Highclere Castle is one of the most popular tourist destinations in England. It has a history stretching back to Medieval times, is a treasure house full of important art and Egyptian antiquities and is surrounded by a beautiful park. However, it endeared itself to millions as Downton Abby in the television series.
The Highclere estate began to come together in 749AD when King Cuthred of Wessex granted an estate here to the Bishops of Winchester. The most famous of the bishops who lived in the estate's medieval palace was William of Wykeham who not only was heavily involved in politics but who was one of the richest people in England during the 14th century. He rebuilt the palace befitting the grandeur of his position.
Following King Henry VIII's break with the Catholic Church, much of the property in England belonging to the church was forfeited to the Crown. However, Highclere was not confiscated until the reign of Henry's son, King Edward VI in 1551 . The King granted the land to William Fitzwilliam but he sold it to Sir Robert Kingsmill. His daughter married Sir Thomas Charlecote.
Sir Thomas built a new Elizabethean-style house at Highclere in 1616. Parts of that house have been incorporated into the house we see today.
In 1679, the estate was purchased by the politician Sir Robert Sawyer whose daughter Margaret later married the 8th Earl of Pembroke, Thomas Herbert. When Sir Robert died, Margaret inherited Highclere. As a result, Highclere came into the Herbert family, a branch of which continue to live at Highclere. (Another branch lives at Wilton House).
Margaret bequeathed the estate to her second son Robert in 1706. He took a great interest in the grounds surrounding the house and laid out a vast formal garden and several follies.
The formal gardens did not last very long. Robert's nephew, Henry Herbert, 1st Earl of Carnarvan, brought in Capability Brown in 1769 to advise him on transforming the grounds. As a result, Highclere is surrounded by a vast part with rolling hills, valleys and water features. It may look like a natural setting but it is the product of a design that required not only the movement of tons of earth but also an entire village.
Henry also turned his attention to the old Jacobean house and commissioned William Burt remodeled into a classical mansion encasing it in Bath stone.
The classical mansion was remodeled by the 2d Earl of Carnarvan. However, the 3d Earl decided to remodel it again in the Renassiance Revival style, which was becoming fashionable in England. Sir Charles Barry, whose other work includes the Houses of Parliament, began work on Highclere in 1838, adding among other things, the Great Tower. Work remodeling the interior continued on through most of the remaineder 19th century.
The 4th Earl oversaw the completion of the remodeling. As Sir Charles had died, he selected Thomas Allon to act as architect. Meanwhile, the 4th Earl who was very involved in Victorian politics, did much of the work leading to the formation of the nation of Canada at Highclere.
The 5th Earl of Carnarvan founded the Highclere Stud in 1902. The family continues to be active in horse racing and breeding.
After a series of motorcar accidents, the 5th Earl was advised to take up residence in a warmer climate. He selected Egypt, where he pursued his interest in Egyptology; financing and participating in several archaeological digs. Working with Howard Carter, one of Lord Carnarvan's digs discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamun in 1922. There is an exhibition of Egyptian artifacts at Highclere.
During World War I, Highclere served as a hospital for officers wounded in battle. During the Second World War, Highclere housed children evacuated from London. In addition, Highclere was used as a landmark by aircraft crews and a number of planes damaged in battle crashed on the estate. There is a memorial in the park, which includes fragments from the planes.
Over the centuries, the family has collected art, primarily portraits but also still-lifes and landscapes. The collection includes works by Van Dyck, Beechey, Knellr, Gainsborough and Reynolds.
In recent years, Highclere has appeared in numerous television programs. In addition to Downton Abby, it has appeared in television and and movies such as Jeeves and Wooster and Eyes Wide Shut.
For more information on visiting, see the Highclere website.
Above: A portion of the original Elizabethan house.
The 1,000 acres upon which Highclere stands also includes park land designed by Capability Brown (above) as well as formal gardens (below)
Above: A memorial to fliers whose planes crashed on the estate during World War II.
Highclere has several follies, which act as focal points for the views from the house including Jackdaws Castle (above) and Heaven's Gate (below).
Cruise destination - England - Hampshire - Highclere Castle