To the Manor Born: Bruce Bierman Visits Some of England’s Greatest Country Houses

In September, my husband, William Secord, and I spent a very Downton Abbey week in England touring some of the great country houses. Here are some highlights, beginning with Burghley House in Lincolnshire.

Burghley House

Burghley House, Lincolnshire

Generally considered the finest Elizabethan House in England, Burghley House was built in the 16th Century by William Cecil, the first Lord Burghley, Queen Elizabeth’s Lord High Treasurer. The main part of the house has 35 major rooms on the ground and first floors. There are more than 80 lesser rooms and numerous halls, corridors, bathrooms, and service areas. The lead roof extends to three quarters of an acre. The historic parkland was laid out by Capability Brown.

Burghley House, The George Rooms, bedroom

The bedroom in the suite known as the George Rooms at Burghley House.

Chatsworth House, North Derbyshire

Chatsworth House, North Derbyshire

Chatsworth is home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, and has been passed down through 16 generations of the Cavendish family. Begun in 1553, the house architecture and collection have been evolving for five centuries. The house has over 30 rooms to explore, from the magnificent Painted Hall, to the family-used chapel, regal State Rooms, newly restored Sketch Galleries and beautiful Sculpture Gallery. Chatsworth has one of Europe’s most significant art collections, which is being continually added to.

Painted Hall at Chatsworth House

The Painted Hall, Chatsworth House 

Castle Howard, North Yorkshire

Castle Howard, Yorkshire

We also visited Castle Howard, in Yorkshire, one of the grandest private residences in Britain, most of it built between 1699 and 1712 for the Third Earl of Carlisle to a design by Sir John Vanbrugh, who also designed the even grander Blenheim Palace. Castle Howard is familiar to television audiences as the fictional “Brideshead” in the 1981 adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited.

Middlethorpe Hall, Yorkshire

Middlethorpe Hall, Yorkshire

When visiting Castle Howard, we stayed at the nearby Middlethorpe Hall, a beautiful William and Mary country house. Built in 1699 of mellow red brick with limestone dressings, for Thomas Barlow, a master cutler from Sheffield, it has been run as a luxury hotel and spa since 1984. Hartwell House in Buckinghamshire, was another country house we stayed at, and our favorite.

Hartwell House, Buckinghamshire, aerial view

Hartwell House, Buckinghamshire, sits in an 18th century park designed by Richard Woods, a follower of Capability Brown. 

Hartwell House, Buckinghamshire

The core of the present Hartwell House was constructed in the early 17th century. It has been run as a hotel since 1989.

Hartwell House has a remarkable history, stretching back almost a thousand years to the reign of Edward the Confessor. It was the seat of Louis XVIII, the exiled King of France who held court there from 1809 to 1814. Louis was joined at Hartwell by his Queen, Marie-Josephine de Savoie, his niece the Duchesse D’Angoulême, daughter of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, his brother the Comte d’Artois, later Charles X, and Gustavus IV the exiled King of Sweden.  During the residence of the French Court the roof was converted into a miniature farm, where birds and rabbits were reared in cages, while vegetables and herbs were cultivated in densely planted tubs. Sounds like Brooklyn, circa 2012!

The Queen's Bedroom, Hartwell House, Buckinghamshire

The Queen’s Bedroom, Hartwell House, Buckinghamshire