This post was most recently updated on October 24th, 2017
Longleat House is a place of firsts. In 1547, it was the first house in England to be built in the Classical Rennaisance style.
In 1947, it was the first privately-owned stately home opened to the public.
In 1966, it opened the first drive-through safari park outside Africa and in 1975, it became home to the longest hedge maze in the world.
Here then is our guide to this most singular of stately homes.
The story of Longleat begins in the 16th century – long before the safari, the hedge maze and the 7th Marquis with his seventy ‘wifelets’ (we’ll get to that) – with the son of a farmer named John Thynne. Thynne rose rapidly through the social ranks during the reign of Henry VIII to become a trusted steward of Edward Seymour, Lord Protector of England and the Duke of Somerset.
Somerset rewarded Thynne with a knighthood for his service and loyalty on the battlefield of Pinkie in 1547.
The design of Longleat is Thynne’s very own. Perhaps it was the freedom of designing a house without the advice of an architect that allowed Thynne to create an English country house like no other. Longleat was created in the Italianate or Classical Renaissance style and was ground-breaking in its time.
Instead of creating a central courtyard with rooms looking inward, Thynne designed a giant cube of a house with all the major rooms facing outward to give views of the surrounding park.