Astley Castle and church..photo 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..
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 Talbot, Elizabeth 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)
The 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 …
- Eleanor the Secret Queen p.8. John Ashdown-Hill
2. Memorials of the Wars of the Roses p.188. W E Hampton.