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The Royal Horse of England equestrian show at Bolsover Castle

By Janine Moore. Edited by Marysia Zipser.

Photos by Janine Moore and Marysia Zipser. Also by Anita Anna Walkowska / - equestrian digital services - worldwide

Following on from our inspirational destination visit to The Harley Foundation at Welbeck Abbey, Nottinghamshire, ACT Founder & Ambassador Marysia Zipser, her son Marcus Gilmore, and I discovered a wealth of information about costume design and the lives of the aristocracy, and the portraits of King Charles ll and of the Cavendish family. We felt a great fascination and a fondness for Sir William Cavendish and his works such as his Book of Horsemanship. Our Welbeck Estate Destination article

We have continued this line of interest with a fascinating and enjoyable destination visit to Bolsover Castle and an evening show by The First Equestrian Theatre, ‘The Royal Horse of England.’

The castle was originally founded by one of William the Conqueror's sons and knight, William Peveril in the late 11th century but it ran into a neglected state around the mid-14th Century. From the ruins, in 1612 Charles Cavendish had the Little Castle commissioned as a retreat from his main residence at the Welbeck Estate.

William Cavendish

Sir William Cavendish, the 1st Duke of Newcastle, grandson of Charles Cavendish and Bess of Hardwick, was famed for his excellent horsemanship and was author of some of the most notable books on the subject, which at that time in history changed the way horses should be trained and kept. Not only was he a renowned equestrian, but he was also an athlete, had a wide range of interest in the sciences, would write drama and poetry, and liked spending lots of his time with other like minded people, philosophers, musicians, and playwrights. He turned the castle into his retreat for entertaining, and after he inherited Bolsover Castle from his father in 1617, he commissioned architect John Smythson to add swish fireplaces, beautiful murals, and panels to the part of Bolsover Castle known as The Little Castle. This is where he would throw elaborate, expensive parties for his many guests.

It was William who also added the Terrace Range a fabulous addition, overlooking the Vale of Scarsdale, and in 1634 he and Elizabeth, his first wife, hosted King Charles l and Queen Henrietta, at the grand Terrace Range, and had a masque especially written for their entertainment, by Ben Johnson entitled, ‘Love’s Welcome’. This was performed in the Fountain Garden. Unfortunately, the Terrace Range is a roofless ruin now, but the best views across the valley can still be seen on a visit to the castle and it is clear to see just how majestic it once was.

Wall Paintings and Panelling

Many of the rooms in The Little Castle are gloriously decorated with wall paintings that are quite rare survivals from the 17th century. Unfortunately, the original artists are still unknown.

The Elysium Closet

The Elysium Closet is a little room adjoining William's bed chamber and most likely would have been used for intimate gatherings, relaxing, private conversation, and drinking. It has a frieze that depicts Roman gods such as Bacchus, the god of wine symbolic of liberation and fertility. Mercury the messenger God, with his winged hat, and Minerva goddess of wisdom, shown holding her owl.

Some of the Elysium Closet scheme is based on a Francesco Primacio painted ceiling in the Ulysses Gallery in the palace of Fontainebleau. There is also a second little room adjoining the bed chamber that shows scenes of dancing, music, and a Christian heaven.

Heaven Closet

In the Heaven Closet, the ceiling features a scene from the Ascension. It is dated from 1619 and depicts angels surrounding an ascending figure of Christ, and Cherubim on the walls of the room hold musical instruments of the Passion.

The Riding House Range

The Riding House at Bolsover was built in the 1630’s and as William Cavendish was appointed as young Charles’s Governor in 1636, he taught the future King Charles ll to ride there. This Riding House is one of the earliest indoor horse arenas to survive in Britain. William was responsible for The Riding House Range where he would teach thoroughbred horses the art of ménage, much the same as modern day dressage.

During our Bolsover Castle visit, Marysia, my daughter Jemma, and I had a fabulous time watching ‘The Royal Horse of England,’ equestrian show in the historic Riding House.

The Royal Horse of England equestrian show

Jemma: “My Bolsover Castle experience was very interesting, I learnt a lot about the history of the castle and I really enjoyed touring the Little Castle, it’s so stunning. The evening equestrian show was so spectacular, I’ve always had a love of horses and I used to enjoy horse riding lessons when I was younger and going for hacks around Bestwood Country Park in Nottinghamshire. I enjoyed meeting the horses and the equestrian performances were immensely special. I enjoyed finding out so much about the history of horses.”

