Vita Sackville-West and Knole

Oil painting on canvas, Victoria (Vita) Mary Sackville-West, Lady Nicolson (1892-1962) by Philip Alexius de László de Lombos

Victoria Mary Sackville-West, known as Vita, was born at Knole in 1892. She grew up at Knole, an only child of Victoria and Lionel. She loved Knole but was unable to inherit when her father, the third Lord Sackville died, because it was entailed to the male line.

Vita's uncle Charles inherited the title and Knole. It was during his term that the house was handed to us with an endowment. The Sackville family retained a 200-year lease on private apartments at Knole and still live here today.
 

Vita's literary legacy

Vita was a poet, gardener, novelist, biographer and journalist. Her love for Knole led her to write a history of the house and her family, in a book, 'Knole and the Sackvilles'. And in one of her best-known novels, 'The Edwardians', she based the grand house Chevron, on Knole.
 
In 1927, her long narrative poem, 'The Land', won the Hawthornden Prize, the oldest British literary prize. She won it again, becoming the only writer to do so, in 1933, with her Collected Poems.
 
In 1947 Vita was made a Companion of Honour for her services to literature. Her weekly column in The Observer called 'In your Garden', became a garden writing classic. She was also a founder member of our garden committee.
 

An eventful life

Vita was married in 1913 at the chapel in Knole. Her husband, Harold Nicholson, was a diplomat, politician, critic and biographer. After a brief overseas posting, they returned to England and went on to buy Sissinghurst Castle in a practically derelict state. Together, they re-built the house and designed the now world-famous garden, visited by keen gardeners from all over the world. 
 
Vita and Harold remained good friends throughout a relatively unorthodox marriage. Both had affairs with members of the same sex. Vita's close friendship with Virginia Woolf is celebrated in Woolf's novel, Orlando, which is set at Knole.
 
The original manuscript for 'Orlando' was inscribed, 'Vita from Virginia' and presented by Woolf to Vita. It is displayed in the Great Hall today. Vita's son, Nigel Nicolson, has described it as 'the longest and most charming love-letter in literature'.
 

Pause a while...

As you leave the Great Hall, do pause at the foot of the Great Staircase. There's a large carved oak door stop in the form of Shakespeare, which came from Vita's bedroom at Knole. Her mother had a passion for fresh air, and insisted that all the doors be kept open.
 
Vita loved the harmony of Knole with its setting, describing it as 'not an incongruity like Blenheim or Chatsworth, foreign to the spirit of England...the great Palladian houses of the 18th century are in England, they are not of England'.