England’s Treasure Houses: Hatfield House

© Cheryl Bolen


Queen Elizabeth I spent much of her childhood at Hatfield Palace, which had been home to the Bishops of Ely since the Middle Ages.  It was here that she learned she was the new queen, following the death of her half-sister Queen Mary.  All that remains of the 1480 palace is a red-brick hall where banquets are still held.

Beginning in 1607, Robert Cecil, the 1st Earl of Salisbury and younger son of Queen Elizabeth’s chief minister William Cecil (Lord Burghley), began constructing the present Jacobean mansion, using many of the red bricks from the demolition of Hatfield Palace. Robert Cecil had succeeded his father as a minister to Queen Elizabeth I, and after her death he served as chief minister to James I. It was from James I that Robert Cecil obtained Hatfield Palace. The king, much taken with Cecil’s Theobalds in Hertfordshire (now gone), offered to exchange Hatfield for Theobalds. Hatfield’s new construction took five years to complete and cost £11,000. Robert Cecil died in 1612, just after the completion of Hatfield House. He is buried at the old parish church adjacent to the property.

In the reign of George III, James Cecil (1748-1823) was created the 1st Marquess of Salisbury. The 3rd Marquess (1830-1903), served three times as Prime Minister to Queen Victoria.  As chairman of the Great Eastern Railway, he was instrumental in getting the Hatfield Rail Station located just beyond the gates of his family home. Lord David Cecil (1902-1986), a noted scholar, historian, and author, grew up at Hatfield House. The house is still owned and occupied by the present Marquess of Salisbury and is one of the 10 Treasure Houses of England.


With the advent of the railway, Hatfield’s entrance was reoriented to the north, where visitors now enter. The original south entrance was designed by Inigo Jones, who received £10 for his drawing. The original entrance is much more impressive with its long loggia flanked by ogee-topped double towers and a clock tower at the center.

Hatfield House, comprised of 223 rooms, is considered the finest and best known Jacobean house in England. The marble hall on the ground floor, so named for its checkered floor of white and black marble, has retained its Jacobean appearance. Original, intricately carved wooden screens stand at either end of the chamber. The hall features a minstrels’ gallery and huge Belgian tapestries. World leaders today still gather around the long table that can seat 70.

A climb up the grand Jacobean staircase (with original wooden dog gates) brings visitors to the first floor and the James I drawing room adorned with rich, deep greens and reds. Despite its large size, the room looks cozy with its intimately gathered conversation areas. A life-size statue of James I is incorporated into the overmantel. Walls are sheathed in tapestries which serve as a backdrop to a collection of priceless paintings, including those of Elizabeth I and of the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury and others painted by Reynolds and Lawrence. A trio of tall bayed windows floods the room with light.

A 180-feet long gallery connects the James I drawing room on the east wall with the library on the western wall. The library is among the finest in England. A large fireplace is center point to the symmetrical room. Its north and south walls feature galleries that are balustraded in gilded iron and are accessible by handsome wood steps. The library houses many rare manuscripts, including letters from Queen Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots.

The winter dining room was constructed in the early 19th century from two smaller rooms. Far more intimate than the hall, this dining room seats 14.

Original to the home, the marble-floored chapel was remodeled in Victorian times but still retains the early 17th century stained glass windows depicting Biblical scenes.

A tour of the house (guided on weekdays) includes the long, ground-floor gallery/loggia that is used as an armory and the massive original kitchen, which has been restored to look as it did in 1832.

Knot garden by the Old Palace



The 14-minute walk from the rail station is mostly through alleys of trees and alongside the broad lawn leading up to the present entrance. The 1,000-acre park offers vineyards, parterre gardens, a wilderness garden, a children’s play area, picnic sites, the 16-acre Broadwater, and park walks.–Cheryl Bolen is fortunate to have toured six of England’s Ten Treasure Houses.



Treasure Houses of England: Leeds Castle

© Cheryl Bolen


The castle’s origins date to a descendant of William the Conqueror, Robert de Crevecoeur, who began construction on the keep in 1119. A century later de Crevecoeur’s descendants dammed the River Len to form the lake which surrounds the castle.

In 1278 the castle passed into royal hands, becoming the dower home of widowed English queens, including Eleanor of Castile, Margaret of France, Isabella of France, Joan of Navarre, Anne of Bohemia, and Catherine de Velois.

