Capturing the castle: Belvoir Castle and the Duchess of Rutland

Belvoir Castle. Credit: RJ Brown

One of the greatest stars of Netflix drama The Crown is Belvoir Castle. Her Grace, The Duchess of Rutland tells Felix Rowe about her custodianship of this stunning stately home

Perched on a hilltop on the Leicestershire border, with impenetrable walls and imposing turreted tower, Belvoir Castle (pronounced ‘Beaver’) ticks all the boxes for a medieval fortress. Except it isn’t really a castle at all. It’s a grand 19th-century country house designed to dazzle and impress, rather than hold its own in battle. 

But that’s not to say it doesn’t seep heritage from every battlement. The estate’s very existence is owed to the greatest battle in English history. Belvoir’s story stretches back 1,000 years, and features a king at war with his nation, alleged witchcraft and murder.

The current ‘castle’ is actually the the fourth incarnation of Belvoir to stand on the site. The first stemmed from the Norman Conquest, thrown up as a symbol of the new management following William the Conqueror’s victory at Hastings. 

The second castle, built using stone from local monastic houses dissolved by Henry VIII, saw its share of action. During James I’s reign three former servants were tried
as witches for the death of the two male heirs, Henry and Francis Manners. Belvoir was an active Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War, and Charles I even spent a night there during the conflict, an event which no doubt sealed the building’s fate. It was torn down by the victorious Parliamentarians in 1649. 

The Elizabeth Saloon in Belvoir Castle. Credit: Sam Churchill

Its replacement, a modest country house built during the Restoration of Charles II, was also razed to the ground – this time by its own inhabitants, to make way for the grand Gothic Revival home that sits there now. And grand it certainly is.

Belvoir is a luscious, widescreen feast for the eyes; it’s easy to see what makes the house so appealing to film location scouts for blockbusters including The Da Vinci Code and the recent Victoria & Abdul. The real Queen Victoria was one of many illustrious guests to have stayed here. Visiting in December 1843, the Queen and Prince Albert arrived with a large entourage that included the Duke of Wellington and Prime Minster Sir John Peel.  

Belvoir’s royal connections – real or purely cinematic – don’t end there. Fans of Netflix’s The Crown will already be familiar with its richly adorned Regency interiors and beautifully manicured gardens, which have proved to be the perfect substitute for the Queen’s beloved Windsor Castle. The Elizabeth Saloon, featured in Season Three, is a popular choice for directors looking to create a spectacle and evoke the opulence of the royal palaces. Belvoir also made an impression on a young Walt Disney, who visited as a child – it was apparently a key inspiration for the fantasy castle seen in the opening credits of every Disney production. 

Belvoir also lays claim – among other contenders for the title – to being the home of afternoon tea, a Victorian tradition that supposedly began during a visit from the Duchess of Bedford, Queen Victoria’s Lady of the Bedchamber.

Find out more about Belvoir castle and read our interview with the Duchess of Rutland by reading the full feature in Vol 88 Issue 2 of BRITAIN magazine, on sale here.