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Types of Castle and The History of Castles

Country Houses (Stately Homes & Châteaux)

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Stately Homes


A stately home is one of about 500 large properties built in the British Isles between the mid-16th century and the early part of the 20th century, as well as converted abbeys and other church property after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. These country houses are usually distinguished from true "castles", being of later date, and having been built purely as residences. These houses were a status symbol for the great families of England, who competed with each other to provide hospitality for members of the royal household.

Famous architects and landscape architects such as Robert Adam, Sir Charles Barry, Sir Edwin Lutyens, Sir John Vanbrugh, Capability Brown and Humphry Repton were employed to incorporate new styles into the buildings. Great art and furniture collections were built up and displayed in the houses.

The agricultural collapse towards the end of the 19th century, the First World War and then World War II changed the fortunes of many houses and their owners, and now they remain as a curious mix of living museums, part-ruined houses and castles and grand family estates.

Many stately homes are owned and managed by private individuals or by trusts. The costs of running a stately home are legendarily high. Many owners rent out their homes for use as film and television sets as a means of extra income, thus many of them are familiar sights to people who have never visited them in person. The grounds often contain other tourist attractions, such as safari parks, funfairs or museums.

The phrase stately home is a quotation from the poem The Homes of England, which was originally published in Blackwood's Magazine in 1827. It is by Felicia Hemans.

Owners do not usually use the phrase "stately home", a term only ever adopted by estate agents, nouveaux riches and parodists.

Longleat, England

Burghley House, Lincolnshire, England


Chatsworth, Derbyshire, England



Country Houses


The English country house is a large house or mansion, once in the ownership of an individual who also usually owned another great house in town allowing them to spend time in the country and in the city.

Country houses and stately homes are sometimes confused—while a country house is always in the country, a stately home can also be in a town. Apsley House, built for the Duke of Wellington at the corner of Hyde Park (No. 1, London), is one example. Other country houses such as Ascott in Buckinghamshire were deliberately designed not to be stately, and to harmonise with the landscape, while some of the great houses such as Kedleston Hall and Holkham Hall were built as "power houses" to impress and dominate the landscape, and were certainly intended to be "stately homes". Today many former stately homes, while still country houses, are far from stately and most certainly not homes.

The country house was not only a weekend retreat for aristocrats, but also often a full time residence for the minor gentry who were a central node in the so-called squirearchy that ruled Britain until the Reform Act 1832

Country houses of England have evolved over the last 500 years. Before this time larger houses were more often than not fortified, reflecting the position of their owners as feudal lords. The Tudor period of stability in the country saw the first of the large unfortified mansions. Henry VIII's policy of the Dissolution of the Monasteries resulted in many former ecclesiastical properties turned over to the King's favourites, who then converted them into private country houses. Woburn Abbey, Forde Abbey and many other mansions with Abbey or Priory in their name often date from this period as private houses.

It was during the later half of the reign of Elizabeth I and her successor James I that the first architect designed mansions, thought of today as epitomising the English country house, and began to make their appearance. Burghley House, Longleat House, and Hatfield House are perhaps amongst the most well known. Hatfield House was one of the first houses in England to show the Italianate influences of the renaissance, which was eventually to see the end of the hinting-at-castle-architecture "turrets and towers" Gothic style.

By the reign of Charles I, Inigo Jones and his form of Palladianism had changed the face of British domestic architecture completely. While there were later various Gothic Revival styles, the Palladian style in various forms, interrupted briefly by baroque, was to predominate until the second half of the 18th century when, influenced by ancient Greek styles, it gradually evolved into the neoclassicism championed by such architects as Robert Adam.

Some of the best known of England's country houses tend to have been built by one architect at one particular time: Montacute House, Chatsworth House, and Blenheim Palace are examples.

However, the vast majority of the lesser-known English country houses, often owned by both gentry and aristocracy, are an evolution of one or more styles with facades and wings in various styles in a mixture of high architecture, often as interpreted by a local architect or surveyor and determined by practicality as much as the whims of architectural taste. An example is Brympton d'Evercy in Somerset, a house of many periods that is unified architecturally by the continuing use of the same mellow local Ham Hill stone.

The fashionable William Kent redesigned Rousham House only to have it quickly and drastically altered to accommodate space for the owner's twelve children. Canons Ashby, home to poet John Dryden's family, exemplifies this: a medieval farmhouse enlarged in the Tudor era around a courtyard, given grandiose plaster ceilings in the Stewart period and then given Georgian facades in the 18th century. The whole is a glorious mismatch of styles and fashions which seamlessly blend together—this could be called the true English country house. Wilton House, one of England's grandest houses, is in a remarkably similar vein; although, while the Drydens, mere squires, at Canons Ashby employed a local architect, at Wilton the mighty Earls of Pembroke employed the finest architects of the day: first Holbein, 150 years later Inigo Jones, and then Wyatt followed by Chambers. Each employed a different style of architecture, seemingly unaware of the design of the wing around the next corner. These varying "improvements", often criticised at the time, today are the qualities which make English country houses unique. Scarcely anywhere else in the world would an elite class have allowed such an indifference to style.

