Have you ever wondered what it would be like if the Madame Tussaud’s people bought a castle? No? Oh. Just me then. Well, I now know what it would be like because that’s essentially Warwick Castle. The Madame Tussaud’s people bought it from an earl of Warwick in the 20th century – the current earl is that guy’s grandson, but he’s a farmer in Australia now. I have actively avoided Madame Tussaud’s, both in DC and London – I find the wax figures unnerving and don’t really get the appeal. If you’re a fan, leave me a comment and help me understand.
But the wax figures are illustrative at Warwick – they form the major part of each of the three exhibits through which I wandered. The first, The Kingmaker, shows Richard Neville, 16th earl of Warwick preparing his troops for battle in 1471, complete with sound effects, dialog among characters and even period-appropriate smells (nothing too extreme here). This earl famously flip-flopped so many times during the War of the Roses that I thought the exhibit was pretty hilarious – why would they choose the campaign in which Neville would be killed when there were so many other successful campaigns? But he was called the Kingmaker and made at least two kings, so technically this exhibit is legit.
Fun fact: Neville was also Richard III’s father-in-law – you know, the king whose skeleton they found under a parking lot a few years ago? Richard III was the last Plantagenet king of England who famously said, “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!” shortly before he was killed in battle, and the Tudors came to power. (And those are just the things we know for sure – he also supposedly seduced his niece after having her two younger brothers murdered to claim the throne for himself, though I don’t believe he did the murder part. Interesting character, Richard III.)
The second exhibit was a royal weekend party at the castle in 1898 – including the Duke of York (at the time – later George V, also Elizabeth I’s grandfather) and a young, ginger Winston Churchill. This exhibit also had a Downton Abbey aspect by showing the interactions and “downstairs” lives of the servants.
The third exhibit showed the Great Hall and several state rooms, each in period decor from different English periods. The Tudor room included Henry VIII and all six of his wives.
In addition to these exhibits, there are also kids activities I did not do: a princess scavenger hunt and dungeon tours. The castle grounds themselves are huge, and I only explored the castle itself. The signs said there was also a medieval “glamping” experience available during the summer months. I think the experience at Warwick Castle is what people picture when they plan to visit castles – knights, nobility, kings, richly furnished rooms, dungeons, hawks, and peacocks. In my experience, most castles require you to use a tad more imagination.
My favorite part of visiting Warwick Castle was a happy accident. As I started to walk around the castle to take some photos, I happened upon a live birds of prey show that had just begun. It was fascinating – the bird wrangler (is there another name for this job?) had a great rapport with the audience and was quite funny. He showed two bald eagles, an Egyptian vulture, an owl, and an Andean condor, though not all at once. The birds were well trained and a wonder to watch. I also got to see two peacocks wandering around the castle grounds, leading me to conclude rich people keep weird pets.
Title quote: The tagline for Warwick Castle and Glamping Village.