Part 12th century medieval palace ruins and part 17th century Elizabethan renaissance mansion, Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire is a unique and internationally important structure. Once home to Cavalier playboy Sir William Cavendish who entertained King Charles I within its walls, Bolsover Castle has an intriguing past and earned its place in history with its role during the English Civil War.
Key Facts about Bolsover Castle
- Bolsover Castle is located in Bolsover, Derbyshire, England.
- A castle was built on this site in the 12th century by the Peveral Family and became property of the crown in 1155.
- Bolsover Castle was rebuilt by Sir Charles Cavendish in 1608.
- Now in the care of English Heritage and designated a Grade 1 listed building, Bolsover Castle is a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
A Brief History of Bolsover Castle
Bolsover Castle was built by the Peverel family in the 12th century but soon fell into the hands of the crown. Various revolts and conflicts of the 12th century played out at Bolsover Castle. Ownership passed between the crown and the succeeding Ferrer family for many years until, in 1290, Bolsover Castle was given to local farmers who allowed it to fall into a state of disrepair.
Using this earlier, decrepit castle keep as a basic design, Sir Charles Cavendish, son of Bess of Hardwick, bought Bolsover Castle and Manor in 1608 and set about re-building it. Working with John Smithson, Charles Cavendish set about a major renovation of the existing castle in 1612 and added the tower, known as The Little Castle’, which was completed in 1621. Charles didn’t live to see his project to fruition and when he died in 1616 his son, William Cavendish, who later became Duke of Newcastle Upon Tyne resumed the building.
Bolsover’s Little Castle was designed to be the embodiment of Elizabethan Renaissance beauty and refinement. It was a structure intended for the purposes of entertainment and fine living and has the look of a fairytale palace rather than a medieval fortress. With William Cavendish in charge, John Smythson added a riding house with an inner courtyard and a small palace to the original design, both impressive examples of authentic Stuart architecture.
The contrasting architectural styles employed in the original 12th century building of Bolsover Castle and it’s Cavendish redevelopment in the 17th century are best admired with a walk through the Great Court. The Little Castle features a Renaissance ‘Romeo and Juliet’ style window that overlooks a lawn. The interiors of the Little Castle are said to be a startling example of Elizabethan Romanticism and its stone chambers are part medieval and part Renaissance in style.
The interiors of Bolsover Castle are a shrine to the late-Elizabethan obsession with medieval chivalry, knights and ladies and courtly love. The hall in the Little Castle is complete with a mock Gothic fireplace, vaulted ceiling and mural of the Labours of Hercules. Just off the entrance there is an ante-room that features wall paintings of the four medieval humours, melancholic, choleric, phlegmatic and sanguinity. Murals of the senses follow in the adjacent Pillar Parlour which is said to have been based on the Great Parlour of the Cecil Palace of the Theobalds in Hertfordshire. The upstairs Star Chamber features a geometrically panelled ceiling painted blue and peppered with stars, wall paintings of Old Testament figures and whole rooms dedicated to the depiction of Heaven and Elysium. The ceiling paintings in these rooms are said to have been painted in shell gold which was ‘400 times more expensive than gold leaf’.
William Cavendish himself was known to be quite a character, a Cavalier playboy concerned solely with courtly life, riding and travelling Europe. During the civil war he was called upon to defend the North for the King but failed at Marsden Moor in 1644 and fled for the continent. Bolsover Castle was taken by the Parliamentarians who allowed it to fall into a ruinous state but following the Restoration Cavendish returned and, by the time he died in 1676, had restored the castle to its former glory.
Bolsover Castle became derelict around 1883 after descendants of Cavendish moved the contents to their seat at Welbeck. The Little Castle was used a rectory for a spell during the 19th century before being given to the government by the 7th Duke of Portland in 1945. Now looked after by English Heritage, Bolsover Castle is recognised as a nationally important historical site and internationally important structure.
What Makes Bolsover Castle Famous?
An incredible example of 17th century architecture with ruins dating back to the 12th century, Bolsover is a scheduled ancient monument and grade 1 listed historical building. With the look of a fairytale palace on a hill, Bolsover embodies Elizabethan Romanticism of the mid 17th century as well as being an important site during the English Civil War. In 1634 William Cavendish entertained King Charles I and his Queen at a grand Masque at Bolsover Castle that is said to have bankrupted him for the rest of his life. This event and others held within the walls of this eccentric castle tell the story of the tensions between king and state in the early 17th century that eventually led to civil war in England.
Bolsover Castle on Film and TV
Bolsover Castle has appeared in the following films and TV shows.
- Secret Knowledge: Bolsover Castle with Lucy Worsley (2014) TV Show
- Jane Eyre (2006) TV adaptation
- Worsley, Lucy (2001) Bolsover Castle
- Paul Drury (2014) Bolsover Castle (English Heritage Red Guides)
- John Hamilton and T Thorneley (2010) Bolsover Castle 1883
- Stuart Reid and Graham Turner (2006) Castles and Tower Houses of the Scottish Clans 1450-1650
Bolsover Castle is run by English Heritage and is open to the public between 10.00am and 6.00pm every day during the summer period from 1st April to the 30th September. From October opening times change each month. Admission charges are £9.50 per adult and £5.70 per child. Entry for English Heritage members is free. For more information visit the website www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/bolsover-castle/.