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Historical journey through Gloucestershire castle

PUBLISHED: 14:41 15 October 2009 | UPDATED: 16:29 07 September 2010

THE poor old Third Duke of Buckingham had a rough ride. One minute he was top dog at the court of Henry VIII - the Lord High Constable, with a magnificent spread in Gloucestershire. The next he was arrested at his castle and thrown into the Tower of Londo

THE poor old Third Duke of Buckingham had a rough ride. One minute he was top dog at the court of Henry VIII - the Lord High Constable, with a magnificent spread in Gloucestershire. The next he was arrested at his castle and thrown into the Tower of London on trumped up treason charges engineered by Cardinal Wolsey.

At Buckingham's trial in1521, his trusted Chancellor and Confessor both gave evidence against him, prompting Shakespeare to write him a noble soliloquy in Henry VIII with the lines:

"This from a dying man receive as certain:

"Where you are liberal of your loves and counsels, be sure you be not loose;

"For those you make friends and give your hearts to, where they once perceive the least rub in your fortunes, fall away like water from ye..."

After Buckingham's execution on Tower Hill, building work at Thornbury Castle ground to a halt and the house, originally conceived on a similar scale to Hampton Court, was confiscated by the Crown.

Bloody Queen Mary spent part of her childhood there, and Henry VIII visited with Queen Anne Boleyn for 10 days in 1535. (They were met by dignitaries from nearby Bristol and presented with "tenne fat oxen and fortie shepe").

Although Mary restored the "Manor, Castle, Town and Park" of Thornbury to Buckingham's son Henry in 1554, he didn't have the funds to finish the ambitious project.

The Tudor house fell into a picturesque ruin that drew lovers of architecture for its elaborate mullioned windows, chimneys and ornamentation.

The Howards, who acquired Thornbury by marriage, undertook a major restoration in the 1850s turning it into a comfortable home.

Almost 500 years after it was built, the castle became a hotel, and a traditional English one at that, with none of the on trend spa facilities or Wii rooms that have been grafted onto other country house operations to attract weekending Londoners.

No, here there are proper tapestries and stern looking ancestral portraits staring down from the panelled walls. The complimentary decanter beside the four poster is sherry, the house wine is English (from grapes grown on site), and there's fleur de lys loo paper in the throne room.

Thornbury has the air of a place that does a brisk trade in traditional upmarket weddings and romantic breaks for middle aged couples who like attentive service without unnecessary knobs on.

There's no bar as such, but in the library, you can sit in a wing chair in Buckingham's oriel window sipping something from the rattly drinks trolley that holds pretty much everything you'd want to imbibe.

Above the library is a gallery, once Buckingham's private rooms, which end two thirds of the way along, hanging half finished in mid air as if awaiting the return of the doomed lord to his building project.

The gallery overlooks the charmingly unmanicured privy garden, the earliest Tudor garden in England, which is bordered by walls to create a courtyard adjoining the parish church. That gives onto the 'goodly garden' with its ramble of roses, yew hedges, foxgloves and hollyhocks.

The whole place has bags of atmosphere, perhaps too much as I peered into the gloom beyond the bed curtains, imagining ghostly visitors to our turret room - reached via a spiral stone staircase.

There's always a dearth of light behind crenulated walls, but the rooms are comfy with sofas, heavy curtains, open fires and luxury bathrooms.

The food is rather elaborate with canapés in the library, amuse bouches before the meal and even a cute mini silver cloche over the butter dish.

Some of the dishes were too busy for their own good and would have benefited from concentrating better flavour into fewer ingredients, but the halibut with pancetta, cabbage and mustardy sauce was a success, as was a thumpingly good chocolate fondant with a lot of unnecessary accompaniments like honeycomb, lemon curd and sorbet.

Breakfast was a winner, perfectly poached eggs with Gloucester old spot sausage and bacon, and all the trimmings, served in the light-filled octagonal room where Buckingham's lady once slept.

The grounds are charming but not huge and there are few activities on site, but you can go for a stroll around the pleasant village or head into Bristol or Cirencester for sightseeing.

Rooms from £190. B&B.

To book, go to www. thornburycastle.co.uk.

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