Friday, 17 May 2013
Bolsover Castle, now in the care of English Heritage, started life as a medieval fortress built by the Peverel family. The wealthy nobleman, Sir Charles Cavendish, bought it in 1612 and started his 'Little Castle' project, which was continued by his son, William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle. Assisted by the architect John Smythson, he finished the imposing keep, which inside contains tiers of staterooms, each level being more astonishing, richly decorated and luxurious than the one below. They have ornate fireplaces and richly painted and gilded panelling, murals and ceilings, which become more fantastic the higher up you go. On the top floor, on either side of the Duke's bedchamber, are two small anterooms, one depicting spiritual heaven and the other depicting an erotic paradise. (I suppose he sat in one or the other, depending on his mood!)
By all accounts the Cavalier Duke was a bit of a playboy. He had other main residences and primarily used Bolsover as a playground: a place to indulge himself, with his wife and mistresses, and as a place to entertain and make a statement about his wealth, power and erudition. Hoping to impress the king, he staged a huge masque in 1634, written by Ben Johnson and performed in the castle garden in front of King Charles I and his court.