3D Model of Kenilworth Castle – Leicester’s Stables

As we reported recently, for a number of years a KHAS member has been researching and creating a virtual 3D model of Kenilworth Castle as it might have been in 1645. Here is another preview of his model, this time a video time focusing on Leicester’s Stables:


This recreation is based on archaeological survey reports, English Heritage plans and elevations, and the building fabric now standing. However, many details remain unknown or unclear, particularly because the building has been repurposed and also substantially repaired over the years. New brick buttresses were added over a century ago, and more recently it was used as a tea shop and had two fireplaces with chimneys.

3D Model of Leicester's Stables, Kenilworth Castle
3D Model of Leicester’s Stables, Kenilworth Castle

It is still generally accepted that there were two surface drains the length of the building, even though (as shown) every horse would then be partly standing in a drain! – so the drains would have to be covered with gratings. The location and extent of upper level flooring is also unknown, as is whether rain water from the roof was used to augment the adjacent well/cistern, or whether or how the drains ultimately connected to the drain known to run under the Water Tower.

This Leicester’s Stables 3D video, his original Abbey of St Mary 3D model and other KHAS videos can be found here: www.khas.co.uk/khas-videos/

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3D Model of Kenilworth Castle – A Work in Progress

For a number of years a KHAS member has been researching and creating a virtual 3D model of Kenilworth Castle as it might have been in 1645. Here are some preview images of the current model.

Firstly, a view of the whole castle site from the direction of The Brayes:

Kenilworth Castle from the direction of The Brayes

The next image is of the inner bailey from the direction of The Water Tower:

The inner bailey from the direction of The Water Tower

This image shows The Keep taken from above the roof of the state apartments:

The Keep from above the roof of the state apartments.

The last image is a view from the minstrel’s gallery in the Great Hall:

View from the minstrel’s gallery in the Great Hall.

This model is still a work in progress at present and will no doubt spark some debates on the details. The model is being produced by the same KHAS member who produced the 3D model of The Abbey of St Mary, Kenilworth which can be seen here. We await its completion with anticipation!

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The Great Siege of Kenilworth 1266

Siege Booklet Cover
‘The Great Siege of Kenilworth 1266’ booklet Cover drawn by the late Eric Pedlar, produced for the 1966 commemorations

Jan Cooper discusses the events of the Great Siege of Kenilworth 1266, following on from her earlier article on the life and death of Simon de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham:

Those of Earl Simon’s supporters who had escaped the carnage of Evesham made their way back to Kenilworth Castle where we believe Eleanor, Countess of Leicester, was waiting with her younger children. Also returning to Kenilworth was the Earl’s second son, also called Simon, who had arrived at Evesham too late to help his father and elder brother. There was much anger and bitterness amongst the Montfortian supporters and that anger was directed towards Richard, Earl of Cornwall, the King’s brother, who had been at Kenilworth in his sister’s custody since his capture at Lewes. He had therefore played no part in the battle of Evesham or Earl Simon’s death but Young Simon so feared for his uncle’s life that he had him released.

De Montfort Plaque
Plaque laid near where the altar of Evesham Abbey Church would have been to mark the spot where Simon de Montfort’s remains were buried.

King Henry tried to persuade the rebels to leave the castle, saying that if they would surrender immediately they would lose neither their lives nor lands but they did not trust him and remained where they were. He then disinherited all of those who continued to stand out against him.

The Countess Eleanor and her younger children went to Dover Castle and eventual exile in France where she found favour with the French Queen and lived out her life at Montargis.

Kenilworth castle had been kept well provisioned with both food and siege equipment, including Trebuchets. During the next few months the rebels ravaged the countryside looting and stock-piling food and munitions against the expected siege.

Late in 1265 Young Simon left the castle to meet with other supporters at Ely. On his way back he was captured by Prince Edward and forced to agree to surrender Kenilworth Castle and accept the King’s peace. However on arriving at the castle the garrison commander, Henry de Hastings, refused to comply saying that he held the castle in the name of the Countess of Leicester and would surrender to no one but her. This may have been something which had been agreed between Young Simon and de Hastings prior to him leaving the castle, just in case he should be captured. He was then sent under guard to London but escaped on route and fled to France to try to raise support.

