Although Bess of Hardwick, in her later years fell out with her youngest son Sir Charles Cavendish, leaving him nothing in her will, he was already well established at Welbeck and had purchased the ruins of ancient Bolsover Castle from his great friend, step-brother and brother-in-law, the 7th Earl of Shrewsbury.
In 1612, Sir Charles began building a new castle on the site, but this was to be no grim fortress. Instead, it was an elegant, mock-medieval, make-believe house with painted rooms and beautifully carved fireplaces of alabaster and marble, a stage-set suitable for a Stuart court masque, with echoes of courtly Italian palaces and their way of life. Sir Charles died in 1617, but work on the castle continued.
For his son, Sir William and his family, the castle was a retreat for entertainment, music and pastime. And so it might have continued if King Charles I, with his absolutist ambitions, had not set himself on a collision course with Parliament. In Nottingham on August 22nd 1642, the King raised the Royal Standard, mobilising for war against Parliament. Loyal William Cavendish raised an army to support the King, and he, his brother and two sons went to fight. His wife, three young daughters and the servants were left at Welbeck Abbey, now a Royalist garrison.
Left to Right: Lady Frances, Lady Jane & Lady Elizabeth Cavendish.
The three sisters keenly felt their father’s absence, writing poems of loss and longing. In 1643, their mother died, and in July of the following year, the defeat of the royalists commanded by Cavendish at the Battle of Marston Moor led to his flight from England. Welbeck was taken by the Parliamentarians, retaken by the Royalists and visited by the King, but finally surrendered again.
Throughout all this, the Ladies Frances, Jane and Elizabeth tried to protect their home and preserve it as much as possible. Jane, always the family’s manager, sold her jewellery to support her impoverished father in exile. The sisters wrote plays to entertain themselves, and amid all this turmoil, as was expected, marriages were arranged. Lady Frances married Oliver St. John, 2nd Earl of Bolingbroke in 1654. When William Cavendish, the Loyal Duke of Newcastle, returned to Welbeck in the Autumn of 1660, many of the house’s contents were gone: furniture, tapestries, carpets, even the table linen. His beloved parks were stripped of trees, and the Little Castle at Bolsover was slighted and badly damaged, but recovery began. The family had endured.
Derek Adlam - Curator Emeritus
Derek Adlam and a colleague were the first craftspeople to take up a Harley Foundation studio at Welbeck in 1982. Trained as a classical pianist, Derek had turned to the restoration, making and playing clavichords, harpsichords and other early keyboard instruments. Over time, he became involved with the administration of the Foundation, the building of the Harley Gallery and new craft studios. Having mounted a number of Gallery displays of the Portland family’s works of art, he was invited to be the curator of that great collection. Now long retired, he continues his research into Welbeck’s rich history.