DiCamillo Companion
DiCamillo Griffin Logo

Longleat House

  • Earlier Houses: There was a 13th century Augustinian priory on the site of the current house.

    Built / Designed For: Sir John Thynne

    House & Family History: Sir John Thynne purchased the Longleat Estate in 1540 for £53 amid the turmoil of the Dissolution of the Monasteries (there was originally a 13th century Augustinian priory on the site) and built what is generally considered to be England's first classical country house (Longleat was completed in 1580, just before Sir John's death). In 1574 Queen Elizabeth I honored Sir John with a visit to Longleat. Though the exterior maintains its Tudor facade, the interior has been considerably altered to follow the changing styles of comfort and fashion. The Great Hall still boasts its Tudor hammerbeam roof and carved fireplace, but the rest of the furnishings are Victorian. Much of the interior decoration is in the opulent Italian style; in fact, Longleat was very likely modeled, both inside and out, on the great palazzi of Venice and Genoa (see "Images" section). There are superb Flemish tapestries, very fine period furniture, and a superb paintings collection. The original long gallery (90 feet long) has been converted into a saloon. There is a long literary history at Longleat; Sir John Thynne's uncle was the first to edit Chaucer's collected works. Family portraits in the Great Hall trace the Thynne family back to the 16th century, while the more modern (and controversial) murals by the 7th Marquess are on display in the West Wing. The 6th Marquess, who opened Longleat to the public in 1949 (making it the first historic house in Britain open to the public on a commercial basis), was unable to get into Eton, having been written off as a dim bulb by his headmaster at Harrow, who called him "a moron beyond reach." Longleat became the first country house to go into the entertainment business when circus owner Jimmy Chipperfield suggested to the 6th Marquess that he should turn the park into a game reserve. In 1966 the first 12 lions arrived in what would become the first drive-through safari park outside of Africa. The name comes from "leat," an artificial waterway or channel that supplies a watermill.

    Collections: Jacob Jordaens's "Mars and Mercury Leading Horses to Venus" was sold in December of 1985 for £610,000. His "Levade Performed under the Auspices of Mars in the Presence of Mercury, Venus and a Riding Master" was sold in July of 1986 for £550,000. Both pieces were sold to E.V. Thaw Co. of New York. Titian's "Rest on the Flight into Egypt," purchased by the 4th Marquess of Bath at Christie's in 1878, was stolen from Longleat in 1995; the painting was recovered in 2002, without a frame, but intact, in the London area in a shopping bag. Still missing (also stolen) from Longleat are "A Personification of Justice" by Veronese and Joos Van Cleve's "Portrait of Eleanor of Austria." In June of 2002 an auction of art and rare books raised more than £27 million. The purpose of the auction was to establish a maintenance fund to preserve the future of Longleat House and its grounds. Items sold included a 15th century Italian illuminated manuscript of the works of Virgil, which raised £1.2 million; a book published by William Caxton at Bruges in 1473 before he introduced the printing press to England (the first book ever printed in the English language), which sold for £600,000; the copy of Raoul Le Fever's "Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye," which went for £400,000; and an 18th century Meissen porcelain figure of a fox, which came down at just over £1 million. In 2003 seven large John Wootton oil paintings of horses commissioned for Longleat (painted 1733-36 and valued at £10 million) were acquired by Tate Britain, London, in-lieu of inheritance tax (the paintings remain in-situ at Longleat, where five hang in the Great Hall). About 200 books were sold in 1979 for £322,865. The Library at Longleat today contains over 40,000 volumes, and counts a bible of Henry VIII among its treasures. There is a long literary history at Longleat; Sir John Thynne's uncle was the first to edit Chaucer's collected works. The 6th Marquess of Bath was an enormous fan of the BBC TV comedy series "’Allo 'Allo!" (1982-92). One of the running gags in the series was a painting of a bare breasted woman by the fictional painter van Clomp called "The Fallen Madonna," usually referred to as "The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies" by the cast. So devoted was Lord Bath to the series, and this portrait, that the producers had a copy of the famous van Clomp made for him. Lord Bath proudly hung the painting at Longleat next to his real ancestral portraits; it remains in the collection at Longleat, but is today in storage.

    Comments: Longleat is considered one of the finest examples of Elizabethan architecture in Britain.

  • Garden & Outbuildings: In 1966 the 6th Marquess of Bath opened Britain's first safari park on the Estate ("The Lions of Longleat"). Featuring hundreds of animals in a woodland and parkland environment, the Longleat Estate says it was the first safari park outside Africa. It was an instant success and continues to be major tourist attraction. The Longleat Estate today consists of 10,000 acres, of which 5,000 acres are let as farmland, 4,000 acres are kept as woodland, and 1,000 acres are Capability Brown-designed parkland.

  • Architect: Crace & Sons

    Date: 1875-80
    Designed: Painted interiors, including the ceiling design for the Ante Library.

    View all houses

    Architect: George London

    Date: 1682
    Designed: Gardens

    View all houses

    Architect: Jeffry Wyatville (Wyattville) (Wyatt)

    Date: 1806-13
    Designed: Alterations for 2nd Marquess of Bath, including reconstruction of North Front, new Stable Court, new principal staircase, Horningsham Lodge and other estate buildings.

