The History of Bolsover Castle

View from the Little Castle

View from the Little Castle by pawrsccouk via flickr

Bolsover Castle was originally constructed on a hilltop which was once occupied by a medieval fortress built by the Perevel family in the early 12th century. Very little is known of its origins.

Bolsover Castle became Crown property in 1155 when William Perevel III fled into exile. Shortly afterward, the Ferrers family – who were Earls of Derby – laid claim to the Perevel property.

When a group of barons led by King Henry II’s sons – which included Prince Richard (later Richard the Lionheart) and John Lackland (Henry’s youngest son) – revolted against the king’s rule, Henry spent £116 on Bolsover Castle to increase the garrison to accommodate as many as 20 knights.

The revolt failed but Richard and his brothers begged their father’s forgiveness 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.

Bolsover Castle remained in possession of the crown even after John ascended to the throne in 1199 following brother Richard’s death. Never-the-less William de Ferrers continued to maintain the claim of the Earls of Derby over Bolsover Castle and even paid William 2000 marks for the lordship of the Peak.

In 1216 John finally gave the property to the Ferrers to secure their support against the country-wide rebellion. However the castellan, Brian de Lislem, refused to hand it over so John gave the Ferrers permission to take the property by force.

In 1217 after a nearly year long siege, Bolsover Castle was finally taken by the Ferrers after which it was neglected and eventually fell into ruin for more than 3 centuries.

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 leased Bolsover Castle to Sir Charles Cavendish and later sold it to him. Cavendish employed architect Robert Smythson to help rebuild the Castle.

Upon Cavendish’s death in 1617, his son William – considered a playboy, courtier, and poet – 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 which can still be seen today including the magnificent ‘Caesar paintings’ commissioned by Cavendish that depict the Roman emperors and empresses.

The tower portion of Bolsover Castle known as the ‘Little Castle’, was completed c1621 while Terrace Range and the Riding School were added later.

Riding School Interior

Riding School Interior by steve-p via flickr

When the Riding School was completed, it included a forge, a tack and harness room, a large arena, and an upper viewing gallery. One of the most notable features of the Riding School is its magnificent timber roof. The Riding School is among the finest surviving indoor riding schools in the country and is considered a landmark in British equestrianism.

Terrace Range, overlooking the Vale of Scarsdale, originally consisted of apartments and kitchens, but was extended to include a long gallery and an external staircase.

Later with the onset of the Civil War, Sir William Cavendish took command of the Royalist troops where, upon his defeat, he was forced to flee into exile. As a result, Bolsover Castle was surrendered to Parliamentarian troops in August of the same year.

After the reformation of the Monarchy in 1660, Sir William Cavendish was able to return to England and his now ruinous Bolsover Castle. And in spite of enormous financial problems, he managed the restoration and eventually added a new hall and staterooms to the Terrace Range.

By the time of his death in 1676, Bolsover Castle had been restored to good condition. 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 eventually given to England by the 7th Duke of Portland in 1945 where it is now in the care of the English Heritage.