The Little Castle. Despite its name the Little Castle was a seventeenth century house constructed over the site of the medieval Keep.
Riding House. Picture taken from William Cavendish’s viewing gallery.
Now the remains of a seventeenth century palace, albeit built upon the foundations of an earlier medieval fortification, Bolsover Castle was the home of the Royalist commander William Cavendish, Marquis of Newcastle. He fled abroad following his defeat at Marston Moor but the site was saved from destruction by his brother.
HISTORY OF BOLSOVER CASTLE
William I granted the manor of Bolsover to William Peverel in 1086 and at somepoint the subsequent decades he or his heirs established an earth-and-timber motte-and-bailey castle on the site. Positioned on a rocky ridge overlooking the surrounding Derbyshire countryside, the outer Bailey was a large oval with the smaller Inner Bailey within. The castle was taken into Royal ownership in the 1150s.
During the later twelfth and early thirteenth centuries the castle was rebuilt in stone. This started in 1173 with the stone Keep and later included the curtain walls complete with turrets. This work had been completed by 1215 when the castle came under a determined attack from William de Ferrars, Earl of Derby during the first Baron's War. The castle's garrison under Gerld de Furniva held on behalf of King John. One of the curtain wall towers was destroyed at this time and funding to repair it was allocated in 1223.
The castle's importance slowly declined in the later Middle Ages with no other historical events of note until purchased by Charles Cavendish in 1608. He commissioned the architect Robert Smythson to rebuild the castle into an elaborate palace. William died in 1617 but his son, another William (later Marquis of Newcastle), continued the conversion well into the 1630s although his main residence was Welbeck Abbey. The rebuilt castle largely kept its medieval configuration with its centrepiece being the 'Little Castle' - an elaborate standalone house styled on a Keep and built directly over its defensive predecessor. This was set within a stone walk that was crafted from the medieval defences of the Inner Bailey.
William would own Bolsover until his death in 1676 but his tenure was interrupted by the Civil War. He was one of the key Royalist commanders in the north and when Scottish forces invaded in support of Parliament on 18 January 1644 he was tasked to intercept and destroy the Scottish army. Deploying from the Midlands he also withdrew forces from Yorkshire which prompted a military crisis for the Royalists there. He moved his forces back to secure York, the northern capital, but was besieged there. Prince Rupert marched north relieving the city and united his forces with Cavendish but within days they were defeated at Battle of Marston Moor (1644). Despite having opposed the decision to fight at Marston, Cavendish fled the country suspecting that his reputation was ruined and the Royalist cause lost; he eventually ended up in the exiled court of Queen Henrietta. Although further battles would be fought before the end, his assessment was sound for less than a year later the Royalist army in the south had been destroyed at Naseby. Parliamentary forces then started reducing enemy garrisons across the country. Bolsover was besieged but its lack of any credible fortifications led to its immediate surrender.
Like many Royalists sites, Bolsover was earmarked for destruction to prevent further military use. In 1649 the last remaining defensive components were demolished and the site was initially sold for the value of its materials. It was saved from destruction though by Charles Cavendish, brother to the now exiled Duke, were paid a substantial fine and re-purchased the estate on behalf of William's children.
William Cavendish returned in 1660 when Charles II was restored to the throne and repairs commenced on the castle. It remained a stately home until 1883 when it was finally abandoned.