In spite of its battlemented towers, Bolsover Castle, in the town of the same name, is not what it seems. It is, in reality, a 17th century folly atop a hill built on the site of a medieval castle. The site was sold by the 7th Earl of Shrewsbury to his friend and brother-in-law Sir Charles Cavendish, the youngest son of Bess of Hardwick in 1613. Sir Charles began building the Little Castle, but died three years later. His son who inherited continued the work and Bolsover became his plaything.
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William did not live in Bolsover Castle but used it exclusively for parties and horse riding. The Riding School, added in the 1630s, is in the grounds. It covered the entire length of the courtyard’s south side, had a forge, tack rooms, viewing gallery, and stables for the horses. Its outstanding feature is a tie-beamed roof, still in place.
Cavendish’s home was Welbeck Abbey, located nearby. He would pack up his household and transport what he needed to Bolsover when he wanted to entertain there. He enjoyed entertaining people and fine dining. Guests would include literary figures, artists, and scientists. In 1634 he spent a great deal of money preparing for special guests—Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria.
Because he supported the Royalists he had to flee to Europe during the Commonwealth reign of Cromwell. Fortunately the castle was not badly damaged due to Cavendish’s brother paying off the government and buying it back. William returned to England in 1660 and restored the castle, adding more apartments and private rooms.
The real star of the complex is the Little Castle. This building is in the Italian style being copied in England at the time. The first floor was completed by 1616 and after 1 618 balconies were added and interior decoration begun. Of special note is the Star Chamber (finished in 1621) with its ceiling use of blue verditer. The Marble Closet shows off black and white Italian marble and paintings of the ‘Virtues’.
Original carved fireplaces have survived and are works of art in themselves. Wall and ceiling murals and painted panelling were further embellishments in the Little Castle. They began in the anteroom where three of the four ‘humours’ were painted. The hallway wall paintings are of Hercules. The Pillar Parlour was the setting for dessert banquets including one during the visit of Charles I.
Off King William’s bedroom were the Heaven Room (completed 1619) with wall and ceiling paintings from the life of Christ and the Elysium Room with pagan gods and goddesses on show.
The castle grounds accommodate a terrace range, now a ruin. Here the entertaining and dining took place and the private and guest apartments were located. It was connected to the “Little Castle” by a walkway on top of garden rooms made in the thickness of the garden wall. It was enlarged in 1634 with the addition of a long gallery. A hall and state rooms were added after 1660.
The enclosed garden is named the Garden of Love—it has loveseats, bowers, and a statue of Venus atop a fountain.
Bolsover, Derbyshire; six miles east of Chesterfield on A632
Tel. 0 1246 822 844
Open: April-end Sep, daily, 10am-6pm; Oct, daily, 10am-5pm; Nov-first week Feb, and mid Feb-end March, weekends only, second week Feb, daily, 10am-4pm; closed 1 Jan and 24-26 Dec
English Heritage property; AV displays in stables; living history events; audio tour; car park
Photos © by Barbara Ballard except Heaven Room courtesy English Heritage