Ancient Gateway at Astley Castle. Photo tysallsphotography.org.uk
Astley Castle, Warwickshire, was the marital home of Sir John and Elizabeth Grey nee Wydeville. Sir John has somewhat been cast in the shadows by the eminence of his wife. He fought and died for Lancaster at the Second Battle of St Albans in 1461 and his widow would go on to catch the eye of a king with tragic results. This story is of course well known and documented and I won’t go into it here but rather focus on Astley Castle itself. Astley has a long and rich history. Beginning life as a Manor House in 1266, the then owner, Warin de Bassingbourne was given a licence to crenellate and enclose with a moat. The medieval house was much added to during the 17th century but I’m sure John and Elizabeth would still have been able to recognise the old original rooms and features.
Medieval fire place Astley Castle
In the 1960s the parts that had survived the centuries were in use as a hotel and perhaps the very rooms used by John and Elizabeth deployed as rooms for paying guests. Alas in 1978 a disastrous fire took hold and Astley, reduced to a shell , was abandoned. Various proposals to rebuild proved to be too financially prohibitive and the ruins were declared a Scheduled Ancient Monument. However in 2005 the Landmark Trust came forward with a solution and what was left of Astley was saved by the novel idea of building and incorporating modern accommodation within the ruinous walls. Astley arose, like a Phoenix out of the flames, as they say, and today its possible to stay in what was once the marital home of the Greys.
An old photo date 1900 showing the stone archway.
The same view during renovation work
The Great Hall today in use as a dining room. Note the remains of the lovely 14th century windows and brickwork incorporated into the renovated castle.
But that is not all. In one of those strange quirks of history in the nearby church of St Mary the Virgin, a Talbot lies buried. No other than Elizabeth Talbot, later Viscountess Lisle, who was niece to Eleanor Butler nee Talbot, Elizabeth Wydeville’s very own nemesis, who married John Grey’s brother Edward. This Elizabeth Talbot was to become the heiress to John Talbot, lst Viscount Lisle. John Talbot was the son of that staunch warrior, John Talbot lst Earl of Shrewsbury, Eleanor’s father and known in history as Great Talbot. Both father and son perished at the Battle of Castillion 17 July 1453. Elizabeth Talbot, having married our John Grey’s brother, Edward, was thus also Elizabeth Wydeville’s sister-in-law. Elizabeth Talbot, having lived until 1487, saw the disastrous outcome of her former sister-in law, Elizabeth Wydeville’s bigamous ‘marriage’. What her thoughts on the matter were, frustratingly we will never know.
Elizabeth Talbot Viscountess Lisle. John Ashdown-Hill suggests this portrait was painted in Flanders during the wedding ceremonies of Margaret of York (1). Certainly the likeness is very similar to Elizabeth’s effigy in the church. See below. Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz Gemaldegalerie, Berlin. (no.532)
St Mary the Virgin Church, Astley, Mausoleum of the Grey family. Photo http://www.tysallsphotography.org.uk
- Eleanor the Secret Queen p.8. John Ashdown-Hill
2. Memorials of the Wars of the Roses p.188. W E Hampton.
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