10th June 2017
The Kenilworth Buffet is a truly remarkable piece of furniture which currently resides in the Great Hall. It is an item which brings pleasure to people’s eyes and a piece that they certainly go away remembering.
The buffet was made for the Great Exhibition of 1851, which was the first international exhibition of manufactured products. It was primarily organised by Prince Albert and Henry Cole, and was held in a purpose-built Crystal Palace in Hyde Park. It was built by Cookes & Sons of Warwick, who were awarded a prize medal for their craftsmanship. The buffet is made from a single oak tree which grew at Kenilworth Castle and was cut down in 1842, and took nine years to construct.
The carvings represent scenes from Sir Walter Scott’s historical novel, ‘Kenilworth’. It was published in 1821 and centres on the secret marriage between Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and Amy Robsart. The central panel shows the entry of Queen Elizabeth I into Kenilworth Castle through Dudley’s gatehouse in 1575 as part of a three-week visit. The left door depicts Elizabeth I meeting Amy Robsart, the first wife of Robert Dudley. Amy died at Cumnor Place, Oxfordshire, in 1560, after falling down some stairs. The right door shows the Queen with Robert Dudley. The four figures are Sir Philip Sidney, Sir Walter Raleigh, William Shakespeare and Sir Francis Drake.
Robert Dudley’s brother, Ambrose, was Earl of Warwick from 1561-1590. When Ambrose died without an heir, Warwick Castle reverted to crown property and was owned by Elizabeth I for the last 14 years of her reign. The queen did not visit the castle during that time and it fell into disrepair.
The four bear and ragged staff carvings may be rotated and demonstrate the skill of the wood carvers. The bear and ragged staff was the crest of several Earls of Warwick and the Dudley family. The origins of the symbol may relate to Arthgallus, a British Earl of Warwick and knight of King Arthur's Round Table, as his name came from the Welsh "artos" or bear. The ragged staff was chosen because Morvidus, Earl of Warwick, killed a giant with the broken branch of a tree.
The carved motto Droit et Loyal (just and loyal) is that of the Dudley family and Semper Eadem (always the same) was the personal motto of Queen Elizabeth I. You also see the Order of the Garter motto Honi soit qui mal y pense (shame be to him who thinks evil of it).
In 1852 the buffet was presented to George Greville, Lord Brooke, as a wedding gift from the people of Warwickshire. The subscribers bought the buffet for £1,200. In 1853, George became the 4th Earl of Warwick and when Queen Victoria visited the castle in 1858, the Kenilworth Buffet was in the State Dining Room.