In Tudor times, Henry VIII visited Leed’s often, and his son Edward VI granted the castle to one of his father’s courtiers.

Since the 1600s the castle has been privately owned by the Culpeper, Fairfax and Wykeham Martin families. The last private owner, Lady Baillie, bought the castle in 1926, spent a vast fortune restoring it, and passed it to a charitable trust upon her 1974 death.

Olive, Lady Baillie, had inherited a large fortune at the age of 27 upon the death of her American mother, who was a Whitney (an heir to the Standard Oil riches). Lady Baillie’s father was an English peer, as was one of her three husbands. She purchased the house for £6.5 million and throughout her life continued to pore money into the castle’s restoration and furnishings. During the 1930s and 40s, the castle’s guests included Errol Flynn, Noel Coward, Douglas Fairbanks, and David Niven.

Upon her death in 1974, Lady Baillie left the castle to the Leeds Castle Foundation, a private charitable trust whose aim is to preserve the castle and grounds. Since Lady Baillie’s death, over 10 million people have visited the castle.


The elegance of medieval Leeds Castle rising from its surrounding lake is one of England’s most photographed sites and demonstrates why Leeds has been selected as one of the country’s 10 Treasure Houses.

The castle visitors see today is the result of over 900 years of alterations. It has Norman foundations, a medieval gatehouse, a gloriette built by Edward I and expanded during the reign of Henry VII, a Tudor tower, and a 19th-century country house. All of these were restored in the 20th century by architect Armand-Albert Rateau and decorator Stephane Boudin, whose clients included Jacqueline Kennedy and the Duchess of Windsor.

Visitors enter through the basement cellars, then tour the heraldry room before climbing to the keep, or gloriette (Spanish for pavilion). The queen’s bedroom has been recreated to appear as it would have when the medieval queens lived at the castle. From there, visitors move to the Tudor rooms, which include the queen’s gallery with its 1520 fireplace and busts of Tudor monarchs and the Henry VIII banqueting hall where the original arrow-slit windows have been replaced with large bay windows that afford a stunning view of the water surrounding the gloriette. Five of the castle’s 24 bedrooms (23 of which are available to conference guests) are located in the oval-shaped gloriette, including Lady Baillie’s bedroom and adjoining dressing room, the Catherine of Aragon room, and the seminar room, which was formerly the bedroom of Lady Baillie’s son.

The main staircase returns guests to the “new castle” and its yellow drawing room, the Thorpe Hall drawing room (named for the hall near Peterborough from which Lady Baillie purchased 17th- century paneling and fireplace), the library, and dining room.

Artwork at Leeds, though not as impressive as collections at Petworth or Chatsworth, for example, has been purchased with deference to the castle’s previous inhabitants.

While the castle’s furnishings reflect an amalgam of the eras to bridge the home’s history, they are pulled together gracefully. Visitors will appreciate the extra touches, ranging from live piano playing in the drawing room to dazzling displays of fresh flowers in every room.


Leeds Castle is a popular destination for families with young children. Children enjoy the vast duckery, which is a serpentine waterway where they can purchase duck grain to feed the large duck and swan population. Other favorites with children are the aviary, maze and grotto, dog collar museum, falconry, a turf maze, an education center, toddler’s play area, and train.

The castle’s grounds, which include a nine-hole golf course, encompass 500 lush acres. The greatest moat in England surrounds the three-acre castle island, which is the landscape’s crowning jewel. There’s a wooded cedar lawn, the Culpeper parterre garden, picnic areas, the great water lake, lovely walking trails, and a vineyard.

Another of its attractions is its short distance from London.

Treasure Houses of England: Burghley House

Note: Cheryl is writing a series on the ten Treasure Houses of England, which have been selected for their grandeur, architecture, furnishings, landscape, and historical significance. See the website at http://treasurehouses.co.uk/

Burghley House


Burghley House was built more than 400 years ago by William Cecil, the first Lord Burghley (1520-1598), who served as Lord High Treasurer and Chief Minister to Queen Elizabeth I for 40 years. Upon his death, the house and title passed to his eldest son, Thomas, who became 1st Earl of Exeter.