In March 1266 one of the King’s messengers returned from Kenilworth minus a hand – the time for talking seemed to be over and the King called a muster which finally took place at Northampton in May. Once all the armies were assembled they set out, arriving at Kenilworth around 22nd June, the King vowing that he would not leave until the castle fell.

Four siege camps were established commanded by King Henry, Prince Edward, Prince Edmund and Roger de Mortimer.

Siege Map
Map of the Siege of Kenilworth 1266, drawn by the late Eric Pedlar

The King requisitioned vast quantities of munitions, money, food and drink to be sent to Kenilworth. Powerful siege machines (Trebuchets, Mangonels and Ballistas) and fighting towers were brought and also barges for what was to be an unsuccessful assault across the Mere.

Cardinal Ottobuono
Cardinal Ottobuono, later Pope Adrian V, was sent to England in 1265 by Pope Clement IV

As Patron of the Priory the King was entitled to hospitality and would most likely have been accommodated there, with his Queen, when not at his siege camp. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York and Cardinal Ottobuono (the Papal Legate) also spent much time at Kenilworth during the months of the siege. The latter tried to mediate between the King and the rebels but to no avail.

In July Cardinal Ottobuono (wearing his red cope) excommunicated those inside the castle. (It is said that he delivered his Papal Bull of Excommunication from a safe vantage point at the top of Castle Hill – still known as ‘Bull Hill’. (This may be apocryphal.)

Apparently this act aroused the defiance of the rebels who, according to Robert of Gloucester, had a cope and other clothes made in white in which they dressed Master Philip Porpeis, a cleric and their surgeon, who presented himself on the battlements of the castle as a ‘White Legate’ and “excommunicated” the King, the Cardinal and the whole army! Morale was clearly still very high as they awaited the expected relieving force from France.

In August, at the Cardinal’s request, the King called a Parliament at Kenilworth – given the people involved and the facilities which they would require, the most likely venue for this is the Priory Church. The purpose of this meeting was to set up a Commission to decide what steps should be taken to return peace to the land and to consider the case of the ‘disinherited’ (as the rebels had come to be known). An order was made for an initial committee of 3 Bishops and 3 Barons’ representatives:

  • Walter, Bishop of Exeter
  • Walter Gifford, Bishop of Bath and Wells (then Chancellor)
  • Bishop of Worcester
  • Roger de Somery
  • Robert Walerand
  • Alan de la Zouch

They then co-opted the following:

Bishop of St. David’s, Earl of Gloucester, Earl of Hereford, John de Baliol, Phillip Basset and Warin de Bassingbourne, making a full Committee of 12.

The Papal Legate and Henry of Almain (the King’s nephew) were appointed Arbiters in the event of a dispute – their services were called upon several times during the deliberations.

Eventually agreement was reached and the terms of surrender set out in a document known as The Dictum of Kenilworth. This allowed for the rebels to leave the castle unmolested and gave the ‘disinherited’ the opportunity to buy back their lands on payment of very heavy fines set on a sliding scale dependent upon the extent of each individual’s involvement in the war and siege. The exceptions to the ‘benefits’ of the Dictum were the members of the garrison who were involved in maiming the King’s messenger and the garrison commander, Henry de Hastings. They were to be imprisoned at the King’s will.

The Dictum was delivered to the castle on 31st October 1266 and was, the following week, publicly proclaimed at St. Mary’s Church, Warwick.

De Hastings declined to accept on the basis that the terms were intolerable and they had been given no say in choosing the Commissioners. He demanded changes and was playing for time, still hoping that help would come from France.

Dictum of Kenilworth
The Dictum of Kenilworth, dated 30th October 1266

As chivalry demanded the King gave the rebels 40 days of grace saying that if no word had been received from France by 11th December they must surrender or expect no mercy. The King and Prince Edward then began to prepare for a final all-out assault upon the castle.

