Warwick is pretty much in the middle -- if you can really call it that given the country's unruly shape -- of the country. It is in the old kingdom called Mercia and in the early 10th century was the dividing line between the unruly Vikings to the North and the Saxons to the South.
The Vikings had touched down on Lindisfarne off the Northumbrian coast in the late 8th century and had returned to terrorise and ultimately colonise the country ever since. At this point in time, the Saxons were hanging on for grim death after the death of King Alfred but his daughter Ethelfleda stepped up in this neck of the woods and built the first encampment -- you couldn't really call it a castle in those days but it was effective enough for the Vikings.
Not so for the even more unruly and rather more effective and determined (and very nasty) Normans for after Hastings in 1068 the bas***d set up shop in Warwick (this was William I's nickname by the way. Not something you said to his face of course but you certainly thought it).
William I was in the process of 'harrying the north' -- i.e. massacring, looting and generally being thoroughly unpleasant and violent -- and felt he needed to build a series of fortified castles around the country to control his new realm. Warwick therefore became a real castle with the traditional Motte and Bailie structure -- you can still see the Mound upon which the Motte was built (the Keep in modern parlance). The entire area was surrounded by wooden stakes which in the absence of cannons did the job pretty well.
A while later William realised Warwick wasn't so strategically smart after all so he created the Earldom of Warwick (one of his comrades named Henry de Newburgh) and moved to London... rather like so many did to seek their fortunes after him.
The family held onto the castle and title for 5 generations and started to get a stony demeanor during which it endured several sieges -- some successful -- but the market town outside grew and thrived not least due to it becoming a centre for jousting.
|The Kingmaker's horse in the Great Hall|
The family ran out of male heirs in 1242 and it wasn't until 1268 when the interim earls -- useless to a man according to our guide -- were succeeded by William de Beauchamp, a good earl whose family would stay in charge for 181 years.
The de Beauchamps were enormously clever, brave, lucky, connected and immensely wealthy -- our guide said that due to the 100 Years War early victories for the English and consequent ransoming of wealthy French nobles captured along the way, Thomas and later Richard of the same name became the wealthiest men in England with a fortune equivalent to GBP34 billion... which they used to build the castle in the shape of how it is today.
Their line rather petered out though and the earldom passed to a son-in-law, Richard Neville, in 1449.
This was the kingmaker!
He was quite simply the most powerful man in the country able to both crown and remove a king (either Henry VI or Edward IV) as he felt. Yes, he changed sides a couple of times but with reason. He'd crowned Edward IV but the new king decided to marry someone Neville didn't like -- and with good reason for the lady in question was married and had children of her own. The Kingmaker wanted Edward to make a good marriage and secure the line with some heirs of his own but Edward just went ahead and did it. So Neville took him prisoner and recrowned Henry VI... sadly only for just over a month as Edward's supporters were able to raise an army and defeat him rather rudely at the Battle of Barnet in 1471. Neville was also rather unfortunately hacked to pieces in the process with the vengeful Edward (a Yorkist) taking the castle and lands for his own.
Skip a few kings and Henry VII came to the throne launching the Tudor dynasty which continued the vengeful ways for over 100 years ignoring the castle to the point where it was starting to fall down at which point in 1604, the new king James I now of England gave the castle as a bribe to someone he wanted to impress named Fulke Greville.
Fortunately Fulke loved the place and rebuilt virtually everything to an amazing standard including the private apartments and gardens we enjoy today. His successor survived a Royalist siege in 1642 during the Civil War and after Charles II's restoration redid the entire place and turned it into the best party place in the entire country -- if our guide is to be believed.
|Canaletto was commissioned to paint the Castle in 1742 -- not bad either!|
The Grevilles were great collectors of art, military paraphernalia and endless other stuff until they realised they had to pay for it, so in 1815 they opened the castle to tourists -- the first castle to do this in the country (and probably the world).
It was death duties that finally did for the Grevilles who finally sold up (to the Tussaud Group) in 1978 with the current earl moving to Perth in Australia to make a fortune and declare he wouldn't return to England until the tax regime changed. I think he won't be returning any time soon!
Gorgeous castle though. Mind you I left feeling we had just had more of an 'experience' than a historical visit by the time we left several hours later.
PS -- the dungeon visit was well worth it.
PPS -- Most of the family were buried in a church called St. Mary's Church in Warwick. We have always lived in Warwick since we've been in Bermuda and the local Anglican parish church is St. Mary's Church in Warwick. Coincidence??