Lady Jane Grey once walked the halls of Astley Castle, and the ghost stories of today say she still does, though now her home, her castle, has been re-imagined as a modern two-story house built within the walls of an ancient castle.
The moated castle dates back over 800 years to the Saxon period. The Grey family were the castle's most famous owners, taking control from 1420 to 1600 and, through them, the castle has links to three queens of England.
The first queen, Elizabeth Woodville, wife of Edward IV, owned the castle with her first husband Sir John Grey, who died fighting in the War of the Roses. The resourceful widow is believed to have lain in wait for the king to plead for help for her young sons' future but when he arrived the two fell immediately in love and were married.
Their daughter, Elizabeth of York, became Astley's second queen through her marriage to Henry VII. And their great granddaughter Lady Jane Grey was the last, a queen for just nine days, before she was ousted by Mary I and later beheaded for treason at the Tower of London.
Centuries later, the novelist George Eliot grew up on the estate. In 1978 the castle burned down and for the next 30 years it was left a crumbling ruin, uninhabitable until the by the Landmark Trust, a heritage organization that rents out old buildings as holiday homes.
The trust took on a 99-year lease on the castle, and launched a competition to turn the ruins back into a home; their task sounded simple: create a four-bedroom house to sleep eight people at Astley Castle. Some designs built a new house in the grounds, and had the castle as a garden, while other kept the facade but built a completely new house behind it, but the winning design built a new home inside the castle, using slim bricks to fuse with the jagged edges of the ruin. The structure was left intact and on show, and the gaps were filled.
The conventional house arrangement has been flipped, with the bedrooms on the ground floor and the kitchen and living area upstairs. Large modern windows frame the views. Outside two open courtyards have been strengthened and safeguarded from the elements, but visually left as a ruin. A dining table fills one, and they are divided by a chimneystack, which can be used for al fresco cooking where one can look out from twelfth and twenty-first century construction to fifteenth and seventeenth century walls.
There are no televisions at Astley, and portraits of historic characters including Henry VIII and Jane Seymour peer down from the walls and over beds, reminding visitors just how old the castle is.
It really is the best of the old and the new, and is entirely fit for a queen … even this one.