The 5th Earl of Exeter (1648-1700), who visited Italy three times and was one of the leading collectors of his day, greatly altered Lord Burghley’s house. The 9th Earl of Exeter (1725-1793) added extensively to Burghley’s collections of paintings, furnishings, and porcelain (among the finest private collection in England) during his four tours of Italy and is responsible for the naturalistic landscape designed by Lancelot “Capability” Brown in the mid 18th century. The 10th Earl became the 1st Marquess of Exeter in 1801.

None of the 1st Earl of Exeter’s descendants have played as important a role in government as the home’s builder, William Cecil. The 6th Marquess (1904-1981), as Lord Burghley, achieved fame by winning the gold medal in the 1928 Olympics in the 400-meter hurdles and winning the silver in the same event in 1932. A scene in the movie Chariots of Fire, where a Cambridge student runs around the great court in the time it takes the clock to strike 12, is based upon Lord Burghley. When he died without male descendants in 1981, the marquisate passed to his brother, who lived in Canada, and Burghley House and its contents became part of a charitable trust set up by him and administered, in part, by his descendants. His granddaughter, Miranda Rock, currently lives at Burghley with her husband and four children. The present Marquess of Exeter resides in Canada.

Movies which have featured Burghley House in recent years include the 2005 Pride and Prejudice in which Burghley served as Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s home, and The Da Vinci Code.


Upon seeing Burghley House for the first time, visitors will immediately understand why it is billed “The Largest and Grandest House of the Elizabethan Age.” Because of the grandeur of the home’s architecture, furnishings and grounds, it has been selected as one of England’s 10 Treasure Houses.

The Elizabethan house that was constructed from 1555-1587 in the shape of an “E” to honor the queen was largely modified in the 17th century. The exterior features its original roofline bristled with cupolas, obelisks and round chimneys.

Allow plenty of time to see the house, as about 20 rooms are on the tour. This includes four Georgian state rooms, a billiards room, the painted dining room featured in the 2005 film of Pride and Prejudice, the Elizabethan chapel, the bow room, the Marquetry room (for its inlaid furniture), Queen Elizabeth’s bedroom, the brown drawing room, the black and yellow bedroom, the pagoda room, the blue silk bedroom and its blue silk dressing room, the magnificently painted heaven room, after which visitors visit the equally magnificently painted hell staircase, and the great hall.


Much of what was designed by Lancelot “Capability” Brown in the 18th century remains, including the 26-acre lake. Like all of Brown’s landscapes, Burghley’s grounds of sweeping lawns, curving lake, swelling hills and strategically clumped trees contribute to a natural-looking landscape.

In recent years a sculpture garden and a Garden of Surprises (with a maze) have been added.

There’s a lake walk, a cricket ground and woodland area to explore.

The orangery offers a restaurant which looks out over a parterre rose garden.

Cheryl Bolen, who has been visiting England for three decades, spent most of the month of June exploring more of England’s stately homes. Her newest release is the A Birmingham Family Christmas. Visit her website at http://www.cherylbolen.com/.


Treasure Houses of England: Harewood

Note: Cheryl is writing a series on the ten Treasure Houses of England, which have been selected for their grandeur, architecture, furnishings, landscape, and historical significance. See the website at http://treasurehouses.co.uk/

© Cheryl Bolen

The history of Harewood goes back to ancient times, and structures date from the 12th (Harwood Castle) and 14th centuries (Gawthorpe Hall). Remnants of the castle remain on the estate, and excavation work is now being done on Gawthorpe Hall which was demolished in the 1770s when construction on Harewood House was completed.

Harewood House

In 1739 the Harewood and Gawthorpe estates were purchased by Henry Lascelles, who had made a large fortune in the West Indies sugar trade. Following his death in1753, his son Edwin took possession of Harewood. Construction on Harewood House began 1759 by a who’s who of 18th century builders and designers: builder John Carr, interior designer and architect Robert Adam, landscape architect Capability Brown, and furniture maker Thomas Chippendale. Edwin Lascelles supervised the construction himself. The house became habitable in 1771 although work continued throughout the 1770s.

When Edwin Lascelles died in 1795, the estate went to his cousin who was made Earl of Harewood, and the house has remained in the family ever since. In 1843 the third Earl employed Charles Barry, architect of the Houses of Parliament. Barry was asked to heighten the wings of the house, to alter the front and rear facades, and to create a new formal garden on the south side of the building. He also remodeled a number of rooms. Since then, the basic structure of the house has remained intact.

