War of the Roses Live!
Looking for something that brings history to life that's not 'booooring'? Catch this thrilling live action horse-back battle at Warwick Castle over the summer hols until Sun Sept 3.
A few summers ago my husband, children – who were 8, 6 & six months – and I drove over to the Vendee in France for an extended family holiday and *sigh* joint 40th! Within 20 minutes of where we were staying in a farmhouse was the amazing Puy de Fou an historical rural theme park. Thousands of actors and animals recreate high drama from European history, from Roman gladiators to King Arthur, with mind-blowing special effects. I’m not joking – there’s even a real full-scale Colosseum with chariot racing, gladiator fights and actual wild animals.
It is France’s best-kept secret – a lavish family-friendly theatrical extravaganza in a peaceful forest setting – and no tat or rides. And it’s not all shows. In 50 hectares of forest and gardens, there are reconstructed historic villages, including a medieval settlement and an 18th-century farm, where you can go into houses and watch artisans like blacksmiths and bakers at work.
If you live in Britain, the chances are you’ve never heard of it, but in France it’s the second most-visited theme-park after Disneyland Paris. Many historic sites across the UK have started to do something spectacularly similar, albeit on a smaller scale. And this summer Warwick Castle is staging a thrilling live action War of the Roses horseback battle twice-a-day from Sat July 22 – Sun Sept 3 . Think Game of Thrones for kids.
First launched during the May half-term in a newly-built riverside jousting arena by the Trebuchet with fantastic views of the castle from across the river, visitors pick which side they are on – House of Lancaster or York – go to their respective sides and cheer them on. The arena can hold up to 2,000 people so when it’s busy there’s a great atmosphere. You can admire some serious horse-riding skills and stunts, including one rider standing upright on two horses and jousting battles in full medieval regalia. And it’s not just male knights on horse-back but women, well one woman, Margaret of York – even my 13-year-old daughter was impressed…
The real-life War of the Roses story has something of a GoT quality to it – a series of battles fought in medieval England from 1455 to 1485 between the House of Lancaster and the House of York. It’s somewhat diluted for dramatic effect but perfectly pitched for bringing history to life to kids of all ages…
The jousting battle centres on Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, known as the King Maker. He switched sides from the House of York to the House of Lancaster and imprisoned Edward VI – who he had helped to become King at the castle. The Kingmaker’s daughter Anne Neville – born at Warwick -became Queen of England after marrying King Edward’s younger brother who went on to become Richard III. It’s brilliant for bringing a slice of history to life for kids in a way that’s dramatic, exciting and fun.
We went to the 12.30pm show and there’s lots to see and do afterwards at Warwick Castle from climbing the 500 steps to reach the top of Guy’s Tower for a stunning 360-degree panoramic view to watching the Flight of the Eagles show on the Birds of Prey lawn which includes the UK’s only bearded vulture flying overhead (absolutely *mahoosive*!).
Children aged three to 12 can help Princess Felice solve a riddle to free her fiancee Guy of Warwick in the Princess Tower; while over 10’s can witness some of the castle’s darkest, bloodiest and scariest stories brought to life by live actors and special effects in the Castle Dungeons (although I’m too much of a wimp these days – reviewing the Sanctuary Halloween, an asylum horror maze at Alton Towers, was terrifying enough for me!).
Living fairly close, we’ve visited this picturesque castle many times over the years, but this was the first time we’d been around the excellent Horrible Histories Maze – opened by the author, Terry Deary himself. My 8 and 13-year-old daughters found ourselves running around in circles getting completely lost. There’s also a playground. This can get very busy.
My advice would be to bring a packed lunch as the 64-acres of Capability Brown designed gardens on the banks of the River Avon are ideal for a scenic picnic if it’s sunny! As we walked past each of the various food outlets – the castle restaurant, a burger stall and the attractive conservatory tea rooms – there were long queues at each and the menus looked quite pricey.
If you’re travelling from further afield Medieval Glamping in the Knight’s Village is available over the summer months and families can have a medieval-themed sleepover in a Woodland Lodge, situated on the banks of the River Avon, within the Castle’s grounds. A hearty breakfast, car parking and exclusive entertainment such as Knight’s School and Have-A-Go-Archery is also included, see here
War of the Roses live will next run twice a day over the summer holidays from Sat July 22 to Sun September 3. It is included within the price of standard day entry to the Castle. Book online to secure the best value entrance 5 days in advance, from £18.40 per person, warwick-castle.com