The Times Revisits Castle Howard

Today’s issue of The Times carries an article by Andrew Billen (“Stately homes to spare? TV stardom beckons”) recommending country houses to visit, once they are reopened to the public, based on their setting for TV series and films. This was inspired by an article in yesterday’s edition of the paper by Jake Kanter (“Netflix is lifeline for stately homes”) about how important such settings had become for film producers and how equally important the income from those productions had become for the owners. Here’s the entry from Billen’s article (“TV stardom beckons”) for Castle Howard:

Castle Howard, North Yorkshire (Bridgerton and Brideshead Revisited)
While Bridgerton’s Simon and Daphne played their sex scenes within Wilton Hall, Clyvedon Castle’s exteriors, grounds and entrance hall were all Castle Howard. For millions, however, the Yorkshire castle will always be Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead.

Granada TV’s adaptation of Brideshead Revisited in 1981 introduced cinematic grandeur to TV drama and viewers’ first glimpse of Castle Howard gobsmacked them as surely as it did Charles Ryder on his first visit to Sebastian Flyte’s family home. The association between the two castles proved so indelible that a 2008 film was again filmed at Castle Howard.

Visitors can visit Vanbrugh’s Temple of the Four Winds, where in both versions Charles and Sebastian tipsily canoodled, and also the four-poster bed where Lord Marchmain (Laurence Olivier/Michael Gambon) died. The connection between the Flyte family and the Howards is not only cinematic. Like the Flytes, the Howards are one of Britain’s pre-eminent Catholic [sic] families.
Gardens open now

Not so sure they’ve got it right about the religious affiliation of the family at Castle Howard. The Roman Catholic Howards are the branch who live, inter alia, at Arundel Castle in Sussex and hold the title of Dukes of Norfolk. These are called the Fitzalan-Howards. Those at Castle Howard in Yorkshire are, so far as I am aware, Protestants. The two lines are related, but it would take some one well above my genealogical pay grade to explain how. It has something to do with the Earl of Carlisle. If anyone knows how to explain why the Yorkshire Howards became and remain Protestant, they are invited to comment below. It is the sort of thing Evelyn Waugh would have liked to discuss.

A Times reader raised a different point regarding today’s story:

Sir, Further to Andrew Billen’s article “Stately to spare–TV stardom beckons” (Time2, Jan 4) on Castle Howard being used as Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead by Granada TV, the fictional Brideshead was based upon the Gothic Revival Madresfield Court, where Waugh had been a frequent guest, a far cry from the English baroque of Castle Howard.

Professor Peter Fawcett

Department of Architecture, University of Nottingham

In reply to Professor Fawcett another reader wrote this:

Sir, Professor Peter Fawcett (letter, Jan 5) asserts that the English Baroque of Castle Howard was not the primary model for Brideshead. I disagree. The clues in the text are too numerous to ignore: arches, broken pediments, coffered ceilings, “pillared shade” and above all “the high and insolent dome”. On his first visit, Charles Ryder asks: “Is the dome by Inigo Jones too?” and later describes staying at Brideshead as “my conversion to the Baroque”. The confusion arises because Waugh did indeed stay at Madresfield Court but it was his friends, the children of the 7th Earl Beauchamp, particularly the ill-fated Hugh Lygon, who were inspiration for the Flyte family.

However, given all this pedantry it is perhaps fitting to recall Sebastian’s reply to Charles’s question quoted above: “Oh, Charles, don’t be such a tourist. What does it matter when it was built, if it’s pretty?”

Victoria Hooberman London NW1

Anther Times reader added this a few days later:

Castle Howard’s mystery
Sir, The extent to which Castle Howard informed Evelyn Waugh’s thinking is not explicit but there are many affinities between it and Brideshead, not least the great dome (letters, Jan 5 & 6). Waugh visited Castle Howard in 1937, and his approach from the north closely corresponds with the sequence of sights Charles Ryder records on his first visit to Brideshead.

Waugh also enjoyed teasing his readers: the novel contains the caveat “I am not I: thou art not he or she; they are not they”, and one might add the warning “it is not there”. He was writing a novel, not a guidebook. It was the Granada TV production that linked the real house in Yorkshire with the fictional one in Wiltshire. After scouting various possibilities, the producer, Derek Granger, declared Castle Howard “quite the most romantic and atmospheric house I have ever seen — Castle Howard most beautifully fills the bill”.
Christopher Ridgway

Curator, Castle Howard

The author of the last latter Christopher Ridgway recently gave an illustrated and fully researched lecture entitled: “75 Years of Brideshead Revisited: Brideshead & Castle Howard–Fact, Fiction and In-between.” This is posted on YouTube. See also my detailed article on the same subject: “Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead and Castle Howard” in Evelyn Waugh Studies 50.3 (Winter 2019).

UPDATE (8 January 2022); Two additional letters and concluding paragraph were added.

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