Longleat House is widely regarded as one of the best examples of high Elizabethan architecture in Britain and one of the most beautiful stately homes.
he house is set in approximately 3,600 acres of English countryside and situated just a few miles from Warminster in Wiltshire, it was built in 1540 after John Thynn, purchased the ruins of the priory on the site for £53 when he was just 25 years old, since this time the estate has remained in the Thynn family and is now home to the 7th Marquess of Bath, Alexander Thynn. In 1949, Longleat became the first stately home in Britain to open to the public and since then the entire estate has grown to become Wiltshire’s foremost tourist attraction.
magnificent Elizabethan house built in the early Renaissance style, Longleat House is owned by the seventh marquess of Bath. On first glimpse, it’s romantic enough, but once you’ve been inside, it’s hard not to be dazzled by the lofty rooms and their exquisite paintings and furnishings. The house is filled with all manner of beautiful things and reflects one family’s collections for more than 450 years. Among its treasures are masterpieces of Italian Renaissance painting, Murals and portraits by the current Marquess, Lord Bath, which decorate some of the private apartments. The library represents the finest private collection in Europe with over 40,000 books and one of the more unusual antiquities is a blood-stained under vest worn by King Charles I at his execution in 1649. The walls of the State Dining Room are adorned with fine tapestries and paintings and displays of silverware. The Victorian kitchens offer a glimpse of life “below the stairs” along with various other exhibitions throughout the house. The Great Hall of Longleat House is 11 meters high with a ceiling supported by ten beams. The room features large paintings of hunting scenes by John Wooton, commissioned specifically for the Hall. The paintings are said to tell the tragic story of a foundling, taken on as a stable boy and killed trying to separate two fighting stallions. They also commemorate various members of the Thynne family. The gallery at one end of the Great Hall indicates the lengths and expense the gentry had to go through to be honored by a royal visit. It was built in 1663 when Charles II and his entire court stayed overnight. The room contains a painting of Longleat that showing how the house looked in 1675, while the huge antlers on either side of the 16th century chimney-piece are from a prehistoric giant elk found on the family’s Irish estate.
he Saloon room at Longleat house (above) is 30m (90-foot) long and was added in 17th century, also known as the Long Gallery, the impressive, coffered ceiling, inspired by one in a Roman palazzo was added much later, in the 19th century. Among the room’s outstanding features is a huge, Carrara marble fireplace, copied from the Doge’s Palace in Venice, 17th century Flemish tapestries, flamboyant 17th and 18th century furnishings and 18th century Venetian chairs upholstered with needlworked backs embroidered by the 5th Marchioness of Bath and her daughters in 1926.
he Grand Staircase at Longleat House, designed in the early 19th century by Wyatville, was replaced by a 17th century staircase by Sir Christopher Wren, which is still located beyond the far end of the Great Hall. Portraits and sculptured busts around the Grand Staircase reference the Thynne family’s complicated history. At the foot of the stairs is the family tree, dating back to 1215. The wrought iron chandelier above the stairs dates from the 19th century but was modified when electricity was installed in the House.
The Lower Dining Room
The ceilings of this ornate room are modelled after the Ducal Palace in Venice and the table is set with hand-painted 18th century Serves of porcelain dinnerware.
Portraits of Sir John Thynne, builder of Longleat and Thomas Thynne a victim of a jealous lover, hang in the Dining Room. Thomas Thynne was murdered in 1682 by assassins hired by one of his wife’s rejected suitors, a European count. Another portrait in the room worth looking for is that of Louisa Carteret, wife of an early owner of Longleat. She is one of many ghosts said to haunt Longleat and, apparently, the most famous.
Alexander Thynn, 7th Marquess of Bath who was born 1932 is an artist and mural painter with a penchant for mazes and labyrinths (he created the hedge maze, (above) the love labyrinth, the sun maze, the lunar labyrinth and King Arthur’s maze on the property).