Circa 1190-99 Richard I granted Kenilworth Castle the right to hold jousting tournaments, a permanent tiltyard was constructed near the castle gatehouse. At this time, jousting and imitation warfare were popular attractions.
Around 1210-15, King John further extended the castle; an additional perimeter wall was added along with towers to protect strategic points in the defence. The original ditch was filled in and replaced with a larger outer one. A small river was dammed nearby in order to flood the new ditch to create a mere, a kilometre long and wide, surrounding the castle. This was done to add defensibility to the castle and later on in the castle history, used for recreational use, such as sailing.
In 1253 the De Momforts held out in the Castle for 9 months as the crown laid siege to the castle when the family turned against the King in the baronial war.
1389-94 was a period of stability. After the signing of the Magna Carta and the death of King John but Kenilworth’s towers ‘suggest readiness in case if civil unrest’. At this point John Of Gaunt owned the castle and aims to increase the castles’ prestige and opulence. Kenilworth now started to become a grand residence, as John Of Gaunt demonstrates his wealth by building the Great Hall an impressive ornamental room, built for meetings, banquets and administration. The hall was built in the latest style and contained many luxurious features new to the time. The building was equipped with kitchens, chambers and a chapel. John Of Gaunt also built three new towers all with symmetrical roof patterns to match the Great Hall. These three towers The Strong, Saint Lowe and Gaunt’s Tower were built to cater nobles residing at the Castle, rather as defensive features. All these new features were to show his power and wealth, and to bring nobles to his residence.
In 1414 Henry V built the Pleasaunce, a pleasure house or banqueting hall situated across the mere, used for entertaining visitors and inhabitants if the castle. Henry VIII later removed the building to a site in front of the Castle, for reasons I have been unable to find.
Circa 1563-88 Robert Dudley became the tenant and turned the Castle into a great country house. Dudley, one of Elizabeth I favourites constructed Leicester’s Building, Leicester’ Stables and Leicester’ Gatehouse with a garden behind it. Leicester’s building, a three storey residential block is of high quality masonry. The building was clearly for important visitors. When Dudley built Leicester’s Gatehouse he turned the Castle back to front, making the north side the main entrance. His purpose was to provide an imposing approach from the main Coventry road. Dudley also renovated the Keep, improving the fore building and windows. As Dudley came to Kenilworth his motives for the mass renovation was to entertain distinguished visitors, with the opportunities to go hunting and other recreational activities. All of which impressed Queen Elizabeth I when she visited the Castle in July 1575.
As the civil war came to an end Kenilworth is laid siege to by both sides, but the victorious Parliamentary forces removed all of the Castles defensive features, in order to stop their Royalist foes rising up again and using the Castle to their advantage. As the Castle was ‘slighted’, the Keep’s north wall was blown up, the towers and outer walls are breached and the dam was broken to drain the mere, which is then used as farmland.
So, Kenilworth started as a defensive position to keep its tenant safe, but as it became more of a grandiose structure its defensive capability deteriated, until Kenilworth Castle was slighted at the end of the Civil War.
From the end of the War the castle lay in rest, until the English Heritage took it over and opened it to visitors. The English Heritage also restored the Tudor Gardens in 1970. Kenilworth was no more a sign of power than a modern concentric castle as the wealth and power of its tenants over time increased the social status of the castle, resulting in its defensiveness going down. The main reasons why Kenilworth Castle changed were the political and social change in Britain. For example the castle was only defensively renovated when the owner needed to be kept safe or at times of political unrest. The castle only started to become grander when there was no need for the owner to be kept safe, only to be renovated as a grand residence, to show the power, wealth and status of the owner.