Ham - a gift from the King

This portrait of King Charles I hangs in the long gallery

This portrait of King Charles I hangs in the long gallery

Originally built in 1610, Ham House is the creation of an enterprising courtier, William Murray, and his tenacious daughter Elizabeth. As a boy, William was educated with the young Charles I, taking the role of his whipping boy.

Remaining friends as adults, they shared a taste for the latest fashions in architecture, art and interior decoration. William was given the lease of Ham House and its estate as a gift from the King in 1626.

It's always been popular with visitors

'After dinner I walked to Ham, which is inferior to few of the best villas in Italy itselfe.

The house is furnishd like a great Prince's.'

John Evelyn, diarist, 27 August 1678

A man with stylish taste

Northdrawing Room at Ham House

From 1637-9 William embarked on a series of lavish decorative alterations to the house.

These changes cemented his status as a man with style, a close friend to the king and an important member of his court.

Civil war

Sadly not enjoyed by William for long... © John Hammond

Sadly not enjoyed by William for long...

Unfortunately William's enjoyment of Ham was to be short lived, as Civil War broke out in 1642.

His loyalty was to the king and he spent the rest of his life away from home raising support and funds for the Royalist cause.

Saved by a cunning family

A place for opulent entertaining © Andreas von Einsiedel

A place for opulent entertaining

By her cunning, William's eldest daughter Elizabeth was able to steer Ham through Cromwell's rule by establishing good relations with the Protector. All the while she sent secret Royalist messages to the prince in exile on the continent.

When Charles II was restored to power in 1660, Ham once again became a place for entertaining and extravagance. This time it was under the ownership of Elizabeth.

A powerful partnership

 The Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale by Peter Lely (1618-80)

The Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale by Peter Lely (1618-80)

In 1672, aged 46, Elizabeth married for the second time, this time to the affluent Duke of Lauderdale. He was a key member of King Charles' inner cabinet. Sharing a love of power and decadence, together they made a dynamic Restoration court couple. They transformed Ham House into one of the grandest Stuart houses in England.

Exotic taste

Six-fold Oriental screen from the Duke's Dressing Room

They were both widely travelled, employing craftsmen from across the continent and amassing exotic furniture from all over the world.

Japanese lacquer cabinet c1630 from the Green Closet © John Hammond

Japanese lacquer cabinet c1630 from the Green Closet

A sleeping beauty

Changing little after Elizabeth's death, Ham House was home to her descendants from her first marriage within the Tollemache family for nearly 300 years.

With only a few decorative alterations made during the 1740s and 1890s, Ham House passed to us in 1948. It's a rare survival of 17th-century luxury and taste.