It is built of red sandstone and centres around the great Norman Keep (tower) built around 1125 during the reign of King Henry I. Whilst under the control of King John, work began on massively improving the castle defences. A great lake covering some 100 acres (41 hectares) was created with the aim of keeping armies and especially siege engines away from the castle walls.
Many Royal Owners
The castle then went through many royal owners including John of Gaunt and his son Henry Bolingbroke (King Henry IV), King Henry V and King Henry VIII
who all extended and improved the State Apartments. King Henry VIII
was a frequent visitor to the castle.
A Royal Gift
In 1563 Robert Dudley was given the castle by Queen Elizabeth I
, and a year later he was created the Earl of Leicester.
Elizabeth and Dudley
Robert Dudley and Queen Elizabeth I
had been childhood friends and known each other for a long time. Dudley was a valued and royal favourite of the Queen. He was her Master of the Horse, and the courtier on the most intimate terms with her, sharing Elizabeth's passions for riding and dancing. It was no secret in Court circles that he was a suitor for the queen's hand in marriage.
He was much envied by his enemies and there is still great debate on whether Lord Dudley was Elizabeth’s lover. There is no doubt that they were great friends and she trusted him. In 1588 Leicester was closely involved in the military preparations which resulted in the defeat of the Spanish Armada; afterwards he was seen riding in splendour through London
, and he dined every day alone with the Queen, something unheard of before.
The Earl spent a fortune transforming Kenilworth Castle to ensure it was fit to receive his queen and her court. Dudley had the ‘Leicester Building’, ‘Leicester Gatehouse’ and the ‘Elizabethan Garden’ (now reconstructed) built especially for her private use.
Queen Elizabeth 1 a guest on a number of occasions
Lord Dudley entertained Elizabeth lavishly on a number of occasions. In 1575 the Queen and her Court stayed at Kenilworth Castle for 19 days. It must have cost a fortune because just a one day stay had been known to send some landholders broke!
Whilst those 19 days of banqueting, hunting parties and pageantry were the talk of Tudor society, Elizabeth never returned to Kenilworth and Dudley failed to win her hand in marriage. Nevertheless, they remained firm friends.
On 4 September 1588, Robert died while on his way to Kenilworth. Elizabeth locked herself in her apartment for a few days. She kept the letter that he had sent her only six days before his death, and wrote on it 'His Last Letter'. She put it in her treasure box at her bedside, and it was still there when she died 15 years later.
A copy of this letter is on display in the Leicester’s Gatehouse Exhibition 'Queen and Castle: Robert Dudley’s Kenilworth'.
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Kenilworth’s Latter Years
With the rise of Oliver Cromwell and the Civil War in 1649, Kenilworth Castle lost its influence and fell into decline. Fortunately, in 1938 the castle was donated to the nation and put in the care of English Heritage.
An exhibition detailing the history of the castle can be found in the Stables, next to the Tearoom.
Leicester’s Gatehouse is displayed with the chambers on its lower floors re-created as they might have appeared when the gatehouse was inhabited in the 1930s. The display on the top floor features items both from museums and private collections. This exhibit tells the story of Elizabeth I’s relationship with Dudley and her four visits to Kenilworth
New stairs and platforms give access to the rooms in Leicester’s Building that Dudley especially created for Queen Elizabeth I
- now we can e joy the same beautiful views that she loved. A tour of the castle will take approximately 1 hour. Allow another half an hour for the Gatehouse exhibitions.
Kitchen area and Great Hall: Level access: Upper floors mainly reached by spiral staircases. Low level introductory display in The Stables accessible to wheelchair users.
Leicester’s Gatehouse: Lift access to all floors; Disabled toilet. Garden: Accessible with compacted gravel paths and smooth grass. Benches provided.
Plan Your Visit
Opening Times & Admission Prices
For current opening dates and times as well as admission costs, go to Web:Visitor Information. Personal Audio Tours are included in the cost of the ticket – available from the Visitor Centre.
Open all year 10:00 – 16:000/18:00 hours according to time of year.
Last admission half an hour before closing.
Note: The Gatehouse may close early on Friday/Saturday for private events - refer to the Visitor Information link above for details.
Cafe & Picnic Area; Visitor Centre & Shop; Toilets & Baby Change (Leicester’s Gatehouse); Disabled Parking & Wheelchair Hire; and Audio Guides.
- Summer opening (April to October):
The Stables Tearoom is open daily - 10:30 – 16:30 hours.
- Winter opening (November to March):
It is open Sat and Sun only - 11:00 – 15:00 hours.
The Elizabethan Garden created in 1575 for one of Elizabeth’s visits, has been excavated and recreated. Using archaeology and an eye-witness account from 1575 it has been possible to recreate the sights, sounds and scents that would have greeted Queen Elizabeth I
as she wandered the paths and arbours of the garden. Featuring a fountain and aviary, it presents the most complete evocation of an Elizabethan garden anywhere in the world.
Contact & Further Information
+44 (0)1926 852 078
- By Car
, off A46. Clearly signposted from the town centre, off B4103. If using a Sat Nav enter Postcode: CV8 1NG
Latitude: 52.347852 Longitude: -1.592548
A car parking charge applies to ensure that English Heritage members and paying visitors have priority. The charge will be refunded on admission, except on Bank Holiday weekends and at selected special events. On Bank Holiday weekends the charge is £2 for the whole day (for members and non-members).
Alternatively, as the car park can get quite busy on bank holidays, English Heritage offers a free shuttle bus from Kenilworth
town centre. Town centre car parks are not managed by English Heritage so parking charges may apply. Free shuttle buses leave every 10-15 minutes from 10:00 – 17:30 hours. from the Kenilworth
clock tower stop, outside the Holiday Inn.
- By Bus
Johnsons of Henley 539 passes the castle site; Travel West Midlands 11 & 11X; Stagecoach U12 services all Kenilworth from surrounding area.
- By Train
Google Maps - Kenilworth Castle & Elizabethan Garden