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: 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/.