Wilton House

Wilton House

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Wilton House is an English country house
English country house
The English country house is a large house or mansion in the English countryside. Such houses were often owned by individuals who also owned a London house. This allowed to them to spend time in the country and in the city—hence, for these people, the term distinguished between town and country...

 situated at Wilton
Wilton, Wiltshire
Wilton is a town in Wiltshire, , England, with a rich heritage dating back to the Anglo-Saxons. Today it is dwarfed by its larger and more famous neighbour, Salisbury, but still has a range of notable shops and attractions, including Wilton House.The confluence of the rivers Wylye and Nadder is at...

 near Salisbury
Salisbury is a cathedral city in Wiltshire, England and the only city in the county. It is the second largest settlement in the county...

 in Wiltshire
Wiltshire is a ceremonial county in South West England. It is landlocked and borders the counties of Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. It contains the unitary authority of Swindon and covers...

. It has been the country seat of the Earls of Pembroke
Earl of Pembroke
Earl of Pembroke is a title created ten times, all in the Peerage of England. It was first created in the 12th century by King Stephen of England. The title is associated with Pembroke, Pembrokeshire in West Wales, which is the site of Earldom's original seat Pembroke Castle...

 for over 400 years.

The first recorded building on the site of Wilton House was a priory
A priory is a house of men or women under religious vows that is headed by a prior or prioress. Priories may be houses of mendicant friars or religious sisters , or monasteries of monks or nuns .The Benedictines and their offshoots , the Premonstratensians, and the...

 founded by King Egbert
Egbert of Wessex
Egbert was King of Wessex from 802 until his death in 839. His father was Ealhmund of Kent...

 circa 871. Later, this priory, due to the munificence of King Alfred
Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great was King of Wessex from 871 to 899.Alfred is noted for his defence of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of southern England against the Vikings, becoming the only English monarch still to be accorded the epithet "the Great". Alfred was the first King of the West Saxons to style himself...

, was granted lands and manors until it became wealthy and powerful. However, by the time Wilton Abbey
Wilton Abbey
Wilton Abbey was a Benedictine convent in Wiltshire, England, three miles from Salisbury on the site now occupied by Wilton House. A first foundation was made as a college of secular priests by Wulfstan, Ealdorman of Wiltshire, about 773, but after his death was changed into a convent for twelve...

 was dissolved during the Dissolution of the Monasteries
Dissolution of the Monasteries
The Dissolution of the Monasteries, sometimes referred to as the Suppression of the Monasteries, was the set of administrative and legal processes between 1536 and 1541 by which Henry VIII disbanded monasteries, priories, convents and friaries in England, Wales and Ireland; appropriated their...

 by King Henry VIII of England
Henry VIII of England
Henry VIII was King of England from 21 April 1509 until his death. He was Lord, and later King, of Ireland, as well as continuing the nominal claim by the English monarchs to the Kingdom of France...

, its prosperity was already on the wane — following the seizure of the abbey, King Henry presented it and the estates to William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke (in the 1551 creation) in c.1544.

William Herbert

William Herbert, the scion of a distinguished family in the Welsh marches
A march or mark refers to a border region similar to a frontier, such as the Welsh Marches, the borderland between England and Wales. During the Frankish Carolingian Dynasty, the word spread throughout Europe....

, was a favourite of the King. Following a recommendation to King Henry by King Francis I
Francis I of France
Francis I was King of France from 1515 until his death. During his reign, huge cultural changes took place in France and he has been called France's original Renaissance monarch...

 of France, whom Herbert had served as a soldier of fortune
A mercenary, is a person who takes part in an armed conflict based on the promise of material compensation rather than having a direct interest in, or a legal obligation to, the conflict itself. A non-conscript professional member of a regular army is not considered to be a mercenary although he...

, Herbert was granted arms after only two years. Returning to England circa 1543, Herbert married Anne, daughter of Sir Thomas Parr of Kendal
Kendal, anciently known as Kirkby in Kendal or Kirkby Kendal, is a market town and civil parish within the South Lakeland District of Cumbria, England...

 and sister of King Henry's last Queen, Catherine Parr
Catherine Parr
Catherine Parr ; 1512 – 5 September 1548) was Queen consort of England and Ireland and the last of the six wives of King Henry VIII of England. She married Henry VIII on 12 July 1543. She was the fourth commoner Henry had taken as his consort, and outlived him...

. The granting of an estate such as the Abbey of Wilton to Herbert was an accolade and evidence of his position at court.

Herbert immediately began to transform the deserted abbey into a fine house and symbol of his wealth. It had been thought that the old abbey had been completely demolished; however, following renovations after World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 traces of the old abbey were found at lower levels of the existing walls.

Hans Holbein

It has long been claimed, without proof, that Hans Holbein the Younger
Hans Holbein the Younger
Hans Holbein the Younger was a German artist and printmaker who worked in a Northern Renaissance style. He is best known as one of the greatest portraitists of the 16th century. He also produced religious art, satire and Reformation propaganda, and made a significant contribution to the history...

 re-designed the abbey as a rectangular house around a central courtyard, which is the core of the present house. Holbein died in 1543, so his designs for the new house would have to have been very speedily executed indeed. However, the great entrance porch to the new mansion, removed from the house and later transformed into a garden pavilion
Pavilion (structure)
In architecture a pavilion has two main meanings.-Free-standing structure:Pavilion may refer to a free-standing structure sited a short distance from a main residence, whose architecture makes it an object of pleasure. Large or small, there is usually a connection with relaxation and pleasure in...

 in the 19th century, is to this day known as the "Holbein Porch" — a perfect example of the blending of the older Gothic and the brand-new Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

 style. If not by Holbein, it is certainly by the hand of a great master.

