Since 1632 it has been the home of the following families: Fortescue (1632 1763) Fortescue-Turville (1763-1900) Turville-Petre (1907-1945) Turville-Constable-Maxwell (1945 to present day) all of them Roman Catholic.
As first recorded, the Old Hall was owned by the de Stoke family (from about 1293-1537) and by the Smiths, amongst others, until 1632. Erasmus Smith was certainly living there from 1570-1616 and is noted as being particularly wealthy. It therefore seems likely that he carried out many of the Elizabethan alterations.There is a story of a Smith boy, perhaps his son, who 'neighed like a horse, mewed like a cat and barked like a dog'. At the time, it was believed that he was possessed, and nine unfortunate women were hanged in an attempt to cure him. Not surprisingly this failed, and more 'witches' were rounded up and were about to suffer the same fate when they finally came to their senses, and they were thankfully spared.[See also The Bosworth Witches web-page]
The structure of the original Norman building which the Smiths inhabited, was supported by wooden 'crucks' (a wooden scaffold set into the ground providing support to walls and roof), one of which can still be seen in the cupboard off the main entrance hall. The fireplace of this early building can still be seen in the cupboard in the passage leading from the sun-room to the hall. The position of this fireplace shows that the original house would have extended westwards, towards the church.
Further evidence of the old Norman house can be seen in the wattle and daub around in the cupboard in the panelled landing room on the first floor. There are other features still visible, like some original Elizabethan stained-glass windows in the upstairs rooms and downstairs small sitting room, next to sun-room. These show the Coats of Arms of England, Scotland and Ireland, along with some family arms particularly those of the Smith family.
After the demise of the Smith family, Bosworth was bought by Lady Grace Fortescue, (née Manners of Hardwick Hall), widow of Sir Francis Fortescue of Salden, in Buckinghamshire, who came to live at Bosworth with her son, William. She was a recusant, and refused to join the new Church of England faith. Thus began the long line of Catholic inhabitants.
The Fortescues had refused to support Henry VIII when he abolished the Church of England. This he was famously forced to do after being excommunicated by the Pope for divorcing his first wife Catherine of Aragon. Henry VIII inflicted severe penalties on those who refused to convert, and it was a dangerous time for Roman Catholics. Fines were imposed on those who refused to take the oath and the death sentence was carried out on many occasions. These included two of Robert Turville Constable-Maxwell's ancestors, Sir Thomas Moore and Sir (Blessed) Adrian Fortescue who were executed for refusing to support Henry's church.
In one 10-year period around this time, 252 Jesuit priests had entered England from France and more than half of them were captured and executed. The Fortescues continued to celebrate Mass in secret in the drawing room - still known as the chapel room - and on one occasion an urgent message came to warn the priest that a raiding party of soldiers was on the way. In his haste to clear away the evidence of the service and escape, he upset the chalice containing the consecrated wine. This has left a damp stain on the chapel room floor, which can be seen to this day. Furthermore, at about this time, in 1657, Anne, widow of Grace's grandson, Charles Fortescue was enrolled on the 'Great Roll of recusants' and indicted to appear before Leicester courts for 'Popish' practices. Perhaps fortunately for her, she died just five weeks before her trial, though a document dated 1658 cleared her name.
It is quite possible that these two events were connected, and certainly they underline the risk all practising Catholic's took. In the chapel room, the damp stain remains, and you can still see the hinges on the panelling where the altar once was. Behind this panel the wall backs onto a deep cupboard, containing the cruck. It is thought that the priest would have made his way up through this cupboard into another immediately above. Then he would have crossed the first floor to enter the hiding hole through the thickness of the wall (which still sounds hollow) to the right of the cupboard in the house keepers room. The curved back of the sitting room cupboard can still be seen from the hiding hole in the attic.
Off the main entrance hall, halfway up the north stairs, there is an internal Victorian window illustrating some of Aesop's Fables, with The Boy Who Cried Wolf in centre left. Further up the stairs, you can see beams from the original wooden house, which show that the original house would have had an overhang, while the 'new' house was extended further out on the east side. At the top of the south staircase, there are two painted wooden hatchments. These are the coats of arms of the Fortescue-Turville family, with the Turville dove and the olive sprig in its beak, and the Shrewsbury coat of arms.
In 1763, Maria Alethea Fortescue died unmarried, and the house passed to her 11 year-old cousin Francis Turville. Francis added the Fortescue to his name. Like many of the wealthier Roman Catholics of the time, Francis was educated in France. In 1780 he married Barbara Talbot, sister of the 15th Earl of Shrewsbury. They spent much of their time in France but decided to return to England and took up residence at Bosworth in 1790. As the French Revolution loomed, life in France was becoming increasingly difficult and moreover, with the passing in 1778 of the first Catholic Relief Act, life in England was easier for Catholics. [A second Relief Act was passed in 1791. However, the granting of full Catholic Emancipation did not come until 1829].