The 6th Earl was married to Princess Mary, Princess Royal, daughter of George V and the aunt of Queen Elizabeth. Princess Mary lived at Harewood for 35 years and died there in 1965.

Princess Mary

Today the house is still the family seat of the Lascelles family. David Lascelles is the 8th Earl. The house and grounds have been transferred into a trust ownership structure under the management of the Harewood House Trust. Harewood House is listed as one of the 10 Treasure Houses of England.


Built by John Carr of York, furnished by master furniture-maker Thomas Chippendale, with interiors by the celebrated Robert Adam, in the setting of one of Capability Brown’s finest landscape, it is not surprising that Harewood House is one of the 10 great Treasure Houses of England.

The exterior of the house is a product of Carr and Barry, with the latter having the final say. The house consists of a central block with adjoining wings which are connected to the main house with one-story links. The front entrance is dominated by a pediment and six Corinthian columns. The south front features Italianate terraces designed by Barry.

The interior of the house is pure Robert Adam: soaring, beautifully painted ceilings; elaborate plasterwork; ornate fireplaces; and striking mixed color schemes. Although he had to work with fixed room sizes, Harewood House is considered one of Adam’s greatest accomplishments. Chippendale also had a great influence on the design of the house which still contains an impressive collection of his furniture. In fact, Harewood House was the largest commission of Chippendale’s career (10 years and £10,000).

Harewood’s state bed, by Chippendale

Of special interest is the state bed in the state bedroom. A popular fashion of the 18th century was to have a state bedroom suite reserved for visiting royalty or heads of state. In the 19th century Barry did away with the state suite and converted the bedroom into a sitting room (later used by Princess Mary as her sitting room). After Barry’s alteration, Chippendale’s state bed was put in storage for 150 years! In 1999 £200,000 was finally raised to restore the bed and the state bedroom, which is now a highlight of the tour.

Although all the state rooms are impressive, especially noteworthy is the gallery which includes paintings by Titian, Tintoretto, Giovanni Bellini and El Greco as well as family portraits by Gainsborough, Reynolds, Romney, Hoppner and Lawrence. Another interesting feature is that Harewood House has three libraries (the main library, the old library, and the Spanish library) with more than 11,000 books. Also of special interest is the china room which contains an important collection of Sèvres porcelain bought in the early 19th century and a 1779 Bleu de Roi tea service that belonged to Queen Marie-Antoinette.


The grounds are a joint product of Brown’s “natural” setting and Barry’s formal garden. The most obvious manifestation of Brown’s “natural” design is the man-made lake which can be viewed from Barry’s terraces. Barry’s most spectacular contribution to the grounds are the intricate geometric flowerbeds that run the entire width of the south front.

There is a tea-room with seating on Barry’s terrace that overlooks the formal garden and Brown’s landscape.--Cheryl Bolen’s newest release is Miss Hastings’ Excellent London Adventure.


Treasure Houses of England: Chatsworth House

Chatsworth House

© Cheryl Bolen 


Bess of Hardwick (1527-1608) built the original home on the site in 1552. The house passed to her son William Cavendish, who became the first Earl of Devonshire in 1618. The 4th Earl of Devonshire, William Cavendish (1640-1707), became the 1st Duke of Devonshire for his part in bringing William of Orange to the English throne. The first duke is responsible for the house visitors see today. He pulled down Bess’s house in 1686, and with architect William Talman, started construction on the palatial house that stands today. It took more than 20 years to build and was completed the year of his death.

The 4th Duke, by marrying the heiress daughter of Lord Burlington (Palladian prophet, builder of Chiswick), brought even greater wealth and properties into the family.

Among the most famous occupants of the house were the 5th duke and his glamorous duchess, Georgiana, daughter of the 1st Earl Spencer. (A biography of Georgiana was the number one best selling book of 1999. It chronicled her husband’s affair with her best friend and the two illegitimate children born of that affair, making for one of the most interesting menage a trois in history. The 2005 Keira Knightley movie Duchess is based on the book.)


Since the time of its completion, Chatsworth has had “open days” for public viewing. It is said to be the inspiration for Mr. Darcy’s estate in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and actually serves as Darcy’s Pemberley in the 2005 movie.

