Today I am going to do the same with Leicestershire as Derbyshire (with Chatsworth House) and highlight one castle which stood out amongst the rest. It is a renaissance castle in the sense that it has risen from the ashes literally and figuratively, many times.
–The Castle Lady
Belvoir Castle, in the northernmost region of Leicestershire, occupies an elevated position above the Vale of Belvoir (pronounced "Beaver" by the locals, the correct pronunciation is the French, Bell- vwar) and its present state is the fourth rebuilding of the Norman castle. It has suffered both complete and partial damage through the centuries.
Robert de Todeni, the standard bearer of William the Conqueror built the first motte and bailey on the site and, of course, none of it remains. The current edifice was rebuilt by an amateur, Sir John Thoroton, the 5th Duke’s Chaplain with the help of the Duchess Elizabeth of Rutland after the fire of 1816, which completely destroyed the northeast and northwest fronts along with the grand staircase. Their advisors were the sons of James Wyatt who himself had completely rebuilt the castle back in 1664-68 after the Commonwealth demolition.
The earlier invocations of Belvoir Castle were royalist garrisons and it is a royal castle up to the present day. The descendents of Robert de Todeni, the Albinis, reinforced the structure with stone to make a large, rectangular keep and masonry curtain wall. It passed from them to Robert de Ros in 1247 and they maintained control until 1464 when Lord Thomas de Ros was executed after the War of the Roses. This structure had survived Edward IVs attack in 1463 but it fell into serious ruin after Lord Hastings carried off stone and roofing to build Ashby-de-la-Zouch (another Leicestershire castle.)
That damage to Belvoir was to be repaired and rebuilt by Sir Robert Manners grandson, Thomas Manners (the First Earl of Rutland) in 1523 and took 32 years and the Second Earl of Rutland to complete it. This has been the property and seat of the Earls of Rutland since the mid-16th century up to the present time and is now considered a Ducal residence and has been since the time of Henry VIII.
Further history involves two civil wars, of course, with the slighting of this castle by Cromwell in 1649 almost completely annihilating it and was reconstructed from 1654 and not finished until 1668! That 17th century castle was torn down and reconstruction of it did not occur until the 1800s. Then, that structure burned in 1816 and as a result of the rebuilding of Thoroton and the Duchess, we have the current structure with its cornered square towers, crenellation throughout of the new façade and the round tower with its arched windows which makes it appear medieval and formidable. This exterior view affords a wonderful chance to see what eclecticism in renaissance rebuilding can produce. The distinction between the orange and cream colored brickwork of the reconstruction in contrast to what remains of the 1800 exterior is beauty itself.
The size of Belvoir can only be seen from the outside, because the interior tour, while extensive, is only a sampling. Visitors will be allowed a view of the Guardroom, the new Grand Staircase, the Ballroom, the Chinese Bedroom with dressing room, Duchess Elizabeth’s Saloon, the Grand Dining Room, the King’s Rooms, two galleries (one of which I will include in the new Leicestershire album) and the family chapel, which adds such interest to the exterior. The kitchen and beer cellar are available for viewing on lower floors.
The exterior and interior of Belvoir has appeared in a recent film, the remake of The Haunting (1999). However, be warned that the DVD version spliced out the beginning aerial shots of Belvoir and so the exterior impressiveness of the castle ended up on a cutting room floor! Most of the exterior shots remaining are Harlaxton Manor which I covered in Lincolnshire.
In White’s Directory of 1846 Belvoir was described as "the most superb architectural ornament of which Leicestershire can boast", and today it’s a museum and home to a long line of the Dukes of Rutland. The interior is filled with a grand collection of furniture, porcelain, silks and tapestries, sculptures and paintings by Gainsborough, Reynolds, Holbein and Poussin. There was also an official Queen’s Royal Lance Museum which opened in 1964 displaying the Regiment’s weapons, uniforms and medals provided with histories of all the artifacts. It closed last year at this time and the artifacts were removed from the premises. The collection was moved just this month to storage and does not currently have a location.
As with most castles of this stature, it is surrounded by gardens and Belvoir’s are unique and must not be missed during your visit. One, the Duchess’s Spring Gardens, is a creation dating back from 1800, being the work of Duchess Elizabeth. It is open and blooming year round and can be viewed by groups exceeding fifteen in number and visits must be pre-booked. The Statue Gardens were built into the hillside beneath the castle and is so named for the collection of 17th century sculptures it contains along with multi-season perennials. Something is always in bloom there, regardless of the time of year!
This is still the Ducal home of the 11th Duke and Duchess of Rutland and their five children. There is an adventure playground available for the tykes and a restaurant for the famished.
‘Tis The Castle Lady with loving affection for all!
Tomorrow you’ll get the rest of the county of Leicestershire and the photo album will be up in full. See you then!