A brief history of Knole

The outside of Knole, Kent

Knole feels almost weighed down by its own history – six centuries of it. People are often impressed by all the absolutes of Knole: its enormous size, the number of rooms, its completeness. But those who live, work and visit here love its quiet dignity, its almost melancholy feel – the grandeur has passed but its old, glinting beauty remains.

Video

Knole - Five centuries of showing off

Let historian Jonathan Foyle take you on a guided tour of Knole and share some of its fascinating stories.

 

Knole and the Sackvilles

What we see today is a remarkably preserved and complete early Jacobean remodelling of a medieval archiepiscopal palace. From an even older manor house, it was built and extended by the Archbishops of Canterbury after 1456. It then became a royal possession during the Tudor dynasty when Henry VIII hunted here and Elizabeth I visited.

From 1603, Thomas Sackville made it the aristocratic treasure house for the Sackville family, who were prominent and influential in court circles. Knole's showrooms were designed to impress visitors and to display the Sackville family’s wealth and status.

Over more than 400 years, his descendants rebuilt and then furnished Knole in two further bursts of activity. First, at the end of the 17th century, when the 6th Earl acquired Stuart furniture and textiles from royal palaces, and again at the end of the 18th century, with the 3rd Duke's art collection.

The Sackvilles gradually withdrew into the heart of the house, leaving many rooms unused and treasures covered. This helps to explain the relative lack of modernisation at Knole (central heating was never installed in the showrooms, for example) and the survival of its collections.

Be part of a 400 year visitor history

Visitors have flocked to Knole's showrooms for centuries
Visitors have flocked to Knole's showrooms for centuries

Knole has been welcoming visitors to see its splendours and curiosities for centuries. We know that visitors have followed the same route as you do today for at least the last 400 years.

There's a popular myth that Knole is a calendar house - with 365 rooms, 52 staircases, 12 entrances and 7 courtyards. While fascinating, the reality is that it all depends on how you count the rooms and Knole is such a large, rambling estate that it would be impossible to say for certain.

When the National Trust acquired the house in 1946, the majority of the rooms were leased back to the Sackville family, with the Trust retaining the more formal spaces. The 7th Baron Sackville and his family still live at Knole today in private apartments.

Now, visitors can experience so many different parts of Knole, from the grand showrooms to the cosy Gatehouse Tower, the tranquil Orangery to the sweeping parkland. Discover the vast estate and all it has to offer, home to a world-class collection of portraits and furniture, a state-of-the-art conservation studio and a wild deer herd. There really is something for everyone at Knole.