Warwick Castle, (pronounced war-ick (silent w in middle)), overlooking the River Avon, lies in the town of Warwick of the English county of Warwickshire. It is traditionally associated with the earldom of Warwick, one of the oldest in England. The castle today is a popular tourist attraction and attracts tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world.
The history of Warwick Castle began in the 10th century. Legend has it that the first fortification of significance on the grounds of Warwick Castle was erected by Ethelfleda, the daughter of Alfred the Great, in the year 914. This almost certainly replaced older wooden fortifications which had proven ineffective against marauding Danes who sacked the town during the reign of her father. This fortification was part of a network built to protect the Kingdom of Wessex.
The remains of this ancient fortification can still be seen on Ethelfleda’s Mound, a mound of earth at the southern end of the castle’s courtyard. As intriguing as this legend is, the majority of the remains date from the period of Norman rule.
After the Norman Conquest of England in the 11th century, William the Conqueror appointed Henry de Newburgh as Earl of Warwick. During this time of change, a Norman motte-and-bailey fort was erected.
In the year 1264, the castle was built by the forces of Simon de Montfort, who consequently imprisoned the Earl of Warwick at that time, William Mauduit, and his countess at Kenilworth (who were supporters of the king and loyals to the barons) until a ransom was paid.
After the death of William Mauduit, the title and castle were passed to William de Beauchamp. Following the death of William de Beauchamp, Warwick Castle subsequently passed through seven generations of the Beauchamp family, who over the next 180 years were responsible for the majority of the additions made to Warwick Castle.
After the death of the last direct-line Beauchamp, Anne, the title of Earl of Warwick, as well as the castle, passed to Richard Neville (“the Kingmaker”), who married the sister of the last Earl (Warwick was unusual in that the earldom could be inherited through the female line). Warwick Castle then passed from Neville to his son-in-law (and brother of Edward IV of England), George Plantagenet, and shortly before the Duke’s death, to his son, Edward.
After passing through the hands of 20 more earls (and three more creations of the title), Warwick Castle became a member of the Treasure Houses of England, a heritage consortium founded in the early 1970s by ten of the foremost stately homes in England still in private ownership with the aim of marketing and promoting themselves as tourist venues. In 1978, Warwick Castle was sold to Tussauds, a large visitor attraction business. Tussauds performed extensive restorations to the castle and grounds in addition to opening its gates to the public.
In May 2007 Tussauds was purchased by Merlin Entertainments who continue to operate the castle on a lease, having sold the freehold to Nick Leslau’s Prestubury Group on 17 July 2007.
Currently, Warwick Castle houses a working scale model trebuchet. The trebuchet can be fired by members of the public under professional supervision. It stands 19 m tall and uses a 6-tonne counterweight to fire 15 kg stone balls distances exceeding several hundred feet. Other attractions include “Warwick, Ghosts Alive,” “Winged Warriors” (a bird show, featuring bald eagles, vultures, and hawks), an archery display, and the “Kingmaker” Exhibit. These are only open at certain times of the year, however.
The Watergate Tower at Warwick Castle is also known as the ghost tower and for most of the year, it is home to Warwick Ghosts Alive. Ghosts Dead is a short live action show that tells the story of Fulke Greville’s murder. The show uses live actors, sound, lighting and visual effects.