Penshurst Place and Gardens Houses
Penshurst, Nr Tonbridge
Set in the rural Weald of Kent surrounded by picturesque countryside and ancient parkland, Penshurst Place and Gardens has changed little over the centuries. This mediaeval masterpiece has been the seat of the Sidney family since 1552 and retains the warmth and character of a much-loved family home. Today, Philip Sidney, Viscount De L'Isle, continues the family guardianship of this wonderful old house and garden with his wife Isobel and their two children, Philip and Sophia.
The first recorded owner of the original 13th century house and estate was Sir Stephen de Penchester, a distinguished royal servant whose tomb can be found in Penshurst church. He was followed a half century later by Sir John de Pulteney, a wealthy London merchant and financier and four times elected Lord Mayor of London, who wanted to build a country stablishment within a days ride of the city, where he could hunt and entertain on a grand scale.
At the heart of the mediaeval manor house lies the Baron's Hall, with its awe-inspiring 60 foot high chestnut roof, supported by satirical representations of peasants and estate workers at the time. A rare
surviving central octagonal hearth in the centre of the hall, still lit on special occasions, formed the focal point of the household, where servants and estate workers slept, ate and lived out their lives, whilst the Lord of the Manor and his family resided upstairs in the Solar.
Sixty years after Sir John de Pulteney's death, Penshurst was in the hands of Henry IV's third son, John, Duke of Bedford. To him is attributed the second hall, known as the Buckingham Building, After his death Penshurst became the property of his younger brother, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, founder of Oxford's Bodleian Library. The estate then passed to Humphrey Stafford, Ist Duke of Buckingham. He was the first of three of that title to own the estate, all of whom were eventually beheaded.
In 1519, Penshurst Place was the setting of a sumptuous banquet given by 3rd Duke of Buckingham in honour of Henry VIII. Such lavish hospitality did not stop the King having the duke tried for treason and beheaded in the Tower of London just two years later! Since traitor's estates became forfeit to the Crown, this began a period of ownership of Penshurst Place by the Tudor Royal Family.
It was left to Henry VIII's successor, Edward VI, to settle the fate of Penshurst. In 1552, he made a gift of it to his loyal steward and tutor, Sir William Sidney. Throughout the turbulent years of Tudor and later, Stewart rule, the Sidney's served at Court and in government. Their influence increased further when Sir William's son, Henry Sidney, married Lady Mary Dudley, whose powerful family included the Duke of Northumberland and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, a favourite and, possibly, the one great love, of Queen Elizabeth I.
Sir Henry's son, Sir Philip Sidney, poet, courtier and soldier, was to live only 31 years, but during his short lifetime he gained the reputation of having all the attributes and talents a Renaissance gentleman could aspire to. He remains the personification of virtue, chivalry and nobility even today. Upon his death in 1586, so greatly was he admired, that he was accorded the honour of a state funeral at St Paul's Cathedral. He was the first commoner to receive such a tribute, not to be repeated until the death of Lord Nelson and Sir Winston Churchill.
There followed a period of prosperity when Sir Philip's brother, Robert Sidney, inherited the estate. He also became heir to both Warwick and Leicester uncles and married a rich Welsh heiress, Barbara Gamage. It is to Robert and Barbara whom Penshurst must thank for the Long Gallery, an addition to the state rooms.
Another of Penshurst's splendours is the 11-acre formal walled garden, with records dating back to 1346. One of the oldest gardens in private ownership, it remains much as it was when constructed by Sir Henry Sidney in the Elizabethan era. Central to his ambitious project was the creation of the acclaimed Italian Garden, which involved shifting thousands of tons of earth and building an ingenious system of walls and terraces.
AddressPenshurst, Nr Tonbridge, Tonbridge, Kent, TN11 8DG
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