History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: Superb collection of 17th century furniture
Knole remained in royal hands until in 1566 Elizabeth I leased it to her cousin, Thomas Sackville. In 1603 Sackville purchased the freehold outright, and the story of Knole and the Sackville families has been intertwined since that date.
You pass from the Stone Court through a colonnaded entrance into the medieval Great Hall, a high-ceilinged chamber hung with large family portraits and beautifully carved panelling darkened with age. One of the paintings is that of Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset, a career politician who served both Elizabeth I and James I. He is shown wearing his sash of office as Lord Treasurer, a large key hanging from the sash. That self-same key now hangs for real from the gilded portrait frame.
How did the Sackvilles acquire such a large collection of fine furniture, especially 17th century Stuart furniture? Well, the story goes that Charles Sackville, the 6th Earl of Dorset, served as Chamberlain of the Household to William and Mary. One of the perquisites of his position was that Sackville could dispose of any furniture deemed out of fashion or outmoded. It helped that the new monarchs did not want reminders of the previous regime, so Sackville was able to remove not just a chair or two, but practically all the royal Stuart furniture from Windsor Castle and Hampton Court Palace. So assiduous was the Earl in his 'removal' that Knole now boasts the largest and most impressive collection of royal Stuart furniture in the world.
Another hugely impressive chamber - huge in every sense - is the ballroom, decorated with an astonishing frieze depicting monsters, mermaids, and gryphons. The Reynolds Room displays a collection of portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds, including a famous likeness of Wang-y-Tong, a Chinese page brought to Knole by the 3rd Duke. Wang attended Sevenoaks School, where he was called Warnoton by locals who could not pronounce his Chinese name.
One final chamber worth noting is the King's Bedroom, made for a visit from James I, with solid silver furniture and a four-poster bed topped by plumes of ostrich feathers. The bedclothes glitter with gold and silver thread.
Summing up Knole
Knole seems like a Jacobean time capsule, a place of dim corridors and dark panelling, where history lingers, and it almost comes as a surprise when you emerge at last, blinking in the sunlight. It is arguably Britain's largest house - depending how you calculate these things, with 7 courtyards for the days of the week, 52 staircases for the weeks of the year, and 365 rooms for the days of the year. It truly is one of the great houses of England, a place you could return again and again, and discover something new each time.
About Knole House
Address: Sevenoaks, Kent, England, TN15 0RP
Attraction Type: Historic House
Location: Off the A225, signposted from the M25/6. For satnavs use the postcode TN13 1HU
Website: Knole House
Phone: 01732 462100
National Trust - see also: National Trust memberships (official website link)
OS: TQ532 543
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
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