Kenilworth Castle (part one)

Lesson at a glance

Suitable for: Key stage 4

Time period: Medieval 974-1485

Curriculum topics: Changing power of monarchs, Medieval Life

Suggested inquiry questions: What do the documents tell us about the plan and function of Kenilworth castle? What is the value of using these documents for finding out about the history of this castle?

Potential activities: Compare and contrast Kenilworth to any castle of your choice. Create your own timeline for the history of Kenilworth castle using the sources here and your own research.

What can you tell from an image?

This starter lesson will introduce you to Kenilworth Castle using visual sources from more recent times. There is a postcard from 1903, a modern aerial photograph, a Victorian photograph and some modern plans of the castle which show change over time to its buildings. Once you have finished this activity, attempt our lesson on Kenilworth Castle which is based on original medieval documents.


Tasks

Source 1

An illustrated postcard from 1903, Catalogue ref: COPY 1/209 f360 

  • What can we find out from this postcard showing Kenilworth Castle? 
  • Why do you think this source was created? 

Source 2

A modern aerial photo of Kenilworth Castle, © English Heritage 

  • Can you see any differences in this photograph in the style of the buildings or plan of Kenilworth Castle to Source 1? 
  • Why do think this photograph was taken? 
  • Compare Sources 1 & 2 in terms of their value to the historian. 

Source 3 

Photograph entitled ‘Kenilworth Castle’ dated 1878, COPY 1/421 f338 

  • How useful is this source for finding out about Kenilworth Castle? 
  • Why do think this photograph was taken? 
  • What helps you to date the photograph apart from the caption provided here? 
  • What can be inferred from the photograph about this period in history? 
  • Compare this source to the previous sources in terms of its value to the historian. 

Source 4 

Phased plans produced by English Heritage, © English Heritage 

Now look at the colour coded modern plans which show how Kenilworth Castle has changed over the years.  

Using these plans in Source 4, work out the century in which changes were made to the castle building shown in the:

  • Postcard Source 1
    Modern aerial photograph Source 2
    Victorian photograph Source 3

Background

Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire in the heart of England is one of the country’s largest medieval castles. Built in the twelfth century by Geoffrey de Clinton, chamberlain of King Henry I (1100-1135), the castle developed in several phases over the next four centuries. It began as a rectangular keep (about 24 metres by 18 metres) with towers at each corner. Two sides were defended by a large pool created by damming the river and the other two sides were protected by a moat. Around the keep was a large bailey in which buildings like the kitchen and stables were raised against the outer walls. This was both a defensive site and a domestic building from its origins, with weapons and armour being stored there and constant repairs needed on the buildings to make it both defensible and comfortable

By the thirteenth century, under King John, the castle was in the king’s hands again, and John surrounded the old castle with a much stronger curtain wall with towers, spending the enormous sum of £2000 on the works. This is the equivalent to about £1.5m in today’s money. Despite this investment neither John (1199-1216) nor his son Henry III (1216-1272) paid much attention to the castle, and it fell into disrepair – the great chamber, for example, lost its roof. But in 1244 Henry made his brother-in-law Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, keeper of the castle, and then in 1253 finally presented the castle to him and Simon’s wife, the king’s sister Eleanor. Simon strengthened the castle to such an extent that the garrison survived a long siege by the king’s army at the end of the Barons’ War.

The defeat of Simon de Montfort brought Kenilworth Castle back permanently into the hands of the royal family. Henry III granted it to his second sun Edmund, earl of Lancaster, and in 1279 Edmund had a very famous ‘Round Table’ tournament. Edmund’s son Thomas undertook many important building works in the castle including a new chapel in the castle for worship. Like Simon de Montfort, Thomas rebelled against the king, his cousin King Edward II (1307-1327), and Kenilworth was captured for the king in 1322, with some inside the castle being punished. It was ironic that Thomas’ brother, Henry earl of Lancaster, held King Edward prisoner there during 1326 and 1327 after his capture by his enemies and then during and after the parliament which forced the king to abdicate his throne.

