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England

Wilton House

  • Earlier Houses: The house was built on the foundations of a medieval monastery.

    House & Family History: Wilton House stands on the site of a 12th century abbey; even before the 12th century, however, there stood a priory on the site, established by King Egbert in the 8th century. In 1544, during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Wilton Abbey was given by Henry VIII, together with an estate of almost 50,000 acres, to William Herbert, a well-connected fellow Welshman (he was given a knighthood in 1543) who was also the husband of Anne Parr, sister of king's sixth wife, Katherine Parr. William wasted no time demolishing the abbey and replacing it with a house and walled courtyard. In 1632 the 4th Earl (Sir William was ennobled as the 1st Earl of Pembroke in 1551) replaced most of the Tudor house. The architect for this rebuild, Isaac de Caus, also designed large formal gardens and had the added bonus of being recommended by Inigo Jones. In 1647 a serious fire destroyed most of the new house, much of which had not yet been completed. This time Inigo Jones himself was asked to rebuild the house, and rebuild he did! Together with his talented nephew, John Webb (who probably did most of the work), Jones created some of the most important interiors in Britain. James Wyatt performed significant work at Wilton in the early 19th century, most significantly adding the Inner Cloisters and the Gothic north facade. Sir William Chambers designed the Triumphal Arch in 1755 as a folly on a distant hill (it was moved by James Wyatt in 1801 to its current position as a grand entry to the house). "The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia," more commonly known as "Arcadia," is an influential romantic story written by Sir Philip Sidney at Wilton House in the 1570s and 80s to entertain his younger sister, Mary, Countess of Pembroke. The story, which includes over 70 poems, contains the earliest known use of the feminine name Pamela, a name that scholars believe Sidney invented. But its influence doesn't end there: Shakespeare used an episode from "Arcadia" as the source for the Gloucester subplot in "King Lear." The 2nd Earl was a sponsor of Shakespeare and it's likely that the first performances of "Twelfth Night" and "As You Like It" were probably performed on the grounds at Wilton by Shakespeare and his company of players. Shakespeare's first folio of plays, published in 1623, was dedicated to the 3rd and 4th Earls, both patrons of arts and letters. Pembroke College, Oxford, was named after the 3rd Earl, who was lord chamberlain and chancellor of the University of Oxford. This support of the arts caused many in the field to visit Wilton, among them Ben Jonson, Edmund Spenser, Christopher Marlowe, and John Donne. The 9th Earl smuggled two Huguenot weavers out of France in 1740 and established the Wilton Carpet Factory to manufacture fine English carpets that could compete with carpets made on the continent. The famous Pembroke table very likely acquired its name from Henry Herbert, 9th Earl of Pembroke (1693–1751), known as "the Architect Earl." A renowned amateur architect and connoisseur, the 9th Earl may have had a hand in the design of the light, drop-leaf table designed for occasional use. (The Pembroke table usually features two drawers and flaps on either side to increase its size.) The Double and Single Cube Rooms are probably the finest surviving mid-17th century rooms in England. Designed by Inigo Jones, the Double Cube Room is 60 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 30 feet high and has been visited by virtually every British monarch since Charles I. The carving on the walls is pine paneling, rather than the more usual plaster. The coving is by Edward Pierce and was painted in oil directly on the plaster in the 1650s. All the paintings on the walls are by Anthony van Dyck or his studio. The circa 1635 "Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke, with His Family," at 17 feet by 11 feet, is the largest canvas ever painted by van Dyck (see "Images" section). The sofas, settees, and armchairs in the Double Cube Room were designed by William Kent and Thomas Chippendale, 1730-70, and came from Wanstead House. The large wall mirrors are also by Chippendale. The Double Cube Room became the top secret operations room for Southern Command during World War II, during which time the paintings were boarded over. It was in this room that the logistical support for the D-Day Landings in 1944 were planned, when over 2.75 million troops passed through the Southern Command area on their way to France. It was also here that the liberation of the Channel Islands was planned. During the war the Double Cube Room was visited by King George VI, Winston Churchill, General Eisenhower, and Field Marshall Montgomery. The British Army occupied Wilton until 1947. So important is Wilton that the county of Wiltshire was named after it.

