Sunday, 18 May 2014

He Who Commissioned Castle Howard: Charles, 3rd Earl of Carlisle

This weekend, I had the great honour of visiting Castle Howard in Yorkshire, England. This great building, though largely made in the 18th-century, was commissioned in 1699, so it's fair game here. There is only word to describe Castle Howard, and that!

© Andrea Zuvich 2014

With its design by English Baroque architects Sir John Vanbrugh and Nicholas Hawksmoor, Castle Howard is one of the great gems of late 17th/early 18th century architecture. Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor were also behind the Baroque extravaganza which is Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, England, as well as other fabulous buildings, including the Orangery at Kensington Palace. Whilst we were there, my husband asked me several questions about its history - including who commissioned the building. That's a very good question, so why don't we find out more about Charles Howard, 3rd Earl of Carlisle, and his role in the creation of the great Castle Howard.

Indeed, with a visit to a stately home or castle, the curious mind often wonders about the reasons which led to their creation. And so it is with Castle Howard. Who exactly was Charles Howard? Why was he important enough to have such a big house? Did he win military battles like Marlborough? Is that why he had such a house built? When I first became acquainted with the house, after watching the BBC/PBS television series, The Buccaneers, and of course, Brideshead Revisited, I was understandably impressed and awed by the building, but I didn't learn about the man who commissioned it until many years later.

Born in 1669, Charles Howard came from a distinguished aristocratic family. He was the son of Edward Howard, 2nd Earl of Carlisle, who in turn, was the son of Charles Howard (1629-1685). This first Charles Howard was created 1st Earl of Carlisle 1661 under the Restoration King Charles II. 
Image: official Castle Howard website

The 1st Earl's grandson, Charles (of Castle Howard fame) was a Minister of Parliament for Morpeth, but when his father died in his mid-forties, Charles became the third Earl when he was only twenty-three! He had to take on a lot of responsibilities as a result of this, but there were some perks, too. Charles inherited Henderskelfe Castle, a ruined Mediaeval castle, in 1692. 

A few years after inheriting this castle, he had it demolished to make way for a new building - which would become Castle Howard. As we drove away from the building, we saw a gatehouse with towers that have arrowslits (those cross-shaped openings once used for defense).
 This gatehouse and the mock fortification walls you see in the photos below were constructed in the 1720s. The history of that ruined castle in itself would make for interesting research, especially as it was partially rebuilt in the 1680s.

Charles then began to hold increasingly prestigious positions in government. Under William III, Charles Howard was one of that King's last Gentlemen of the Bedchamber (from 1700-1702), and he then had major positions under both Queen Anne and later King George. So whilst he was busy with politics, Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor (his assistant) were designing his dream house. Vanbrugh was, in the late-17th-century, a playwright and theatre manager (he owned the theatre which is now called Her Majesty's Theatre where The Phantom of the Opera has been playing since its debut in 1986).

Unlike Blenheim Palace, which was originally commissioned in honour of the great military leader, John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, for his success at the Battle of Blenheim, etc, Castle Howard was not built for any such reason. It seems likely that Howard simply wanted a house, and he had both the perfect site for one and the money to make it happen. What we see today is an amalgamation of the original concept, Palladian extras, and a lot of Victorian touches which makes Castle Howard truly unique.

For a full article on Castle Howard, please visit my article at:

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