Introducing the Little Castle at Bolsover
Bolsover was a spectacular location for feasting and banqueting. It became a place for lavish entertainments and a range of fashionable cultural pursuits.
William’s family, including his brother Charles and his second wife Margaret, made important contributions to mathematics, philosophy, science and literature. Bolsover was called ‘The Muses’ Mount’.
Visitors to the Little Castle enter the Anteroom first. They are immediately faced with a peculiar wall painting showing a platform with classical pillars, and a temple in the distance, resting on clouds.
The rising and narrowing ascent to the entrance continues into an idyllic celestial world, like the imaginary world of a stage set.
Many of the paintings in the Little Castle were based on small Dutch and Italian prints on paper.
Three pictures in the anteroom were taken from a series of the Temperaments, or Humours, copied from Martin de Vos.
It was part of the fun of a visit to spot the changes from the original artworks, and to work out what these changes might mean.
The name ‘William’ is written in the book of the melancholic lady. Her face may be a portrait of Elizabeth. The couple were married shortly before the paintings were commissioned.
Hercules may have been associated with William throughout the decoration.
The paintings of the Labours are derived from prints by Antonio Tempesta.
The paintings set into the panelling depict the five senses, from prints copied from Frans Floris.
The senses were associated with moral danger and the effort required to overcome temptation. The struggle to reconcile pleasure to virtue was connected to the myth of Hercules, who rejected the seductive path of vice.
The room is light and airy with large windows looking out to the sky and the valley below.
Visitors following the story of Hercules might have recalled that when the hero attained virtue, he became a constellation of stars.
The starry ceiling also echoed the traditional decoration of theatres, such as Shakespeare’s Globe in London.
Angels descend from the corners carrying music from two well-known dancing and drinking songs, with lyrics that feature Robin Hood and Little John.
This probably references the family’s roots in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.
William played the lute and viol, and he could have supplied the missing tune.
The themes of temptation, love, truth and virtue that were developed in the paintings continue into the garden.
The fountain statue is of Venus, or perhaps Bathsheba, the wife of the Biblical King David. She faces Hercules slaying the Nemean lion.
Within the wall are banqueting spaces, and a still room that may have been used for scientific experiments.
The Little Castle is both inventive and delightfully quirky. Viewing the decoration is a multisensory experience. The paintings are amusing, perhaps even a little shocking, but their aim is to encourage and inspire.
At Bolsover, William and his guests could enjoy all the pleasures of the body and still find a place in heaven.
Crosby Stevens, Rose Arkle
Peter Brears, Martin Butler, Paul Drury, James Fitzmaurice, Mark Girouard, Anna Groundwater, Maria Hayward, Karen Hearn, Nicholas Helm, Paula Henderson, Angela Hobbs, Lisa Hopkins, Helen Hughes, Lynn Hulse, James Knowles, James Loxley, Timothy Mowl, Stephen Paine, Timothy Raylor, Julie Sanders, Roy Strong, Anthony Wells-Cole, Lucy Worsley