    Collections: The paintings collection at Wilton contains over 230 canvases and has few private rivals anywhere in Europe. The collection includes works by Claude, del Sarto, Hals, Rembrandt, Holbein, van Dyck, Rubens, Reynolds, and Brueghel and is particularly noted for its rich holdings of van Dyck, which fill the walls of the Single and Double Cube Rooms. So important has the Wilton picture collection always been that, in 1731, Count Carlo Gambarini published "A Description of the Earl of Pembroke's Pictures," making Wilton the first English country house to have a catalog of its paintings collection published. The famous, and enormously important, Wilton Diptych (see "Images" section), officially called "Richard II Presented to the Virgin and Child by his Patron Saint, John the Baptist and Saints Edward and Edmund" (circa 1395-99), was sold from Wilton House in 1929 and is today in the collection of The National Gallery, London. Thomas Hoving called the Wilton Diptych "a work that combines a sense of peace, majesty, awesome power, purity, poignancy, and elegance. It is unmatched in the world." There is also an important collection of Greek and Italian statues, a life-size statue of Shakespeare designed by William Kent, a lock of hair from Queen Elizabeth I, Napoleon's dispatch case, and Florence Nightingale's sash. A silver and parcel gilt ewer and basin, made by an unknown silversmith, but marked London 1567-68, was in the collection of Wilton until the early 20th century, when it was acquired by the famous American banker J.P. Morgan. The pair remained in the Morgan family until the early 1970s; in 1979 the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, purchased the ewer and basin from the New York dealer Shrubsole. The set, which is probably unique, is engraved with every king and queen of England, from William the Conqueror to Elizabeth I, for whom the pair may have been made. The engraved scenes between the royal portraits depict Old Testament subjects based on Bernard Saloman's illustrated Bible, which was published in Lyons in 1553. The 14th Earl of Pembroke was given a freedom box by Tsar Nicholas II in 1896 during a visit to Balmoral to visit Queen Victoria; the box is by Faberge and is made of nephrite with red and green gold mounts with the lid surmounted by the Russian eagle in matte and polished gold. It ended up in the noted collection of Faberge at Luton Hoo and is today at Ranger's House, London. On June 9, 2011 Christie's New York sold a 1st century AD head of Apollo for $902,500 (against a high estimate of $300,000) that had been purchased by the 8th Earl of Pembroke in the mid-18th century for the collection at Wilton (the head was illustrated in J. Kennedy's 1765 publication, "A Description of the Antiquities and Curiosities in Wilton House"). Circa 1735-40, William Kent designed six large settees (gilt wood and upholstered in red velvet) for the 9th Earl of Pembroke for use in the Double Cube Room. Between 1763 and 1773 the 10th Earl commissioned Thomas Chippendale to add to the suite; the commissioned included settees, chairs, stools, and pier glasses, all done up in the Kent style to complement the earlier suite. Both sets remain in the Double Cube Room today.

    Comments: Oliver Hill and John Cornforth, writing in "English Country Houses: Caroline, 1625-1685," called Wilton "the most important house of the Caroline period, and perhaps the most beautiful of all English country houses." The Double Cube Room is frequently referred to as the finest room in England.

  • Garden & Outbuildings: Spanning the River Nadder is the famous Palladian Bridge, designed by the 9th Earl ("the Architect Earl") and Roger Morris in 1737. The bridge, an exact copy of a design by Palladio for the Rialto, was the first of its kind to be built and was later copied at Tsarskoye Selo in St. Petersburg, Russia; at Stowe House in Buckinghamshire; Prior Park in Bath; and Hagley Hall in Worcestershire (ruinous by the late 19th century and rebuilt in 2014). The Wilton Estate today comprises 14,000 acres, which includes 14 farms, the Salisbury Racecourse, and the South Wilts Golf Course.