The Turville family had come to England with William the Conqueror, and lived firstly at Normanton Turville, and later from c1530, at Aston Flamville, near Hinckley. Francis's uncle, Carrington Francis, a bachelor, gave Aston Flamville to the Dominican order of Catholic missionaries in exchange for a brace of greyhounds.
When Francis and Barbara returned to Bosworth it was very run-down and they started to undertake major restoration works. In 1799 this included building the Georgian House which adjoined the back of the Old Hall through a door, known as the 'friendship door'. Joseph Bonhomi drew up the original plans for this addition. He suggested pulling down the Old Hall and building a completely new house. Luckily this plan was never implemented - the most likely reason being a shortage of funds! Francis had hoped to sell some land nearby in Rothwell, but was refused permission to do so, presumably because of his religion. In the event, John Wagstaff designed the main part of the new Georgian House. Francis also laid out the Park and the Shrubbery and planted many trees.
George Fortescue-Turville, son of Francis, extended the Georgian house in 1832 with the addition of the bay that is now the drawing room. George married Henrietta von der Lacken who was maid of honour to the Grand Duchess Alexandrina, daughter of the King of Prussia, Frederick William III. George died and his son, Francis, inherited in 1859. His first action was to fulfil a promise to his father, and in 1873 built a church in the park decorated in the fashionable Victorian Gothic style. He married Adelaide, (widow of Baron Lisgar) in 1881, when he was 50 and she was 74! She refused to change her name, despite the fact that Francis was knighted in 1875, and she would have still been titled.
Lady Lisgar, as she was always known, spent freely on Bosworth, building a new kitchen at the north end of the Old Hall and adding a large dining room on the same end of the Georgian House. She added the inner library, which can be seen between the two houses on the south side. The large stained glass windows in the hall of the Old Hall were also inserted and show, from left to right, the coats of arms of the Fortescue-Turville, von der Lacken (George's wife), Shrewsbury (George's mother), and Lisgar families.
Francis Fortescue-Turville died in 1881 but Lady Lisgar lived on until 1902. However, Francis's sister, Mary, was still living at the house until 1907. Although there is no recorded animosity between the two it is known that Mary slept in the Old Hall and Lady Lisgar in the added Victorian wing.
In 1907 the house passed to Oswald Petre, a cousin of Francis. He took on the name 'Turville' to ensure the continuity of the Turville family at Bosworth, and thus became Turville-Petre. Oswald died in 1941, but his widow, Margaret (née Cave) continued to live at Bosworth.
The Old Hall was let to various families during the Second World War. An army camp had been established in the park, where, amongst others - many Americans were based prior to the battle of Arnhem. At the end of the war, Margaret decided to hand on Bosworth to the next generation. However, her eldest son, Francis, had already died (1940 in Cairo) and her younger son, Gabriel, was a professor of Icelandic at Oxford, and had no wish to take on such a large house. Accordingly, her daughter, Alethea and her husband, David Constable-Maxwell, came to live at Bosworth in 1945, and added the 'Turville' to their name.
Alethea and David took on a very different house from the one her parents had lived in - the days of 16 gardeners had long since gone. Bosworth had been used as an army barracks during the war and was extremely run down. Alethea recalled hearing rats running through the thickness of the walls and the roof was full on nesting starlings! Progressively, the Hall was restored and the remains of the barracks in the park were pulled down.
One of the Nissen huts was saved, and placed inside part of the large Victorian dining room to subdivide it. Parts of this Nissen hut still remain. There was dry-rot in the Victorian kitchen which was subsequently pulled down, and it was at this time that the Old Hall was divided off as a completely separate house and let out.
In 1976 David and Alethea moved into a flat in the top of the Georgian House but spent much of their time near Beauly in Inverness-shire, where the Constable-Maxwells originated. Their eldest son, Robert and his wife, Susan (née Gaisford St Lawrence) then moved into the Georgian house with their three children. The main contribution to the house that they have made is to further subdivide the Victorian dining room, (previously known as the coldest room in Leicestershire) into a kitchen and boot room.
Outside, Robert has planted hedges of varying lengths most winters, and a great many trees, including two new spinneys. Owen's Spinney was named after the Owen family that farmed at Holloway Farm on the estate for more than 50 years and Smith's Spinney named similarly after the Smith family. Each generation has accordingly left its mark in various ways on Bosworth. The present incumbent, Robert Turville Constable-Maxwell is a Deputy Lieutenant of Leicestershire, and was High Sheriff of the county in 1991/2. He is Chairman of Leicestershire Clubs for Young People, and of the Husbands Bosworth & District Branch of the Royal British Legion.
[This history of Bosworth Hall is based on a manuscript compiled by Susan M Constable-Maxwell Feb. 2001.]
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