Conditions within the castle must then have deteriorated very quickly. Their dwindling food supplies had run out, they had already eaten their own starving horses and then disease, probably dysentery, swept through the castle. In their weakened state many died and those who survived were forced to accept the terms of the Dictum of Kenilworth and surrender. Starvation and disease had succeeded where siege warfare had failed! (The Annals of Dunstable tell us that “at the beginning of the siege there were within the castle 1000 men – 700 of whom were armed and ‘vigorous’ – plus 160 women and an unknown number of servants.” There is no record of how many survived).

On 13 December the King granted letters of safe conduct to the rebels to go where they wished and they departed, banners flying.

Henry III Effigy
Effigy of King Henry III in Westminster Abbey, c. 1272

King Henry finally left on 15th December ending an almost six months’ stay, an unprecedented length of time for a medieval monarch to remain in one place. During that time the whole of England had been governed directly from Kenilworth.

The conditions inside the castle when the siege finally ended must have been quite dreadful and the Sheriff of Warwickshire and Leicestershire was given the obnoxious task of having it cleaned up. He was also instructed to dismantle the siege engines.

The Priory was completely impoverished, having been forced to support the King for such a very long time.

On 16 December 1266 King Henry granted the castle of Kenilworth and the earldom of Leicester to his second son the Lord Edmund, later also creating him Earl of Lancaster, and thus began almost 200 years of Lancastrian ownership of the castle and patronage of the priory during which time both grew and prospered once more – but that is another story!

Despite the exclusion of Henry de Hastings and others from the ‘benefits’ of the Dictum, by July 1267 Prince Edward had received them into the King’s peace, they having sworn on the Holy Gospels to keep the peace and never bear arms against the King or his heirs again. De Hastings did not keep his word! He became leader of the remaining “disinherited” in the Isle of Ely (just prior to their surrender) and died the following year.

A final thought. Many “Kenilworthian’s” believe that the 1266 Parliament was held on the field now known as “Parliament Piece”. There is actually no contemporary written evidence to tell us exactly where in Kenilworth the 1266 Parliament was held, nor to support the suggestion that Parliament Piece is in any way connected with this event. Indeed, since 17th century musket balls have been found there – but no 13th century artefacts – it seems more likely that the name derives from Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarian forces who may have camped there when they came to Kenilworth during that Civil War. For further comment on this see Kenilworth History 2016 page 16.

Jan Cooper



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From the Archives: The Brays

We know a great deal of the phases of development of Kenilworth Castle itself, but what of its enigmatic counterpart known as The Brays? Was it a hastily constructed rampart thrown together as a result of the Siege of 1266? Was it constructed earlier during the reign of King John? Or does it in fact pre-date the Castle altogether and date from Anglo-Saxon times, the Roman era or even earlier?

Norman Stevens ponders these very questions, in an article first published in the 2010 edition of Society’s yearly publication Kenilworth History:

The Brays

by Norman Stevens

That Kenilworth had a Roman settlement within it or in the immediate vicinity cannot be doubted. The tile kilns at Cherry Orchard and Chase Wood underline that, as do the Roman tiles to be found associated with the Abbey, in what little is left of the visible structure and in the debris washed into the 12th century access shaft of the water conduit running from near the Queen & Castle to the Abbey. A ground-penetrating radar trace of an underground continuous level beside the Abbey ruins suggests a building layer years before the Abbey.

Roman artefacts found in the Cherry Orchard Dig of 1964
Roman artefacts found in the Cherry Orchard Dig of 1964

Further, the settlement known as “Chesford” clearly has a Roman origin, and an examination of the topography shows possibly one or two platforms above the River Avon to the east of Chesford Bridge in the contiguous fields there, beyond the clearly defined hollow-way that at one time was the access to the ford itself. An investigation of the site is well over-due.