    View all houses

    Architect: William Taylor

    Date: 1682
    Designed: Alterations for 1st Viscount Weymouth, including fitting up of Chapel, formation of the Gallery in the East Wing, and offices.

    View all houses

    Architect: Christopher Wren

    Designed: Principal doorway for Sir James Thynne (replaced 1705)

    View all houses

    Architect: Robert William Furze Brettingham

    Date: Circa 1790
    Designed: Unspecified work for 1st Marquess of Bath

    View all houses

    Architect: John Thynne

    Date: 1559-80
    Designed: House, together with Robert Smythson.

    View all houses

    Architect: Lancelot Brown

    Date: 1760
    Designed: 900 acres of parkland and gateway to flower garden for 3rd Viscount Weymouth

    View all houses

    Architect: Robert Smythson

    Date: 1559-80
    Designed: House, together with Sir John Thynne.

    View all houses
  • Vitruvius Britannicus: C. II, pls. 68, 69, 1717. C, III, pls. 63-66, 1725.

    John Bernard (J.B.) Burke, published under the title of A Visitation of the Seats and Arms of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain and Ireland, among other titles: Vol. II, p. 166, 1853.

    John Preston (J.P.) Neale, published under the title of Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen in England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, among other titles: Vol. V, 1822.

    Country Life: II, 154, 1897. XIII, 568, 1903. CV, 798, 862, 926, 990 plan, 1949. CXX, 594, 1956. CLXXII, 1315, 1982.

  • Title: Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600-1840, A - SOFTBACK
    Author: Colvin, Howard
    Year Published: 1995
    Reference: pg. 969
    Publisher: New Haven: Yale University Press
    ISBN: 0300072074
    Book Type: Softback

    Title: Landmarks of Britain: The Five Hundred Places that Made Our History
    Author: Aslet, Clive
    Year Published: 2005
    Reference: pg. 28
    Publisher: London: Hodder & Stoughton
    ISBN: 0340735104
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: National Geographic (magazine)
    Author: NA
    Year Published: NA
    Reference: Nov 1985, pgs. 683, 684-685
    Publisher: Washington, DC: National Geographic Society
    ISBN: 00279358
    Book Type: Magazine

    Title: This England
    Author: National Geographic Society
    Year Published: 1966
    Reference: pg. 244
    Publisher: Washington, DC: National Geographic Society
    ISBN: NA
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Daily Telegraph, The
    Author: NA
    Year Published: NA
    Reference: Aug 24, 2002, News Section, pg. 5
    Publisher: London: Telegraph Group Ltd.
    ISBN: NA
    Book Type: Newspaper

    Title: Royal Oak Newsletter, The
    Author: NA
    Year Published: NA
    Reference: Spring 2003, pg. 7
    Publisher: New York: The Royal Oak Foundation
    ISBN: NA
    Book Type: Magazine

    Title: Movie Locations: A Guide to Britain & Ireland
    Author: Adams, Mark
    Year Published: 2000
    Publisher: London: Boxtree
    ISBN: 0752271695
    Book Type: Softback

    Title: Disintegration of a Heritage: Country Houses and their Collections, 1979-1992, The
    Author: Sayer, Michael
    Year Published: 1993
    Publisher: Norfolk: Michael Russell (Publishing)
    ISBN: 0859551970
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Hardwick Hall Guidebook
    Author: Girouard, Mark
    Year Published: 1996
    Publisher: London: The National Trust
    ISBN: 0707800986
    Book Type: Softback

  • House Listed: Grade I

    Park Listed: Grade I

  • "Libel" (1959 - as the estate of Dirk Bogarde's character). "The Stately Ghosts of England" (1965 - TV documentary). "Blue Blood" [aka "Blueblood"] (1973). "Barry Lyndon" (1975). "Hi! Summer" (1977 - TV family series, episode 1.1, at the Safari Park). "Blue Peter" (1980 - TV documentary, episode on the Longleat Dr. Who Exhibition 1973-2003). "Scandal" (1989). "Splitting Heirs" (1993 - as the Duke of Bournemouth's country seat). "Lion Country" (1998-99 - BBC TV documentary series, 55 episodes). "Mohabbatein" (2000 - as Gurukul School). "Animal Park" (2000-06 - BBC TV documentary series, 145 episodes). "Bertie and Elizabeth" (2002 - TV movie, as Buckingham Palace, Balmoral, Sandringham, and Henley Regatta). "Servants" (2003- TV series). "How to Improve Your Memory" (2006 - BBC TV documentary, as Memory Manor, filmed in the hall and many other rooms, plus the maze, gardens, and aerial shots, hosted by Lord Robert Winston and Tanya Byron). "The Queen" (2009 - TV mini series).
  • Current Seat / Home of: Ceawlin Henry Laszlo Thynn, 8th Marquess of Bath; Thynne family here since 1580.

    Current Ownership Type: Individual / Family Trust

    Primary Current Ownership Use: Private Home

  • House Open to Public: Yes

    Phone: 01985-844-400

    Fax: 01985-844-885

    Email: enquiries@longleat.co.uk

    Website: https://www.longleat.co.uk/

    Historic Houses Member: Yes