War of the Roses at Warwick Castle
Not many people get the chance to walk around Warwick Castle after darkness, but that’s exactly what I was able to do when I attended a Medieval Banquet inside the grounds, of Britain`s finest castle and one of the top ten Historic houses and monuments in the country.
Originally built by William the Conqueror in 1068, the castle had seen its tourism potential developed throughout the twentieth century by a succession of Earls, until 1978, when after 374 years in the Greville family, it was sold to media and entertainment company, the Tussauds Group for £1.3 million, who opened it as a major tourist attraction. Tussauds performed extensive restorations to the castle and grounds before it became part of the huge, worldwide Merlin Entertainments company.
I was at the castle to see History bought to life, during a themed dining experience with a unique combination of food, drink and entertainment, set in the authentic surroundings of the Castle. I was greeted at the impressive Stables Coach House by suitably attired Knights and given a token to get my first drink and a home-made meat or vegetarian pie.
I was guided across to the castle through the educational and visually impressive waxworks of the `Kingmaker`exhibition, to the banqueting room. As the light was beginning to fade the castle looked beautiful as we passed through the `killing ground` of the Barbican and out into the expansive Bailey. I felt privileged to be walking around the castle after the daytime visitors had all been ushered out and the gates closed to the general public. The castle really is something special at night.
The Kingmaker exhibition sets the scene for what is to come at the banquet. The year is 1471 and Richard Neville, commonly known as Warwick the Kingmaker, is preparing his army for the Battle of Barnet. I would have liked to loiter a while in the exhibition hall to sample the sights and sounds of medieval England a little closer, but there was food to be eaten, drink to be enjoyed and a `simulated` battle to experience.
During the banquet, I enjoyed a 3 course meal including Medieval canapes, a selection of cheese & chive frittatas, Sweet potato Falafal and Mushroom Rice Balls ably supported with a selection of dips. The main meal was a large slice of hot home cooked Hickory Smoked Chicken, Ham & Leek Pie and a wonderful thick rich gravy, roast potatoes and huge bowl of tiny `chantenay` carrots, the way carrots used to look and taste without any peeling or too much boiling!
The basic rustic menu was appropriately served at the table in handmade earthenware, diners passing the plateful of food down the table to the other hungry and expectant diners. Goblets of Ale and Red or White wine continued to flow as the evening wore on.
The food and drink were bought out in between the `live entertainment` which centred on a time just after the Battle of Barnet when the Wars of the Roses was in full flight. The King of England is dead and there are two pretenders to the title; one is Yorkist the other Lancastrian. Diners, some suitably dressed in period costume for the occasion, were encouraged to shout out their support and allegiance for Yorkist or Lancastrian. There was much `table thumping ` with bare fists by many of the diners as they too got fittingly involved in the atmosphere of battle and conflict, created by the actors. Several of the sword fights were very well orchestrated adding to the sense of battle as the two main protagonists fought for the English throne.
In the real world, The Battle of Barnet was a decisive engagement in the Wars of the Roses, a dynastic conflict of 15th-century England. The military action, along with the subsequent Battle of Tewkesbury, secured the throne for Edward IV. On 14 April 1471 near Barnet, then a small Hertfordshire town north of London, Edward led the House of York in a fight against the House of Lancaster, which backed Henry VI for the throne.
Leading the Lancastrian army was Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, who played a crucial role in the fate of each king. Historians regard the battle as one of the most important clashes in the Wars of the Roses, since it brought about a decisive turn in the fortunes of the two houses. Edward’s victory was followed by 14 years of Yorkist rule over England. The `actors` were very convincing and played their parts well, throughout the long evening.
I spoke to several of the other diners, some of whom had visited the Castle Banquets before. One lady told me she enjoyed History and was a member of the Richard III Society, of which I was informed has several hundreds of members across the country.
For me it was a fun and enjoyable evening out with good solid food and ample refreshment with some exciting historical entertainment in between. Whether you have an interest in history or not, it would be a great night out for a group of friends to celebrate a special occasion. Several of the other diners were celebrating birthdays, so we were all encouraged to sing them a Happy birthday song, before the dancing began!
The `Knights` performers encouraged audience participation and mixed well with the diners, taking the time to talk to everyone during the meal. Music was provided throughout the evening by a couple of `medieval ` musicians to enhance the sense of occasion and period.
Coming out into the castle grounds late in the evening was a magical experience and provided the opportunity to take several photographs I would not have been able to snap during the day.
If you are planning for a special occasion and would like to do something completely different with a group of friends, I would fully recommend an evening Medieval Banquet at Warwick Castle. The Castle also has accommodation in the form of lodges which you can stay in if you do not want to drive home.
I had a thoroughly enjoyable evening and learnt a little more History at the same time!
Warwick Castle & Knights Village
Telephone: 0871 265 2000 (9am – 5pm 7 days a week)
Facebook: Warwick Castle
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