Whoever the architect, nevertheless a great mansion arose. Today only one other part of the Tudor
Tudor architecture
The Tudor architectural style is the final development of medieval architecture during the Tudor period and even beyond, for conservative college patrons...

 mansion survives: the great tower in the centre of the east facade (see illustration above). With its central arch (once giving access to the court beyond) and three floors of oriel window
Oriel window
Oriel windows are a form of bay window commonly found in Gothic architecture, which project from the main wall of the building but do not reach to the ground. Corbels or brackets are often used to support this kind of window. They are seen in combination with the Tudor arch. This type of window was...

s above, the tower is slightly reminiscent of the entrance at Hampton Court. Flanked today by two wings in a loose Georgian
Georgian architecture
Georgian architecture is the name given in most English-speaking countries to the set of architectural styles current between 1720 and 1840. It is eponymous for the first four British monarchs of the House of Hanover—George I of Great Britain, George II of Great Britain, George III of the United...

 style — each topped by an Italianate pavilion tower, this Tudor centrepiece of the facade appears not in the least incongruous, merely displaying the accepted appearance of a great English country house, which has evolved over the centuries.

Inigo Jones

The Tudor house built by William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke in 1551 was to last but eighty years. On the succession of the 4th Earl
Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke
Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke and 1st Earl of Montgomery KG was an English courtier and politician active during the reigns of James I and Charles I...

 in 1630, he decided to pull down the southern wing and erect a new complex of staterooms in its place. It is now that the second great name associated with Wilton appears: Inigo Jones
Inigo Jones
Inigo Jones is the first significant British architect of the modern period, and the first to bring Italianate Renaissance architecture to England...


The architecture of the south front is in severe Palladian style, described at the time as in the 'Italian Style'; built of the local stone, softened by climbing shrubs, it is quintessentially English to our eyes today. While the remainder of the house is on three floors of equal value in the English style, the South Front has a low rusticated ground floor, almost suggesting a semi-basement. Three small porches project at this level only, one at the centre, and one at each end of the facade, providing small balconies to the windows above. The next floor is the piano nobile, at its centre the great double height Venetian window, ornamented at second floor level by the Pembroke arms in stone relief. This central window is flanked by four tall sash windows on each side. These windows have low flat pediments. Each end of the facade is defined by 'corner stone' decoration giving a suggestion that the single-bay wings project forward. The single windows here are topped by a true pointed pediment. Above this floor is a further almost mezzanine
Mezzanine (architecture)
In architecture, a mezzanine or entresol is an intermediate floor between main floors of a building, and therefore typically not counted among the overall floors of a building. Often, a mezzanine is low-ceilinged and projects in the form of a balcony. The term is also used for the lowest balcony in...

 floor, its small, unpedimented, windows aligning with the larger below, serve to emphasise the importance of the piano nobile. The roofline is hidden by a balustrade. Each of the terminating 'wings' is crowned by a one storey, pedimented tower resembling a Palladian pavilion. At the time, his style was an innovation. Just thirty years earlier, Montacute House
Montacute House
Montacute House is a late Elizabethan country house situated in the South Somerset village of Montacute. This house is a textbook example of English architecture during a period that was moving from the medieval Gothic to the Renaissance Classical; this has resulted in Montacute being regarded as...

, exempifying the English Renaissance, had been revolutionary; only a century earlier, the juxtaposing mass of wings that is Compton Wynyates
Compton Wynyates
Compton Wynyates is a country house in Warwickshire, England, a Grade I listed building. The Tudor period house, an example of Tudor architecture, is constructed of red brick and built around a central courtyard. It is castellated and turreted in parts. Following action in the Civil War, half...

, one of the first houses to be built without complete fortification, had just been completed and was considered modern.
Attributing the various architectural stages can be difficult, and the degree to which Inigo Jones was involved has been questioned. Queen Henrietta Maria, a frequent guest at Wilton, interrogated Jones about his work there. At the time (1635) he was employed by her, completing the Queen's House
Queen's House
The Queen's House, Greenwich, is a former royal residence built between 1614-1617 in Greenwich, then a few miles downriver from London, and now a district of the city. Its architect was Inigo Jones, for whom it was a crucial early commission, for Anne of Denmark, the queen of King James I of England...

 at Greenwich
Greenwich is a district of south London, England, located in the London Borough of Greenwich.Greenwich is best known for its maritime history and for giving its name to the Greenwich Meridian and Greenwich Mean Time...

. It seems at this time Jones was too busy with his royal clients and did no more than provide a few sketches for a mansion, which he then delegated for execution to an assistant Isaac de Caus
Isaac de Caus
Isaac de Caus was a French landscaper, and architect. He arrived in England in 1612 to carry on the work that his brother Salomon de Caus had left behind. He is noted for his work at Wilton House, and Lincoln's Inn....

 (sometimes spelt 'Caux'), a Frenchman and landscape gardener from Dieppe.

