Look inside Longleat - one of England's Great Stately Homes

  • 01 of 05

    Longleat House - An Example of High Elizabethan Style

    Longleat House - One of the Great Elizabethan Houses of England
    ••• Longleat House - One of the Great Elizabethan Houses of England. ©Longleat

    Elizabethan grandeur, Renaissance artistry and more

    Longleat House was opened to the public in 1949 by its then owner, the 6th Marquess of Bath. It was the first English stately home to be opened and run on a commercial basis and, as a result, has remained under the ownership of the family who built it.

    Longleat is considered one of the best examples of a High Elizabethan stately home in England today. The House is surrounded by 900 acres of landscaped parkland, designed in the 18th century by that garden fashion leader Capability Brown. Another 8,000 acres of woodland, lakes and farmland make up the estate.

    The Longleat Estate also includes:

    • The first drive-through Safari Park established outside of Africa
    • Several challenging mazes including the Longleat Hedge Maze, the Blue Peter Maze (for children) and King Arthur's Mirror Maze
    • A petting zoo
    • An Adventure Castle
    • Safari Boats
    • Formal Gardens
    • Several Exhibitions.
    Look inside Longleat House, then:

    Plan a Visit to Longleat

    Longleat House...MORE presents and impressive facade, surrounded by formal gardens and parkland.

    The Longleat Estate was originally a priory. It was purchased by John Thynne, builder of Longleat House, in 1541, for the princely sum of £53. Thynne, a clerk in Henry VIII's kitchens, was 25 years old.

    He achieved power and wealth in court politics and warfare and was knighted in 1547. When he died, in 1580, Longleat House was still unfinished but was complete enough to have hosted a visit from Queen Elizabeth I and her court in 1574.

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  • 02 of 05

    The Great Hall

    The Great Hall - An Original Elizabethan Room at Longleat House
    ••• Prehistoric elk antlers are a feature of Longleat's Elizabethan Great Hall. ©Longleat House

    The Great Hall is the last fully Elizabethan room at Longleat. At one time it was the heart of the house.

    The Hall is 11 meters/36 feet high with a ceiling supported by ten beams. The room features large paintings of hunting scenes by John Wooton, commissioned specifically for it. The paintings are said to tell the tragic story of a foundling, taken on as a stable boy and killed trying to separate two fighting stallions. They also commemorate various Thynne family patrons.

    A gallery at one end of the Great Hall indicates the lengths and expense the gentry had to go through to be honored by a royal visit. It was built in 1663 when Charles II and his entire court stayed overnight.

    While in the room, look for a painting of Longleat that shows how the house looked in 1675. The huge antlers on either side of the 16th century chimney-piece aren't family hunting trophies. In fact, they are from a prehistoric giant elk found on the family's Irish estate.

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  • 03 of 05

    The Lower Dining Room

    The Lower Dining Room at Longleat House
    ••• The portraits tell stories of intrigue, murder and ghosts The Lower Dining Room at Longleat House. © Longleat

    The Lower Dining Room is hung with family portraits, including some of Longleat's more colorful inhabitants

    The ceilings of this ornate room are modeled after the Ducal Palace in Venice. The table is set with hand-painted 18th century Sevres porcelain dinnerware.

    Look for portraits of Sir John Thynne, builder of Longleat and Thomas Thynne a victim of a jealous lover. Thomas Thynne was murdered in 1682 by assassins hired by one of his wife's rejected suitors, a European count.

    Another portrait in the room worth looking for is that of Louisa Carteret, wife of an early owner of Longleat. She is one of many ghosts said to haunt Longleat and, apparently, the most famous. Get a good look just in case you run across her in a quiet corner of Longleat House.

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  • 04 of 05

    The Grand Staircase - A Gothic Revival Addition

    Great Elizabethan Country Estate
    ••• The Grand Staircase at Longleat House replaced a simpler, 17th century staircase by Sir Christopher Wren. ©Longleat

    The Grand Staircase was an early 19th century addition in the Gothic Revival style. It was designed by Sir Jeffry Wyattville, a 19th century architect and garden designer most famous for additions to Windsor Castle and Chatsworth. Wyattville made other changes and additions to the Longleat by the grand staircase is the all that survived later refurbishments. Wyattville's design replaced an earlier staircase designed by Sir Christopher Wren, still located beyond the far end of the Great Hall.

    Portraits and sculptured busts around the Grand Staircase reference the Thynne family's complicated history. At the foot of the stairs look for the family tree, dating back to 1215.

    The wrought iron chandelier above the stairs also dates from the 19th century but was modified when electricity was installed in Longleat House. The cost of wiring the entire house, in 1920, was £8,094 15s.2d - in what the English refer to as "old money" or pre-decimalization currency. That same job would cost...MORE £306,244.14 in 2013.

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  • 05 of 05

    The Saloon

    The Saloon at Longleat House
    ••• The small Venetian chairs on the right were embroidered by a 20th century Marchioness of Bath and her daughters. ©Longleat

    This 90-foot-long room was added in 17th century and was known as the Long Gallery. The impressive, coffered ceiling, inspired by one in a Roman palazzo was added much later, in the 19th century. The name was changed to the Saloon to indicate that his was a place to hold receptions, exhibitions and large gatherings.

    Among the room's outstanding features are:

    • A huge, Carrara marble fireplace, copied from the Doge's Palace in Venice
    • 17th century Flemish tapestries
    • Flamboyant 17th and 18th century furnishings
    • 18th century Venetian chairs upholstered with needlworked backs embroidered by the 5th Marchioness of Bath and her daughters in 1926.