image.pngAstley Castle and taken 1976. Courtesy of Will Roe, Nuneaton Memories.

Astley Castle, Warwickshire, was the marital home of Sir John and Elizabeth Grey nee Wydeville.  Sir John often comes across as a shadowy figure, outshone in eminence by his wife, and later widow, who went on to catch the eye of a king.  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 and original features.


Medieval  fire place  in Astley Castle..

In the 1960s the parts that had survived the centuries were in use as a hotel and perhaps the 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.


Astley Castle.  An old photo date 1900 showing the stone archway.


The same view during renovation works..img_2027.jpg

Built of local red sandstone.  Although altered in the 16th century some original 12th century elements still remain incorporated in the building.   

By a somewhat strange coincidence the church at Astley, St Mary the Virgin,  has some interesting burials and monuments, for a Talbot lies buried there.  Elizabeth Talbot later Viscountess Lisle, was a niece to Eleanor Butler nee TalbotElizabeth Wydeville‘s very own nemesis.  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.  Elizabeth Talbot, having married our John Grey’s brother, Edward, was 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. Historian 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)

image.pngThe effigy of Elizabeth Talbot Viscountess Lisle now lies between those of Cecilia Bonville, Marchioness of Dorset (wife to Thomas Grey, son of John and Elizabeth Grey nee Wydeville) and her husband Edward Grey.  These effigies were not originally one monument and have been unfortunately moved together at some time (2).   Thanks to Caroline Irwin for photo.  

Astley Church was once much larger than it is now but some of the misericords have survived as well as the above effigies.


14th century misericords …

  1. Eleanor the Secret Queen p.8.  John Ashdown-Hill

    2.  Memorials of the Wars of the Roses p.188.  W E Hampton.



  1. I have often wondered who that portrait belongs to, thank you for the info about both the (rather fine, don’t you think?) castle and Elizabeth Talbot. If that is her, in the portrait, she was one very fortunate sitter, the Flemings had already mastered oil paint (the Italians were decades behind, they were loathe to use it over egg tempera and fresco). The artist, Petrus Christus, is using the three quarter pose made popular by his contemporary, Rogier van der Weyden (who would influence Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and thereby alter painting in Italy and portraiture itself); it’s the most challenging of poses for an artist as you are contrasting soft tissues against firm bone structure but turning the face away from a full frontal pose (where everything matches, one side to the other; ie. bilateral).

    Her curious lack of eyelashes, almost invisible eyebrows with the hairline set high above are not accidental, this is the height of fashion, if anything her delicacy is unmatched in Flemish portraiture and not even van der Weyden’s probable prototype for this one (it’s in the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, painted around 1460, the woman, I think, is older, but not by much).

    Comparing the two I would love to think that the Christus is indeed Viscountess Lisle, painted while she was attending Margaret of York’s wedding.

    I love posts like this!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you Amma..Im glad you enjoyed my post. You certainly know a thing or two about art. I’m always cautious with giving names to the sitters in paintings as you so often see the sitter identified wrongly..take the well known portrait of Anne Boleyn who is probably insteadis Henry Vlll’s sister Mary..the B in her necklace representing her married name Brandon. However the sitter in the portrait we are discussing is clearly the same lady on the monument in the church. If only we had similar portraits for all the characters during the period we call the wars of the roses..wouldn’t that be wonderful?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Dear Sparkypus, I would love to have just ONE legitimate portrait of George duke of Clarence, since we’re on that subject; the ‘engravings’ after the alleged portrait of him strikes me as decidedly inauthentic to his era. My background is Art History (yes, lol, there is such a discipline, notoriously prone to squabbling over documentation, attribution, even ownership and mix in centuries of collectors, galleries, private owners and its a conservationists nightmare – I almost went that route but the ‘teaching bug’ got me while in grad school so I can ‘dull away’ – as my kids say – at will!)

        Check out the absolutely gorgeous portraits of Mary of Burgundy, not all Flemish or related school of such portraits are of equal quality but overall Mary and her step mother Margaret of York (and the wretched Anne de Beaujeu, regent for her brother Charles VIII who we should rightly lay the blame on funding and outfitting the invasion force for Tudor) were quite lucky to have such talent readily available.

        Keep in mind, however, that Flemish portraiture is NOT the way ‘we’ relate to the Sitter in the modern sense – that is to say, it was not about how you physically appeared in our ‘photo CG concept of reality – but what did you own, control, possess -what you wore illustrated status and heritage. A woman’s gaze was meant to be downcast or to one side (especially is unmarried, profiles handy for this purpose), to show modesty, virtue. Direct gaze from a ruler is a very different image, and likely to be overwhelmed with the fullness of propaganda in jewelry, masses of expensive fabrics, etc (no one did this better than the Tudors, other than Napoleon, only the Tudors created ‘art’ that was in fact political, not ‘art’ whatsoever).

        Da Vinci will alter that equation (it’s why Mona, for all her rather perceived ‘plain’ appearance was a revolution for his fellow artists, especially among the Italians who were not using oil paint to any meaningful degree.

        Actually, one could say Da Vinci reinvented oil painting with Mona, using the pose and media template of portraiture from Northern portraits – like the lovely Viscountess you have in your post – and then completely changing everything one can do with oil paint! I could ‘dull away’ but I won’t lol; a safe way to get info about attribution on an image (an online that is always dicey) is track down where the image is from, usually these ‘antique’ pieces are in some museum or collection and they have been extensively catalogued. Those dates and presumed titles, subjects, even their original dimensions, locations, will be included. Can be tedious reading for the lay reader but for avid Ricardians information is everything, right!? Right!

        Many warm regards, and more posts Sparkypus, there is never too much ART!

        ps. I have my own pet theories about Richards’ various portraits, someone, start a post on this! The Italians, after Da Vinci’s shocker, Mona, (well, to his contemporaries like Raphael, who went gaga over it) never looked back after Mona, that door to ‘who the human is’ behind the fancy clothes and regalia was open, and they ran through it with wild abandon, indeed, we’ve never gone back! SO, I look at the curious series of ‘surviving’ portraits of Richard and I am most curious, they do not conform to the norm of the dispassionate and unblinking stare (I call it the “hello? anyone home in there?” look with my students; the use of animated, knowing, or lively expression, which will be hugely popular after the 1590’s – and heavily borrowed when film makers were first learning HOW to craft a scene, develop characters, connect with their Viewers etc – is hardly something to be expected in portraiture before Mona – NO decorum!)

        Anyway, someone, much later, I suspect, when they repainted Richard’s portraits and added the humps and other assorted ‘ devices like broken swords, twitchy fingers, I think threw in all the worry lines, sagging skin, frowning etc. Heaven knows the facial proportions (for a 3/4 view) drive me up a wall, but anyone of the period, without proper Italian training, would make those anatomical errors, but the exaggerated expression of emotion, layering on what can be perceived as what, guilt, tension, anxiety, sense of doom, victimization, sin, approaching death??? well, that ain’t official regal portraiture of the 1480’s friends! Just my rant of the day, sorry!


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