A document that Howard Colvin
Howard Colvin
Sir Howard Montagu Colvin, CVO, CBE , was a British architectural historian who produced two of the most outstanding works of scholarship in his field.-Life and works:...

 found at Worcester College
Worcester College, Oxford
Worcester College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. The college was founded in the eighteenth century, but its predecessor on the same site had been an institution of learning since the late thirteenth century...

 library in Oxford
The city of Oxford is the county town of Oxfordshire, England. The city, made prominent by its medieval university, has a population of just under 165,000, with 153,900 living within the district boundary. It lies about 50 miles north-west of London. The rivers Cherwell and Thames run through...

 in the 1960s confirmed not only de Caus as the architect, but that the original plan for the south facade was to have been over twice the length of that built; what we see today was intended to be only one of two identical wings linked by a central portico of six Corinthian columns. The whole was to be enhanced by a great parterre whose dimensions were 1000 feet by 400 feet. This parterre was in fact created and remained in existence for over 100 years. The second wing however failed to materialise — perhaps because of the 4th Earl's quarrel with King Charles I
Charles I of England
Charles I was King of England, King of Scotland, and King of Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his execution in 1649. Charles engaged in a struggle for power with the Parliament of England, attempting to obtain royal revenue whilst Parliament sought to curb his Royal prerogative which Charles...

 and subsequent fall from favour, or the outbreak of the Civil War
Wars of the Three Kingdoms
The Wars of the Three Kingdoms formed an intertwined series of conflicts that took place in England, Ireland, and Scotland between 1639 and 1651 after these three countries had come under the "Personal Rule" of the same monarch...

; or simply lack of finances.

It is only now that Inigo Jones may have taken a firmer grip on his original ideas. Seeing De Caus' completed wing standing alone as an entirety, it was considered too plain — De Caus' original plan was for the huge facade to have a low pitched roof, with wings finishing with no architectural symbols of termination. The modifications to the completed wing were of a balustrade hiding the weak roof line and Italianate, pavilion-like towers at each end. The focal point became not a portico but the large double height Venetian window. This South Front (illustration above), has been deemed an architectural triumph of Palladian architecture in Britain, and it is widely believed that the final modifications to the work of De Caus were by Inigo Jones himself.

Within a few years of the completion of the new south wing in 1647, it was ravaged by fire. The seriousness of the fire and the devastation it caused is now a matter of some dispute. The architectural historian Christopher Hussey
Christopher Hussey
Christopher Edward Clive Hussey was one of the chief authorities on British domestic architecture of the generation that also included Dorothy Stroud and Sir John Summerson.- Career :...

 has convincingly argued that it was not as severe as some records have suggested. What is definite is that Inigo Jones now working with another architect John Webb (his nephew by marriage to Jones' niece) returned once again to Wilton. Because of the uncertainty of the fire damage to the structure of the house, the only work that can be attributed with any degree of certainty to the new partnership is the redesign of the interior of the seven state-rooms contained on the piano nobile
Piano nobile
The piano nobile is the principal floor of a large house, usually built in one of the styles of classical renaissance architecture...

 of the south wing; and even here the extent of Jones' presence is questioned. It appears he may have been advising from a distance, using Webb as his medium.

The state rooms

The seven state room
State room
A state room in a large European mansion is usually one of a suite of very grand rooms which were designed to impress. The term was most widely used in the 17th and 18th centuries. They were the most lavishly decorated in the house and contained the finest works of art...

s contained behind the quite simple mannerist south front of Wilton House are equal to those in any of the great houses of Britain. State rooms in English country houses were seldom used; being reserved for the use of only the most important house-guests, often a monarch and his consort, or another high ranking member of state, hence the name. They are nearly always of an odd number for the following reason. At the centre of the facade, the largest and most lavish room, at Wilton the famed Double Cube Room, this was a gathering place for the court of the honoured guest. Leading symmetrically from the centre room on either side were often two suites of smaller, but still very grand rooms, for the sole use of the occupant of the final room at each end of the facade — the state bedroom. The smaller (but still huge) rooms in between would be used for private audiences, a withdrawing room and a dressing room. They were solely part of the bedroom suite and not for public use.

In most English houses today these rooms have usually become a meaningless succession of drawing rooms and the original intention lost, this is certainly true at both Wilton House and Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace  is a monumental country house situated in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, residence of the dukes of Marlborough. It is the only non-royal non-episcopal country house in England to hold the title of palace. The palace, one of England's largest houses, was built between...

 The reason for this is the Edwardian Period
Edwardian period
The Edwardian era or Edwardian period in the United Kingdom is the period covering the reign of King Edward VII, 1901 to 1910.The death of Queen Victoria in January 1901 and the succession of her son Edward marked the end of the Victorian era...

, when large house-parties needed a huge collection of salons for playing bridge, dancing, talking and generally amusing themselves, also the occupants of the state bedroom preferred the comfort of a warmer more private room on a quiet floor with an en-suite bathroom!

The magnificent state rooms at Wilton designed by Inigo Jones, and one or other of his partners are:
  • The Single Cube Room: This room a complete cube 30 ft (9 m), wide and high; has pine panelling gilded and white, it is carved from dado
    Dado (architecture)
    In architectural terminology, the dado, borrowed from Italian meaning die or plinth, is the lower part of a wall, below the dado rail and above the skirting board....

     to cornice, The white marble
    Marble is a metamorphic rock composed of recrystallized carbonate minerals, most commonly calcite or dolomite.Geologists use the term "marble" to refer to metamorphosed limestone; however stonemasons use the term more broadly to encompass unmetamorphosed limestone.Marble is commonly used for...

     chimney piece was designed by Inigo Jones himself. It has a painted ceiling, on canvas, by the Mannerist
    Mannerism is a period of European art that emerged from the later years of the Italian High Renaissance around 1520. It lasted until about 1580 in Italy, when a more Baroque style began to replace it, but Northern Mannerism continued into the early 17th century throughout much of Europe...

