The English Country House: Center of the Universe
For centuries the country house has held a unique position in English social life and the history of the nation. Before the 20th century the families in these power houses ruled Britain. Their houses were the center of productive agricultural communities, they provided social settings for grand events, and represented the Crown and law and order in the county.
One of their outstanding features were their art collections, with exceptional pieces of international importance ranging from the works of Ancient Greece and Rome to art of the early 20th century. But their owners’ true passions were the building and rebuilding of their houses and the laying out of gardens and grounds. These amazing houses may possibly be the aristocracy’s greatest achievement, leaving for us today a rich tapestry that has transformed this symbol of aristocratic privilege into an icon of the national heritage.
With this legacy it was virtually inevitable that the British country house would become a launching pad for some of the great achievements of modern times. The treaty that ended the American War of Independence, the discovery of oxygen, the founding of one of the world’s greatest museum complexes, and the invention of interior decoration – all of these happened, in one way or another, because of a historic English house. The story continues today: the newly-rich buy country houses and re-infuse them with life and money, helping to continue the cycle of history.
If you’d like to see a virtual presentation on YouTube that Curt gave of this lecture in May of 2020 for the New England Historic Genealogical Society, click here.