A quotation from a principal commentator on the Anglo-Saxon (A-S) development of England, Warwick Rodwell, ties the Roman presence in Kenilworth with a later Anglo-Saxon feature. He says: “There are . . . many instances of Anglo-Saxon manor houses emerging on or close to the sites of Roman villas and farmsteads . . .” “. . . it is fundamental to the history and topography of the late Saxon and mediaeval country-side.” p14 col. 1

He goes further: “. . . . the villa was the central point of an estate, the residence of authority, and it was that authority which could and did embrace Christianity, giving rise to the construction of a private estate church which formed an integral part of the contemporary suite of manorial buildings. As so often happened, that church became parochial in the tenth or eleventh century.” p15 col. 1. [Churches in the Landscape: Aspects of Topography and Planning, Studies in Late Anglo-Saxon Settlement. Ed. Margaret L. Faull. Oxford University Department for External Studies. 1984]

I have argued before that the pair of stone cottages on Castle Green, Nos. 12 & 13, is, in fact, a Saxon church [Kenilworth History 2001-2, KHAS, published annually]. Then, I claimed the mass dial, arrow-sharpening marks, the double plinth, the squint, the orientation, and the recorded fact that there was a church/chapel in Kenilworth before S. Nicholas’ Church, made it quite clear that this was a very early church. Since that article, I have had the privilege, thanks to the present incumbent, of measuring the thickness of the walls, and these, at just under 30 inches, (75 cms) are typical of a Saxon church, and atypical of a Norman one, which was very rarely less than three feet.

No's 12 & 13 Castle Green - a Saxon church?
No’s 12 & 13 Castle Green – a Saxon church?

We have to accept, if all this is true, that Kenilworth was a stable Anglo-Saxon community in the early 1100s, already recorded at Domesday in 1086. At the moment, all we have is the Castle Green “church”. There is not a lot of evidence otherwise of Anglo-Saxon presence in the town, although there is plenty around, nonetheless. Perhaps the nearest most significant is Blacklow, where the Society found a high-status A-S burial and associated grave goods in the course of a rescue dig in 1971-2.

The Avon valley, generally, has evidence of A-S presence, as one might expect. One might almost ask “why not?” And by far the most important is Warwick itself, a major A-S site. It would appear to have enjoyed some sort of defensive bank and ditch arrangement appropriate to its importance, but much of that has been subsumed by the major works applied since the Conquest.

Tamworth, further north, enjoyed a similar treatment, and, as a Saxon “burh”, or burgh, was well fortified, and, as Warwick, later over-whelmed by Norman work.

As I have argued before [KH1994] Kenilworth stands on a drovers’ road, of what antiquity we don’t know, although these were in use for centuries. It is near a significant crossing of the Avon, and is a nodal centre for a number of ancient trackways. It is not very far, in fact, from Watling Street, which became the boundary between A-S Wessex/Mercia and the Danelaw. So there is some reason to suppose that it had an importance which is not reflected in theDomesday entry which speaks of a community of some seventy souls.

All this is merely a preliminary to the question: what is “The Brays”? Considerable research, examination and thought may provide an answer. To the best of our knowledge, no concentrated, even superficial, work has ever been carried out on the area other than an English Heritage (EH) survey of levels. In his article on the 1563 Survey of the Castle in EH Historical Review, Vol 3, 2008, Nicholas A D Molyneux speaks of ‘a massive earthwork enclosure of uncertain date’. The Castle as we know it is such an iconic structure that it absorbs all our attention, and we fail to address a remarkable, but very knocked about, feature right alongside it.

The Brays
Aerial view of The Brays, courtesy of Bing Maps

From the top of the banks to the bottom of the ditches it is 30 feet (Keith Croucher’s otherwise excellent monitory article in KH2002-3 suffered a regrettable misprint which states 25 metres). This is not, then, an insignificant earthwork. The extensive works that clearly once existed in the area of the Brays will have been executed either in an emergency, or at a time when such things were normal and could be achieved within the every day routine. If the former, was it Geoffrey de Clinton, newly arrived in an unknown environment, providing himself a secure earthwork camp he could use as a base for building the castle that Henry I had commissioned? If the latter, was it an A-S ‘burh’, like Warwick, built against the threat of the Dane ? On the other hand, however, the earthworks may already have been there. Whenever they were built, there were considerable resources available, either of manpower or time.

Brays Entrance
The entrance to The Brays from Castle Road

It stands at the end of a tongue of land sloping down towards a confluence of three streams, and, as we have noted, commanded several established routes through the countryside. No dating evidence has ever been found, and, we suspect, ever been looked for, to determine when these substantial earthworks were made. They are the size of Helmsley Castle’s, Castle Acre’s, and Castle Rising’s. But, and it is a big ‘but’, they are a funny shape. No Norman motte and bailey ever had a perimeter as irregular as this. An examination of Iron Age and Neolithic forts, contour-hugging, shows a much closer parallel. A-S towns, like Wareham, were not as regular as the Norman fortifications. Roman fortifications were utterly and predictably regular, so these are not Roman.