     Italian painter Cavalier D'Arpino, representing Daedalus
    In Greek mythology, Daedalus was a skillful craftsman and artisan.-Family:...

     and Icarus
    Icarus (mythology)
    In Greek mythology, Icarus is the son of the master craftsman Daedalus. The main story told about Icarus is his attempt to escape from Crete by means of wings that his father constructed from feathers and wax...

    . This room, hung with paintings by Lely
    Peter Lely
    Sir Peter Lely was a painter of Dutch origin, whose career was nearly all spent in England, where he became the dominant portrait painter to the court.-Life:...

     and Van Dyck, is the only room thought to have survived the fire of 1647, and be the only interior surviving of Jones and De Caus.
  • The Double Cube Room: The great room of the house. It is 60 ft (18 m), 30 ft (9 m) and 30 ft high. It was created by Inigo Jones and Webb circa 1653. The pine wall painted white is decorated with great swags of foliage and fruit in gold leaf. The gilt and red velvet furniture complements the collection of paintings by Van Dyck of the family of Charles I and the family of his contemporary Earl of Pembroke. Between the windows are mirrors by Chippendale
    Thomas Chippendale
    Thomas Chippendale was a London cabinet-maker and furniture designer in the mid-Georgian, English Rococo, and Neoclassical styles. In 1754 he published a book of his designs, titled The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker's Director...

    , and console tables by William Kent
    William Kent
    William Kent , born in Bridlington, Yorkshire, was an eminent English architect, landscape architect and furniture designer of the early 18th century.He was baptised as William Cant.-Education:...

    . The coffered ceiling painted by Thomas de Critz
    Thomas de Critz
    Thomas De Critz or Decritz was an English painter.He was born in London, the son of the Flemish-born painter John de Critz. He worked for the English court and was entrusted with the restoration and cleaning of Charles I's paintings...

     depicts the story of Perseus
    Perseus ,Perseos and Perseas are not used in English. the legendary founder of Mycenae and of the Perseid dynasty of Danaans there, was the first of the mythic heroes of Greek mythology whose exploits in defeating various archaic monsters provided the founding myths of the Twelve Olympians...

    . Here again is another anomaly which makes one question the true involvement of Jones, the great Venetian window, centre piece of the south front and centre piece of the double cube room is not the dead centre of the room, the other windows in the room are not symmetrically placed, and the central fireplace and Venetian window are not opposite each other as the proportions of a room designed as an architectural feature in itself would demand.
  • The Great anteroom
    An antechamber is a smaller room or vestibule serving as an entryway into a larger one. The word is formed of the Latin ante camera, meaning "room before"....

    : Before the modifications to the house in 1801 a great staircase of state led from this room to the courtyard below, this was the entrance to the state apartments. Here hangs one of Wilton's greatest treasures: the portrait of his mother by Rembrandt.
  • The Colonnade Room: This was formerly the state bedroom. The series of four gilded columns at one end of the room would have given a theatrical touch of importance to the now missing state bed. Furnished today with 18th century furniture by William Kent. The room is hung with paintings by Reynolds
    Joshua Reynolds
    Sir Joshua Reynolds RA FRS FRSA was an influential 18th-century English painter, specialising in portraits and promoting the "Grand Style" in painting which depended on idealization of the imperfect. He was one of the founders and first President of the Royal Academy...

     and has a ceiling painted in an 18th century theme of flowers, monkeys, urns and cobwebs.

Other rooms are:
  • The Corner Room: The ceiling in this room, representing the conversion of Saint Paul
    Paul of Tarsus
    Paul the Apostle , also known as Saul of Tarsus, is described in the Christian New Testament as one of the most influential early Christian missionaries, with the writings ascribed to him by the church forming a considerable portion of the New Testament...

     was painted by Luca Giordano
    Luca Giordano
    Luca Giordano was an Italian late Baroque painter and printmaker in etching. Fluent and decorative, he worked successfully in Naples and Rome, Florence and Venice, before spending a decade in Spain....

    . The walls of the room are covered in red damask and adorned with small paintings by among others Rubens and Andrea del Sarto
    Andrea del Sarto
    Andrea del Sarto was an Italian painter from Florence, whose career flourished during the High Renaissance and early Mannerism. Though highly regarded during his lifetime as an artist senza errori , his renown was eclipsed after his death by that of his contemporaries, Leonardo da Vinci,...

  • The Little Ante Room: The white marble fireplace in this room with inserts of black marble is almost certainly by Inigo Jones. The panels in the ceiling were painted by Lorenzo Sabbatini
    Lorenzo Sabbatini
    Lorenzo Sabbatini was an Italian painter of the Renaissance.-Biography:Sabbatini was born in Bologna.Nicknamed Lorenzino da Bologna, studied with Prospero Fontana, who was his teacher and collaborator...

     (1530–1577) and therefore far older than this part of the house; again there are paintings by Van Dyck and Teniers
    David Teniers the Younger
    David Teniers the Younger was a Flemish artist born in Antwerp, the son of David Teniers the Elder. His son David Teniers III and his grandson David Teniers IV were also painters...

  • The Hunting Room: This is one of the most delightful rooms in the house, and not shown to the public, as it is used as a private drawing room by the Herbert family. It is a square room with white panelling with gilded mouldings. The greatest feature of the room is the panels depicting hunting scenes by Edward Pierce painted circa 1653. These panels are set into the panelling rather than framed in the conventional sense.