The home’s five original state apartments were never visited by William and Mary, for whom they were intended, but Queen Victoria visited Chatsworth during the reign of the 6th, or Bachelor Duke (1790-1858), who was the first to make substantial changes to Chatsworth. In addition to adding a new wing, his most substantial changes were brought about by landscape designer Joseph Paxton, who also built the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park. Like the Crystal Palace, his Great Conservatory at Chatsworth is now gone, but his rockeries and fountains remain.

During World War II Chatsworth was occupied by a girls’ school. The rooms and corridors were dormitories, and the drawing rooms and larger bedrooms were classrooms.

The 11th Duke inherited Chatsworth in 1950 following the sudden death of his father. (His elder brother, who had married President Kennedy’s sister Kathleen, had been killed in the war.) It would take him 17 years to pay off the 80 percent death duties and would require selling off some of the estate’s art collection and deeding the Devonshire’s Hardwick Hall to the National Trust. Chatsworth, too, needed substantial repairs and modernization. By opening Chatsworth to the public and establishing the Chatsworth House Trust, the 11th Duke was able to preserve Chatsworth for future generations. When he died in 2004, the Guardian said the 11th Duke was able to turn his magnificent stately home in Derbyshire “into a public resource without compromising its dignity or losing it as a family home.” His son, the 12th Duke, continues living at Chatsworth.


The baroque palace of Chatworth with its surrounding 12,000-acre estate in the Derbyshire hills has repeatedly been selected as England’s favorite country house. Despite its fairly remote location, it draws 300,000 visitors a year. The collonaded, pedimented view of the house that is most photographed is not the entrance through which visitors enter.

The portion of the house built before the addition of the 1820s wing is constructed around a central courtyard. Only a portion of the home’s 297 rooms are open to the public. Perhaps the most recognizable of these is the Painted Hall, so named for the 17th century paintings of Julius Caesar that adorn the ceiling and walls. Floors here are of black and white checkered marble, and the hall’s focal point is a broad central staircase balustered in gilt iron and carpeted in red.

After climbing stairs in the Painted Hall and the Great Stairs, visitors come to the five original state apartments: the Great Chamber, the State Drawing Room, the State Music Room, the Bedchamber and the State Closet. Each features ceilings painted in the 17th century, as well as fine woodworking craftsmanship on the walls. It is thought the state bed which retains its 1700 coverings belonged to George II.

The Library

The library is roped off but can be viewed by visitors before they stroll into the Ante Library and its adjacent Dome Room, which features a windowed alcove flanked by polished marble columns.

The 1820s wing houses the Crimson Dining Room where Queen Victoria was feted while she was still a princess. Other rooms on the public tour include the 6th Duke’s Oak Room, a Grotto, Sculpture Gallery, and the Chapel.

Treasures (paintings, sculpture, and furnishings) from London’s Devonshire House, sold in the 1920s, and from Lord Burlington’s Chiswick House melded with those already at Chatsworth to give  Chatsworth what is said to be the finest art collection of any English country home.

Chatsworth has been selected as one of England’s nine Treasure Houses.


It is difficult to separate the palatial house of Chatsworth from the stunning grounds in which it is set. The 35,000-acre agriculture estate offers a 1,000-acre park that is open free to the public. Wooded hills with footpaths rise above the house, and the River Derwent rushes alongside the property’s pastoral sheep pasture. One day is really not long enough to explore all this property has to offer.

The Cascade

In earliest times, the house, which sets at the foot of the Derbyshire hills of the Peak District, was surrounded by formal gardens. The 4th Duke, however, demolished the 1st Duke’s formal gardens when he chose Capability Brown to landscape the parkland around the house in 1756. Fortunately, the 1st Duke’s cascade and the temple above it, voted Best Water Feature in England, has survived, along with his Willow Fountain, Canal Pond, and Flora’s Temple.

Capability Brown’s scheme to make the grounds around Chatsworth look natural included the planting of broad lawns and a variety of American trees.

Landscape architect Joseph Paxton’s (1803-1865) mark on Chatsworth is the most distinct today. Trained at Kew Gardens, Paxton is responsible for the huge rockeries, the pond their water flows into, the Azalea Dale and ravine, and the Bamboo Walk.

In modern times a maze constructed of 1,209 yew trees, flower gardens, and a Serpentine Hedge have been added. The original stable block, constructed to house 80 horses, is now used for the Farmyard demonstrations, and the 6th duke’s carriage house now serves as a restaurant. For children, there is an Adventure Playground.

