Tudor manor house to English 'Versailles': A history of Petworth House
The twists and turns in Petworth’s 900 year history have made their mark on Petworth House. Petworth has many hidden secrets and wonderful treasures to share with visitors.
Petworth has been a family home for over 900 years. The land was a royal gift from the widow of Henry I to her brother Jocelin de Louvain, who soon after married into the renowned Percy family who also owned castles at Cockermouth and Alnwick, and were given Syon House by Henry VIII.
Evidence of its humble beginnings can still be seen today, the Chapel survives from the medieval great house that was fortified in 1308-9.
As the Percy stronghold was in the north, Petworth was originally only intended for occasional use but in the late 1500s Petworth became a permanent home to the Percys after Elizabeth I grew suspicious of their allegiance to Mary, Queen of Scots and confined the family to the south.
The Percy's' ‘house arrest’ started the expansion of the medieval building. But it was to be another 100 years before Petworth was completely transformed.
In 1682 heiress Elizabeth Percy, who at just 16 was already twice widowed, married Charles Seymour the 6th Duke of Somerset. Together they formed possibly one of the wealthiest couples in England.
Inspired by the rebuilding of Versailles from 1661, in the new Baroque style, Charles soon set about creating a home fit for him and his wife by rebuilding Petworth to rival these new European palaces. This, and his often arrogant character, earned him the name the ‘Proud’ Duke.
Petworth Deer Park
Just 50 years after Charles Seymour had installed elaborate formal gardens, Charles Wyndham, nephew to the 7th Duke of Somerset, commissioned ‘Capability’ Brown to landscape the parkland into the style you see today.
'Capability' stripped away the formal gardens and entrance to Petworth House though the Marble Hall. Since 1741 guests and tourists to Petworth House have entered from the other side of the building, through the courtyard just as visitors do today.
A descendant of Charles Seymour, George O'Brien Wyndham, the 3rd Earl of Egremont, inherited Petworth in 1763 and began what’s now known as the 'Golden Age' of Petworth. As a collector of British art, the 3rd Earl was patron to many contemporary artists, including JMW Turner who was a frequent guest. John Constable, also a guest of the 3rd Earl, called Petworth the 'house of art'.
A gift to the nation
In 1947 the 3rd Lord Leconfield gave Petworth to the National Trust in the face of heavy death duties. His nephew John Wyndham, created 1st Lord Egremont, negotiated the gift of part of Petworth’s art collection to us. The current Lord and Lady Egremont continue to live in part of the house today.