For the highest echelons of British society during the 18th and 19th centuries the country house served as a place for relaxing, hunting at the end of the week, with some houses having their own theatre where performances were held. For local squires their country house was their only residence. They lived lived permanently on their country estates, seldom visiting London at all. The country house was the centre of its own world, providing employment to literally hundreds of people in the vicinity of its estate.

In previous eras before state benefits were introduced, those working on an Country House estate were among the most fortunate, receiving secured employment and rent-free accommodation. At the summit of these fortunate people was the indoor staff of the country house. Until the 20th century, unlike many of their contemporaries, they slept in proper beds, wore well-made adequate clothes and received three proper meals a day, plus a small wage.

Many aristocrats owned more than one country house and would visit each according to the season: Grouse shooting in Scotland, pheasant shooting and fox hunting in England. The Earl of Rosebery, for instance, had Dalmeny House in Scotland, Mentmore Towers in Buckinghamshire and another near Epsom just for the racing season. The largest country house in England is Blenheim Palace, compared with Hopetoun House in Scotland, Castletown House in Ireland and possibly Penrhyn Castle, Chirk Castle, Erddig or Glynllifon in Wales.

The slow decline of the English country house coincided with the rise of modern industry, which provided alternative employment for large numbers of people and contributed to upwardly mobile middle classes, but its ultimate demise began immediately following World War I. The huge staff required to maintain them had either left to fight and never returned, departed to work in the munitions factories, or to fulfil the void left by the fighting men in other workplaces. Of those who returned with the cessation of war, many left the countryside for better-paid jobs in towns.

The final blow for many country houses came following World War II; having been requisitioned during the war, they were returned to the owners in poor repair. Many had lost their heirs in one or other of the World Wars. Owners who survived were required to pay penal rates of tax. Agricultural incomes from the accompanying estates had dropped. The solution was to hold contents auctions and then demolish the house and sell its stone, fireplaces, and panelling. And this is what happened to many of Britain's finest houses.



Woburn Abbey, England


Castle Howard, England


Blenheim Palace, England


Badminton House, England


Highclere Castle is a country house in high Elizabethan style, with park designed by Capability Brown, in Hampshire, England.


Knebworth House in the parish of Knebworth in Hertfordshire, England.


Osborne House is a former royal residence in East Cowes, Isle of Wight, England. The house was built between 1845 and 1851 for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert




Today in Britain, country houses provide for a variety of needs. Many are owned by public bodies such as Kedleston Hall, Knole House, Lyme Park, Montacute House, Petworth House, West Wycombe Park and Waddesdon Manor. Others are owned by the National Trust. Brodsworth Hall, Kenwood House & Osborne House are owned by English Heritage and are open to the public as museums as part of the so-called "Stately home industry".

Some, including Wilton House and Chatsworth House, and many smaller houses such as Pencarrow in Cornwall and Rousham House in Oxfordshire are still owned by the families who built them, retain their treasures and are open during summer months to the public. Fewer still are owned by the original families and are not open to the public: Compton Wynyates is one. Easton Neston in Northamptonshire, one of the last of the architecturally important country houses never to have been opened to public viewing, was sold in 2005 for £15 million by Lord Hesketh.

The majority have become schools, hospitals, museums and prisons. Some, for example, Cliveden, Coworth House, Hartwell House, Peckforton Castle & Taymouth Castle, have become luxury hotels.

Examples used as schools or other educational uses include Ashridge House, Bramshill House, Dartington Hall, Harlaxton Manor, Heslington Hall, Prior Park, Scarisbrick Hall, Stowe House, Tring Park & Westonbirt House. Hewell Grange is now an open prison. Compton Verney is now an art gallery, Cusworth Hall is now the museum of South Yorkshire Life, Duff House & Paxton House are outstations of the National Gallery of Scotland, Temple Newsam House is a museum of the decorative arts, St Fagans National History Museum is based in and around St Fagans Castle, Wollaton Hall is now a natural history museum.

The National Portrait Gallery ( London) has several outstations at country houses: Montacute House is partially used to display Elizabethan and Jacobean portraits; Beningbrough Hall is used to display 18th-century portraits and Bodrhyddan Hall displays 19th-century portraits. Alton Towers has become an amusement park. Knebworth House stages rock concerts in the park. Glyndebourne has an opera house attached. Port Lympne is now a zoo, several houses also have Safari parks in the grounds: Knowsley Hall (The house has never been open to the public), Longleat & Woburn Abbey. Clouds House is used as a centre for treating alcoholics and drug addicts.

Moor Park is a golf club-house. Halton House is used by the Royal Air Force and Minley Manor is used by the army.