Concluding the 17th century history of Wilton House — what was probably the true involvement of Inigo Jones? He was certainly a great friend of the Herbert family, it has been said that Jones' original studying in Italy of Palladio and the other Italian masters was paid for by the 3rd Earl
William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke
William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, KG, PC was the son of Henry Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke and his third wife Mary Sidney. Chancellor of the University of Oxford, he founded Pembroke College, Oxford with King James. He was warden of the Forest of Dean, and constable of St Briavels from 1608...

, father of the builder of the South front; it seems likely that Jones originally sketched some ideas for de Caus, and following the fire conveyed through Webb some further ideas for tidying the house and its decorations. Fireplaces and decorative themes can be executed at long distance. The exact truth of the work by Jones will probably never be known, there are in existence designs for gilded doors and panels at Wilton annotated by Jones. He was an old man by the time work was completed, but would he have repaid his debt for the Italian study trip to the son of his benefactor so haphazardly? Or perhaps Jones had a fit of pique, outraged that the 4th Earl was supporting the Parliamentarians in the civil war. We shall probably never know.

In 1705 following a fire the 8th Earl
Thomas Herbert, 8th Earl of Pembroke
Thomas Herbert, 8th Earl of Pembroke, 5th Earl of Montgomery, KG, PC, FRS was a British politician during the reigns of William III and Anne....

 rebuilt some of the oldest parts the house, making rooms to display his newly acquired Arundel marbles
Arundel marbles
The Arundelian Marbles are a collection of Greek marbles collected by Thomas Howard, 21st Earl of Arundel in the early seventeenth century, the first such comprehensive collection of its kind in England...

, which form the basis for the sculpture collection at Wilton today. Following this Wilton remained undisturbed for nearly a century.

19th century and James Wyatt

The 11th Earl
George Herbert, 11th Earl of Pembroke
General George Augustus Herbert, 11th Earl of Pembroke and 8th Earl of Montgomery, KG, PC was a British peer, army officer and politician.-Early life:...

 (1759–1827) called upon James Wyatt
James Wyatt
James Wyatt RA , was an English architect, a rival of Robert Adam in the neoclassical style, who far outdid Adam in his work in the neo-Gothic style.-Early classical career:...

 in 1801 to modernise the house, and create more space for picture and sculptures. The final of the three well-known architects to work at Wilton (and the only one well documented) was to prove the most controversial. His work took eleven years to complete.

James Wyatt as an architect who often employed the neo-classical style, but at Wilton for reasons known only to architect and client he used the Gothic
Gothic architecture
Gothic architecture is a style of architecture that flourished during the high and late medieval period. It evolved from Romanesque architecture and was succeeded by Renaissance architecture....

 style. Since the beginning of the 20th century his work at Wilton has been condemned by most architectural commentators. The negative points of his 'improvements' to modern eyes are that he swept away the Holbein porch, reducing it to a mere garden ornament, replacing it with a new entrance and forecourt. This entrance forecourt created was entered through an 'arc de triumph' which had been created as an entrance to Wilton's park by Sir William Chambers
William Chambers (architect)
Sir William Chambers was a Scottish architect, born in Gothenburg, Sweden, where his father was a merchant. Between 1740 and 1749 he was employed by the Swedish East India Company making several voyages to China where he studied Chinese architecture and decoration.Returning to Europe, he studied...

 circa 1755. The forecourt was bounded by the house on one side, with wings of fake doors and windows extending to form the court, all accessed by Chambers's repositioned arch, crowned by a copy of the life-size equestrian statue
Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius
The Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius is an ancient Roman statue in the Campidoglio, Rome, Italy. It is made of bronze and stands 3.5 m tall. Although the emperor is mounted, it exhibits many similarities to standing statues of Augustus...

 of Marcus Aurelius. While not altogether displeasing as an entrance to a country house, the impression created is more of a hunting estate in northern France, or Germany.
The original Great Hall of the Tudor house, the chapel and De Caus painted staircase to the state apartments were all swept away at this time. A new Gothic staircase and hall were created in the style of Camelot
Camelot is a castle and court associated with the legendary King Arthur. Absent in the early Arthurian material, Camelot first appeared in 12th-century French romances and eventually came to be described as the fantastic capital of Arthur's realm and a symbol of the Arthurian world...

. The Tudor tower, now the last remnant of William Herbert's house, escaped unscathed except for the addition of two 'medieval' statues at ground floor level.

There was however one huge improvement created by Wyatt — The Cloister
A cloister is a rectangular open space surrounded by covered walks or open galleries, with open arcades on the inner side, running along the walls of buildings and forming a quadrangle or garth...

s. This two-storeyed gallery which was built around all four sides of the inner courtyard, provided the house with not only the much needed corridors to link the rooms, but also a magnificent gallery to display the Pembroke collection of classical sculpture. Wyatt died before completion, but not before he and Lord Pembroke had quarrelled over the designs and building work. The final touches were executed by Wyatt's nephew Sir Jeffry Wyatville. Today nearly two hundred years later Wyatt's improvements do not jar the senses as much as they did those of the great architectural commentators James Lees-Milne
James Lees-Milne
James Lees-Milne was an English writer and expert on country houses. He was an architectural historian, novelist, and a biographer. He is also remembered as a diarist.-Biography:...

 and Sir Sacheverell Sitwell
Sacheverell Sitwell
Sir Sacheverell Sitwell, 6th Baronet CH was an English writer, best known as an art critic and writer on architecture, particularly the baroque. He was the younger brother of Dame Edith Sitwell and Sir Osbert Sitwell....

 writing in the 1960s. That Wyatt's works are not in the same league of style as the South front, and the Tudor tower, is perhaps something for future generations to judge.