Marysia: “On entering into the castle grounds we met Peter and his team settling the horses into the stables. We all introduced ourselves and started talking, and asked whether we could meet one of the horses and converse with its holder. He said yes, please go ahead a few steps into the Riding House and meet them. They were joyful moments. This beautiful grey horse called Zafiro, and his holder certainly had a bond, while allowing Janine, Jemma and I to stroke and talk to him.

After we had made a tour of the castle and gardens, we headed back to the cafe to have a drink and pieces of cake, and relaxed. Thirty minutes later, Peter, resplendent in his Cavalier costume and plumed hat, rode up on Zafiro in front of us seated at the cafe. He introduced himself to us and told us to get ready to follow him to the Riding House as his theatre team riders and horses were awaiting us. We settled into our arena seats and the show began.”

Throughout the show we continued to be entertained by fascinating historical facts, re-enactments and especially the very impressive horsemanship. The show captivates the audience, and it is clear to see people's faces light up, with stories of romance, tales of loyalty and pride, even comedic routines, all the time resulting in lots of rounds of applause at the end of each scene. A beautifully choreographed theatrical performance by The First Equestrian Theatre.

Janine asked Peter Maddison-Greenwell, co-founder of The First Equestrian Theatre, whether he has a favourite historical character he enjoys portraying more than others and why?

“I have been portraying William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle from as early as 1992 at Bolsover Castle itself as well as later in our first equestrian Theatre production "The Legend of Spain '' at Camden the Roundhouse, London. This was presented in front of the likes of Princess Margaret and her royal entourage and a number of celebrities at the time. Five sellout audiences. This was the beginning of many shows as The First Equestrian Theatre. “

The Duke of Newcastle built the indoor Riding House at Bolsover Castle. He was one of a number of the aristocracy that had imported the Spanish Horses, including those for King Charles I and the Duke of Buckingham. William Cavendish and his famous quotes live on today as a great influence on classical riding. “You should select the air most suitable to the horse,” "There must not be two beasts in the arena” and most famous of all:

"The Noblest horse in the World... the most beautiful that can be... he is of great spirit and great courage, and docile, hath the proudest walk, the proudest trot and the best action in his trot; the loftiest gallop, the swiftest careers and is the lovingest and gentlest horse and fittest of all for a king in the day of his triumph.... much more intelligent than even the best Italian horses, and for that reason, the easiest dressed, because they observe so much with their eyes and their memories are so good.”

Janine’s final question for Peter was, which equestrian through history does he find the most inspirational?

Peter’s reply: “All the great masters from Dom Duarte, Federico Grisone, Antoine de Pluvinel, François Robichon de la Guérinière, François Baucher, Mestre Nuno de Oliveira offer advice and talk with lifelong experience and knowledge about the art of riding.”

Janine asked more about The First Equestrian Theatre, and Peter added,

“The Royal Horse of England is another production from The First Equestrian Theatre Limited, truly the first of its kind in the United Kingdom. Launched in 1994 with its production of The Legend of Spain at Camden the Roundhouse, London.”

“We are dedicated to the art of classical and historical horsemanship, recreating the culture of equestrian theatre in a way no other does. Our shows bring drama, romance, and humour, drawing the audiences into the stories and feeling emotionally involved with the closeness of the horses and performances.”

Peter also commented about his friend, John Scott-Leith, who has collaborated and supported the show. “His vast knowledge on horses and history has had a big influence on the presentation of the show itself. His enthusiasm and business sense is making the journey a lot more fun. I believe it shows from the response of the audiences and continued kind reviews we are getting.”


The impressive 17th century Bolsover Castle overlooking the beautiful Vale of Scarsdale in the Peak District, is a remarkable sight and a full tour including the Little Castle is highly recommended. A place where you will find some of the most fascinating historic buildings and a very spectacular Little Castle where William Cavendish would have had meetings with his intellectual circle of friends and intimate social liaisons.

The evening equestrian theatrical performance by Peter and his exceptionally talented team, The First Equestrian Theatre, which took place in one of the earliest riding houses to survive in England, was the absolute best way to complete the visit to Bolsover Castle. The Royal Horse of England is a wonderful way to discover the history of horses throughout the world and how the aristocracy had a very substantial influence on the thoroughbred horses of today. Excellent horsemanship, delightful horses and performances that leave the audience full of admiration. A wonderful destination experience had by all.

To book your tickets for The Horse of England Christmas special, go to the Eventbright website and secure your tickets to this spectacular event. Event Date: Saturday, December 16th at 6:30 PM

Venue: Pickering Grange Equestrian

By Janine Moore

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