History of Montacute House
Built from the locally quarried Ham Hill stone, Montacute House was intended to make a powerful impression. Discover the history behind this Elizabethan mansion, with its impressive architectural decoration, its adaptation to changing lifestyles over time and the original owner’s role in the prosecution of Guy Fawkes.
Montacute, the Elizabethan mansion
Set in the beautiful village of Montacute, this magnificent home is a masterpiece of Elizabethan Renaissance architecture and design. With its towering walls of glass, the glow of Ham stone and surrounding garden and parkland, it was always intended to be a symbol of power and wealth.
Today, the house, its garden and park retain an extraordinary power over the landscape.
Who was Sir Edward Phelips?
The owner at the time, Sir Edward Phelips, made his fortune as a lawyer. He then enjoyed a successful political career entering Parliament in 1584 and becoming speaker of the House of Commons from 1604 to 1611 before promotion to Master of the Rolls.
Edward played a key role in one of the trials of the century, making the opening statement for the prosecution against the notorious Guy Fawkes and his fellow gunpowder plotters.
Building Montacute House
Built from locally quarried Ham stone and completed in 1601, the house was designed to be magnificent by the local builder and architect William Arnold. The architecture is rooted in Gothic, polished with Flemish and Renaissance influences.
A symbol of power and wealth
The house was a symbol of Sir Edward’s power and wealth. It was built on a grand scale with turrets, obelisks, shell niches, pavilions and walls of glass.
On the east front stand the Nine Worthies, statues of biblical, classical and medieval figures, which include Julius Caesar and King Arthur.
Montacute's Georgian makeover
In 1787 a later Edward Phelips gave the house a face lift. Remarkably he took an ornamental façade from another local 16th-century house, Clifton Maybank, and added it to the west front.
These changes meant the layout of the house could be altered. It meant that rooms could be accessed via a corridor instead of through their interconnecting doors.
This provided privacy to family members and visitors staying at the house. It involved blocking the west windows, so the house lost its transparent quality
A transformed interior
Later generations struggled to maintain and manage such a great house and by 1895 it was being leased to tenants and eventually offered ‘for scrap’ in 1931.
Montacute House and the National Trust
Montacute House was given to the National Trust as one of its first great houses and the empty rooms were once again filled with furniture and fine tapestries, generously given after a public appeal.
Montacute House today
From the grandeur of its Great Hall and stone staircase to the cosier family rooms and bedrooms, inside the house is both dignified and comfortable.
Explore the ground floor of the house at Montacute in Somerset, home of the rare Tournai Tapestry.
Walk the estate at Montacute House and discover nature, views and landmarks to enjoy throughout the season. Bring along your dog and enjoy wide-open spaces.
From its golden exterior to the longest Long Gallery in Britain, Montacute House is a beacon of Elizabethan flamboyance and there’s so much for groups to see.
Read our report on colonialism and historic slavery in the places and collections we care for and discover how we’re changing the way we approach these issues.
The National Trust works hard to ensure that Montacute House and its garden are maintained for the enjoyment of visitors. Find out about some of the jobs we’ve undertaken.
Learn about people from the past, discover remarkable works of art and brush up on your knowledge of architecture and gardens.