There are many records found for the origins of the name Bolsover. In 1086 Belesovre, Bolesoura in 1167, Bulesoures in 1197 and Bolesor in 1230. The second element of the name would appear to be derived from the Saxon ofer, meaning slope but the first part of the name is more obscure. There has been a suggestion that it may be derived from the Phoenician or Old English word Baal or Bel who was the God of Fire.
The local Doomsday survey of 1086 recorded by the Sheriff of Nottingham mentions a village at Bolsover but no mention is given to a castle being there at the time.
The original castle was built by the Peverel family in the 12th century with a stone Keep being built c1173 it was surrounded by a curtain wall with an outer bailey, but the wall was breached in 1216 during the reign of King John. The castle was transferred from the king to William de Ferras earl of Derby in 1216. A little later in 1216 as a result of the reluctance of the constable Gerard de Furnival to leave the castle it was besieged and the resulting damage took until 1223 to repair.
Bolsover Castle became Crown property in 1155 when the third William Peverel fled into exile for poisoning Ralph Earl of Chester in 1153.
By 1400 it had lost its strategic importance and after years of occupation by tenants was left in ruins by the time Sir George Talbot purchased it in 1553. Talbot, later become the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury and married 'Bess of Hardwick' and was tasked with being the keeper of the exiled Mary Queen of Scots. This lasted 16 years duty that seriously drained the family's resources.
To ease the financial burden, Bolsover Castle was first leased to Sir Charles Cavendish in 1608 who five years later he became the owner. He employed Robert Smythson as his architect and rebuilt Bolsover Castle. The tower, known today as the little castle, was completed c1621, and building work continued with their sons adding the terrace and riding school ranges. Used as extra accommodation, the Terrace Range originally consisted of apartments and kitchens, but with a Royal visit imminent this range was extended to include a long gallery and an external staircase. When Charles I and his Queen arrived in 1634, the Riding School Range was probably at foundation level. At completion, the school had every facility required, including a forge, a tack and harness room, a large arena, and an upper viewing gallery.
With the advent of the Civil War, Sir William Cavendish took command of the Royalist troops who were defeated at Marston Moor, in 1644 and although he survived this conflict he was forced to flee into exile and Bolsover Castle was surrendered to Parliamentarian troops in August of the same year.
After the reformation of the Monarchy in 1660, Sir William Cavendish was able to return to England and by this tome Bolsover Castle was in ruins. Despite great financial problems, he added a new hall and staterooms to the Terrace Range and, by the time of his death in 1676, Bolsover Castle had been restored to good order.
William Cavendish’s successors chose to live at Welbeck Abbey and in 1752 they stripped the lead from the roof of the Terrace Range at Bolsover Castle to use there.
The Little Castle and the Riding School Range survived much better, and was let to the Curate of Bolsover in 1834. Following the death of his widow in 1883, Bolsover Castle remained uninhabited and was eventually given to the nation by the 7th Duke of Portland in 1945.