A snapshot history of Petworth

View of Petworth, West Sussex, seen over the lake, part of the Capability Brown landscaped parkland.

Download the family tree, discover how the mansion came to be at Petworth and find out what happened to the formal gardens of Petworth and the work of Capability Brown in transforming the garden into the parkland you see today.

When was Petworth built?  

The Chapel survives from the medieval great house that was fortified in 1308-9.  After 1682, when Elizabeth Percy, daughter and only heir of the 11th Earl of Northumberland, married Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset, Petworth was completely rebuilt as a palatial baroque mansion. The Chapel, Marble Hall and Grand Staircase were decorated in this period.    

The West Front of the Petworth mansion from the Pleasure Ground

Manor house to mansion: A history of Petworth

Discover more about the transformation of the manor house from Tudor origin to present day palatial mansion.

Who lived here? 

Henry I’s widow gave Petworth to her brother Joscelin. He married Agnes de Percy and adopted her surname. Their descendants became Earls of Northumberland and the most powerful family in the north of England.   The Percy family also had castles at Cockermouth and Alnwick, and were given Syon House by Henry VIII. Elizabeth I exiled the 8th Earl of Northumberland to his Sussex estates to prevent an alliance with Mary Queen of Scots while in the north, so Petworth became the main Percy stronghold.   Petworth has passed by descent to Lord and Lady Egremont who now live privately with their family in the southern end of the mansion.   

Download the family tree here (PDF / 1.1MB) download

Where did the money come from?  

Historically the family owned huge estates in Northumbria, Cumbria, Yorkshire and Sussex that brought in large rents, and they managed their incomes wisely and married well. The 6th (Proud) Duke of Somerset was one of the wealthiest men in England.  

How many servants were there?

In 1819 over 50 ‘indoor’ servants lived here and by 1834 there were 135. The servant’s bedrooms were above the kitchens and domestic service rooms, and these are used as National Trust offices today.

How many famous artists are there in the collection?

There are over 300 paintings at Petworth that include 20 by Turner, 17 by Van Dyck, 16 by Lely, 16 by Reynolds, 3 by Blake, 3 by Gainsborough, 6 by Teniers and 8 rare Elsheimers.

The top painting above the fireplace is of The 3rd Earl of Egremont by Thomas Phillips, RA (1770-1845) hung in the central corridor in The North Gallery at Petworth House, West Sussex

The four great collectors at Petworth

Learn more about the great collectors at Petworth who amassed the finest art collection in the care of the National Trust.

We are fundraising for new LED picture lights for key paintings so that everyone can enjoy the artworks more. Each bespoke picture light costs £1,000 and if you would like to help with this important project please email petworth@nationaltrust.org.uk for more information.  

How much land is there?

Petworth Park is owned and managed by the National Trust, and the wall around the 700 acre deer park is 14 miles long. The grounds are managed sustainably for wildlife and are protected under a Higher Level Stewardship agreement with Natural England.   Petworth Park and Pleasure Grounds were transformed by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown throughout the 1750s. The 'Proud' Duke's formal gardens were replaced with the graceful curves and wide sweeping vistas of a perfect ‘natural’ looking landscape that you see today.   The Park and Pleasure Grounds were one of Capability Brown’s earliest large-scale commissions and considered by many to be his masterpiece, taking 12 years and no less than five contracts to complete.

Aeriel view of Petworth

Capability Brown and the transformation of the park

The majestic 700-acre park at Petworth is one of the finest surviving and unspoilt examples of an English landscape designed by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. Find out more about the transformation from formal garden to 'natural' parkland.