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The Kenilworth siege of 1266 – Everything you need to know for a visit!

Have you heard about the Kenilworth siege of 1266?

If you have visited Kenilworth Castle, you may be struck by the size and scale of its walls. These sandstone behemoths played a vital role in one of Kenilworth’s defining historical moments, when in 1266 King Henry III and his army laid siege to the castle for a frankly astonishing six months! This siege firmly put Kenilworth on the map and made it the de-facto centre of England! Interested to find out more? Stick with us and we’ll give you the full run-down and explain how you can experience a flavour of those gruesome times today!

Why lay siege to the castle?

A good question to start with! The origins of the siege lie in the second Baron’s war, when nobles tried to curb the King’s power. Led by Simon de Montfort, they defeated Henry at the battle of Lewes in 1264 and took the King  prisoner. Simon was killed at the battle of Evesham in 1265 (his body parts sent to various places in England as a warning!). As Simon’s former stronghold the defenders refused to hand over the castle to Henry, who decided to bring an entire army to settle the matter.

The Longest Siege on English Soil!

For six entire months, Henry bombards the castle. He also attempts a covert crossing of the Meer (the man made lake) under cover of darkness and in short makes life very difficult for the defenders. However its only disease and starvation that really bring the siege to a close in December 1266. During the siege the King resided at the Priory of St Mary (in modern day Abbey Fields). This is also the likely venue for the parliament that leads to the Dictum of Kenilworth (the terms of surrender).

Want to experience the siege for yourself?

First of all make a bee-line to Kenilworth Castle for the full experience (It’s much easier to get into these days!). Imagine being hemmed in behind these walls for six months as massive stones pounded away outside! You can complement this by grabbing a copy of the Castle & Abbey Trail and exploring the areas outside the Castle Walls. You’ll also find an in-depth look at the siege on the Kenilworth Heritage Trail mobile version, including a who’s who of the main protagonists and plenty more! Finish up with a visit to the ruins of the Abbey of St Mary and the Abbey Museum for plenty more siege related content!

Interesting facts to contemplate as you visit!

Its always nice to have a few interesting factoids handy! For instance did you know…

  • A Medieval Trebuchet could hurl rocks up to 300lbs in weight (that’s about two washing machines!).
  • Allegedly King Henry ordered a whole whale(!) be bought to feed his army during the siege!
  • The severing of the King’s messengers hand by the defenders appears to be the act that actually started the siege!
  • 1000 men, 160 women  and an unknown number of servants defended the castle.
  • Six months seems a long time, but the longest siege in history at Candia in the 17th Century, saw the Venetians hold out against the Ottomans for 22 years!

Need more on the Kenilworth siege of 1266?

There is a full article on the siege at the Kenilworth History and Archaeological Society Website – click here for more.

Alternatively grab a copy of the Siege 750th anniversary programme from 2016.

Hopefully we’ll see you besieging Kenilworth yourself very soon!

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