The Petworth family tree

Painting of George O'Brien Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont

There are three families associated with Petworth – the Percys (Earls of Northumberland), the Seymours (Dukes of Somerset) and the Wyndhams (Earls of Egremont / Lords Leconfield). Download the family tree and learn more, through the generations to present day.

The Percy family

The Percy family were for many years one of the most powerful families in England. They were devout Catholics living mainly in the north, where they commanded the loyalty of many like-minded Catholics. This became particularly significant during the Protestant Reformation under Edward VI and Elizabeth I, when the 7th Earl of Northumberland firmly allied himself with the Catholics.

Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland

Treason

In 1572, Thomas Percy, the 7th Earl of Northumberland was executed for conspiring against Elizabeth I in favour of the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots. His brother, Henry Percy, fought on the side of the Queen and she thereby granted him the title of 8th Earl.

Henry Percy, 8th Earl of Northumberland

However over the years he too was suspected of conspiring with Mary, Queen of Scots. He was put under house arrest at Petworth – far away from his Catholic supporters in the north, and close enough to London to be observed. Thus began the family’s regular association with Petworth. After several trips to the Tower of London, during his third visit in 1584, the 8th Earl was found dead in his cell, shot through the heart. Suicide would have meant all the Percy lands and titles passing to the Crown but there was enough evidence to support that the 8th Earl had been murdered and the Percy titles could therefore pass to his son.

Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland by Anthony Van Dyck

Gunpowder Plot

Henry Percy, the 9th Earl of Northumberland was known as the ‘Wizard Earl’ because of his interest in the science and alchemy. It was the 9th Earl who set about expanding the manor house of Petworth and also began a great collection of books. Northumberland was erroneously implicated in the Gunpowder Plot of 1604 and spent the next 17 years in the Tower of London. The Molyneux Globe on display in the North Gallery at Petworth was rumoured to have been given to the Wizard Earl by Sir Walter Raleigh when they met in the Tower of London.

Algernon Percy by Van Dyck

English Civil War

A high-profile Parliamentarian, Algernon Percy, the 10th Earl maintained favour with both parties during the English Civil War. Though he supported parliament he was against the execution of Charles I and chose to retire to Petworth. A prolific collector of European pictures, during Cromwell's regime the 10th Earl bought several works by Sir Anthony van Dyck from Royalists who were fined for supporting the Crown.

Sister of the 10th Earl of Northumberland, Lucy Percy, Countess of Carlisle, mischievously served both Royalists and Parliamentarians during the English Civil War. She famously pawned her pearl necklace to raise money for the royalist cause but was imprisoned in the Tower of London as a result.

The Seymours

The family line passed neatly to the 11th Earl of Northumberland, but after the 11th Earl died in 1670, there was no male heir. Instead, the wealth and estates were inherited by the 11th Earl’s only daughter Elizabeth Percy, who could not inherit the title because she was female.

The Proud Duke, Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset (1662-1748) by John Closterman, 1692 at Petworth House

Elizabeth Percy married the 6th Duke of Somerset in 1682. As was the custom, Somerset automatically inherited all of Elizabeth’s wealth and estates upon marriage, and he used her money to fund the grand rebuilding of Petworth in the Baroque style between 1688 and 1702, employing the finest craftsmen of the time including Grinling Gibbons and Louis Laguerre.

The Wyndhams

The most complicated inheritance split came after the death in 1750 of Algernon, 7th Duke of Somerset, who also had no male heir. In preparation for this, two further titles were given to Algernon in 1749, with remainders to different families:

1. The title 1st Earl of Northumberland was created – a new creation of the old Percy title with remainder to Hugh Smithson, husband of Algernon’s daughter Elizabeth. Hugh Smithson, as part of the deal, changed his surname to Percy. Half of the Percy estates were inherited by this branch of the family, primarily in the north of England. Hugh Percy was later elevated to Duke of Northumberland, and the present line of the Dukes of Northumberland continues to reside at Alnwick Castle in Northumberland.

2. The title 1st Earl of Egremont was created with a remainder to the descendants of Algernon’s brother-in-law Sir William Wyndham, who married Lady Katherine Seymour, Algernon’s sister. This settlement included Petworth and many estates in Sussex, Cumbria and Yorkshire. By the time of Algernon’s death in 1750, Sir William and Lady Katherine were dead, so the title was inherited by their son Charles Wyndham, who became the 2nd Earl of Egremont.

Painting of Charles Wyndham, 2nd Earl of Egremont by William Hoare

The 2nd Earl of Egremont

The 2nd Earl, Charles Wyndham, employed ‘Capability’ Brown to replace the Baroque geometric landscape of the 6th Duke of Somerset. He was an avid collector of antique Roman and Greek sculpture, fine examples of which can be seen around the house

Painting of George O'Brien Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont

The 3rd Earl of Egremont and his descendants

The title Earl of Egremont neatly passed from the 2nd Earl of Egremont to his son the 3rd Earl, George O'Brien Wyndham, in 1763. A great patron of the arts, the 3rd Earl built the North Gallery to showcase the best of nineteenth-century British art. He ushered in what became known as Petworth’s ‘Golden Age’ and many of his commissions still hang in the house, most notably 20 works by JMW Turner.

Despite fathering a large progeny of illegitimate children, the 3rd Earl did not produce a legitimate male heir. When he died in 1837, his eldest illegitimate son George Wyndham was able to inherit the majority of the estates, but because of his illegitimacy, could not inherit the title. 

For the next 20 years, George was known simply as Colonel George Wyndham. In 1859, Queen Victoria bestowed a brand new title of Baron Leconfield on Colonel George, so the family continued to be known as Lords Leconfield. 

In 1963, John Wyndham, the current Lord Egremont’s father, retired as Harold Macmillan’s private secretary. As Macmillan held John Wyndham in high esteem, he asked for the title Egremont to be restored to the family, so he effectively held two titles – Lord Leconfield from the 1859 creation, and Lord Egremont from the 1963 creation. 

The current Lord and Lady Egremont continue a tradition of unbroken occupancy at Petworth House today.