The Riding House, Bolsover Castle, Derbyshire

By: shortfinals

Jan 28 2011

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Category: animals, British Isles, Castles, Derbyshire, England, Great Britain, military, Museums, Royalty

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Focal Length:38mm
Shutter:1/0 sec
Camera:NIKON D40

Derbyshire is well-blessed with the remains of castles dating from the Norman period, such as Melbourne, Duffield and Horston Castles and Morley Motte. However, these examples are now hardly more than a few stones or a raised, grass-covered mound, the residues of early motte and bailey structures hastily thrown up by the invading Normans to subdue their new country.

There are three more substantial castles which, although in varied states of preservation, date from the same period, namely, Peveril Castle (c.1080), Codnor Castle (c.1086) and Bolsover Castle (c.1086), which all started out as early motte and bailey fortifications. Another thing that these castles share is that they were ALL built by one man – William Peverel (1040-1115); yes, the spelling is slightly different, but it IS the same person, names were more mutable in this era! It is thought that William was very likely the illegitimate son of William the Conqueror – Guillaume le Conquérant –  (1028-1087), for the Conqueror gifted him no less than 162 manors in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, as recorded in the Domesday Book (1086). This huge swath of land was known as ‘the Honour of Peverel’.

Bolsover Castle was developed over the centuries, with the addition of a curtain wall and several ranges of buildings, as well as an additional small, keep-like tower, known as the Little Castle on the north-western edge of the site. Bolsover Castle was sold to Sir Charles Cavendish in 1608, and his son, William, was responsible for many of the renovations and extensions.

William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, KG, KB, PC (1592 – 1676), was a consummate equestrian, soldier, diplomat and ardent Royalist. Disillusioned with the terrible tactics employed by Prince Rupert, the Royalist cavalry leader in the Civil War, Cavendish left for the Continent with his two sons (his wife, Elizabeth, had died in 1643). He met and married Margaret Lucas, who was a ground-breaking female author (she wrote on natural philosophy and other subjects); they lived for a time in the ‘Rubenshuis‘ in Antwerp, the former home of Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), the late, great, Flemish artist. It was here that William Cavendish wrote one of the greatest works on equestrian training and dressage, ‘Méthode et invention nouvelle de dresser les chevaux’ (Method and new invention of the dressage of horses); he also established a training stables, and gave demonstrations of his new techniques.

Following the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, Cavendish was created Duke of Newcastle, and he and the new Duchess spent a great deal of time in restoring Welbeck Abbey (their seat in Nottinghamshire) and Bolsover Castle (with their architect, John Smythson), building a ‘riding house’ at both locations.

The Riding House at Bolsover is shown above. This sand-floored building, with attached smithy and stables, was used as a venue to demonstrate the fine art of ‘manège’, or schooling of horses, and is a rare survival of this ancient art. Captain Mazin, the Duke’s head horseman, and other riders would perform the intricate movements of dressage for the delight of the Duke and his guests (there was a viewing gallery at one end of the Riding House). The Duke also wrote another text on ‘manège’ entitled ‘A new method, and extraordinary invention, to dress horses, and work them according to nature: which was never found out, but by the thrice noble, high, and puissant prince William Cavendishe, Duke of Newcastle’.  The Duke insisted that the nature of each horse be taken into consideration during training; “You must in all Airs follow the strength, spirit, and disposition of the horse, and do nothing against nature; for art is but to set nature in order, and nothing else.”

The Riding House is a magnificent reminder of an almost-lost art, and makes a visit to the English Heritage-owned Bolsover Castle well worthwhile.

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