Another common use of country houses is to convert them for multiple occupation Kinmel Hall, New Wardour Castle, Sheffield Park House & Stoneleigh Abbey whose former park Stoneleigh Park is used for exhibitions and agricultural shows. Culzean Castle, Margam Castle & Tatton Hall are at the centre of country parks. Goodwood House is a centre of both horse & motor racing. Ince Blundell Hall is now a nunnery. Toddington Manor is being convert into an art gallery and home by Damien Hirst.

Many houses are now in the ownership of Local government and operated as country house museums including Ashton Court, Aston Hall being the first to be so owned from 1864, Cardiff Castle, Heaton Hall & Tredegar House. Ditchley is owned and used for conferences by the Ditchley Foundation. Some houses have survived as conserved ruins: Kirby Hall, Lowther Castle & Witley Court. These are among the fortunate few. In Britain during the 1920s to the early 1960s, thousands of country houses were demolished including East Cowes Castle, Hamilton Palace & Nuthall Temple.

Usually listed as a building of historic interest, country houses can only be maintained under Government supervision, often interpreted by the owners as interference as the most faithful, most accurate, and most precise restoration and recreation is also usually the most expensive and the one Government inspectors insist upon. This system does, however, ensure that all work is correctly and authentically done. The negative side is that many owners cannot afford the work, so a roof remains leaking for the sake of a cheap roof tile.

Although the ownership or management of some houses has been transferred to a private trust such as Blair Castle, Burghley House, Grimsthorpe Castle and Hopetoun House. Other houses have transferred art works and furnishings under the Acceptance in Lieu scheme to ownership by various national or local museums, but are retained for display in the building. This enables the former owners to offset tax, the payment of which would otherwise have necessitated the sale of the art works, for example tapestries and furniture at Houghton Hall are now owned by the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Increasing numbers of country houses hold licenses for weddings and civil ceremonies. Another source of income is use as a film location, many of the houses listed on the page have been used for this purpose. Many of the larger houses are available for hire for Corporate entertainment. Another source of revenue is using houses for Murder mystery games.

Belvoir Castle in the county of Leicestershire, England


Balmoral Castle, a large estate house situated in the area of Aberdeenshire, Scotland,


Longleat, England


Deer at Woburn Abbey, England


Grimsthorpe Castle, England





A Château is a manor house or residence of the lord of the manor or a country house of nobility or gentry, with or without fortifications, originally—and still most frequently—in French-speaking regions.

The word château is also used for castles in French, so where clarification is needed, the term château fort is used to describe a castle, such as Château fort de Roquetaillade.

Although etymologically cognate with the word castle, the word château is not used in the same way as "castle", and most châteaux are described in English as "palaces" or "country houses" rather than "castles". For example, the Château de Versailles is so called because it was located in the countryside when it was built. It does not bear any resemblance to a castle, so it is usually known in English as the Palace of Versailles.

The urban counterpart of château is palais, which in French is applied only to grand houses in a city. This usage is again different from that of the term "palace" in English, where there is no requirement that a palace must be in a city, but the word is rarely used for buildings other than royal or episcopal residences.

If a château is not old, then it must be grand. A château is a “power house”, as Sir John Summerson dubbed the British and Irish “stately homes” that are the British Isles' architectural counterparts to French châteaux. It is the personal (and usually hereditary) badge of a family that, with some official rank, locally represents the royal authority; thus, the word château often refers to the dwelling of a member of either the French royalty or the nobility, but some fine châteaux, such as Vaux-le-Vicomte, were built by the essentially high-bourgeois — people but recently ennobled: tax-farmers and ministers of Louis XIII and his royal successors.

A château is supported by its terres (lands), composing a demesne that renders the society of the château largely self-sufficient, in the manner of the historic Roman and Early Medieval villa system, (cf. manorialism, hacienda). The open villas of Rome in the times of Pliny the Elder, Maecenas, and Emperor Tiberius began to be walled-in, and then fortified in the 3rd century AD, thus evolving to castellar “châteaux”. In modern usage, a château retains some enclosures that are distant descendants of these fortifying outworks: a fenced, gated, closeable forecourt, perhaps a gatehouse or a keeper's lodge, and supporting outbuildings (stables, kitchens, breweries, bakeries, manservant quarters in the garçonnière). Besides the cour d’honneur (court of honour) entrance, the château might have an inner cour (“court”), and inside, in the private residence, the château faces a simply and discreetly enclosed park.

In the city of Paris, the Louvre (fortified) and the Luxembourg (originally suburban) represented the original château but lost their château etymology, becoming “palaces” when the City enclosed them.

Château de Sceaux, Sceaux, Hauts-de-Seine, France


Château de Langeais, (a medieval castle rebuilt as a château), Indre-et-Loire, France


Château de Azay-le-Rideau, Azay-le-Rideau, Chinon, Indre-et-Loire, Centre, France



More on Types of Castle and History of Castles


Click on any of the following links to learn more about specific types of castle



Dover Castle, Kent, England


Matsumoto Castle, ("Crow Castle"), Matsumoto,, Nagano Prefecture near Tokyo.


Château de Sceaux, Sceaux, Hauts-de-Seine,France


Alcazar Castle, Segovia,Spain




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