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HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: Collection of Mortlake tapestries
As you might imagine given that nickname, Boughton House is elegant and richly decorated, with fine collections of furniture, tapestries, art, porcelain, and carpets gracing the interior rooms. Other highlights include an Armoury, and a grand ceremonial coach. There are really two houses at Boughton; the elegant ducal palace, modelled on the continental opulence of Versailles, and the earlier Tudor mansion, very much in the English style. The Elizabethan great hall is still at the heart of the house, though it has been so remodelled as to almost loose touch with the 16th century.
Boughton House was begun around 1500 on the site of a medieval estate owned by the Abbey of St Edmundsbury in Suffolk. The house was extended gradually over the course of the 16th century and well into the 17th, but it was still at its core a Tudor house. The man responsible for transforming the simple Tudor manor into an ornate, palatial residence was Ralph Montagu, later to become the 1st Duke of Montagu.
But if Ralph Montagu did not possess all the money he needed, he possessed something equally important in late Stuart England; charm. Enough charm to successfully woo the wealthy Duchess of Albemarle. It was the Duchess's money that helped finance the beginning of Boughton's transformation. Over the course of two decades the Elizabethan house was rebuilt as an ornate French-style stately home, with more than a hint of Versailles about it.
The house was built around 7 distinct courtyards. That number is probably no accident, for it sums the days of the week. There were also 12 entrances, 52 chimney stacks, and 365 windows in Montagu's Boughton, the figures corresponding to the number of months in year, weeks in the year, and days in the year respectively.
The Montagu line died out in the 18th century and Boughton passed through marriage to the Buccleuch's. The Buccleuch were one of the wealthiest families in Scotland, and had enough grand houses of their own. As a result, Boughton was left alone, not to decay, but as a time capsule, untouched by fads for different styles and fads. It remains then, a unique and marvellous testament to one man's 17th century vision and ambition.
The ceiling of this chamber is a magnificent painting depicting the Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne, with richly drawn characters from classical mythology. Among the Old Master paintings hung in this room is The Adoration of the Magi by El Greco.
Though the house at Boughton is a remarkably preserved statement of 17th century style and elegance, it is perhaps the gardens that most mark Boughton as unique. They really make Boughton seem very 'un-English'. That's not an insult, but it is hard to see the long, elegant canals and sweeping formal lawns and not think you'd somehow ended up in Europe rather than in the heart of Northamptonshire.
In addition to the water gardens, there is a walled kitchen garden and an Adventure playground area for children. A new feature is a sunken garden feature called Orpheus, accessed by sloping ramps down to a pool at the bottom. The Orpheus feature echos the Mound, or medieval motte, on the far side of the canal.
The 'English Versailles' is an extraordinary house, an opulent, haughty expression of European style and taste served up in a gentle English countryside setting. The result is quite unlike any other stately home in England.
About Boughton House
Address: Kettering, Northamptonshire, England, NN14 1BJ
Attraction Type: Historic House
Location: 3 miles north of Kettering on the A43 - junction from the A14. Seasonal house opening (except for pre-booked groups).
Website: Boughton House
Historic Houses Association
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
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16th century (Time Period) - 17th century (Time Period) - 18th century (Time Period) - Decorated (Architecture) - Elizabethan (Architecture) - Medieval (Time Period) - Stuart (Time Period) - Tudor (Time Period) -
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest
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