Castles always make me happy. I’m lucky to live within a short distance of two of the country’s greatest – Kenilworth and Warwick.
I’ve visited both many times but it’s Kenilworth that most captures my imagination. Is this because it lies in ruins whereas Warwick is still intact and has a Tussauds exhibition in it? When I consider Kenilworth, from the time Geoffrey de Clinton built the Keep with Henry I’s money in the 1120’s, right through to when Colonel Joseph Hawkesworth blasted it after the English Civil War and then moved into Leicester’s Gatehouse and set up home there, I think of the castle’s history blended with all the happy times I’ve spent in it.
As I wander round Kenilworth Castle I wish I had a virtual reality CGI device that I could hold up to the ruined chambers and see superimposed over them exactly how this room looked in the castle’s days of glory. Instead I have my imagination.
With it, I can see John of Gaunt’s great hall in its prime, the walls covered with vibrant tapestries, blazing logs set in the grand fireplace, and the table regularly laden with banquets. I can experience the kitchens as they were, full of heat and toiling cooks and servants, when Leicester’s Building was used to accommodate Elizabeth I and Sir Robert Dudley’s party of guests in 1575 . I can visualise the great mere that surrounded the castle, and picture the tiltyard when it was in full operation. I can replace the floor of the great hall in the Keep, and restore it to how it was when Edward II was forced to abdicate in it.
As for the Elizabethan garden, I imagine it seductive, scented, densely-planted with shrubs in full bloom, with its four obelisks and central marble fountain, and a gemstone-studded aviary filled with lovebirds – for that is how it would have been when Sir Robert Dudley ushered Elizabeth I into it, hoping to persuade her to marry him (she still refused, but I’m sure she enjoyed herself there).
Castles make me happy – to the extent that I only have to glimpse battlements above trees to feel that surge of joy. Why, I wonder? Castles are associated with prisoners thrown in dungeons to die; massive social inequality and injustice, arrogant lords feasting in their halls wth the social elite of the land while the masses labour and starve; wars, battles, sieges, boiling oil, death-holes, trebuchets loaded with rotting animal carcasses… and yet castles make me happy. I suggest this is because they are all bound up with story, and story is all about meaning, and we value meaning above all.
4 thoughts on “Elizabeth, Dudley and Happy Times in Ruined Castles”
I live in kenilworth and feel the same way about the castle, and also the abbey. A vague sense of disappointment that i cant see what it was like in the past. Its really annoying. if only someone would invent ‘spooky binoculars’ that looked into the past, like in the m r james ghost story, view from a hill. Bah, it will never happen. Shame. But at least there is the option to use technology to recreate kenilworth castle. Im actually suprised (and disappointed) somebody hasnt used cgi and virtual reality to recreate kenilorth castle by now. Grrr. Whats wrong with these people!! Laser scanners could map the ruins precisely, then a skilled architectural historian could do a reasonable job of recreating the missing walls and furnishings, using surviving castles for inspiration. In the short term future, (if there is one, ed lol) it is not too fanciful to imagine visitors to the castle walking around with headsets oblivious to everything around them, experiencing the castle in its various glorious stages of development. Maybe you could interact with cgi geoffrey de clinton or robert dudly. If they also had levitation devices they could walk on the virtual missing floors of the great hall, and up the missing stone staircases and around the corridors and rooms of leicesters apartments, maybe watch a joust from the gallery tower, take a boat trip onto the mere to visit the pleasance and into kenilworth village to see what the peons were up to. Recreating kenilworth castle is very much doable, fun project, even with current tech. The laser mapping tech would mean it would be relatively accurate and quick. Maybe someone will get off their arse and do it sometime lol
It’s interesting, isn’t it, how sensitivity to ghosts, and a powerful imagination do blend into each other. I know if I stood there long enough I would hear the voices, see the flames crackling, smell the aromas of the food being served in the Great Hall… I find this whole area fascinating, and a wonderful inspiration as a novelist. Thank you for your comment! And as it happens I enjoy reading ghost stories, both fiction and real stories. I can recommend “The English Ghost” by Peter Ackroyd, which I reviewed on Amazon (I have drawn upon some elements in this for my current novel, A Passionate Spirit).
Ooh, so true! I have enjoyed ghost hunts in a few castles and I loved them! Great article, thanks.