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The castle is near several villages, including Redmile, Woolsthorpe, Knipton, Harston, Harlaxton, Croxton Kerrial and Bottesford, and the town of Grantham. Antiquarian John Leland wrote in the 16th century that the "castle stands on the very nape of a high hill, steep up each way, partly by nature, partly by the working of men's hands".
A Norman castle originally stood on the high ground in this spot. 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 and following a fire, was rebuilt by the wife of the 5th Duke, and gained its present Gothic castle look. 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 present Castle is the fourth building to have stood on the site since Norman times.
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. So Belvoir castle has been the home of the Manners family for five hundred years, and seat of the Dukes of Rutland for over three centuries.
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.
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.
The castle is open to the public and contains many works of art. The Queen's Royal Lancers Regimental Museum of the 17th and 21st Lancers was established here in 1964 but was required to leave in October 2007. The highlights of the tour are the lavish staterooms, the most famous being the Elizabeth Saloon (named after the wife of the 5th Duke), the Regents Gallery and the Roman inspired State Dining Room.
The castle sits in a vast estate of almost 15,000 acres (61 km2). The landscaped grounds, nearer the castle, are also open and the Root Houses, built by the fifth Duke's wife, can also be seen. The present Duchess is restoring Belvoir Gardens, which includes the Secret Valley Garden and the Rustic Summerhouse of 1800.
The estate is open to the public and offers a range of outdoor activities – shooting, fishing, quad biking and four-by-four driving. Throughout the year they host sheep, duck and dog exhibitions.
The castle's name means beautiful view. The name "Belvoir", is in fact, a Norman import by the French-speaking invaders, though the native Anglo-Saxon population was unable to pronounce such a foreign word, preferring to call it "Beaver Castle". Belvoir Castle is still pronounced "Beaver"—despite its spelling—to this very day.
A corner of the castle is still used as the family home of the Manners family.
Several films and television programmes have used it as a location, notably the film Little Lord Fauntleroy starring Sir Alec Guinness. The castle itself was used as a location for The Da Vinci Code – it represented Castel Gandolfo, the Pope's summer residence. It also featured in the 1985 film Young Sherlock Holmes starring Nicholas Rowe and Alan Cox. In September 2007, it was used as a location for The Young Victoria. In the 2001 Jim Henson production of Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story, the castle is where the giant bones have been discovered. The kitchen scenes of Hill House were filmed here for the 1999 version of The Haunting which is the remake of the 1963 version.
The grounds also host Belvoir Cricket Club in Knipton, a village cricket club with teams playing in various leagues across Nottinghamshire. The 1st XI play in the Nottinghamshire Premier League.
In 2009, Belvoir castle hosted the CLA Game Fair.
In August 2010 the castle's website was mistakenly hacked and taken over by an Algerian group who blanked the pages and inserted anti-Semitic texts in Arabic. The hackers had mistaken Belvoir Castle for Belvoir Fortress, which is located in Israel.
In September 2010, the Belvoir Wassailers – the castle's own male voice choir – was reformed at the request of the Duchess. Directed by Robert-John Edwards, and accompanied on the piano by Paul Emmett, the Belvoir Wassailers performed at the castle's annual "Belvoir by Candlelight" celebration in December 2010. The choir is currently working on a variety of new material, including popular and folk music.
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