Kenilworth Castle was initially founded in 1120 and built for Geoffrey de Clinton, Chamberlain and Treasurer to King Henry I. There is no record of official permission to construct a fortified property, or ‘licence to crenellate’, for Kenilworth, but the number of military fortresses was in reality limited to a very select few by the exorbitant cost of construction and of funding a garrison.
The castle commanded the gap between 2 ridges, which was an established crossing point over marshes, and it became the greatest lake fortress in England. In the early 13th century, King John constructed the curtain wall and wall towers, thereby enclosing a site of 7 acres.
The castle defences were famously tested in 1266, when supporters of Simon de Montfort held out against King Henry III for 6 months, until starvation and pestilence forced them to surrender and to accept the ‘Dictum of Kenilworth’. 60 years later, King Edward II was held here as a prisoner for several months, and then deposed in favour of his son Edward III.
In the late 14th century, John of Gaunt, a son of Edward III, rebuilt the Great Hall, the Kitchens and the southern range of state apartments, thereby starting the transition of Kenilworth Castle from fortress to entertainment palace. Although, in 1456, the castle was still of some strategic importance, since ‘Henry VI sent 30 cannon and other stores for its defence’.
Finally, in the 1570’s, Robert Dudley added Leicester’s Building, redesigned the garden, rebuilt the north Gatehouse, and improved the Gallery and Mortimer’s Towers. These works were specifically to impress the queen during her royal progress of 1575.