Saturday, July 1, 2017

Queen Elizabeth I's Apartments at Leicester's Kenilworth Castle

The construction of the enormous Kenilworth Castle spans many centuries and many different owners.The part of the castle of special interest to fans of Elizabethan history is known as Leicester's Building. Queen Elizabeth I's favorite, Robert Dudley, 1st earl of Leicester (c.1532-1588) took ownership of Kenilworth in 1563. He made many additions to the castle, including Leicester's Gatehouse and Leicester's Building, which  housed the apartments built for Queen Elizabeth I during her third visit to Kenilworth in 1572. The apartments were altered and improved before her fourth and final visit to the castle in July of 1575. This visit lasted for nineteen days - the longest stay by the queen at a courtier's home while on progress. There is an air of romanticism that surrounds this historic visit, as many historians suspect that, during the elaborate celebrations designed by Leicester in honor of the queen, queen Elizabeth's lifelong friend and confidante made his final proposal of marriage to the queen. Queen Elizabeth I was 42 years old.

Leicester's Building. Photo © A.Jensen/BeingBess.

The queen's privy apartments and gardens, which included an aviary, were completed between 1572-75 for her to enjoy upon her visits to the castle. Based upon an eyewitness account of the 1575 celebrations by Robert Langham, the garden has been meticulously recreated by Kenilworth Castle staff. When you walk among the flowers and the fountain, you are seeing the garden through Queen Elizabeth I's eyes.

A reproduction of Queen Elizabeth I's garden at Kenilworth Castle. Photo © A.Jensen/BeingBess

The first room of the queen's privy apartments, the outer chamber, stood before the door to the queen's bedchamber. It was here that Elizabeth I socialized with friends and courtiers. The floors above and below were probably used to lodge her ladies-in-waiting and other attendants. The stair turret was added around Elizabeth's third visit. It provided a private route for the queen to pass from her bedroom and inner chambers to the other floors of the building. Traces of the original stairs and landings survive, but they are to fragile to be walked upon by modern visitor.

The queen's private stair turret. Photo © A.Jensen/BeingBess.

The most important and private part of Leicester's Building was the queen's bedchamber. The presence of two fireplaces side-by-side informs us that there was formerly a timber wall between them, dividing the space into two rooms. The room furthest away was the queen's bedchamber. The room at the other end was the inner chamber, where Elizabeth I could meet with her councilors. The building was thoughtfully designed by Leicester so that courtiers could reach this point from the outer chamber without passing through the queen's bedchamber.

What the queen's bedchamber would have looked like in 1575. Photo © A.Jensen/BeingBess.

In what was probably the Long Gallery, a place where Queen Elizabeth could relax above her bedchamber, an interlude between the queen and some actors took place on 17 July, 1575. Elizabeth I was supposed to watch 'the Coventry men' perform a play for her below, but she became too distracted by the dancing that was going on in her own chamber (Elizabeth loved to dance). So, the queen asked the players to return two days later to re-stage the play. They honored their queen's request, and Elizabeth apparently liked the play very much, as she rewarded them with coins and with venison.

A view from the Long Gallery, where Queen Elizabeth I may have watched the Coventry men. Photo  © A.Jensen/BeingBess

If you have not been to Kenilworth Castle before, I highly recommend it. Walking the ruins, which are in remarkable condition, is like stepping back in time. There are few places where one can connect so profoundly to Queen Elizabeth I, but Kenilworth is one of them.

A view of just part of the impressive Kenilworth Castle. Photo © A.Jensen/BeingBess.