Where are we to place them in the time scale? We can see that they were much curtailed and reduced later. Who did that ? King John, in building his dam to heighten the Mere ? Were they really erected against the 1266 siege, complete with walls, and with the towers that the 1925 Ordnance Survey map shows ? In that short time? That is the received wisdom, but a walk up the lane towards Grounds Farm shows us that the powerful trebuchets of the 13th Century would have caused havoc, as the fortification is downhill from there. Or were the changes made by John or Robert Dudley redesigning the site, landscaping it to the ideas of their day ?

The Brays as seen from Castle Grove
The Brays as seen from Castle Grove

Ultimately, we are forced back to saying that “The Brays” is an enigma. We have found no detailed research work on it as yet, and (apart from a recent unrevealing trench dug along the road to lay cables) no excavation or even soil-sampling to establish either the actual depth of the ditches, or the presence of stone where the mediaeval walls and those ‘Towers’ shown on the 1925 Ordnance Survey sheets were supposed to be. The iconic presence of the Castle, as we and the rest of the world knows it, is our enemy ! All eyes are on that : the Brays is where you park your car !

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Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester

In January 1265 Simon de Montfort called a Parliament (in the name of King Henry III), when for the first time commoners were invited to play a small part in the decisions made. This was an early landmark in the development of Parliament which would, centuries later, result in the two house democratic parliamentary system which we have today. De Montfort’s name has been remembered through the centuries as the ‘father’ of democracy.

The de Montfort Colours
A depiction of the de Montfort colours, with a backdrop of the ruins of Kenilworth Castle.

Simon de Montfort was born at Montfort-l’Amaury, France, around 1208 and came to England in 1230 to regain the earldom of Leicester which had once been held by his family. He found favour with King Henry III, recovered the earldom and married Eleanor, the King’s sister.

Kenilworth Castle was a favourite family residence of the de Montforts. Two of their seven children were born at the castle – their eldest son, Henry, named for the King; and their last child and only surviving daughter, Eleanor. The King eventually gave the castle to Earl Simon and his wife for both their lifetimes – a generosity which he would no doubt come to regret!

Despite the fact that Earl Simon’s character and ideals were very different to those of King Henry they got on well for around 9 years but then things started to sour and they eventually found themselves on opposing sides during the so called Second Barons’ War. There was resentment of the King’s increasing power and the fact that he preferred to rely on the counsel of his foreign advisors (mainly relatives), rather than that of his own Barons, which lead to increasingly high taxation to fund some misguided and unsuccessful overseas campaigns. Notwithstanding efforts to reform the government, the situation deteriorated into civil war with Earl Simon emerging as leader of the opposition.

The arms of Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester and King Henry III.
The arms of Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester and King Henry III.

The battle of Lewes in May 1264 was a resounding victory for the Barons. The King, his son Prince Edward, and his brother Earl Richard of Cornwall, were taken prisoner and Earl Simon was virtual ruler of England for the next 15 months. Prince Edward escaped custody in May 1265 and began the fight to restore his father to the throne. In late July 1265 there was a skirmish at Kenilworth. Earl Simon’s second son, young Simon, was encamped with his army outside Kenilworth Castle when Prince Edward led an early morning surprise attack. Young Simon lost many men and also his banners which were subsequently used by the Prince to deceive Earl Simon into thinking that his son was approaching. By the time Young Simon and what was left of his army had recovered they were too late to save his father and elder brother from defeat and death at Evesham on 4th August 1265. Earl Simon’s body was horribly mutilated on the battle field – his head and limbs (and also his more private parts!) were hacked off and sent to different parts of the country as a warning to others.

Battle of Evesham
A 13th-century cloth depiction of the mutilation of de Montfort’s body after the Battle of Evesham. Above Simon is the body of his son Henry.

