A Few Surprises at Warwick Castle, England
Having read countless novels with stories set in medieval England, a visit to Warwick Castle in the county town of Warwickshire in England intrigued us. Owned by the Toussaud’s at the time, the Castle was populated with period actors, and demonstrations and re-enactments promised to keep us entertained.
Even before entering through the towers to the courtyard, archers in period costume were demonstrating their hand at hitting a target.
This was taking place on what is now called the Oak Tree Lawn.
After cheering on a trio of archers trying to best each other, and learning a few interesting historical facts, it was time to move on.
Bob, our son and I proceeded on a trail that follows the contours of the original rampart. This Saxon defence was ordered constructed by Ethelfleda in 914 and is the oldest part of the castle.
As the eldest daughter of Alfred the Great and leader of the Mercians, Ethelfleda had this huge mound of earth amassed to protect against Danish invaders along what is now the southwest corner of the Castle grounds. The earthen barrier is known as a motte, the earth used to build it coming from the new moat.
William the Conqueror vastly improved the fortifications when he ordered a wooden castle to be built in 1068. His Norman fort was called a motte-and-bailey castle because the fortification topped the former rampart or motte. In the 12th century, the wooden fort was rebuilt using stone.
We were eager to enter the confines of the courtyard and immediately found ourselves opposite the back side of the official Warwick Castle Gatehouse Towers.
With curiosity getting the better of us, we entered into the cool interior of the Castle. Representing six centuries of history, the Great Hall was first built in the 14th Century and once featured a huge firepit in the centre of the room with a hole in the roof to let the smoke escape.
Granted to Sir Fulke Greville by James I in 1604, Warwick Castle was soon converted to a country house. A portrait on the wall of Sir Fulke is a sad reminder of his tragic death brought about by an angry manservant who stabbed Sir Fulke. The Red Drawing Room reflects the substantial investment by Francis Greville in 1750 to bring the castle back to its former glory. The Greville family became the Earls of Warwick in 1759, and they owned the castle until 1978.
The Cedar Drawing Room, named for the cedar panels on the walls, is the largest of the drawing rooms at Warwick Castle. It served as the ballroom after it was finished in 1670.
Holding the distinction of being the only remaining version of such a unique and opulent ceiling, the Green Drawing Room was created in 1750. It replicates a Roman temple in Palmyra, Syria that sadly fell during a conflict in 2015.
Our tour took us through the Queen Anne Bedroom and Blue Boudoir before we again found ourselves in the courtyard staring up at some of the impressive stone walls built in 1260.
Construction of Guy’s Tower started in the 1380s and when completed, it served as accommodation for guests of the Earl of Warwick. The more prestigious the guest, the higher up in the Tower they resided. The guests must’ve developed legs of steel ascending the 530 steps of the narrow spiral stone staircase to get to their chambers.
Climbing the stone staircase in Guy’s Tower afforded us a variety of views through the narrow slots that served as windows. Seen here is Bear Tower in the northwest wall. Back in his day, Richard III was entertained by pitting bears against packs of dogs in fights to the death. This Tower was constructed in the 1480s as a place to bait the bears before they were brought into an arena to fight.
From the top of Guy’s Tower, we gained an impressive view of the Gatehouse Tower and yonder Caesar’s Tower.
Although Caesar’s Tower appears shorter, it is actually 11 metres higher with its base anchored on lower ground.
From the elevated vantage point, it is possible to appreciate the architecture of Caesar’s Tower. It is one of only two quatrefoil towers in the country, quatrefoil meaning 4-lobed like a four-leaf clover.
Imagine taking up residence in Caesar’s Tower only to learn later of the grim secret below ground. A dark, damp and dirty basement dungeon dates to at least 1644 where prisoners were detained in chains or cages such as this gibbet and either tortured or left to die.
It was easy to imagine defending the castle from the ramparts. With a 360-degree view, defenders could see invaders crossing the countryside from every angle. Once on the ramparts, it was fun to put ourselves in the shoes of a castle defender. It would have been a trick to let arrows fly with precision accuracy from a narrow arrow slit.
I was particularly intrigued by a multi-arched medieval bridge that we could see spanning the Avon River. In ruins now, this Old Castle Bridge is just upstream from the Warwick Castle weir.
Seeing a Medieval Fair set up on the other side of the river, we knew where our afternoon would be spent. A modern pedestrian bridge now conducts people across the meander of the River Avon.
It was good fun making our way through the Castle and test driving some of the different pieces of armour along the way.
We went with the flow and tried to act the part.
Some pieces were quite outrageous!
For me, seeing a horse decked out in jousting regalia was special. Not as large and strong as a destrier, which would carry a fully armoured knight into battle, this charger would have been trained for agility and stamina.
Bob and I were anxious to get outside the castle courtyard to see what else was happening. We found ourselves exiting between the Clarence and Bear Towers across a deep ditch that would’ve originally contained the water of the moat.
We came face to face with two combatants parading their mounts before jousting as they would have during medieval times.
In another corner, a court jester had us in hysterics with his antics.
The sounds of merriment and music across the water had Bob, me and our son hastening to get a glimpse into the joys of the outdoor revelry.
Looking upstream on the River Avon, we had a dandy view of the weir mentioned earlier.
It turned out that the Medieval Fair was featuring a Birds of Prey show with a Count and Countess holding court over the proceedings.
Bob and I are active birders, so this was right up our alley. It was wonderful having closeup views of several species of owls.
With the Pageant Field set up to represent a gathering of common folks invited to witness the spectacle of royal fanfare and generosity, encampments were staggered around the perimeter of the activities.
When not entertaining the visitors, the falconers, still continuing in their roles, had a midday meal in the shade of a large tree.
It was enjoyable getting this glimpse into the lives of nobles at one of these medieval happenings.
After observing armoured knights practice their skills with lances and swords, we made our way back across the gently flowing river.
The Peacock Garden was an installation added to Warwick Castle in the mid to late 19th Century. It was delightful walking among the perfectly manicured hedges while the fragrance of roses filled the air.
And true to its name, the Peacock Garden is home to several of these magnificent birds. Our self-guided tour ended with refreshments in the Conservatory Tea Room before we continued on our way to Barnsley to seek information on my ancestors.
Frame To Frame – Bob and Jean