9 National Trust Houses With a Royal History
Keeping a castle or palace in good order can cost a fortune, so residents often choose to hand them over to the National Trust. Often restored to their former glory with authentic artifacts, you can visit these homes and see how royalty lived through the ages. Here's a look at nine of these historic homes.
Corfe Castle, Dorset
Pointing skywards, the ruins of Corfe Castle are a local landmark in Dorset, marking the remains of a castle steeped in royal history. The earliest construction began over one thousand years ago, and in AD 978 Queen Elfrida murdered her stepson King Edward on the steps of the castle to pave the way for her son Ethelred to become king. Over the years this castle hosted royal prisoners like Edward II, and King John (of Robin Hood fame), kept his crown jewels here. During the English Civil War, Lady Bankes defended the castle against sieges in 1643 and 1645.
Although now a ruin, there’s still plenty to see and do at Corfe Castle, including a visitors center, wildlife walks, trails for kids and events like storytelling.
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Blickling Hall, Norfolk
An estate at Blickling is mentioned in the Domesday Book (AD 1086), although the current building dates from 1616. The older Tudor house was built by Sir Geoffrey Boleyn, grandfather to Queen Anne Boleyn who was born there. It was then passed down through the Hobart and Kerr families, surviving two fires in the nineteenth century.
Although the Tudor house was rebuilt, you can still see the Tudor moat at Blickling Hall, and you can explore the 4,600 acres of woodland, gardens and farmland. If you’d rather stay indoors, Blickling Hall hosts the National Trust’s largest book collection, with over 12,500 eighteenth-century volumes housed in the Long Gallery.
King Henry VIII had a reputation for making homeowners an offer they couldn’t refuse, and he ‘acquired’ Knole from Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury. Henry established a huge deer park for his favorite pursuit of hunting, and the deer park is still there today, however the deer are no longer hunted. They’re tame enough to approach visitors in the hope of a tidbit. Elizabeth I also spent time here, and in time it passed to the Sackville family, becoming home to novelist Vita Sackville-West.
The house at Knole has many artifacts to enjoy, including pieces of furniture from seventeenth-century royal palaces and belongings of the Sackville-West family and Virginia Woolf. And don’t forget to take a climb up to the top of the Gatehouse Tower – it’s worth climbing the steep spiral staircase for the panoramic views.
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Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire
In 1132, thirteen monks from nearby York became disillusioned with the rowdy lifestyle of the local monks, so they began to build their own abbey. Throughout the years, they endured attacks from the marauding Scots in the fourteenth century, the plague outbreak known as the Black Death, and eventual destruction in 1539 as part of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries.
Now, Fountains Abbey is known for being the largest monastic ruins in the UK, and as well as being stunningly beautiful in their own right, the abbey grounds now house the Studley Royal Water Garden – both are considered a World Heritage Site. You can spend hours wandering the beautiful woodland paths and peaceful lakeside trails.
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Mosely Old Hall, Staffordshire
As its name suggests, Moseley Old Hall is an Elizabethan timber-framed house with three stories. Built in 1600, it served as a hiding place for King Charles II, who was fleeing after defeat by the Parliamentarian troops during the Battle of Worcester. The house has several secret hiding places, built to hide Catholic priests during the religious chaos of the time. King Charles is rumored to have spent the night in one to evade capture.
The house and garden are largely unchanged from Tudor times, so you can explore the historic house and walk in the classic Elizabethan knot garden. You can also see the fourposter bed King Charles slept in.
Herbs were often grown in a knot garden. If your space is limited, see how to make a hanging herb garden to save room.
Penrhyn Castle, Wales
At first glance, Penrhyn Castle looks like any other historic castle, but in fact, it was only built in the nineteenth century. Constructed originally for George Hay Dawkins Pennant from 1820 to1833, the castle was designed in the neo-Norman style by architect Thomas Hopper, who also designed buildings for the Prince of Wales. Throughout the century, the family enthusiastically bought artwork by Dutch, Venetian and Spanish painters, creating an outstanding collection.
Now, the house also boasts some beautifully restored rooms, including a Library, State bedrooms, and an Ebony Room. Outside, you’ll find gardens (including a Bog garden), walking trails through the woods, and a Railway Museum.
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Cliveden prides itself on having welcomed a host of glitterati over the last 300 years. Built originally by the Duke of Buckingham (a close friend of Charles II) in 1666, Cliveden was chosen for its superb views over the nearby River Thames and the local countryside. Over the years, the house was built, parterre gardens established, and the gardens landscaped. The house has been rebuilt several times, having twice been destroyed by fire. Frederick, Prince of Wales, lived here from 1737 to 1751, and more recently Queen Victoria was a visitor. In 1893, William Waldorf Astor bought Cliveden. It became a hub for society visitors including Charlie Chaplin, Mahatma Gandhi and Winston Churchill.
Today, Cliveden has a stunning variety of gardens, including the six-acre Parterre Garden, a fruit garden and water gardens. The house is filled with artifacts from the various residents over the years, and there are miles of woodland paths to explore.
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The first house at Polesden Lacey was built in 1336, but its main claim to fame is as the Edwardian home of society hostess Maggie Greville. From 1906 until her death in 1942, Maggie presided over an endless stream of house parties, garden parties and social gatherings, with visitors including King Edward VII, Winston Churchill and Queen Ena of Spain. She was close friends with The Duke and Duchess of York (later to become King George VI and the Queen Mother), who spent their honeymoon at Polesden Lacey.
Polesden Lacey is one of the National Trust’s most popular properties, with a beautiful historic house, a 1,400 acre estate with gardens, woodland and fields, plus a lively program of events that include jazz on the lawn and a teddy bear’s picnic.
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Chartwell is best known as the beloved home of wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill. He lived here with his wife Clemmie for many years, and the house received a steady stream of visitors during their occupation, including eight prime ministers. The Queen Mother and Princess Margaret (the Queen’s sister) came, as well as the Prince and Princess of Prussia, and even Alice Keppel, the mistress of Edward VII.
Chartwell is a relatively small property, and the NT has restored it to look as it would have looked in the 1930s, with many original features and artifacts from that era. There are spacious grounds to explore, as well as a kitchen garden, fruit orchards and an ornamental lake with black swans. Winston was famous for his painting, a hobby that he indulged whenever he could, and his studio at Chartwell has been turned into a gallery of his work. If you need your own studio space to get creative, here’s how to convert a garden shed into a private hideaway.
As well as owning several dogs (you can see the graves of these well-loved family pets in the garden), the Churchills always had a ‘marmalade cat’ with a white bib and paws as a pet. Every cat was named Jock, and when the National Trust took over responsibility for Chartwell in 1946, the Churchills requested that this tradition be continued. So from that day to this, there has always been a marmalade cat named Jock, with a white bib and paws, in residence at Chartwell.
Sutton Hoo, Suffolk
In 1939, archaeologists exploring the burial mounds in Sutton Hoo uncovered the remains of an ancient undiscovered ship. Thought to be over 1,400 years old, this ship had been used as a burial ship, and further investigations revealed a host of priceless treasures including a magnificent helmet. The quality of the goods discovered experts to believe that Sutton Hoo was home to a Saxon King, possibly King Raedwald of East Anglia (he reigned c599 – c624).
If you visit Sutton Hoo today, you can see many original artifacts and a replica of the helmet (the original is in the British Museum in London), and walk among the ancient burial mounds.
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