As an English history disciple I have wanted to go to Warwick Castle for as long as I remember. The day came with some surprises, but I loved it. Warwick, as a town, is lovely and more or less what you think of when you think of England. It’s close to London— about an hour by train— and the train station is quite close to the castle.
The castle was where Piers Gaveston, Edward II’s lover, was tried for treason and sentenced to death and where Richard Beauchamp, the 13th Earl of Warwick, oversaw the the trial of Joan of Arc. The castle has been occupied by an array of interesting people but the most famous is Richard Neville, the 16th Earl of Warwick— the Kingmaker. If this sounds vaguely like a Game of Thrones title it’s probably because George R.R. Martin uses “real” history often as inspiration— there’s an article by Dan Jones if you are interested.
Neville was arguably the most instrumental part of the dethroning of Henry VI. Poor Henry was a bit mad and his successor, Edward IV, was everything everyone wanted in a King— a smart, talented warrior, charismatic, and handsome. Neville had been working to get Edward’s father, the Duke of York, on the throne, and upon the Duke’s death, he turned his eyes to the new Duke— who was probably better suited to kingship anyways.
The Yorks had a strong claim to the throne. Both Henry VI and Edward IV were direct decedents of Edward III. There had been nothing but issues with the line of succession— this conflict is known as the War of the Roses. As both houses’ family crests feature a rose, white for York, red for Lancaster, the name is obvious.
Warwick Castle was a base for the Yorks and the castle hosted the first real instance of discord between Edward and Neville. Neville had planned a marriage for Edward to a foreign princess as a way to create international alliances. Edward had other plans and married Elizabeth Woodville, a widow with two boys, and a Lancaster to boot. She was considered perhaps the most beautiful woman in Europe but that didn’t really matter to Neville. This was the beginning of the end for the close relationship between the new King and Neville. It was at Warwick Castle that Edward finally told Neville to put his great schemes aside: the king had married in secret. [A quick aside: Although they had two sons neither one really became king. Both boys went missing in the Tower of London— held hostage by their uncle, King Richard III, who usurped the throne. Edward IV’s daughter did become Queen— she married a young man called Henry Tudor, who became known as Henry VII and was Henry VIII’s mother.]
During Edward IV’s reign, the Kingmaker would place Henry VI back on the throne, only to be defeated once again by Edward. He would also attempt to overthrow Edward in favour of the Duke of Clarence, Edward’s younger brother. In 1471 the kingmaker met his end in battle and his estate was handed over to, in a surprising twist, the Duke of Clarence, who was pardoned by the king for his attempt to over throw him.
This was short lived, however; Clarence just couldn’t keep his treason to himself, and Edward had him executed in 1478. The elder brother did kindly allow the younger to choose the method of his execution— death by drowning in a barrel of wine. So classy.
The castle changed hands quite a bit, and hosted Queen Victoria, murders, prisoners, and a famous landscaper. The final Earl to keep the castle was actor Charles Guy, better known by his stage name Michael Brooke. He constantly complained about the cost of upkeep and the castle was sold to Tussaud’s Group in 1978.
If you visit now, you will find the castle a bit commercialised as you would expect when an entertainment group buys an estate to host tourists. However, the castle is still impressive, and walking around the walls where history has been made so many times is amazing. You can learn more about the castle (if visiting isn’t an option) by watching the episode “Warwick” of the documentary series “Secrets of Great British Castles”. It’s currently on Netflix.
This particular day it was poring rain. I had mentioned to my husband the night before that we ought to pack umbrellas but he “knew” we wouldn’t need them. So I spent the day soaked to the skin. We almost turned back because the weather was so awful. I’m glad we didn’t though because drenched or no it was a good day.