Belvoir Castle is a stately home in the English county of Leicestershire, overlooking the Vale of Belvoir. A corner of the castle is still used as the family home of the Manners family and remains the seat of the Dukes of Rutland, most of whom are buried in the grounds of the mausoleum there. The present castle is the fourth building to have stood on the site since Norman times. A Norman castle originally stood on the high ground within the wapentake of Framland, overlooking the adjacent wapentake of Winnibriggs in Lincolnshire, and dominating both. During the English Civil War, it was one of the more notable strongholds of the king's supporters. It eventually passed into the hands of the Dukes of Rutland. The medieval castle had been replaced after the Civil War and was again rebuilt in the romantic Gothic Revival style between 1799 and 1816, but in the latter year it had been almost destroyed by a fire. It was rebuilt again to largely the same designs, by the wife of the 5th Duke. The architect James Wyatt was chiefly responsible for this restructuring, and the result is a building which bears a superficial resemblance to a medieval castle, its central tower reminiscent of Windsor Castle.
The castle was built on the land of Robert de Todeni of the Doomsday Book, and inherited from him by William d'Aubigny. It then eventually passed to William's granddaughter Isabel, who married Robert de Ros circa 1234. Belvoir was a royal manor until it was granted to Robert de Ros in 1257. When that family died out in 1508, the manor and castle passed to George Manners, who inherited the castle and barony through his mother. His son was created Earl of Rutland in 1525, and John Manners, 9th Earl of Rutland was created Duke of Rutland in 1703. In the early 17th century, castle servants Joan, Margaret and Phillipa Flower were accused of murdering the 6th Earl's two young sons by witchcraft. Joan died while in prison and Margaret and Phillipa were hanged.
Joan, Margaret and Philippa Flowers were 'known to be herbal healers' and came from a local family which 'had fallen on hard times'. They accepted employment as servants with the 6th Earl and Countess of Rutland, at Belvoir Castle near Grantham, Lincolnshire, when additional staff were needed for an upcoming visit by King James I. But the sisters, and their mother, were unpopular with the other staff, and there were suggestions of theft, and misdemeanors. All three were dismissed and only Joan was given a payment of severance amounting to '40 shillings, a bolster, and a mattress of wool'. After the sisters were dismissed, the Earl and Countess fell ill, suffering from 'vomiting and convulsions'. Their son and heir, Henry, Baron de Ros, died, and was buried on 26 September 1613. Their younger children, Francis, and daughter Katherine, suffered similarly and Francis, also, later died.
Three years after Henry's death, on 16 July 1616, nine women were hanged as witches in Leicestershire for having bewitched a young boy and, in charges similar to those in the Flowers' case, were said to have kept cats as familiars. But it was to be five years after the Flowers were dismissed from Belvoir Castle, and following the death of their second son, Francis, that the Rutlands had the Flowers arrested, before Christmas of 1618. After initial examinations, in February 1619, by the Earl of Rutland, Francis Lord Willoughby de Eresby, Sir George Manners, Sir William Pelham, Sir Henry Hastings, clergyman Samuel Fleming and others, the women were taken to Lincoln gaol. When arrested Joan Flower professed her innocence. She was not known to be a Church-goer, but at Ancaster, en route to the prison at Lincoln, she asked for bread as a substitute for the Eucharist. She claimed that something so blessed could not be consumed by a witch but she choked and died after the first bite.
At Lincoln, Margaret accused her mother of witchcraft, while Phillipa admitted to witchcraft on behalf of herself, Margaret and Joan. The sisters said they had entered into communion with familiar spirits that had assisted them with their schemes. The mother's familiar was a cat named Rutterkin. The women admitted that they stole the glove of Lord Ross and gave it to their mother, who had dipped it in boiling water, stroked it along Rutterkin's back, and pricked it. Combined with some incantations this supposedly caused Lord Ross to become ill and die. An attempt to harm Lady Katherine, the Earl's daughter, had failed when it was found that Rutterkin had no power over her. The women had also taken some feathers from the quilt of Rutland's bed and a pair of gloves. By boiling these in water mixed with blood they cast spells to prevent the Earl and Countess from having any more children. Both women admitted to experiencing visions of devils and that their familiar spirits visited them and sucked at their bodies.
Margaret and Philippa Flowers were tried before Henry Hobart, Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, and Edward Bromley, a Baron of the Exchequer, and found guilty. They were hanged in Lincoln castle on 11 March 1619. In 2013, historian Tracey Borman suggested that the Flowers women may have been framed by a favourite of King James I, the Lincolnshire born George Villiers, who was created Duke of Buckingham in 1623. Watson's theory is that Villiers had plans to marry the Rutland's daughter Katherine and, with her two brothers dead, inherit the title. Watson argues 'he had them poisoned - then framed Joan Flower and her two daughters as witches to create a smokescreen to cover up his own guilt'. After the execution of the Flowers sisters, Villiers went on to marry the Rutland's sole heir Katherine on 16 May 1620.
Whilst visiting Belvoir castle in the 1840s, Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford found that the normal time for dinner was between 7:00 and 8:30 p.m. An extra meal called luncheon had been created to fill the midday gap between breakfast and dinner, but as this new meal was very light, the long afternoon with no refreshment at all left people feeling hungry. She found a light meal of tea (usually Darjeeling) and cakes or sandwiches was the perfect balance. The Duchess found taking an afternoon snack to be such a perfect refreshment that she soon began inviting her friends to join her. Afternoon tea quickly became an established and convivial repast in many middle and upper class households. Tours take place at 11.15am, 1.15pm & 3.15pm. Please allow at least 15 minutes to walk from the ticket office to the Castle, where the tour begins as the walk up to the Castle from the car park is quite steep. Admission into the Castle is free for wheelchair users (ground floor only). There are WCs for disabled visitors in the castle and ticket office car park. Disabled and fragile persons can ask at the ticket office for a car pass to drive up the hill and park near to the Castle. Assistance dogs are welcome.
Location : Belvoir Castle, Grantham, Leicestershire NG32 1PE
Transport: Bottesford (National Rail) then bus. Bus Routes : PUL stops outside.
Opening Times : See calendar for dates
Tickets : Adults £15.00; Children (4 - 16) £8.00
Tickets Gardens Only: Adults £8.00; Children (4 - 16) £5.00
Tel: 01476 871002