Follow the winding driveway all the way to the end and you’ll reach Sizergh Castle. Well, you’ll reach the National Trust gift shop first, and then the castle, but you know what I mean! Despite being owned by the National Trust, Sizergh is still the home of the Strickland family, and they still pop back on occasion I’m told. It hasn’t always been in the hands of the Stricklands though. Sizergh Castle began life with the Deincourt family and remained that way until 1239 when Sir William de Strickland married Elizabeth Deincourt. And that, they say, was that.
Since then the Stricklands have added to, changed, and improved the castle and adjoining gardens to create that which we see today. Traces of the various eras can be seen dotted around the rooms of the castle. For example, in the Queen’s Room, a fantastic overmantel bearing Elizabeth I’s Royal coat of arms takes pride of place. The Tudor monarchs were keen on overt displays of fealty, with some of the larger country houses being developed into E or H shapes, coupled with a prominent display of the monarch’s heraldry.
In 1762, Charles Strickland wed Cecilia Towneley, a lady from a wealthy Burnley family. Cecilia Strickland is now the focus of an exhibition at Sizergh Castle entitled ‘Cecilia’s Story: A Life in Letters’. Her time at Sizergh is gradually pieced together through the letters she wrote throughout her life, both before and after the death of her husband in 1770. Following Charles’ death, she became the sole mistress of Sizergh until her son, Thomas, came of age. It was rare to see a woman in charge of family lands in Georgian England, and she constantly had to prove herself worthy of the post. Because of this, the records pertaining to the running of the household and estates made by Cecilia are the most thorough in the entire Sizergh archive. She maintained guardianship of her son, Thomas, in the face of letters from her brother-in-law, William (Charles’ elder brother) who accused her of being a fraud, and even suggested that Thomas be removed from her. Her remodelling of Sizergh was extensive, and copies of the architect’s plans can be seen in the Library.
Another room of interest for me personally was the darker, oak-panelled dining room. The bones of this room haven’t been changed since 1564, but obviously interior design trends changes with the ages and the dining room was no exception. I was drawn more to the portraits though, which are of the Royal family of Stuart.
If you have read this blog for a long time, you may know that I spent a year in France on the outskirts of Paris. On many occasions, I visited the town of Saint-Germain-en-Laye to attend language school. As it turns out, these portraits of the Stuarts were actually a gift from James II’s consort, Queen Mary, to Lady Strickland. James II being famous for being overthrown in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, leading him to end up in exile in none other than Saint-Germain-en-Laye. And now we’ve come full circle! Safe to say I was quite intrigued by this admittedly very tenuous connection, so I dug further. Sir Thomas Strickland was a Royalist supporter throughout the Civil War, served as an MP for Westmorland after the Restoration, became Keeper of the Privy Purse to Charles II, and ended up in James II’s Privy Council. When James and his family were sent into exile, Sir Thomas and his wife, along with some other courtiers, followed. They lived in Saint-Germain-en-Laye until 1692, before moving to Rouen, where Thomas died two years later.
Now, as I mentioned at the top of this post, Sizergh Castle is now cared for by the National Trust and is open to the public as a visitor attraction. I must say though, for all the castles, palaces, and museums I’ve visited, Sizergh has to be one of the more interesting and well-preserved places I have seen. Take the Inlaid Chamber, for example. It is a stunning room with its authentic 16th-century oak-panelling still intact. It is considered some of the finest ever made for an English country house and I wholeheartedly agree.
The Gardens are quite a sight too. When I visited we were getting into Spring so it wasn’t as ‘in flower’ as it probably is now, but the rock garden was still very striking with the castle as a backdrop. All in all, Sizergh is a great place to explore, and make sure you take advantage of the estate walks that surround the castle grounds!
To find out more about their opening times and events, head over to the National Trust website here. To see more of my photos from this visit, whizz on over to my Flickr album which can be found here.