Secondary rooms

Wilton is not the largest house in England by any means: compared to Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace  is a monumental country house situated in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, residence of the dukes of Marlborough. It is the only non-royal non-episcopal country house in England to hold the title of palace. The palace, one of England's largest houses, was built between...

, Chatsworth
Chatsworth House
Chatsworth House is a stately home in North Derbyshire, England, northeast of Bakewell and west of Chesterfield . It is the seat of the Duke of Devonshire, and has been home to his family, the Cavendish family, since Bess of Hardwick settled at Chatsworth in 1549.Standing on the east bank of the...

, Hatfield
Hatfield House
Hatfield House is a country house set in a large park, the Great Park, on the eastern side of the town of Hatfield, Hertfordshire, England. The present Jacobean house was built in 1611 by Robert Cecil, First Earl of Salisbury and Chief Minister to King James I and has been the home of the Cecil...

 and Burghley House
Burghley House
Burghley House is a grand 16th-century country house near the town of Stamford, Lincolnshire, England...

 it is relatively small. However the magnificent state rooms are not the only rooms worthy of mention, a few of these are:
  • The Front Hall: redesigned by Wyatt, access is gained from this room to the cloisters through two Gothic arches. The room is furnished with statuary; the dominating piece a larger than life statue of William Shakespeare
    William Shakespeare
    William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

     designed by William Kent in 1743. It commemorates an unproved legend
    A legend is a narrative of human actions that are perceived both by teller and listeners to take place within human history and to possess certain qualities that give the tale verisimilitude...

     that Shakespeare came to Wilton and produced one of his plays in the courtyard.
  • The Upper Cloisters: designed by Wyatt but completed circa 1824 by Wyatville in the Gothic style contain neoclassical sculpture, and curios such as a lock of Queen Elizabeth I
    Elizabeth I of England
    Elizabeth I was queen regnant of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana, or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty...

    's hair, and Napoleon I
    Napoleon I
    Napoleon Bonaparte was a French military and political leader during the latter stages of the French Revolution.As Napoleon I, he was Emperor of the French from 1804 to 1815...

    's dispatch box and paintings by the Brueghel
    Brueghel or Bruegel was the name of several Dutch/Flemish painters from the same family line:* Pieter Bruegel the Elder — The most famous member of the family and the only one to sign his paintings as 'Bruegel' without the H....

  • The Staircase: Designed by Wyatt, it replaces the mural
    A mural is any piece of artwork painted or applied directly on a wall, ceiling or other large permanent surface. A particularly distinguishing characteristic of mural painting is that the architectural elements of the given space are harmoniously incorporated into the picture.-History:Murals of...

    led state staircase swept away during the 'improvements'. The Imperial staircase
    Imperial staircase
    An Imperial staircase is the name given to a staircase with divided flights. Usually the first flight rises to a half-landing and then divides into two symmetrical flights both rising with an equal number of steps and turns to the next floor. The feature is reputed to have first been used at El...

      is lined with family portraits by Lely
    Peter Lely
    Sir Peter Lely was a painter of Dutch origin, whose career was nearly all spent in England, where he became the dominant portrait painter to the court.-Life:...

    . Also hanging here is a portrait of Catherine Woronzow
    Vorontsov, also Woronzow, Woroncow is a celebrated Russian family, which attained the dignity of Counts of the Holy Roman Empire in 1744 and Serene Princes of the Russian Empire in 1852....

    , the only sister of 1st Prince Vorontsov and the wife of the 11th Earl; her Russian Sleigh is displayed in the cloisters.
  • The Smoking Rooms: These rooms are in the wing attributed to Inigo Jones and John Webb linking to the South front. The cornices and doors are attributed to Jones. The larger of the two rooms contains a set of fifty-five gouache
    Gouache[p], also spelled guache, the name of which derives from the Italian guazzo, water paint, splash or bodycolor is a type of paint consisting of pigment suspended in water. A binding agent, usually gum arabic, is also present, just as in watercolor...

     paintings of an equestrian theme painted in 1755. The room is furnished with a complete set of bureau, cabinets, and break-front bookcases made for the room by Thomas Chippendale
    Thomas Chippendale
    Thomas Chippendale was a London cabinet-maker and furniture designer in the mid-Georgian, English Rococo, and Neoclassical styles. In 1754 he published a book of his designs, titled The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker's Director...

  • The Library: A large book-lined room over 60 feet long, with views to a formal garden and vista leading to the 'Holbein' Porch. This is used as a private room and not shown to the public.
  • The Breakfast Room: A private small low-ceilinged room on the rustic floor of the South front. In the 18th century this was the house's only bath room; more of an indoor swimming pool, the sunken plunge pool was heated and the room decorated in the Pompeian
    The city of Pompeii is a partially buried Roman town-city near modern Naples in the Italian region of Campania, in the territory of the comune of Pompei. Along with Herculaneum, Pompeii was destroyed and completely buried during a long catastrophic eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius spanning...

     style complete with Corinthian
    Corinthian order
    The Corinthian order is one of the three principal classical orders of ancient Greek and Roman architecture. The other two are the Doric and Ionic. When classical architecture was revived during the Renaissance, two more orders were added to the canon, the Tuscan order and the Composite order...

     columns. Converted by the Russian Countess of Pembroke to a breakfast room circa 1815, it is today wallpapered in a Chinese design, the paper being an exact copy of that used in the original 1815 decoration of the room. The 18th century furniture of a simulated-bamboo, Gothic style gives this private dining room a distinct oriental atmosphere.