One thing remains from Bess of Hardwick: the 16th century hunting tower, nestled in the verdant foothills.–Cheryl Bolen’s newest Regency historical release is Miss Hastings’ Excellent London Adventure.

Cheryl by Georgiana’s portrait at Chatsworth


Treasure Houses of England: Blenheim Palace

Note: Cheryl will be writing about the ten Treasure Houses of England. These are selected for their grandeur of architecture, furnishings, landscape, and historical significance.

 ©Cheryl Bolen

Blenheim Palace was built between 1705 and 1722 to honor John Churchill (1650-1722), 1st Duke of Marlborough for his victory over the French at Blenheim (Bavaria) in 1703. Churchill had previously married Sara Jennings (1660-1744), a lady in waiting to Queen Anne, the monarch who gave them the royal park at Woodstock and authorized the construction of a palace there.

Sara Churchill, Douchess of Marlborough

The architect of Castle Howard, Sir John Vanbrugh (who had no training as an architect), designed the baroque palace, with assistance from Sir Christopher Wren’s top assistant, Nicholas Hawksmoor. It was Vanbrugh’s intent the palace be a monument, castle, citadel and private house – in that order. The last room to be completed, the long library, was not finished until ten years after the 1st Duke’s death.

Though she preferred plain and cozy, the 1st Duchess threw her heart into the palace’s completion to honor her beloved husband – perhaps the only person with whom she did not fight.

By special dispensation of Parliament, the title passed to John and Sarah’s daughter, Henrietta, because their sons had died of smallpox before reaching adulthood. Upon Henrietta’s death, the dukedom passed through the son of her sister, who had married Charles Spencer. The old duchess Sarah’s private fortune passed to the second Spencer grandson, who became the 1st Earl Spencer (Princess Diana’s ancestor).

The 7th Duke of Marlborough (1822-1857) was Sir Winston Churchill’s grandfather.  Winston Churchill (1874-1965) said the two most significant events in his life occurred at Blenheim: He was born there, and he proposed marriage to Clementine Hozier there.

The 9th Duke (1871-1934) bolstered the family’s sagging fortunes in 1895 when he married Consuelo Vanderbilt of the American railroad fortune, who brought $2.5 million (about $75 million today) into the marriage. Both bride and groom were forced into the marriage for reasons other than love, and the marriage that produced two sons ended in divorce in 1921. The duke and duchess quickly remarried others.

Today, Blenheim Palace is the principal seat for the 11th duke and his wife.


Blenheim lives up to the claim it is “Britain’s Greatest Palace.” The baroque palace is not only one of England’s 10 Treasure Houses (selected for grandeur of architecture, furnishings, landscape, and historical significance), but has also been named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Blenheim’s massive scale

Constructed of ochre-colored stone and topped with several graceful turrets, the central, u-shaped block opens onto a massive courtyard of which the grand, pedimented entry is the focal point. Wings on either side of the entry are connected by curving links. Visitors enter the great hall – the magnificence of which redefines that venerable English room. This great hall soars to 67 feet and features three towering tiers of arches, culminating in an upper tier of arched windows that flood the room with light.

Blenheim’s library

There’s a painted ceiling featuring the 1st Duke in Roman garb, and opposite the entry Corinthian columns support a huge arch that trumpets entry into the saloon, another vast stone room with elaborate marble door casings.

On weekdays visitors are taken on a guided tour of the public rooms, which include the 180-foot long library, the red drawing room and the green drawing room, the green writing room, and state rooms hung with tapestries commemorating the 1st Duke’s battles.

The room in which Winston Churchill was born is also displayed, along with a self-guided Churchill exhibition. Visitors may opt to take a tour (about 45 minutes) titled The Untold Story, which uses talking portraits and special projection technology to tell the history of the house.


Pick a pretty day to come here and plan to stay until dusk exploring the 2,100 acres. Children will enjoy taking the train from just outside the house’s main entrance to the Pleasure Gardens, which include mazes, a Blenheim Bygone exhibition, putting greens, giant chess game, kitchen and cutting gardens, and an adventure play area.

