Childhood Home of Queen Elizabeth I
See also our garden article Hatfield House Gardens
Hatfield House (not to be confused with Hatfield Palace) was built by Robert Cecil, the first earl of Salisbury and the chief minister to King James I, in 1611. It has always been in the Cecil family and is now occupied by the marquess of Salisbury. The site came into the Cecil family by way of an exchange of property with James I.
The house was visited by many famous people, among them Samuel Pepys, the famous diarist. The first marquess was Lord Chamberlain to George III. The third marquess of Salisbury was three times prime minister during Queen Victoria’s reign. He redecorated the bedrooms and installed the gold and iron gates in preparation for the Queen and Prince Albert’s visit to the house. He also installed electricity in the house.
The west wing of the house was largely destroyed during a fire in the 1700s. The marble hall occupies two floors and the width of the house. Here is the original minstrels’ gallery and a portrait of Mary Queen of Scots. The carving on the screen at one end is original.
The grand staircase, dating from Jacobean times, is intricately carved in wood. The private chapel has rare Flemish stained glass in its window. The state rooms contain paintings (look for the well-known rainbow portrait of Queen Elizabeth I), furniture, and historic armour of interest. The ‘four seasons’ tapestries date from the 17th century and are a splendid example of their kind.
There are many historic mementos of the Cecils displayed in the house. As well, there is a collection of letters of Queen Elizabeth, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Queen Mary, and Mary Queen of Scots. Keep an eye out for Queen Elizabeth I’s silk stockings and sunbonnet.
Also on view is the 180-foot-long long gallery—the gold leaf ceiling is stunning. A collection of rock crystal objects belonging to Robert Cecil is located here. The long gallery once saw all night gambling parties hosted by the first marchioness. Other ceilings distract with frescoes, while marble fireplaces enhance the rooms. In the library are 10,000 books. The King James drawing room is home to late 18th century furniture.
The Jacobean house stands in a large park. Here is the surviving brick wing of the four original ones of the royal palace of Hatfield, built around 1485 by the Bishop of Ely. It was taken over by Henry VIII when he seized the assets of the church. It in this palace that Elizabeth I spent much of her childhood. After her sister Queen Mary died, Elizabeth held her first council of state in the great hall. Today it is the place where marriages and Elizabethan banquets take place.
The 42 acres of gardens were first developed in the early 17th century by John Tradescant the Elder who went to Europe to bring back trees, bulbs, plants, and fruit trees new to England. The gardens include orchards, fountains, scented plants, water parterres, terraces, herb gardens and a foot maze. In Victorian times restoration of the gardens was begun after a period of neglect and still continues today under the present marchioness. New creations include the scented, knot, and kitchen gardens.
In the park is a national collection of model soldiers, five miles of parked trails, a picnic site, children’s play area, shop, tearoom, and self-service restaurant.
Hatfield House is located at Hatfield, Hertfordshire, 21 miles north of London.
Rail line (King's Cross every half-hour) runs to Hatfield village, then short walk to the house.
Tel. 0 1707 287 010
To book weddings and banquets: 0 1707 262 055 (banquets on Tue, Fri, and Sat evenings)
Open: varies greatly; see website for full details of garden and house opening days and times
Web: Hatfield House
Parking; special events
Insider Tip: Hatfield House makes a great ‘day out’ trip from London. Trains run from London Kings Cross every half hour or so for the half hour journey, and the station at Hatfield is just a few minutes from Hatfield House grounds. In good weather, Hatfield house is worth a full day’s visit.
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