Manor house to mansion: A history of Petworth

The West Front of the Petworth mansion from the Pleasure Ground

The twists and turns in Petworth’s 900 year history have made their mark on the mansion and landscape. From house arrests and heiresses to glorious landscaping by 'Capability' Brown, Petworth has many hidden secrets and wonderful treasures to share with visitors.

Manor house to mansion

Petworth has been a family home for over 900 years. The estate 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. As the Percy stronghold was in the north, Petworth was originally only intended for occasional use.
It was in the late 1500s that 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.

Royal suspicions

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.

The heiress

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.

The mansion you see today

Charles soon set about creating a home fit for him and his wife by rebuilding Petworth in the grand Baroque style you see today. This, and his often arrogant character, earned him the name the ‘Proud’ Duke.

The park you see today

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.

Golden age

Charles’ son George, the 3rd Earl of Egremont, inherited in 1763 and what’s now known as the golden age began. As a collector of British art, the 3rd Earl was patron to many contemporary artists, including JMW Turner who was a frequent guest.

Petworth as house of art

John Constable, also a guest of the 3rd Earl, called Petworth the 'house of art'.
After the 3rd Earl’s death in 1837 his son inherited all but the title due to illegitimacy. Twenty two years later he was made Lord Leconfield.

A gift to the nation

In 1947 the 3rd Lord Leconfield (pictured) gave Petworth to us 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.