  • Architect: William Oldham Chambers

    Date: 1755
    Designed: Triumphal Arch

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    Architect: Henry Herbert (Pembroke and Montgomery)

    Date: 1737
    Designed: Palladian Bridge, together with Roger Morris.

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    Architect: Roger Morris

    Date: 1737
    Designed: Palladian Bridge, together with 9th Earl of Pembroke.

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    Architect: Inigo Jones

    Date: 17th century
    Designed: Consulted on rebuilding of house after the 1647 fire.

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    Architect: John Webb

    Date: 17th century
    Designed: Rebuilt house after the 1647 fire

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    Architect: James Wyatt

    Date: Beginning 1801
    Designed: Alterations and additions, including the Inner Cloisters and the Gothic North Front

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    Architect: Isaac de Caus (de Caux)

    Date: Circa 1632
    Designed: Rebuilt house and designed formal gardens for 4th Earl, probably in collaboration with Inigo Jones.

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  • Vitruvius Britannicus: C. II, pls. 61-67, 1717. C. III, pls. 57-60, 1725. C. V, pls. 88, 89, 1771 [Bridge].

    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. I, p. 181, 1852.

    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: XI, 464, 1902. XLIX, 669 [Armour], 1921. XCV, 112, 156, 1949. CXXXIII, 1044, 1109, 1176, 1963. CXXXIV, 314, 1963. CXLIV, 748 [Marbles], 834 [Pictures], 1968.

  • Title: New York Times, The
    Author: NA
    Year Published: NA
    Reference: Jun 17, 2011 by Souren Melikian.
    Publisher: New York: The New York Times Company
    ISBN: NA
    Book Type: Newspaper

    Title: Luton Hoo Guidebook - 1975
    Author: Smith, M. Urwick
    Year Published: 1975
    Reference: pg. 10
    Publisher: London: Pitkin Pictorials
    ISBN: 853720185
    Book Type: Light Softback

    Title: Treasure Houses of Britain, The - SOFTBACK
    Author: Jackson-Stops, Gervase (Editor)
    Year Published: 1985
    Reference: pg. 415
    Publisher: Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art (New Haven: Yale University Press)
    ISBN: 0300035530
    Book Type: Softback

    Title: This England
    Author: National Geographic Society
    Year Published: 1966
    Reference: pg. 236
    Publisher: Washington, DC: National Geographic Society
    ISBN: NA
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Wilton House Guidebook - NEW
    Author: NA
    Year Published: NA
    Reference: pgs. 23-24
    Publisher: NA
    ISBN: NA
    Book Type: Light Softback

    Title: Historic Family Homes & Gardens From the Air
    Author: NA
    Year Published: 2003
    Reference: pg. 178
    Publisher: Oxfordshire: Norman Hudson & Co.
    ISBN: 095314268X
    Book Type: Softback

    Title: Country House Guide, The
    Author: Fedden, Robin; Kenworthy-Browne, John
    Year Published: 1979
    Reference: pg. 82
    Publisher: New York: W.W. Norton & Company
    ISBN: 039301259X
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: England's Thousand Best Houses
    Author: Jenkins, Simon
    Year Published: 2003
    Reference: pgs. 838-839
    Publisher: London: Allen Lane
    ISBN: 0713995963
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Wilton House Guidebook - 1973
    Author: Herbert, Charles
    Year Published: 1973
    Reference: pgs. 3, 19, 20
    Publisher: London: Pitkin Pictorials
    ISBN: 853720630
    Book Type: Light Softback

