History of Ashdown House

Shot of Ashdown taken on an angle with a cloudy sky

Built on love, Ashdown House has a history of romance, war and royalty. Discover Ashdown’s rich and interesting past on a visit with us – our guided staircase tour will give you the lowdown.

The Winter Queen

Elizabeth, the daughter of James I of England and VI of Scotland, married Frederick, the Elector Palatine and they reigned as King and Queen of Bohemia for just one year, 1619-1620. Frederick was defeated at the battle of White Mountain and Elizabeth was forever known as the Winter Queen. They went to live in exile in The Hague.

A love story begins

William Craven was one of the richest men in England. He inherited his money from his father, and he also owned lots of land. This included the Ashdown Estate, where he came to indulge his love of hunting. He built Ashdown House in 1662.
William gave King Charles lots of money to help him win the English Civil War. But he didn't fight in England, he stayed in Europe. A grateful King made William an Earl. William, Lord Craven, first met Elizabeth when he was a young soldier and also in The Hague. He fell in love and was devoted in his service to her. After Frederick's death, Craven provided financial support to Elizabeth as she had lost all her lands in a battle.

A loyal friendship

Craven stayed loyal to Elizabeth and when they returned to England she lived in his house in Drury Lane. He acted as the informal head of her household, escorted her to the theatre, and spent so much time in her company that he was rumoured to have secretly become her husband, although there is no actual evidence to support this.

A safe haven

Lord Craven was concerned about the plague in London and wanted to build Elizabeth a mini palace in the country away from germs. Knowing her love of hunting, he chose Ashdown. Unfortunately, Elizabeth died before the house was completed. She bequeathed Craven her papers, hunting trophies and portraits, including many which now hang in Ashdown House.


Lord Craven never married and lived to be 89. The last member of the family left Ashdown 1926 and the house was given to the National Trust in 1956.