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Castle Howard - A Tudor Tale?
Chris Ridgway
By Dr Chris Ridgway  //  Tue 21st April 2020
Curatorial, History, Collection, Estate
How can Castle Howard, begun in 1699, possibly have a Tudor tale to tell? The building didn’t exist in the 16th century, although its predecessor Henderskelfe Castle was standing in this corner of Yorkshire then.
But Castle Howard, like to many houses in the UK, owes it origins to the Tudor period, when the family ancestor, Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, married the widowed Elizabeth Dacre in 1567; it was his third marriage five years before he was beheaded for treason by Elizabeth I. The Dacres were a powerful, wealthy family with lands across the north of England. The heir to this fortune was the five-year old George Dacre, so Norfolk assumed guardianship of his stepson and his three young sisters. Two years after the marriage George died in a vaulting accident when his wooden horse collapsed, and Norfolk won the ensuing court case that the daughters should inherit the Dacre lands instead of an uncle. These three girls, Anne, Mary, and Elizabeth, each a wealthy heiress, were then betrothed to Norfolk’s sons from his previous marriages, and the Dacre lands were absorbed into Howard territory.
Norfolk’s youngest son, Lord William married Elizabeth, the youngest Dacre girl in 1577, but he was to spend several years in the Tower of London on account of his Catholicism. Although the couple would live at Naworth Castle in Cumbria, their landholdings included Henderskelfe in Yorkshire. Known as ‘Belted Will’, he led much of his life as a scholar whilst also overseeing law and order in the contested borderlands between Cumbria and Scotland. He died in 1640, aged eighty, after fleeing Naworth in the face of armed raids by the Scots. His wife Elizabeth, known as ‘Bessie of the Broad Apron’ on account of the lands she brought through marriage, had died a year earlier, but the couple had fifteen children.
Lord William’s grandson Charles Howard was created 1st Earl of Carlisle in 1661; in turn his grandson Charles, 3rd Earl, went on to tear down the old Henderskelfe Castle in Yorkshire and build Castle Howard as a magnificent new family seat with his two famous architects Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor. In 1728, as part of the wider landscape designs, he placed a gigantic bust of Lord William inside Hawksmoor’s pyramid to the south of Castle Howard; a marble tablet is inscribed with verses he composed to his ancestor, which open with the lines:

To thee, O venerable shade,
Who long hast in oblivion laid,
This pile I here erect,
A Tribute small for what thou’st done…

And he went on to acknowledge how the lands he owned were all derived from his great, great, great grandfather to whom ‘thanks are due’. The 3rd Earl of Carlisle was born sixty years after the end of the Tudors, and more a century after the Duke of Norfolk had married off his sons so propitiously to the Dacre girls. And while his grand building project was about embracing a confident future in Hannoverian England, he also knew that Castle Howard had a Tudor Tale to tell.