Later earls of Lancaster adopted the title duke, notably John of Gaunt, the third surviving son of King Edward III who married Blanche, grand-daughter of Earl Henry and who gained Kenilworth in 1361. Gaunt spent lots of money on repair of the castle and then making it into a palace fit for a prince. The building works include the magnificent Great Hall, the location for feasting and display. In 1399 Gaunt’s son Henry seized the throne from and the duchy of Lancaster came directly to the crown. In the early fifteenth century a so-called ‘pleasure-house’ (Pleasunce Marys) was built outside the castle.

In the Tudor period, after the Wars of the Roses, King Henry VIII demolished the pleasure-house and used its materials to build new towers and structures within Kenilworth Castle. Finally, in 1563, Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) granted the castle to her favourite Robert Dudley, later earl of Leicester, restoring a grant made to John, the earl’s father, in 1553. Like several of his predecessors Robert made significant alterations to bring the castle up to date with the latest architectural fashions. These included new windows, the laying out of pleasure gardens and remodelling of the gatehouse.

Kenilworth Castle, then, was at times in its history a popular residence for kings, princes and their families, but often fell out of favour and had to be repaired or remodelled. It became part of the domestic life of the royal family across many generations. For that reason, it also became a focus for rebellion and conflict during times of national crisis and civil war and changed hands several times.


Teachers' notes

The visual sources in this starter lesson can be used with students to understand the three main stages of Kenilworth Castle’s development. In the postcard you can see on the right, the Norman Great Tower built in the 1120s, on the left in the background is the palace built by John of Gaunt in the 1370s and in the centre are the apartments built by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, for Queen Elizabeth I in the 1570s. The modern aerial photograph can be used to show these different parts more clearly. The plans of the castle, courtesy of English Heritage, is colour coded to show the changes that were made to the castle over the centuries. Taking these sources together, students should be able to date the parts of the castle. We have also included a Victorian photograph of Kenilworth castle. Perhaps, alongside the postcard, this is an illustration of early tourism associated with the castle. Finally, it is worth using this starter lesson as an opportunity to explore or revise with students the value of photographs as historical sources. Here are some general questions to consider.  

  • Is there an original caption or title?  
  • Do you have evidence in image of the date or time period? 
  • Where is the place? Can you see anything relating to the event, environment, architecture, time of day, or season? 
  • What is happening in the picture? 
  • Is there anything that you cannot identify? 
  • If the image shows people: How are they dressed, are they be related or not? 
  • What are they doing? 
  • Do you know took the photograph? 
  • What is the photographer trying to say with this photograph? 
  • Why has this picture been taken and whom is the audience? 
  • Is this photograph posed, cropped or revealing a certain perspective? [close up, panoramic, long shot, medium shot, landscape or portrait] 
  • What other sources would help to understand the photograph? 

Sources 

  1. An illustrated postcard from 1903, Catalogue ref: COPY 1/209 f360 
  2. Photograph dated 1878, COPY 1/421 f338 
  3. A modern aerial photo of Kenilworth Castle, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons 
  4. Phased plans produced by English Heritage, © English Heritage 

External links

Use this link to find more historical source images for Kenilworth Castle 

https://historicengland.org.uk/services-skills/education/educational-images/ 

Time line for the Middle Ages http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/timeline/middleages_timeline_noflash.shtml 

Dan Snow video guide to Kenilworth castle: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VNanyePafU8 

Discover more content on the period with these two blogs showcasing different documents: 

https://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/battles-dynasties-collaborative-exhibition/ 

https://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/royal-weddings-in-history-dynasty-and-diplomacy/ 

Links to the curriculum

All the documents included in this lesson relate to Kenilworth Castle which features as the set site in the specification for OCR GCSE History A: study of the historic environment. 

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Lesson at a glance

Suitable for: Key stage 4

Time period: Medieval 974-1485

Curriculum topics: Changing power of monarchs, Medieval Life

Suggested inquiry questions: What do the documents tell us about the plan and function of Kenilworth castle? What is the value of using these documents for finding out about the history of this castle?

Potential activities: Compare and contrast Kenilworth to any castle of your choice. Create your own timeline for the history of Kenilworth castle using the sources here and your own research.

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