Those of you who read the second novel of the Darcy Saga – Loving Mr. Darcy – may recall that Darcy and Elizabeth ended their sightseeing of Derbyshire with a visit to Bolsover Castle. It was a rather dramatic conclusion to their holiday, which was fitting considering the colorful history of the castle! Read on to see what I mean.
Sir William Peverel (or Peverell or Peveril) was a Norman Knight who fought alongside William the Conqueror during the Battle of Hastings, among others. For his faithful service, Peverel was who greatly honored by the king. In 1086, the Domesday Book records Peverel as holding the substantial number of 162 manors with accompanying lands in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, including Nottingham Castle. He is also explicitly recorded in the Domesday Book as amongst the youngest to build castles. Two of them are Peveril Castle in Castleton and Bolsover Castle in Bolsover, Derbyshire.
Nothing is known of the fortresses appearance during this time period. Only traces of deeply buried and broken stones remain, so how extensively Peverel and his sons built the castle is unknown. Bolsover Castle became Crown property in 1155 when William Peverel III died. The Ferrers family, who were Earls of Derby, laid claim to the Peveril property shortly thereafter.
In 1173 a group of barons led by King Henry II’s sons – John Lackland (Henry’s youngest son), Geoffrey Duke of Brittany, and Prince Richard (later Richard the Lionheart) – revolted against the king’s rule. King Henry spent £116 on bolstering the castles of Bolsover and Peveril, and increased the garrisons to a force of 20 knights. The revolt failed, King Henry forgiving his sons eventually, and in 1189 Henry agreed to name Richard his heir. Two days later Henry II died in Chinon, and Richard succeeded him as King of England. His brother John ascended the throne in 1199.
During these years, Bolsover Castle remained in possession of the crown. At the same time, William de Ferrers maintained his claim over Bolsover Castle as the Earl of Derby, having paid the crown 2000 marks for the lordship of the Peak.
In 1216 King John finally gave the property to the Ferrers in order to secure their support against a country-wide rebellion. However, the castellan Brian de Lislem refused to relinquish control, so John gave the Ferrers permission to take the property by force. After a year-long siege, Bolsover fell to the Ferrers’ forces in 1217. Strangely, after fighting for Bolsover, the Ferrers made minimal effort to repair the damage to the castle.
Bolsover Castle was returned to crown control in 1223. Over the next 20 years, £181 was spent to repair the keep and various parts of the wall, add four towers, and build a kitchen and barn. By 1290 the castle and its surrounding manor were granted to a series of local farmers, and for three centuries the castle gradually fell into a state of disrepair.
Then in 1553 the manor and castle were purchased by Sir George Talbot, keeper to the exiled Mary Queen of Scots. Talbot later became the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury and married Bess of Hardwick, who owned the vast Chatsworth estates. In 1608 Talbot sold Bolsover Castle to Sir Charles Cavendish, who employed architect Robert Smythson to rebuild the Castle.
Upon Sir Charles’ death in 1617, his son William – later 1st Duke of Newcastle upon Tyne – inherited the property and set about finishing his father’s work. The incredible result included tiers of luxurious staterooms filled with exquisitely carved fireplaces and richly-colored murals, including the magnificent ‘Caesar paintings’ commissioned by Cavendish that depict the Roman emperors and empresses. A second tower, known as the ‘Little Castle’, was completed c1621. Terrace Range and the Riding School were added later.
In 1642 the English Civil War interrupted Sir William’s construction of Bolsover when he left to take command of the Royalist troops. Upon their defeat Cavendish was forced to flee into exile, and Bolsover Castle was surrendered to Parliamentarian troops. After the reformation of the Monarchy in 1660, Sir William Cavendish was able to return to England and the once again ruinous Bolsover Castle. Yet, in spite of enormous financial problems, he managed to restore the Castle to a good condition and eventually added a new hall and staterooms to the Terrace Range before his death in 1676. Unfortunately, his heirs chose to vacate the Castle and make their home at Welbeck Abbey, and as a final insult, in 1752 they stripped the lead from the roof of the Terrace Range to repair the roof at Welbeck Abbey.
The castle remained vacant until 1834 when it was let to the Curate of Bolsover and passed through the female heirs into the Bentinck family where it ultimately became one of the seats of the Dukes of Portland. From 1883 on Bolsover Castle remained uninhabited and was given to England by the 7th Duke of Portland in 1945 where it is now in the care of the English Heritage.
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