Earl Simon’s final battle was the precursor to the great siege of Kenilworth Castle which took place the following year. This was the longest siege in English Medieval history and lasted from 22nd June to 13th December 1266. 2016 is the 750th anniversary of this momentous event in Kenilworth’s history.

Bust of de Montfort in US Capitol
Plaque of Simon de Montfort from the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol. One of 23 marble relief portraits over the gallery doors depicting historical figures noted for their work in establishing the principles that underlie American law. They were installed when the chamber was remodelled in 1949-1950.

For further information concerning Simon de Montfort and the Barons’ War visit www.simondemontfort.org, the website of the Simon de Montfort Society.

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From the Archives: Anyone for Tennis?

Kenilworth’s role as a royal residence meant that it was often at the centre of events of national and even world importance. A classic example is the story of the insulting gift of a barrel of tennis balls sent to Henry V by the Dauphin, Louis of Viennois during a lull in the Hundred Years War. Henry’s reaction to this insult resulted in the build up to the campaign that culminated in the routing of the French at the Battle of Agincourt.

Shakespeare included the tale in his play Henry V, but did these events really take place just as we are led to believe? Brian Jackson takes up the tale in an article first published in Kenilworth History 2000 / 2001:

Episodes in Kenilworth History No.5 – Anyone for Tennis?

Brian Jackson

King Henry V was fond of Kenilworth. Indeed, after London, Kenilworth – his ‘castellum dilectum de Kenilleworth’ – was the place where he spent a good deal of his time. His manors of Cheylesmore and Plesantmaris were nearby, and as we have seen in the 1996 – 7 edition of ‘Kenilworth History’, to build what we now know as the Pleasaunce he went to a great deal of trouble preparing the ground and draining a noxious marsh.

Henry V
King Henry V, by unknown artist, from the National Portrait Gallery.

It is on record that Henry was in Kenilworth in Lent, 1414. He was much preoccupied with his claim to territories in France and the prospect of marriage with the French princess Katherine. Negotiations were not going well. What followed is a widely told anecdote, most generally known, perhaps, as it appears in Shakespeare’s play, ‘King Henry V’: French Ambassadors arrive and present the King with a mocking gift from the Dauphin, Charles, son of the King of France. The ‘gift’ is blatantly insulting – a barrel full of tennis-balls, together with the message that Henry, well known for his irresponsible youth, might be better employed playing tennis than going to war with grown-ups.

Louis de Guyenne
The Dauphin Louis, Duke of Guyenne (1397 – 1415)

Henry, infuriated, returns the message that the only balls he would send back would be cannon-balls. He declares war forthwith, to begin the famous campaign culminating in the battle of Agincourt in October the following year.

So what was the source of this anecdote, and did it really happen? Shakespeare knew a good dramatic situation when he saw one, but his history is not always entirely reliable. Here he seems to be on well-established ground, taking it straight from the 16th century historical compilation of Raphael Holinshed, who clearly held it as fact, deriving it at several removes from an obscure chronicler known as Otterbourne, who locates it in Kenilworth.

The better known Thomas Elmham, a royal chaplain who was present at the battle of Agincourt, and who died in 1428, tells it as brief plain tale in his chronicle, ‘Liber Metricus’. Elmham firmly puts Henry at Kenilworth on Quadragesima (first Sunday in Lent) 1414, which that year fell on March 12. On the following day negotiations in France came to nothing and Henry’s envoys promptly returned. The tennis balls story follows. Elmham tells us that the Dauphin wrote to Henry extremely mockingly (verba jocosa nimis) and sent him tennis balls from Paris (Parisias pitas misit), which would suit him nicely for the childish games he enjoyed. Henry wrote back promising cannon balls from London that would shatter the roofs of the French and win the match.

But the main authority, John Strecche, a Canon of Kenilworth Priory who became Prior of Brooke, the small Rutland Cell of Kenilworth Priory in 1407 and retired in 1426, tells a much more circumstantial tale. He was something of an anecdotal historian, fond of many a colourful incident, but he was writing about roughly contemporary events, and was on the spot, with an ear cocked for gossip from the Castle.

The Signature of John Strecche
The Signature of John Strecche. canon of the Priory of St Mary, Kenilworth, from 1407 to 1425.

