It was during the Mediaeval period that Warwick Castle first began to emerge as the great fortress castle that we think of today. The Middle Ages was a turbulent time with wars raging in Europe and England. The Earls of Warwick were never far from the action. They were well connected and were at the heart of major events both in England and in Europe.
In France, England was embroiled in what was to become known as The Hundred Years War (1338 to 1453). Warwick Castle at the time was the seat of the English de Beauchamp family. The family held enormous influence, Thomas de Beauchamp inherited the Earldom in 1329 and was to command troops at the battles of Crecy and Poitiers eventually becoming The Black Prince’s key military advisor. Whilst in later years, his grandson Richard became Captain of Calais and had a direct hand in the fate of Joan of Arc; supervising both the trial and Joan’s execution in 1431.
In England things were no calmer. The nobility were constantly fighting both amongst themselves and in opposition to the Crown. Titles were given and stripped, battles were fought, won and lost. Here again the Earls of Warwick were at the centre of event; never more so than when Henry VI settled the title Earl of Warwick on Richard Neville in 1450.
History knows Richard Neville Earl of Warwick as Warwick The Kingmaker. Richard took the title at a time when England was ruled by an increasingly ineffectual Lancastrian King in Henry VI. Henry’s authority and control, never the strongest, diminished over a period of years until almost anyone with the power and ambition for political position felt able to challenge the King’s authority. From this the country fell into civil war with the victors seeking to claim control of the King and even appointment of a new King. Richard’s family background saw him a Yorkist, in direction opposition to the Lancastrian King. In 1455 Richard commanded at the Battle Of St Albans and oversaw the defeat and capture of Henry. By 1461 the Yorkists had appointed Edward of York as King and in recognition of his part in the War of The Roses, Richard of Warwick rose to a position of even greater power within the Royal court. But these were unsettled times and Warwick was soon to find his influence fading. Never one to take a defeat lying down, Warwick mustered an army and captured the King, imprisoning him at Warwick Castle. The plan had been to rule England through the imprisoned King. When it became clear that this was not a workable proposition, Warwick fled to France. There he struck an alliance with his old enemy the exiled King Henry VI, eventually returning to England overthrowing King Edward and returning Henry to power.
In 1471 the story of Warwick The Kingmaker was to take one final twist. Edward returned from France with a strong army. In the April of that year, Warwick marched his army from Warwick Castle south towards London. He met Edwards army at Barnet in Hertfordshire. The two armies fought a fierce battle which saw Warwick captured. Richard of Warwick was stripped naked, killed and his body taken to London for public display. Warwick the Kingmaker was no more.