Here is the Manor Castles definitive guide to the very best luxury castle hotels in England, hotels that provide accommodation which no other type of luxury hotel can match.
We place a special emphasis on history in choosing our castles; all our recommended castle hotels have many stories to tell, stories that often intertwine with England’s rich, multi-layered history, and which will add an extra dimension to a stay in these superb properties.
South Gloucestershire’s 500 year old Thornbury Castle Hotel has the distinction of being the only Tudor castle hotel in England. The 16th century Tudors being perhaps the most iconic of all Britain’s Royal Families in particular because of the infamous, notorious, King Henry VIII The King himself in fact spent some time here, with his second wife, the later to be beheaded; Anne Boleyn.
The property is regal an elegant, but not too showy; it appears almost understated from the outside, especially in comparison to some other more extravagant castle hotels, and is cosy and peaceful on the inside. Outside too they have some beautifully landscaped gardens along with some very special and unique, 500 year old, vineyards, all surrounded by ancient woodlands.
In the year 1511, the 3rd Duke of Buckingham, a man by the name of Edward Stafford set about the commission of a grand castle on his equally grand estate at Thornbury. Though not fully certain it is thought that the chosen site was at the ruins of a previous castle or manor house structure which dated all the way back to 930, thus allowing Thornbury Castle to boast of having an over one thousand year history.
Purists, and some pub bores, may tell you that Thornbury Castle, having never had any defensive capabilities, is not actually a castle at all and is instead a 16th century Manor House. Though technically true, this strict definition of a castle as a defensive structure is widely ignored these days (Disney Castle, anyone?).
The Duke of Buckingham was also something of a Tudor, being in fact a distant relative of King Henry VIII. The King is most famous for taking an axe to the head of two of his wives but he also dished it out similar sentences to thousands more; during his 36 year reign he was estimated to have ordered the execution of up to 70,000 people. The Duke himself was among that number, executed for treason in 1521.
So he wasn’t given a lot of time to enjoy his new castle but King Henry took rather a shine to it it seems, as he immediately confiscated it his own use. It may be assumed that he stayed there on quite a few occasions but there is only one official record of a visit, when he spent ten days there with Queen Anne Boleyn in 1535, who was later, more famously, to be also executed on the orders of her husband.
It remained in Royal hands up until the English Civil War (1642–1651) but not long afterwards it began to fall out of favour and remained derelict until the early 19th century when it was bought by the Howard family. They made a huge renovation on the property and the estate in 1824 and moved in soon afterwards to make it one of the finest family homes in the land.
WHAT TO EXPECT:
There are 27 rooms in total, so Thornbury could be seen as a smaller, more intimate than many, castle hotel. It has something of a cosy atmosphere, but never drops its guard too much in terms of informality. It feels Royal at all times with a confident, almost understated sense of class and luxury. The rooms, bedchambers and suites are sumptuous, and most have a lovely, quite medieval, style. Most beds are coronet or four poster, and there are some lovely antique and medieval art pieces around, as well as various fixtures and fittings that coax the senses back hundreds of years.
Among the common spaces there are opulent lounges and sitting rooms and an excellent restaurant and bar. The large grounds outside are a particular highlight with manicured lawns and gardens where you’ll find, amongst other things, a croquet park, archery facilities, flower beds, tracts of woodland and a traditional chef’s gardens which grows many ingredients of the restaurant’s food. There is too of course the ancient vineyards, dating back 500 years, which you are also welcome to explore.
And you can arrange all sorts of other activities both on the grounds, things like falconry and clay pigeon shooting, and in the nearby area everything from reflexology, massage and aromatherapy to horse riding, golf and fishing. The nearest town is of course Thornbury, a peaceful little place at the edge of the Cotswolds where you’ll find some nice pubs, restaurants and some cute little shops.
A work in progress; more English castle hotels to be added soon…