But the main attraction here is the Capability Brown landscape commissioned by the 4th Duke in 1764 and completed 10 years later. Brown created the lakes on either side of Vanbrugh’s Grand Bridge that had been built over the Glyme stream. A circular walk around the Queen’s Pool takes 45 minutes; another circular lakeside walk to the rose gardens also takes 45 minutes. A one-hour walk brings visitors to the rose garden and the Secret Garden (tropical) as well as across broad lawns. Two of the walks sweep past the Temple of Diana where Winston Churchill asked Clementine to marry him.

In addition to picnic areas, there is one restaurant at the Pleasure Gardens and another adjacent to the Water Terraces.

From the house’s grand entry, one can look straight ahead, past the Vanbrugh Grand Bridge to see the 1st Duke of Marlborough’s 134-foot high Column of Victory.–By Cheryl Bolen, whose next Regency-set romance novel, Miss Hastings’ Excellent London Adventure, comes out soon.


The Children of George III

© Cheryl Bolen

Unlike his hedonistic eldest son, England’s King George III (1738-1820) did not philander. He settled down with his German-born wife, Charlotte (1744-1818), at age 23, and she proceeded to bear him 15 children over the next 20 years. He did not take mistresses. He lived frugally. And he derived great pleasure from his large brood–until the boys became men, that is.

Eleven of the children would reach old age. Two boys would die before the age of 5, and his youngest daughter died while in her twenties. Of the 15, eight were boys and seven were girls. Two of the sons would rule England and another would rule Hanover.

The younger brothers are less famous and tend to blur, even though they each led distinctly different lives. The girls, too, all seem to run together. Perhaps that is because their lives were all rather the same–as bland as their parents.

The living conditions of King George’s daughters came to be known as The Nunnery. That is because none of them was allowed to marry at the age when most young ladies take husbands. Three of the daughters would eventually marry–but not until they were past the age of child bearing.

Starved for the male companionship that was so lacking in their lives, one of the sisters, Sophia (1777-1848), got pregnant by her father’s 56-year-old equerry and secretly gave birth without any member of her household being any the wiser. (The little boy was placed in a foster home.)

Augusta (1768-1840) married the Duke of Saxe-Coburg, and Elizabeth married the Prince of Hesse-Homburg when she was 48 years of age. The only other sister to marry was Mary, who married the Duke of Gloucester, whose father was her father’s brother. 

The boys were raised in pairs, sharing domiciles and tutors. For example, the Prince of Wales and his brother Freddie (later Duke of York) were exactly a year apart, and they were never separated from one another. Freddie was the king’s favorite son, and when it became clear his elder brother was a bad influence on him, the king sent Freddie to Germany.

The third son, William, later the Duke of Clarence and later still, King William IV, was sent to sea at an early age and, unlike his regent brother, was somewhat coarse. He lived as man and wife for more than 20 years with the actress Mrs. Jordan, who bore him 10 children. Their children took the FitzClarence surname.

The next son, Edward (1767-1820), later known as the Duke of Kent, lived for many years with a French widow. He was a stern military man. After the regent’s daughter, Princess Charlotte, died in childbirth in 1817, he would be one of the brothers scurrying to take a legitimate wife in order to father a child who would inherit the English throne. He married a young Saxe-Coburg widow who had already borne two children. She bore a daughter, Victoria, who would succeed her Uncle William as ruler of England in 1837.

Ernest (1771-1851), the fifth son, became King of Hanover. He was the only brother to never have a weight problem.

Another of the brothers to undergo an illegal marriage (as the Prince of Wales had done with Mrs. Fitzherbert in 1785) was Augustus (1773-1843). When he was 20 he secretly married Lady Augusta, who bore him two children, but the marriage was invalidated in 1801 because it violated the Royal Marriage Act.

The last brother to live past childhood, Adolphus (1774-1850) was known as the Duke of Cambridge.

Son Alfred, who was born in 1780, died at age 2. At his death, the king said, “I am very sorry for Alfred, but if it had been Octavius, I should have died too.” Months later, Octavius, who was born in 1779, became ill after being vaccinated for smallpox, and he never recovered. His father was almost inconsolable over the loss of his next-to-youngest son.

How curious that a monarch who fathered eight legitimate sons had not a single grandson to serve as king. More odd still was that when George III’s only legitimate grandchild, Princess Charlotte, died when he was 78, there was not a single legitimate grandchild of George III.— Cheryl Bolen’s 37th book, Ex-Spinster by Christmas, is her latest release. Watch for Miss Hasting’s Excellent London Adventure in May.