The Privy Garden was created by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester to celebrate the visit of Queen Elizabeth in July 1575.
Walk through the Loggia on to the Terrace with its magnificent views over the garden.
The beds have been planted with flowers and herbs which would have been familiar to the Elizabethans including pinks, holly, wild strawberries, rosemary and various fruit trees.
The gardens were redeveloped in 2009 using a contemporary description of the garden as well as archaeological evidence.
Don’t miss the Edwardian garden near the Gatehouse.
English Heritage members visit for free.
Geoffrey de Clinton built the castle in the 1120s. In the mid-14th century, Kenilworth passed by marriage to John of Gaunt who rebuilt much of the castle. Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester was given Kenilworth Castle by Queen Elizabeth in June 1563.
Dudley created a privy garden of ‘an aker or more’ to impress the Queen on her nineteen day visit to Kenilworth in July 1575. Dudley believed that his position as a close confidante to the Queen was slipping and so the garden contains much symbolism to remind the Queen and her entourage of Dudley’s importance and status. The elaborate garden was described in a letter by Robert Laneham, Dudley’s gentleman usher, to his friend Humfrey Martyn. The letter was written on two levels. On the one hand, it was a description of a beautiful garden ‘woorthy to be called Paradis’. And secondly, it was written with the purpose of having it published so that a wider audience could understand and appreciate Dudley’s wisdom and knowledge.
The garden was divided into ‘four eeven quarterz’ contained within a low latticed wooden fence. Four was an important number in the sixteenth century with religious connections (the four evangelists) as well as references to nature: the four elements and the four seasons.
Each quarter had an obelisk at its centre. Obelisks symbolised eternity, glory and immortality with their references to Ancient Egypt and Rome. On top of each pyramid was an orb, representing heavenly wisdom and with their connection to Apollo, the rational side of man’s character.
At the centre of the garden was a marble fountain ‘four feet high; from the midst whereof, a column upright, in shape of two Athlants … with their hands upholding a fair-formed bowl of three feet over, from whence sun-dry fine pipes did lively distil continual streams in to the reservoir of the fountain … wherein pleasantly playing to and fro … [were] carp, tench, bream and for variety, pearch and eel…’ Fountains symbolised the heart and were still thought of as the source of spiritual life with the fish symbolising Christianity as well as sexuality and fecundity. Laneham comments: ‘but whooso waz found so hot in desyre, with the wreast of a cok waz sure of a cooler’.
Opposite the entrance to the Castle was the Aviary which has been reconstructed using Laneham’s measurements. Aviaries symbolised knowledge of the Classics as well as man’s control over Nature. It was ‘beautified with great diamonds, emeralds, rubies and saphires [made of glass] … and garnisht with their golld’. Inside were birds from England, France, Spain, the Canaries and Africa representing Dudley’s global business.
Laneham doesn’t mention any flowers by name so the garden has been filled with flowers which were familiar to the Elizabethans: thrift, pinks [gillyflowers], musk roses, rosemary, holly [the male holly tree symbolised eternal life], and strawberry plants. There are also cherry trees [a favourite of Queen Elizabeth’s], apples and a variety of pear, named xxx by Queen Elizabeth.
After Dudley’s death in 1588, Kenilworth was inherited by his brother, Ambrose, Earl of Warwick. After the Civil War, the Castle was no longer habitable although the gatehouse was let to tenants. The gardens surrounding the Gatehouse have been created in the Edwardian style with terraces.
In 1937, the 6th Earl of Clarendon sold Kenilworth to Sir John Davenport Siddeley who gave the Castle to Kenilworth Urban District Council. It is now maintained by English Heritage.