Belvoir Castle sits within an estate of almost 15,000 acres (61 km2), in Leicestershire, England, and has been home to the Rutland family since Tudor times. The romantic neo-Gothic castle that stands today, is the third to be built on the hill, overlooking the lovely Vale of Belvoir. The name of the castle in French means a beautiful view.
The history of Belvoir goes back to 1067, when the Norman nobleman Robert de Toeni, started the construction of the first castle on the land that was a gift from the first Norman king of England, William the Conqueror. Its primary purpose was to defend the Norman owners from any possible attacks. However, the castle was destroyed in the mid-15th century, shortly after the Wars of the Roses. The construction of a new castle began in 1528. But, in 1649, during the Civil War, the fine structure with its central courtyard was also destroyed.
In 1654, the construction of a third castle was started, designed by the architect John Webb as a large family home for the Rutland family. In 1703, John Manners, 9th Earl of Rutland became the Duke of Rutland. Between 1799 and 1816, the castle was remodeled in the Gothic Revival style by the English architect James Wyatt, so that it would reflect the family’s social status, as the 5th Duke and Duchess of Rutland requested.
But, unfortunately, in 1816, much of the interior work was destroyed, and approximately 30 paintings were lost, including works by Titian, Reynolds, and Van Dyck, in a devastating fire. However, the 5th Duchess of Rutland wasn’t ready to give up of the transformation of her family home. Since Wyatt had passed away, Duchess Elizabeth herself took control of the rebuilding and remodeling, taking advice from her chaplain, Sir John Thornton, and consulting Matthew Wyatt, son of James.
Wyatt’s work is most notable in the Regent’s Gallery, which stretches for 131 feet. The walls of the gallery are decorated with Gobelin tapestries once owned by Louis XIV of France, purchased by the 5th Duke in 1814. The interior of the castle is in a more classical style, with painted ceilings and rich Regency furnishings, while the exterior has a medieval charm with turrets and towers.
Belvoir has many rooms among which is also the Guard Room, that was designed to impress, representing the true gothic revival architecture. Another noticeable room is the Elizabeth Saloon, decorated in opulent fashion, by the Duke, after the sudden death of his beautiful wife Elizabeth. It was the first room in England in that period to be adorned in the style of Louis XIV, with panellings brought from Madame de Maintenon’s palace in Paris. The room is a personal memorial to the Duchess Elizabeth.
The King’s Rooms were occupied by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert during their visit to Belvoir. The rooms are composed of a suite of 3 rooms that were specially designed for the close friend of the 5th Duke of Rutland, The Prince Regent, who would later become King George IV. Other impressive rooms include the picture gallery, where a portrait of King Henry VIII by Hans Holbein is displayed, and the Chinese Rooms, which are decorated with handmade silk wallpaper.
Belvoir also has delightful gardens that contain numerous beautiful features, many of which were commissioned by the various Duchesses who have lived here over the centuries. The formal gardens were commissioned by the 5th Duchess, Elizabeth, but it was Violet, the 8th Duchess, who instructed Harold Peto in 1815 to redesign the beautiful gardens that can still be seen today. In addition, the wonderful roses that today grow in the gardens were planted by Emma, the current Duchess of Rutland.
The striking statue of ‘Winter’ by Caius Gabriel Cibber announces the entrance to the Statue Garden, where there are six more sculptures by Cibber, including representations of Spring, Autumn, and Summer. There are also Japanese and Chinese plants in the gardens. Many magnolias and over 250 species of Camellia, along with azaleas and rhododendrons, Japanese maples and bamboos are planted in the Japanese Woodland.
The castle has featured in a number of films such as Little Lord Fauntleroy, and The Da Vinci Code, where it was the summer residence of the Pope. Belvoir is considered to be one of the most spectacular Regency houses in England.