The visitor to Kenilworth today is greeted with ruins that give a hint of the castle's former splendor. The oldest fortification on the site dates back to Norman times and is the large blocky keep. The castle was enlarged and modified through and past the reign of Elizabeth I. The castle fell into ruin after the English Civil War.
One turret of the old Norman keep had a clock in Elizabethan times, and some of the markings can still be seen. The building did not originally have so many windows, as they were added in Tudor times when the castle ceased to be a structure for defense. The addition of the large windows would have allowed much more natural light into the keep.
The forebuilding of the keep was altered in 1570 to make a loggia (an arcaded gallery) which led from the Inner Court to a garden in the Outer Court. In medieval times, the forebuilding would have served as protection for the main entrance to the keep, but this would not have been a necessity in the relative peace and stability of the 16th century. A reconstructed Tudor garden was added next to the keep in 1970.
Kenilworth and Henry VIII
Henry VIII visited Kenilworth and moved the Pleasaunce buildings constructed outside the castle by King Henry V back to the castle site. He also had timber buildings constructed in the area between the chapel and keep, but these building have long since disappeared. The Tudor stables still remain, although the towers at either end are ruins and date from an earlier period. The upper part of the stables would have served as housing for the horse grooms and palace servants.
Henry VIII gave Kenilworth Abbey (near the castle) to John Dudley, later Duke of Northumberland, after the dissolution of the monasteries. Dudley aquired Kenilworth Castle in 1553 in the reign of Edward VI, but was executed only a short time later after the failed plot to place his daughter-in-law Lady Jane Grey on the throne after Edward's death.
Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester
During the reign of Elizabeth, Kenilworth came into the possession of John Dudley's son Robert, who made many modifications and additions to the castle. Kenilworth is probably most associated with the visit that Elizabeth I paid to Dudley in July 1575 and the extravagant festivities held in her honor. The revelries lasted 19 days and no expense was spared for the Queen.
Dudley had the large structure now called "Leicester's Building" constructed to modernize the castle to late 16th century standards of luxury. Leicester's gatehouse, which can still be seen today, placed the entrance to the castle to the north, as opposed to the south where it had previously been. The new entrance provided easier access to the hunting park, provided a great view of the castle on the approach from the Coventry road and was wider than the old entrance, which allowed access for wheeled carriages. The style of the gatehouse is typical of the Tudor period with octagonal turrets at the corners like those seen at Hampton Court Palace. The gateway arches were filled in by a later owner for more room and the gabled building on the side was also added after Dudley's time. Robert Dudley's initials can be clearly seen over the door. The gatehouse also has a fireplace from 1571 that was probably brought over from Leicester's Building in the 17th century.