Highclere Castle has a rich heritage of stories and characters through centuries of history. The first written records of the estate date back to 749AD when the Anglo-Saxon King Cuthred of Wessex granted Highclere to the Bishops of Winchester.
During the 14th century Bishop William of Wykeham built a beautiful medieval palace and gardens where the Castle stands today and in what is called the Monks’ Garden.
During the 16th century, Highclere estate was sold and in 1679 purchased by Sir Robert Sawyer, Attorney General to Charles II, direct grandfather in line of the current Earl of Carnarvon. Sir Robert Sawyer rebuilt and restored the house and it became a fine gentleman’s residence: Highclere Place House, with formal Italian style gardens and avenues.
In 1771, the foremost landscape architect or “Placemaker”, ‘Capability’ Brown was commissioned to design a park. Plans for the alteration of the grounds, the creation of lake and the planting of trees. Two hundred and fifty years we have the good fortune to witness the majestic trees and sweeping views that frame the castle and its grounds. A decade later, the 1st Earl of Carnarvon then drew up and designed a new classically influenced house - a symmetrical Georgian House.
In 1842, the 3rd Earl of Carnarvon commissioned Sir Charles Barry, the preeminent Victorian architect who was re-building the Houses of Parliament to transform the Georgian house into the spectacular castle we all admire today. Highclere Castle has welcome Royalty and Prime Ministers, authors such as Henry James, poets, pianists and travelers from “antique lands”.
Lady Carnarvon has researched and written a number of books and during writing the photographic book “At Home at Highclere” discovered that many of the Founding Fathers of Canada often stayed at Highclere and in fact the 4th Earl of Carnarvon helped guide the British North America Act of 1867, and thus the creation of the Dominion of Canada on July 1st. He also welcomed the leading United States diplomat Charles Adams (whose father and grandfather were both Presidents) to Highclere for Christmas in that year to foster conversation and discussion.
The history of British flight began at Highclere Castle in 1910 when Geoffrey De Havilland made his first flight from the slope of Beacon Hill taking off above the ancient Bonze age tumuli.
The 5th Earl of Carnarvon worked in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt for some sixteen years alongside Howard Carter. In 1922 he had concluded it would be the last year to continue with his concession to excavate, and of course it was in November that they discovered the tomb, of Tutankhamun, which was the world’s first global media event.
In the meantime, Lady Almina Carnarvon had converted Highclere Castle into a hospital for wounded soldiers during the First World War and as head matron worked tirelessly to save lives and aid recovery. Renowned as a “Florence Nightingale” she saved the lives of so many men, fathers, sons and brothers and the several hundred letters in the Highclere archive testify to her extraordinary contribution.
Twenty years later as war was again declared in 1939, the Second World War, Highclere Castle took on another role: it became home to 50 tiny children and evacuees from North London.
As Highclere Castle moved into the 21st century, and the current Earl and Countess have sought to explore how to engage and integrate the importance of a Stately Home into the world of today. Highclere is visible history, welcoming visitors and guests from near and far and at the heart of every home is what you might offer your guests to drink and eat.