    Title: English Country Houses: Caroline, 1625-1685
    Author: Hill, Oliver; Cornforth, John
    Year Published: 1985
    Reference: pg. 75
    Publisher: Suffolk: Antique Collectors' Club Ltd.
    ISBN: 0907462782
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Greatest Works of Art of Western Civilization
    Author: Hoving, Thomas
    Year Published: 1997
    Reference: pg. 249
    Publisher: New York: Artisan
    ISBN: 1885183534
    Book Type: Hardback

  • House Listed: Grade I

    Park Listed: Grade I

  • "Lady Caroline Lamb" (1972). "Barry Lyndon" (1975). "Blackadder II" (1986 - BBC TV series, the garden and the Palladian Bridge are shown in the closing titles). "Scandal" (1989). "The Madness of King George" (1994 - as Windsor Castle interiors). "Sense and Sensibility" (1995 - the setting for the ball visited by the Dashwood sisters and Mrs. Jennings). "Mrs. Brown" (1997 - as Windsor Castle). "Monarchy with David Starkey" (2004 - TV mini series, Series 2, "Cromwell the King Killer"). "Pride and Prejudice" (2005 – as Pemberley interiors). "Beau Brummell: This Charming Man" (2006 - TV movie, as the interiors of the Prince Regent's home). "The Young Victoria" (2009 - as interiors of Prince Albert's home in Germany and as interiors of Buckingham Palace). "The Royals" (2015 - TV series, as interior of the palace). "Outlander" (2016 - TV series, as exteriors of Versailles). "The Crown" (2016-20 - TV series, as interiors of Buckingham Palace and, in the 2019 episode "Imbroglio," Charles and Camilla have a romantic moment on the Palladian Bridge). "Emma" (2020 - as Mr. Knightley's home). "Bridgerton" (2020 - TV series, as the throne room of St. James's Palace, where the debs are presented to Queen Charlotte; as the dining room of Clyvedon Castle, the Duke of Hastings's country house; exterior and interiors of Hastings House, the Duke of Hastings's London home; interiors of Buckingham Palace; and as Hyde Park).
  • Current Seat / Home of: William Alexander Sidney Herbert, 18th Earl of Pembroke and 15th Earl of Montgomery; Herbert family here since the 16th century.

    Past Seat / Home of: William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke, until 1570; Henry Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, 1570-1601; William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, 1601-30; Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke and 1st Earl of Montgomery, 1630-49; Philip Herbert, 5th Earl of Pembroke and 2nd Earl of Montgomery, 1649-69; William Herbert, 6th Earl of Pembroke and 3rd Earl of Montgomery, 1669-74; Philip Herbert, 7th Earl of Pembroke and 4th Earl of Montgomery, 1674-83; Thomas Herbert, 8th Earl of Pembroke and 5th Earl of Montgomery, 1683-1733; Henry Herbert, 9th Earl of Pembroke and 6th Earl of Montgomery, 1733-50; Henry Herbert, 10th Earl of Pembroke and 7th Earl of Montgomery, 1750-94; George Augustus Herbert, 11th Earl of Pembroke and 8th Earl of Montgomery, 1794-1827; Robert Henry Herbert, 12th Earl of Pembroke and 9th Earl of Montgomery, 1827-62; George Robert Charles Herbert, 13th Earl of Pembroke and 10th Earl of Montgomery, 1862-95; Sidney Herbert, 14th Earl of Pembroke and 11th Earl of Montgomery, 1895-1913; Reginald Herbert, 15th Earl of Pembroke and 12th Earl of Montgomery, 1913-60; Sidney Charles Herbert, 16th Earl of Pembroke and 13th Earl of Montgomery, 1960-69; Henry George Charles Alexander Herbert, 17th Earl of Pembroke and 14th Earl of Montgomery, 1969-2003.

    Current Ownership Type: Individual / Family Trust

    Primary Current Ownership Use: Private Home

  • House Open to Public: Yes

    Phone: 01722-746-720

    Fax: 01722-744-447

    Email: tourism@wiltonhouse.com

    Website: http://www.wiltonhouse.co.uk

    Historic Houses Member: Yes