Elmham and Strecche do not appear to have collaborated. The latter’s tale, indeed, contains subtle differences from Elmham’s, and it is worth quoting more fully. He gives some account of the failure of the negotiations with the French over Henry’s proposed marriage (pro matrimonio inter Henricum regem Angelorum et nobilem dominam Katerinam regis francorum filiam) and how they fell short of what the king could honourably accept. He is much more specific about what followed: “These French, blinded by their own arrogance, and careless of the dreadful consequences, vomited forth words of venom (verbis fellis eructantes) to the English envoys.” Then comes the significant difference. The French told the departing English delegation that because Henry was young they WOULD send him tennis balls to play with, and (a nice addition) some soft pillows (pulvinaria mollia) to sleep on to help him grow to manly strength. Interestingly enough, in an early drama, ‘The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth’, which some critics believe to have been a practice run by Shakespeare, these pillows have become a carpet.

When these insults were reported to the king, says Strecche, he was greatly moved: “With words brief, well-chosen, and graceful in form, this is what he said: If God wills, and if I have life and health, within a few short months, I shall play such games with my cannon balls within their streets that the French will curse their mockery, and pay for their wit with tears and lamentations. And if they thought to lie abed with soft pillows, then I, perhaps, before they might have wished it, shall beat on their doors at dawn and rouse them from their dreams.”

Which has a fine patriotic ring, both in the Latin and in translation. This may well be the heart of the matter. In fact, the French ambassadors in Shakespeare’s play did not arrive in England until July, in a late and conciliatory attempt to restart negotiations, certainly without an insulting barrel of tennis  balls, when Henry’s preparations for war were well advanced. It is not unlikely that the whole thing had its origins in a discourteous joke among the French negotiators, was brought back by the English envoys, and grew in the telling, to be seized upon by Strecche and other chroniclers as a piece of ‘true’ anti-French propaganda and an opportunity to display the king’s legendary oratory. Myth? Or fact? Either way the tale is a Kenilworth tale, and a Kenilworth Canon was there when it began.

King Henry V William Shakespeare
The Famous Victories of Henry V Author unknown, poss. early Shakespeare
Chronicles Ralph Holinshed
Liber Metricus Thomas Elmham
Historia Regum Angliae Book V John Strecche
Henry V and the Invasion of France E. P. Jacob, E.U.P. 1947

For more articles like this, a CD containing all back issues of Kenilworth History from 1981 to 2015 can be purchased from the Society for £5. See the link above for more details.

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Kenilworth Castle Aerial View – Then & Now

This pair of aerial photos, from 1947 and 2016 respectively, shows a rare mid-twentieth century aerial view of Kenilworth Castle and its modern day equivalent:

Kenilworth Castle Aerial Photo
Kenilworth Castle Aerial Photo, 1947 and 2016

The ‘then’ photo shows the end cottage on Castle Green before its demolition and behind it stretches a sparsely populated Clinton Lane with very little in the way of modern development in evidence. The rows of Victorian terraced houses down the southern end of Clinton Lane and the cul-de-sac at Avenue Road can be seen but beyond that in 1947 there were mostly open fields all the way up to the junction with Beehive Hill.

East of Avenue Road could be seen the glasshouses of the Castle Nurseries, the site of which is now occupied by Denton Close and De Montfort Road. Beyond lay the open land which is believed to have belonged to the Prior of St Mary’s Priory, hence the modern names of Priorsfield Road and Priorsfield School, the latter of which can just be made out two thirds of the way down Clinton Lane in the modern image. This belief is based on the fact that the name ‘Priorsfield’ appears on James Fish’s estate survey map of 1692 (WRO, CR0143A) which is sufficiently recently after the Dissolution for it to be authentic.

James Fish Map 1692
Section of the James Fish estate map of 1692

In the foreground, of course, is Kenilworth Castle itself. In the 1947 photo it remains relatively un-landscaped. The Elizabethan gardens were not replanted until 1975, and then again in 2009 for their eventual faithful restoration based on more rigorous archæological evidence of the original Tudor layout. The keep looks to have been undergoing repairs, which is an ongoing battle with a 900 year old structure.

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