Following the captivating Bridgerton books, Netflix’s Bridgerton series has been a huge success, with millions of people streaming Bridgerton Season 2. Netflix viewers now turn their attention to Bridgerton Season 3 which is being released in May 2024. The lavish period drama set in the Regency period has had many hooked, avidly watching to find out more about the cast of Bridgerton, but what was happening in reality at Alnwick Castle at the same time, from 1813 onwards?

Let’s turn our attention from the Bridgerton cast to the illustrious family history here at Alnwick Castle.

An Introduction to The Percy Family

In 1813, the 2nd Duke of Northumberland and his Duchess Frances were resident at Alnwick Castle. Though they had been married since 1779, Frances was the Duke’s second wife, and may have known him for a while before their marriage - her sister Isabella had married the Duke’s brother Algernon in 1775.
Hugh Percy, the future 3rd Duke, was their fourth child, but first son. Described as “a chattering good humoured civil young man”, in 1817, at the age of 32, Hugh became the 3rd Duke of Northumberland; he had also married Charlotte Florentia Clive earlier that year. 

As a couple, Hugh and Charlotte were described by the author Walter Scott, who had dined with them at Alnwick Castle, as “formal and old-fashioned by such visitors as claim to be the pink of the mode [the very height of fashion]”. They might not have fit into the stylish world of Bridgerton!


Where Did The Percy Family Live?

The 3rd Duke and Duchess split their time between Alnwick Castle, which they visited every summer, and their houses in London. The annual trip to Northumberland was usually by coach or ship, but the Duke was sometimes known to travel in his yacht instead! 
At Syon House, one of their main London residences, Charlotte was a major influence in Hugh’s redecoration of rooms like the Long Gallery. Marble busts of the couple are still displayed at Syon, and because the house was used as a Bridgerton filming location, if you look closely you can see these sculptures of Hugh and Charlotte in the background of some scenes.

What Pursuits Did The Percy Family Enjoy?

Both the 3rd Duke and Duchess were keen botanists and plant collectors. As well as commissioning architect Charles Fowler to build Syon’s Great Conservatory, at Alnwick, Hugh grew pineapples in the garden hothouses, and introduced asparagus to the gardens there. Charlotte, meanwhile, created an Italian-style flower garden. It was open to visitors for one day each week, but only for “ladies and gentlemen” of Alnwick and the surrounding area. Anyone from further away would only be permitted entry if the gardener thought they had “the appearance of gentlefolk”!
A small number of letters by Charlotte survive which give an indication of her other interests. In 1821, she described a dairy she had set up near Alnwick Castle to produce butter and cream (“as this is not a Cheese Country”) and a school for up to 50 girls. She was also an artist – her views of Alnwick and Warkworth castles were published in 1824. 

The 3rd Duke, meanwhile, had a career as a Member of Parliament, using his first speech in 1806 as an opportunity to show his strong support for the abolition of the slave trade, and the gradual abolition of slavery itself, in Britain’s colonies. While the idea of abolishing slavery only gradually seems less than ideal to us, this may have been a case of Hugh adapting his earnest beliefs to the politics of the period – letters to the Newcastle magazine from this time explained “emancipation was a name which they dared not even hint at, until his Grace stepped forward and [showed] that it could be so progressively promoted as to be compatible with… the best interests of all concerned”.


Royal Celebrations

In 1825, Hugh was chosen by George IV to be ‘Ambassador Extraordinary’ at the upcoming coronation of King Charles X of France. After purchasing and refitting a carriage from the royal stables (which is still in the Coach House at Alnwick Castle today), Hugh and Charlotte left for Reims in France, where the new king would be anointed.

Novelist Victor Hugo records the events of the coronation in his diaries, and mentions the Duke of Northumberland’s reputation in France as being “fabulously wealthy… long before his arrival, [he] was popular and legendary in Reims”.
When the coronation was announced as taking place in Reims, described Hugo, “there was great rejoicing in the city. Notices of rooms to let were immediately hung out everywhere”. One large house facing the cathedral caught the eye of the Duke’s steward as the perfect place for Hugh and Charlotte to lodge for three days. The proprietor, who suspected the steward worked for the “fabulously wealthy” Duke of Northumberland, managed to hire the house out for 30,000 francs (a rate of 400 francs an hour) which was particularly impressive as, at the beginning of their conversation, he would have sold the property completely for a third of the price!
The house, and the Duke, played host to a spectacular evening ball during the coronation celebrations. It was so magnificent, Hugo reported, “every woman found a diamond in her bouquet”. We think that the Bridgerton siblings would have approved!

The Percy Family Legacy

In 1847, many years (and annual summer trips to Alnwick) later, Hugh Percy, 3rd Duke of Northumberland, died. Charlotte, who had gone on to be a governess to Princess Victoria, survived him by nearly 20 years, but the couple had no surviving children. The dukedom, and Alnwick Castle, passed to Hugh’s younger brother Algernon. As 4th Duke, Algernon restored Alnwick Castle, creating the State Rooms as visitors to the castle see them today, but portraits of the 3rd Duke and Duchess still hang in the Dining Room. We may not see them as characters on Netflix any time soon, but their influence can still be seen two centuries later.

To find out more about the fascinating history of The Percy Family and to discover the history of the Castle's State Rooms, as well as its impressive collection and archive, make sure to book your tickets online. Visiting Alnwick Castle is a must for anyone looking for things to do in Northumberland, especially history lovers. Any ticket bought online on the Alnwick Castle site will automatically become a twelve month pass, meaning you can pay for a day and visit free for a year.