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 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.
The 7th Earl of Northumberland
In 1572 the 7th Earl was executed for conspiring against Elizabeth I in favour of the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots. His brother, the 8th Earl, was suspected enough to be placed 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.
The 9th Earl of Northumberland
Known as the ‘Wizard Earl’ because of his interest in the sciences, Northumberland was erroneously implicated in the Gunpowder Plot and spent the next 17 years in the Tower of London. His last years were spent in relative seclusion at Petworth.
Lucy Percy, Countess of Carlisle
Daughter of the‘Wizard’ 9th Earl of Northumberland, Lucy 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 10th Earl of Northumberland
A high-profile Parliamentarian, the 10th Earl maintained favour with both parties during the English Civil War. A prolific collector of European pictures, he was one of Sir Anthony Van Dyck’s most important patrons.
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.
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 between 1688 and 1702, employing the finest craftsmen of the time including Grinling Gibbons and Louis Laguerre.
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.
The 2nd Earl of Egremont
The 2nd Earl 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
The 3rd Earl of Egremont and descendants
The title Earl of Egremont neatly passed from the 2nd Earl of Egremont to his son the 3rd Earl in 1763. A great patron of the arts, the 3rd Earl built the North Gallery to showcase the best of nineteenth-century Britishart. He ushered in what became known asPetworth’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.