Belvoir Castle, home of the Duke and Duchess of Rutland, originally dated from the 11th century. The name means ‘beautiful view’, and its position atop a hillside provides one.
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The first castle on the site was built by William the Conqueror’s standard bearer at the battle of Hastings. An illustration on a 13th century seal shows the castle with a quadrangular keep and embattled wall. The castle suffered destruction in the 15th and 17th centuries due to civil war. A fire in 1816 put paid to much of the historic building, and it was rebuilt.
The lords of Belvoir figured, in a minor way, in the history of the country, one being a candidate for the Scottish throne. In the middle ages the command of the chief stronghold of the castle was vested in the Staunton family—the tower is named after them. This custom is still in evidence today when a member of the royal family visits. The key to the tower is handed to them by a Staunton family member.
Belvoir passed into the hands of William, Lord Hastings, at the end of the War of Roses when the owner, Lord Ros, was executed for supporting the Lancastrians. His friends fought over the castle, rendering it a ruin. The castle was restored to the Ros family during Henry VII’s reign. It was, however, not rebuilt until 1523-55 under the ownership of the 1st earl of Rutland.
During the civil war in 1645 the castle suffered a siege by the Parliamentarians, and its demolition was ordered in 1649. However, by 1654 work had begun on its second restoration. Alterations and additions were made over the ensuing years. Much was done during the 5th duke’s time with the completion of the south-west and south-east fronts. A grand staircase and a picture gallery were added. Then a disastrous fire struck in 1816, destroying the north-east and north-west fronts and the grand staircase along with priceless paintings. Work began all over again on the castle and grounds, which the visitor sees today.
Inside are priceless works of art by Holbein, Rubens, and Reynolds, and Gobelin and Mortlake tapestries. Also on view are Chinese silks, furniture, porcelain, and sculpture. The period interiors are part fantasy.
A tour of Belvoir castle
The castle is entered through the main gates that lead to the pre-guard room and guard room. The first room is lined with 120 19th century muskets. The guard room itself serves as the entrance hall and is done in the gothic style. Fireplaces, and a collection of swords, muskets, and other armour decorate the room. From the guardroom a grand staircase leads to the landing off which the Queen’s royal lancers regimental museum is located.
A long ballroom shows off the arms of the 5th duke as knight of the garter. Family portraits adorn the walls. The coronation robes of the dukes and duchesses of Rutland are on display. Off the ballroom are two Chinese rooms, so named because of their decor. In the bedroom is a George I domed bed with a silk bedspread and elaborate canopy. An ebony and ivory inlaid 17th century cabinet is of special note. In this room is an oak cradle dated 1658. The walls of the dressing room are covered in Chinese hand-painted wallpaper. The cradle in this room is Empire ebony and gilt.
The Elizabeth saloon is an eye dazzler and the highlight of the tour. It is named after the 5th duchess of Rutland and was decorated by Matthew Wyatt. He painted the ceiling (divided into compartments) and sculpted the Carara marble statue of the duchess. The style of the room mirrors that of Louis XIV. The Savonnerie carpet is late 1700s. There are four ebony and marble cabinets dating from 1830, two Italian marble fireplaces, and furniture from George IV’s time. Also on display are a George IV giltwood cabinet and a gilt music box.
The grand dining room is next to the Elizabeth saloon. The Regency style mahogany table (seating 30), chairs, and sideboards are by Gillow. Above the two fireplaces are portraits painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds. A silver wine cooler weighs 1979 ounces and dates from 1682.
The picture gallery is located next to the dining room. One portrait is that of Henry VIII by Holbein. Also located in this gallery are a Queen Anne velvet and silk bed (from Haddon Hall), a silver gilt agate vase, and a collection of miniatures.
The king’s rooms get their name from being used by visiting royal family members. The wallpaper is early hand-painted 19th century. The sitting room has a mahogany canopy bed by Gillow, while the other room is a bedroom with a Regency gilt four–poster bed hung with yellow silk curtains.
The regent’s gallery, at 131 feet in length, is the longest room in the castle. It is decorated with red curtains, gilded mirrors and Louis XVI Gobelin tapestries.
There are two libraries, a main one and a small one, both dating from the early 19th century. The chapel, down the stairs from the regent’s gallery, is still used for worship. An outer chapel contains a box with 17th century musket balls, thought to be from the civil war. The old kitchen and beer cellars are also on display. In the kitchen are the original open range and spit and a collection of copper and pewter. 19th century porcelain is displayed in glass cases.
Half a mile from the castle are the spring (water, not season) woodland gardens and a summer house (dated 1800). They are open by arrangement. The rose garden, beside the castle, contains a 17th century Chinese horse.
7 miles from Grantham, Leicestershire off the A607; parking at the bottom of the hill.
Tel. 01476 871002
Open: mid April-end Sep, daily 11am-5pm, last entry 4pm; closed Mon and Fri except BH Mon. Restaurant open same hours as castle.
Member of Historic Houses Association; shop.