Royalist versus Roundheads: Our review of Chavenage House

The Humphreys team love visiting England's stunning stately homes and our recent trip to Chavenage House, in Tetbury, Gloucestershire was a real treat

Chavenage is not only a beautiful Elizabethan manor house as you will see in our video, it also has a history full of intrigue and both royal and roundhead patronage - Henry VIII gave the house to the family of his wife, Jane Seymour, although it returned to the crown when they were executed for treason a few years later and Oliver Cromwell even has a bedroom named after him following his stay during the Civil War.

It is a fact that Oliver Cromwell stayed at Chavenage and slept in this room at the end of the Civil Wars prior to the death of King Charles I. Even a copy of his portrait painted by Sir Peter Lely entitled ’Warts and All’ hangs on the wall beside the bed. It was quite thought provoking to touch the tapestries (brightly coloured in those days) that Cromwell would most likely have touched and to see the actual bed where he must have laid his head. 

After the cessation of hostilities whilst Charles I was imprisoned, it became apparent to Cromwell that the King would have to be executed in order to stop any form of Royalist uprisings. To this end he sent Ireton to Chavenage, to try to persuade Colonel Stephens to add his support to the regicide. Ireton arrived whilst Colonel Stephens was keeping the festival of Christmas in 1648. Stephens, known as a mild man, had shown much irresolution in deciding upon sacrificing the life of King Charles I and was on the verge of wavering when Ireton reached his destination. It is said that they sat up all night and eventually Ireton obtained from Stephens his very reluctant acquiescence.

Shortly after his daughter Abigail returned from having passed the New Year elsewhere, she, in a fit of horror and anger, laid a curse on her father for bringing the name Stephens into such disrepute. The story goes that the Colonel was soon taken terminally ill and never rose from his bed again. When the Lord of the Manor died and all were assembled for his funeral, a hearse drew up at the door of the manor house driven by a headless man, and the Colonel was seen to rise from his coffin and enter the hearse after a profound reverence to the headless personage, who as he drove away assumed the shape of the martyr King, Charles I - this being regarded as retribution for the Colonel's disloyalty to the King. Thereafter until the line became extinct, whenever the head of the family died, the same ghost of the King appeared to carry him off.

Ironically in the 16th century it was thought that no member of the royal family would want to live somewhere so remote as Gloucestershire and yet now Chavenage is surrounded by members of the royal family. Prince Charles’ Highgrove Estate is just a couple of miles away and Princess Anne lives at Gatcombe Park, a few miles in the other direction.

The Lowsley Williams family have lived in Chavenage since 1871 and David and Rona Lowesley Williams celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in the house last year. There are some stunning portraits of their ancestors hanging in the all of the main reception rooms, each of whom contributed their own stamp on the house and the estate.

Touring the house is an absolute delight as you are guided through the beautiful rooms by a member of the family and you listen to fascinating and sometimes hilarious anecdotes of the house through the ages, including the removal of the heads from the paintings of the dancing girls in the drawing room, when the puritanical Oliver Cromwell, only to be replaced in the Restoration of 1661.

Chavenage House is also a rather famous TV star in its own right having starred in the incredible adaptation of Wolf Hall and, famously, as Trenwith, the Cornish home of Poldark in the recent series, among others.

The grounds are just stunning and learn the story behind the sad wanderings of the Lady in White who communicated to her love at Beverstone Castle in the 1640’s by placing a candle in the window, which ultimately led to his downfall.

You will receive the warmest of welcomes at Chavenage, even when the weather doesn’t match, and you will feel as though you have travelled through history as the secrets of the house unfold.