REWIND: Henry V's second palace in Kenilworth - 'The Pleasance in the Marsh'

By James Smith

2nd Apr 2022 | Local Features

Whilst anybody who has heard of Kenilworth will be aware of the ruins of its medieval castle, few will perhaps be aware that less than a kilometers walk from the castle are the remains of a smaller palace built by Henry V.

The warrior king, famous for his 1415 victory at Agincourt, played a key part in the history of Kenilworth Castle.

Having had his life saved in 1403 when an arrow shaft was pulled from his face by John Bradmore at the castle, less than a decade later he would build a large manor house for his personal use.

In 1413 he took control of the castle as part of his Lancastrian inheritance after the death of his father, Henry IV.

Around that time (although historians have disagreed over the exact date) he would commission what became known as the 'Pleasance in the Marsh'.

Built at the end of the Great Mere – a 12th century artificial lake built behind the castle – the Pleasance was a stone-built manor house surrounded by two moats.

With towers in each of the four corners, the great manor house was used as a retreat by Henry V throughout his reign.

The Pleasance was accessed by boat across the 1km-long mere, with a small jetty built for visitors to disembark.

In the 1530s the antiquary John Leland described the Pleasance as a 'pretty banqueting house of timber'.

Whilst court poet Thomas Elmham wrote in 1415 that the gardens were overgrown and full of wild animals until Henry took over. "Where it had been nasty now becomes peaceful marshland; the coarse ground is sweetened with running water and the site made nice."

The King was said to prefer to stay in the Pleasance rather than the castle itself.

However, in 1524 Henry VIII ordered that the Pleasance be destroyed, and much of the timber from the banqueting hall was used to repair other parts of the castle itself.

By the end of the 17th century the Great Mere had been drained and all the former pleasure grounds turned into farmland.

In 1920 there was an excavation which found the base of a corner tower and staircase.

The site can still be seen to this day, and the image from Google Maps above shows the outline of the two moats that once surrounded the manor house.

(Header image via google.maps)


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