagnant waste. The dungeon was not designed to rehabilitate prisoners, as modern prisons are today; instead it was designed to rob inmates of their humanity. And the dungeon keepers were masters at this! For those who did not succumb to the dungeon even more deprivation awaited in the ‘oubliette’. Prisoners would descend into this hole in the ground knowing that they would be kept in this claustrophobic prison within a prison for as long as their captors desired.

Central to any English castle is the Great Hall.  The original medieval Great Hall at Warwick Castle is thought to have stood in today’s Cedar Drawing Room. The medieval Great Hall would have been the centre of the castle in every sense. Sparsely furnished and poorly lit, the Great Hall would have been where everyone ate, socialised and discussed their politics. They would even have slept here.  In later years, the Great Hall would take on a more social function, with sleeping quarters being added elsewhere in the castle.

The Great Hall moved to its current location in the 14th century. A fire damaged this part of the castle in 1871 and the Great Hall was heavily restored then.  On entering the Great Hall one is struck by the sheer size and scale of the Hall and by the wealth of items on display. Not to be missed is Guy’s Porridge Pot the huge cauldron type cooking pot which is named for the 10th Earl and dates from the 16th Century. Of the many suits of armour on display the tiny armour that belonged to the 4 year old son of The Earl of Leicester is particularly eye-catching. The young Leicester never grew to wear a full suit of armour, dying from a childhood disease at age 6.

Moving on from the Great Hall the Red Drawing Room is the first of five state rooms commissioned and built in the 17th century by Robert Greville. The Red Drawing Room so called because of its red lacquer panelling is opulent; the room is dominated by a white marble Adams fireplace and above this hangs a beautiful Louis XV clock, to either side are portraits from the school of Rubens.

The Cedar Drawing Room is lit by five elaborate chandeliers. All are fine English crystal except the central chandelier which is from Waterford in Ireland. The Cedar Drawing Room is so named because of the beautiful cedar panelling which is set off perfectly by the intricately plastered ceiling, which although French in style was completed by two local craftsmen.

The Green Drawing Room is one of the most beautiful of the State rooms. The coffered ceiling is made up of sunken panels each bearing its own individual decoration. The overall effect is stunning. The paintings around the Green Drawing Room give you an account of the English Civil War from the Warwick perspective.

The Queen Anne Bedroom is named not for a regal visitor, as you might think, but after Queen Anne’s bed which dominates the room. The bed was sent from Windsor to Warwick in preparation for a visit by Queen Anne. Although the visit itself was cancelled, the bed remained.

The Blue Boudoir is dominated by a portrait of Henry VIII, it is one of the best know images of Henry showing him in his 40s. To the left of Henry are portraits of Anne and Mary Boleyn. Anne was to marry Henry and was mother to Elizabeth I, before being beheaded at Henry’s command just three years after Elizabeth’s birth. The beautiful silver faced clock on display above the fireplace was once in the possession of another of history’s tragic women; Marie Antoinette is said to have originally owned the clock.

Stone curtain walls were first constructed at Warwick Castle in the 11th century. The walls served two purposes; to keep those outside from entering the castle and to provide those inside with a platform for defending the castle. The walkways that run along the castle walls gave the archers and crossbowmen vantage points from which to shoot attackers. Such was the level of defence that Warwick Castle afforded her inhabitants that there was no point of approach that was not in clear view of the walls or the towers built along its length.

Caesar’s Tower is the earliest of the Warwick Castle towers. It dates from the 14th Century and was commissioned by Thomas De Beauchamp. It is a fascinating example of medieval military architecture, rising 147ft straight up from the river rock below. Built over three storeys, the guard room atop the tower affords a view across the valley below.

Guy’s Tower also dates from the 14th Century.  Guy’s is built of five stories and reaches 128ft. The Tower contains a sitting room and two side rooms as well as offering defensive shooting positions from its twelve sided construction.

Bear and Clarence Towers are built together in the middle of the castle’s North wall. They are all that remain of the Tower House commissioned by Richard of Gloucester (later Richard III) in 1478. The original tower was designed to be a fortified Keep; to provide Richard with a ‘safe room’ to which he could retreat if he were attacked from within the castle itself. Richard was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field before the tower could be completed. It is thought that Clarence tower is named for his brother, the Duke of Clarence and that Bear Tower was used to house bears kept at the Castle for bear baiting.

From when it was built in Mediaeval England until the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1st, there were no gardens as we now know them at Warwick Castle. In fact, for at least 400 years the grounds at Warwick served only to distance the ‘haves’ from the ‘have not’s’. The first evidence of a decorative garden at Warwick relates to the visit of Queen Elizabeth in August 1572. A garden consisting of walkways, shrubs and hedgerows is recorded as being alongside the river Avon. This formal Elizabethan knot garden, through which Elizabeth herself would have strolled, marked the beginning of a change in the management of the Castle’s grounds and gardens. As early as 1604 the gardens at Warwick were being praised as without equal, but it was in the 1750s that the grounds at Warwick were to truly come into their own under the eye of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown.

Capability Brown is one of Britain’s finest landscape gardeners with his work attracting visitors from across the world. At Warwick Castle, Capability Brown fashioned a landscape that today looks so natural it is hard for the visitor to perceive it as manmade. The mark of his genius is that it is only now, hundreds of years after the design was first made and plants selected and placed in the ground that the true majesty of his work can be appreciated.

The grounds at Warwick Castle extend to over 60 acres. They take in The Mound which was built on the orders of William the Conqueror and formed the backbone of the Castles defence in the early years. Military advances saw The Mound lose its import as a defensive position and in the 17th century it was incorporated into landscape planning and became part of the scenery rather than a key part of the structure at Warwick.

Closer to the main Castle building are the Conservatory and the Peacock Garden and Pageant Field. The conservatory was built in 1786 and still functions today as a glasshouse for exotic plants. Immediately in front of the Conservatory is the Peacock Garden. Prince Albert and Queen Victoria were involved in the planting of trees here and you can see Victoria’s thriving oak tree close to the driveway. Beyond the Peacock Garden, stretching down to the river is the Pageant Field.

Not to be missed on any visit to Warwick Castle is the Victorian Rose Garden. The garden was first planted in the 1860s. Sadly, it was paved over and replaced by two tennis courts in the 1940s. Drawings of the original gardens were discovered in the 1980s and work began to restore the Victorian Rose Garden to its former grandeur. There are roses in bloom throughout most of the summer, but, as any gardener will tell you, the best time to visit is late June and throughout July. Keep an eye out for the new English rose ‘Warwick Castle’ which was bred especially for the re-opening of the Victorian Rose Garden in 1986.

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