The gardens and grounds

The house is renowned for its gardens — Isaac de Caus
Isaac de Caus
Isaac de Caus was a French landscaper, and architect. He arrived in England in 1612 to carry on the work that his brother Salomon de Caus had left behind. He is noted for his work at Wilton House, and Lincoln's Inn....

 began a project to landscape them in 1632, laying out one of the first French parterre
A parterre is a formal garden construction on a level surface consisting of planting beds, edged in stone or tightly clipped hedging, and gravel paths arranged to form a pleasing, usually symmetrical pattern. Parterres need not have any flowers at all...

s seen in England. An engraving of it made the design very influential after the royal Restoration in 1660, when grand gardens began to be made again. The original gardens included a grotto
A grotto is any type of natural or artificial cave that is associated with modern, historic or prehistoric use by humans. When it is not an artificial garden feature, a grotto is often a small cave near water and often flooded or liable to flood at high tide...

 and water features. Later, when the parterre had been replaced by turf, the Palladian Bridge over the little River Nadder
River Nadder
The River Nadder is one of the chalk stream rivers of southern England, much sought after by fly fishermen because of its clear waters and abundance of brown trout. It is one of the main tributaries of the River Avon, rising from a number of springs and small streams at Donhead St. Mary in south...

 was designed by the 9th Earl
Henry Herbert, 9th Earl of Pembroke
Lt.-Gen. Henry Herbert, 9th Earl of Pembroke, 6th Earl of Montgomery PC FRS was the heir and eldest son of Thomas Herbert and his first wife Margaret...

, one of the "architect earls," with Roger Morris
Roger Morris (1695-1749)
Roger Morris was an English architect whose connection with Colen Campbell brought him to the attention of Henry Herbert, 9th Earl of Pembroke, with whom Morris collaborated on a long series of projects.-Biography:...

 (1736/7). A copy of it was erected at the much-visited garden of Stowe
Stowe, Buckinghamshire
Stowe is a civil parish and former village about northwest of Buckingham in the Aylesbury Vale district of Buckinghamshire, England. The parish includes the hamlets of Boycott, Dadford and Lamport....

 in Buckinghamshire
Buckinghamshire is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan home county in South East England. The county town is Aylesbury, the largest town in the ceremonial county is Milton Keynes and largest town in the non-metropolitan county is High Wycombe....

, and three more were erected, at Prior Park
Prior Park Landscape Garden
Prior Park Landscape Garden is an 18th-century landscape garden, designed by the poet Alexander Pope and the landscape gardener Capability Brown, and now owned by the National Trust. It is south of Bath, Somerset, England by Ralph Allen Drive, and 3/4 mile from the Kennet and Avon canal path...

, Bath, Hagley and Amesbury
Amesbury is a town and civil parish in Wiltshire, England. It is most famous for the prehistoric monument of Stonehenge which is in its parish, and for the discovery of the Amesbury Archer—dubbed the King of Stonehenge in the press—in 2002...

. Empress Catherine the Great
Catherine II of Russia
Catherine II, also known as Catherine the Great , Empress of Russia, was born in Stettin, Pomerania, Prussia on as Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg...

 commissioned another copy, known as Marble Bridge
Marble Bridge
The Siberian Marble Gallery between Swan Islands — an artificial archipelago of seven islets in the landscape park of Tsarskoe Selo — spans a rivulet flowing between several ponds. The bridge was modelled after the Palladian Bridge in the park of Wilton House and served as a showcase for the Ural...

, to be set up at the landscape park of Tsarskoye Selo
Tsarskoye Selo
Tsarskoye Selo is the town containing a former Russian residence of the imperial family and visiting nobility, located south from the center of St. Petersburg. It is now part of the town of Pushkin and of the World Heritage Site Saint Petersburg and Related Groups of Monuments.-History:In...


In the late 20th century the 17th Earl
Henry Herbert, 17th Earl of Pembroke
Henry George Charles Alexander Herbert, 17th Earl of Pembroke, 14th Earl of Montgomery , styled Lord Herbert between 1960 and 1969 and often known simply as Henry Herbert, was a British aristocrat, film director and producer.-Background and education:Herbert was the eldest son of the 16th Earl of...

 had a garden created in Wyatt's entrance forecourt, in memory of his father, the 16th Earl
Sidney Herbert, 16th Earl of Pembroke
Sidney Herbert, 16th Earl of Pembroke, 13th Earl of Montgomery was a British peer.Pembroke was educated at Eton and Pembroke College, Oxford. Served War of 1939–1945 in Royal Artillery and Comptroller and Private Secretary to the Duchess of Kent, 1942–1948, as well as Equerry to the Duke of Kent...

. This garden enclosed by pleached trees, with herbaceous plants around a central fountain, has done much to improve and soften the severity of the forecourt.

For younger visitors there is an adventure playground with trampoline, swing boats and climbing ropes.

