Stately Homes of England 2013

Day 01,                      June 15th

Arrive in London and transfer to your hotel.  This afternoon we visit antique shops in London chosen by you.  Tonight we meet for dinner.

Day 02,                      June 16th    

After breakfast we drive to west London to visit Syon House, home of the Dukes of Northumberland for over four hundred years.  Originally the site of a mediæval abbey, Syon was named after Mount Zion.  The Abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539.  The land was then given to the 1st Duke of Somerset, Lord Protector to Edward VI, who built the house, but he was soon executed for treason.  It was then given to John Dudley, whose son, Guilford, was married to Lady Jane Grey.  It was at Syon that Lady Jane was offered the Crown, which she reluctantly accepted, and from here that she was conveyed to the Tower of London to be proclaimed Queen.  After further upheaval Syon was finally acquired through marriage by the 9th Earl of Northumberland in 1594, and the Percy family has lived there ever since.

In the 1760s the 1st Duke of Northumberland decided to totally remodel the house and garden, and hired two of the most fashionable designers of the day to accomplish this: Robert Adam and Launcelot “Capability” Brown.  Syon is Adam’s early English masterpiece, and the interiors are amongst the finest in England.  This afternoon we continue our journey south to our home for the next three nights, Amberley Castle, a 12th century fortified manor house.

Day 03,                      June 17th  

This morning we drive to Brighton to visit the spectacular Brighton Pavilion, seaside pleasure palace of George, Prince Regent (later George IV).  Remarkable for its exotic oriental style, the Pavilion was the backdrop for many fashionable Regency parties, and today is home to one of the finest collections of chinoiserie in Britain.  Designed by George’s favourite architect, John Nash, the Pavilion was finished in 1823.  It was considered progressive for its time incorporating the latest technology: gas lighting, running water, a fitted and fully plumbed bathroom for the King, with flushing toilets throughout the palace, and the latest equipment for the kitchen.  While in Brighton we will also take a walk through the city, visiting The Lanes and other highlights of the city.

Day 04,                      June 18th   

Today we visit Penshurst Place, ancestral home to the Sidney family, and birthplace of the great Elizabethan poet, courtier and soldier, Sir Philip Sidney.  The house was built in 1341 for Sir John de Pulteney, a London merchant and four-time Mayor of London.  It then passed into the hands of the Dukes of Buckingham, until the 3rd Duke was executed by Henry VIII, when the property passed to the Crown.  Henry often stayed at Penshurst while courting Anne Boleyn at her nearby home, Hever Castle.  In 1552 the house was granted to Sir William Sidney, courtier to Henry VIII, by his son, Edward VI, and has been in the Sidney family ever since.

Day 05,                      June 19th   

This morning takes us to Knole, one of England’s largest houses with 365 rooms, 52 staircases and 7 courtyards, set in a magnificent deer park once hunted in by Henry VIII.  It is renowned for the degree to which its early 17th century appearance has been preserved.  The house was built by Thomas Bourchier, Archbishop of Canterbury, between 1456 and 1486, and was bequeathed to the See of Canterbury after his death.  While Thomas Cranmer was Archbishop Henry VIII took a fancy to Knole and forced Cranmer to give it to him.  During the reign of Elizabeth I the house was given to her cousin, Thomas Sackville, whose descendants have lived in the house ever since.

This afternoon we visit Ightham Mote, which is probably the most authentic small mediæval manor house in England.  Arranged round a central courtyard, and surrounded by a moat (though the Mote of its name refers to a “moot” or meeting place, rather than its defensive moat), Ightham was built during the 14th and 15th centuries, and is home to the only Grade I-listed dog kennel.

Day 06,                      June 20th  

After breakfast we travel to Canterbury, spiritual home of Christianity in Britain since the Kingdom of Kent was converted by St Augustine in AD597.  St Augustine founded an episcopal see in the city and became the first Archbishop of Canterbury (a role which is still head of the Church of England and Anglicans worldwide).  Thomas Becket’s murder in the Cathedral in 1170 led to the site becoming one of Europe’s most important pilgrimage centres, with many thousands of pilgrims visiting every year.  His ornate tomb was destroyed by Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and all the gold, silver and jewels from it were taken to the Tower of London.  Parts of the city, including the Cathedral and the ruin of St Augustine’s Abbey, are designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Day 07,                      June 21st  

Today we visit Hever Castle, the Boleyn family home.  After Anne Boleyn’s father’s death, Henry VIII appropriated the Castle and gave it to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, when he divorced her in 1540.  The oldest part of the Castle is the gatehouse and walled bailey, which dates back to 1270.  The Castle was then converted into a manor in 1462, with the addition of a house within the walls.  It’s third period of renovation was in the 20th century when the Castle was acquired by William Waldorf Astor, and used as his family home.  On display are one of the elaborate door locks Henry VIII always travelled with to ensure his safety, as well as Anne Boleyn’s Book of Hours, that it is thought she took with her to her execution in 1536.

Day 08,                      June 22nd  

This morning we visit Leeds Castle, which has had a long association with the monarchy, and particularly as a home to several Queens of England.  It first became a royal residence in 1278 for Edward I and Eleanor of Castile.  After Eleanor’s death, Edward married Margaret of France, and granted the Castle to his new Queen.  After Margaret’s death it was granted by Edward II to his Lord Steward.  However, in 1321 the Castle again came into royal possession when the Lord Steward’s wife refused entry to Edward’s wife, Isabella of France, and Edward was forced to recapture the Castle to reassert his authority.  Isabella later used Leeds Castle as her primary residence after Edward II’s death.

Richard II granted the Castle to his bride, Anne of Bohemia, after which Henry IV gave it to his second wife, Joan of Navarre, while Henry V bequeathed it to his widow, Catherine of Valois.  Major alterations were made to the Castle on the orders of Henry VIII, and it was transformed into a magnificent royal palace for his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.  Famously, Henry and Catherine, with a 5,000-strong retinue, spent a night at Leeds Castle on their way to the “Field of the Cloth of Gold” meeting with Francis I of France.  Finally, in 1552 the Castle was granted to one of Henry VIII’s supporters and spent the next 300 years in private ownership, passing to related families through inheritance and sale.  The Castle seen today dates mostly from the early 19th century when it was heavily renovated in Tudor style using funds from the family’s Virginia estates, though the interiors were restored in the 1930s by Olive, Lady Bailliee, who left the Castle to the nation on her death.

Day 09,                      June 23rd      

After breakfast we drive to the airport for our flights home.


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