Chenies Manor House
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
In the reign of Edward I Chenies was a simple hunting lodge, a place for the nobility to get away from the pressures of court life and enjoy rustic pursuits. It took the ambition and political astuteness of one man, John Russell, to turn Chenies from a secluded country house to a fortified manor, suited to hosting the royal court.
John Russell was a man of his times, a Tudor courtier, statesman, and man of political intrigue. He joined Henry VIII's royal court in 1523 and devoted the rest of his life to service of the crown. His reward was a peerage, an honour his descendants would later turn into a Dukedom.
In 1541 Henry came on a visit with Catherine Howard, his fifth wife. Catherine was - rather foolishly as it turned out - carrying on an affair with a member of the court retinue, Thomas Culpepper. We do not know for certain, but it was possibly at Chenies that Archbishop Cranmer's secret informers gathered evidence of Catherine's infidelity, evidence that resulted in her execution for treason only a few months later. It is said that Henry's halting footsteps can still be heard echoing down the corridor leading the room Catherine occupied during her stay.
The manor dwindled in importance and was let out as a farmhouse. Horace Walpole, visiting in 1750, said that it was 'in piteous fragments', and a surveyor recommended that the entire structure be pulled down.
Though parts of the house were indeed dismantled, most was saved, and the glorious Tudor gatehouse and Henry VIII wing were restored. In 1829 Edward Blore modernised the house for the Russells, but since then it has remained blessedly unaltered.
The house that greets you as you pass through the Tudor gatehouse is L-shaped, with the entrance at the meeting of the wings. Within, the main ground floor room is the parlour, graced with a lovely beamed ceiling and warmed by a wide fireplace. Over the mantle is a coat of arms carved from a tree blown down on the estate in the Great Storm of 1987. Many of the downstairs rooms are filled with Georgian and later furniture, though much of the decor has its roots firmly in Tudor times. The effect is wonderfully warm and welcoming; this is very much a family home, not a museum showpiece. Upstairs are atmospheric bedchambers, including one with a secret hiding hole under the floorboards of a cupboard. Then there is the long gallery, with exhibits on the family's log history at Chenies.
Visits to the house are by timed tour only. We had a wonderful tour guide, who really helped make the history of the house come alive. I expected to enjoy the house, but I hadn't expected to enjoy the garden as much as I did; it is truly wonderful, full of rich colours in summer. In one garden area is a recreation of a turf maze, popular in the medieval and Tudor period. Chenies is truly one of the great English manor houses, an absolute delight to visit, set in a picture-postcard village.
Note: Sorry there are no photos of the interiors; as a family home photography was not allowed indoors, so I had to content myself with lots of exterior views!
Garden: An intriguing mix of historical garden styles surrounding a 15th century manor. There are Tudor gardens, a hedge maze, a physic garden, and a Victorian kitchen garden to visit.
About Chenies Manor House
Address: Chenies, Buckinghamshire, England, WD3 6ER
Attraction Type: Historic House
Location: Off the A404. Limited parking around the village green.
Website: Chenies Manor House
Phone: 01494 762 888
Historic Houses Association
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
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Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest
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