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Bolsover Castle

Sitting on a limestone ridge, Bolsover Castle looks like it came straight out of a fairytale. It is a spectacular 17th Century castle overlooking a broad valley.

The castle was originally constructed by the Peverel family in the 12th Century. They also owned the nearby Peveril Castle. The Peverels didn't hold on to them for long – William Peverel the Younger was dispossessed by King Henry II in 1155 for conspiring to poison the Earl of Chester.

Royal Ownership

With the castle in royal hands, King Henry II spent some £116 between Bolsover Castle and Peveril Castle. Bolsover gained an impressive stone keep in 1173-4. The garrison was also strengthened with a force commanded by 20 knights during the Baron's Revolt.

Almost immediately after the Peverels had forfeited their estates, the Earls of Derby, who felt they had a claim to them, started petitioning the king. King John finally gave Bolsover castle to William de Ferrers, 4th Earl of Derby to secure his support after the barons' rebellion in 1216.

The castellan didn't give up Bolsover easily and the castle was taken by force in 1217 after a lengthy siege.

William de Ferrers was forced to hand the castle, along with Peveril and Horston Castle back to King Henry III in the 1220s. The family's resentment at this treatment led to the Earls of Derby lending their support to the Provisions of Oxford which are often regarded as England's first written constitution.

More domestic buildings were added to Bolsover in the 13th Century, but the castle remained in royal hands and was allowed to deteriorate from this point until the early 17th Century.

Bolsover Castle came into the possession of the formidable Bess of Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury. On her death it passed to her son Charles of Hardwick.


In 1612 he began to reconstruct the castle. Its outward appearance is that of a formidable fortress, but in reality it was designed for sumptuous and elegant living.

The work was overseen by the mason John Smythson, son of the renowned Elizabethan architect Robert Smythson, and it is likely that both Robert Smythson and Charles of Hardwick had a strong influence in the final design.

The keep houses tiers of luxurious state rooms which are grand and yet intimate. The exquisitely decorated interiors have superb carved fireplaces and rich murals on the walls.

Charles died in 1617 and work on the 'Little Castle' continued under his son, William Cavendish. William finished the Little Castle and by 1627 had begun to remodel the castle's other domestic buildings. He added a second set of residential buildings alongside a new terrace.

William's social standing rose considerably during the 1620s. He was made Viscount Mansfield in 1620 and Earl of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1628.

In May 1633 Bolsover hosted King Charles I and his wife Henrietta Maria. They were entertained with a masque by Ben Jonson.

Shortly after the royal visit William added a new riding school range to the castle. He was an accomplished horseman and keen rider and the riding school was a fashionable way to both indulge his passion and advertise his high station. Today, the Riding House is one of the finest surviving indoor riding schools in England.

After William's death the Duke's estates passed down through the female line until it arrived into the possession of the Dukes of Portland.

The Dukes of Portland made Welbeck Abbey in Nottinghamshire their principal seat and Bolsover was left uninhabited after 1883. William Cavendish-Bentinck, the 7th Duke of Portland, gave the castle to the nation in 1945.

Facilities and Events

Today the castle is managed by English Heritage. As well as being a Scheduled Ancient Monument it is considered to be a nationally important historic building.

There are a number of facilities available at the castle including parking, a cafe, toilets, picnic area and shop. The castle is home to a range of exhibitions including an interactive exhibition focussed on William Cavendish and his contribution to the sport of dressage.

Bolsover Castle also hosts various events throughout the year including ghost tours, medieval events and, of course, spectacular dressage demonstrations.

Status: Visitor Attraction/Event Venue/Wedding Venue
Owner: English Heritage
Tel: 01246 822844
Opening Times: April to November Daily from 10am to 5pm, November to March Weekends only 10am to 4pm

The 'Little Castle' at Bolsover Castle
The 'Little Castle' at Bolsover

Castle walls and keep
Castle walls and keep

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