The park
A park is a protected area, in its natural or semi-natural state, or planted, and set aside for human recreation and enjoyment, or for the protection of wildlife or natural habitats. It may consist of rocks, soil, water, flora and fauna and grass areas. Many parks are legally protected by...

 includes an area formerly occupied by much of the village of Fugglestone
Fugglestone St Peter
Fugglestone St Peter was a small village, manor, and civil parish in Wiltshire, England, lying between the town of Wilton and the city of Salisbury...

, which was cleared away, including the site of a medieval leper hospital
Leprosy or Hansen's disease is a chronic disease caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae and Mycobacterium lepromatosis. Named after physician Gerhard Armauer Hansen, leprosy is primarily a granulomatous disease of the peripheral nerves and mucosa of the upper respiratory tract; skin lesions...

 called the Hospital of St Giles.


The house is often described as England's most beautiful country house, in a land of beautiful country houses where judgment has to be made by each individual. An accurate way to describe Wilton today is a direct quote from the architectural writer John Summerson
John Summerson
Sir John Newenham Summerson CH CBE was one of the leading British architectural historians of the 20th century....

 writing in 1964, it is as true today as it was then:

...the bridge is the object which attracts the visitor before he has become aware of the Jonesian facade. He approaches the bridge and, from its steps, turns to see the facade. He passes through and across the bridge, turns again and becomes aware of the bridge, the river, the lawn and the façade as one picture in deep recession. He may imagine the portico; he will scarcely regret the curtailment. He may picture the formal knots, tortured hedges and statues of the 3rd. Earl's garden; he will be happier with the lawn. Standing here he may reflect upon the way in which a scene so classical, so deliberate, so complete, has been accomplished not by the decisions of one mind at one time but by a combination of accident, selection, genius and the tides of taste.

Film and television set

  • Scenes from the Stanley Kubrick
    Stanley Kubrick
    Stanley Kubrick was an American film director, writer, producer, and photographer who lived in England during most of the last four decades of his career...

     film Barry Lyndon
    Barry Lyndon
    Barry Lyndon is a 1975 British-American period romantic war film produced, written, and directed by Stanley Kubrick based on the 1844 novel The Luck of Barry Lyndon by William Makepeace Thackeray which recounts the exploits of an 18th century Irish adventurer...

    (1975) were filmed in the Double Cube Room.
  • The Double Cube Room was used in The Bounty
    The Bounty
    The Bounty is a 1984 British historical film directed by Roger Donaldson, starring Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins, and produced by Bernard Williams with Dino De Laurentiis as executive producer. It is the fifth film version of the story of the mutiny on the Bounty. The screenplay was by Robert Bolt...

    (1984) to represent the Admiralty
    The Admiralty was formerly the authority in the Kingdom of England, and later in the United Kingdom, responsible for the command of the Royal Navy...

     building for the court martial of Captain Bligh
    William Bligh
    Vice Admiral William Bligh FRS RN was an officer of the British Royal Navy and a colonial administrator. A notorious mutiny occurred during his command of HMAV Bounty in 1789; Bligh and his loyal men made a remarkable voyage to Timor, after being set adrift in the Bounty's launch by the mutineers...

     for the loss of the Bounty
    HMS Bounty
    HMS Bounty , famous as the scene of the Mutiny on the Bounty on 28 April 1789, was originally a three-masted cargo ship, the Bethia, purchased by the British Admiralty, then modified and commissioned as His Majesty's Armed Vessel the...

  • The palladian bridge and gardens were featured in the Blackadder II
    Blackadder II
    Blackadder II is the second series of the BBC situation comedy Blackadder, written by Richard Curtis and Ben Elton, which aired from 9 January 1986 to 20 February 1986...

    episode "Bells" and the end titles of all episodes.
  • Rooms from the palace appear as rooms of Windsor Castle
    Windsor Castle
    Windsor Castle is a medieval castle and royal residence in Windsor in the English county of Berkshire, notable for its long association with the British royal family and its architecture. The original castle was built after the Norman invasion by William the Conqueror. Since the time of Henry I it...

     in The Madness of King George
    The Madness of King George
    The Madness of King George is a 1994 film directed by Nicholas Hytner and adapted by Alan Bennett from his own play, The Madness of George III. It tells the true story of George III's deteriorating mental health, and his equally declining relationship with his son, the Prince of Wales, particularly...

    (1994) (specifically, the concert with the bell-ringers, and two later scenes with the Prince of Wales, all shot in the Double Cube Room).
  • Scenes from Mrs. Brown
    Mrs. Brown
    Mrs. Brown is a 1997 British drama film starring Judi Dench, Billy Connolly, Geoffrey Palmer, Antony Sher and Gerard Butler...

    (1997) were filmed in the Double Cube Room, once again portraying the interior of Windsor Castle.
  • Rooms from the palace form the inside set of Pemberley (Chatsworth) in Pride and Prejudice
    Pride and Prejudice
    Pride and Prejudice is a novel by Jane Austen, first published in 1813. The story follows the main character Elizabeth Bennet as she deals with issues of manners, upbringing, morality, education and marriage in the society of the landed gentry of early 19th-century England...

  • Scenes from The Young Victoria
    The Young Victoria
    The Young Victoria is a 2009 period drama film based on the early life and reign of Queen Victoria, and her marriage to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. The film was directed by Jean-Marc Vallée and written by screenwriter Julian Fellowes. Graham King, Martin Scorsese, Sarah, Duchess of...

    , a film about the early years of Queen Victoria's reign, were filmed at Wilton.

Further reading

  • Bold, John, Wilton House and English Palladianism. London, HMSO. 1988. ISBN 0113000227

External links