Wilton House is an impressive example of severe Palladian style and is home to Inigo Jones’ famous Single and Double Cube Rooms, believed by some to be the finest 17th century staterooms in England. Privately owned since King Henry VIII seized it from its resident nuns and handed it over to his brother-in-law, Wilton House contains a stunning collection of paintings and furniture and has been open to the public since 1951.
Key Facts about Wilton House
- Wilton House is located in Wilton, in the county of Wiltshire in England.
- There was a priory on the site of Wilton House from the year 871, but the present house was largely built around 1543 by William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke.
- Wilton house is still in private ownership and is currently owned by the 18th Earl of Pembroke. It has been open to the public since 1951.
History of the House
Truly one of the great houses of England, Wilton House began its life as a nunnery. The abbey at Wilton was built around 871 and founded by the first recognized Saxon sovereign of England, King Egbert. Under King Alfred, known later as Alfred the Great, who was known to be devout Christian, the abbey grew until it became one of the most prosperous in England.
Of course, Wilton Abbey could not escape the attention of King Henry VIII and was seized during the Dissolution of the Monasteries around the year 1540. As brother-in-law to the King, (Herbert married Anne Parr, sister of Queen Consort Catherine Parr) William Herbert was granted the abbey and 46,000 acre estate in 1542. Eventually, Herbert was also granted the title of Earl of Pembroke, a tradition that continues today with the 18th Earl still a resident at Wilton House. Herbert’s future was secured and he began to enjoy the fruits of his labours at court by transforming his abandoned abbey into a fine stately home.
The great Tudor mansion built by the first Earl of Pembroke lasted just eighty years, despite unsubstantiated rumors that the architect of the project was none other than Hans Holbein the Younger. Whether the artist was involved or not, the Gothic-renaissance entrance porch to the Tudor house was salvaged in the 19th century and is now known as the ‘Holbein Porch’.
In the 1630s the 4th Earl decided to demolish the southern wing of the house and erect several staterooms in its place. Using original designs said to have been drawn up by the famous Inigo Jones, the 4th Earl employed Jones’ protégé Isaac de Caus to create a new south facade in a severe Palladian style. It has been discovered that the original plan was for two identical wings linked by a central portico but the second wing was never built. Following a huge fire that ravaged Wilton House, Inigo Jones was enlisted, along with John Webb, to improve the house based on his original plan. The modifications carried out were considered a triumph.
The state rooms at Wilton House designed by John Webb and Inigo Jones are considered some of the finest and most lavishly decorated rooms in England. Designed to please the eye of royal guests, the state rooms are hung with a magnificent collection of paintings and filled with furniture by the greatest makers of the day.
Wilton’s Colonnade Room was converted for a visit by King George III and features a rococo ceiling mural completed in the 1730s by Andien de Clermont. In the Great Ante-Room hangs one of Wilton’s greatest treasures, a portrait of Rembrandt’s mother painted by Rembrandt himself. The Singe Cube Room introduces visitors to Jones’ scheme of white plaster encrusted with gold, red walls and pink carpets and features a painted canvas ceiling rendered by Italian painter Cavalier D’Arpino.
The Double Cube Room is considered the most stunning room in the house. Around 60ft by 30ft by 30ft in size, this cavernous space was decorated to complement the van Dyck paintings that fill the wall panels and includes a huge work depicting the 4th Earl and his family. The Corner Room, Little Ante Room and The Hunting Room are the final three rooms created by Inigo Jones, Webb and de Caus.
In 1705, the 8th Earl made some changes to Wilton House in order to accommodate his Arundel Marbles, but other than this minor intervention Wilton was largely unchanged until the 11th Earl took control in 1801. James Wyatt was enlisted by the 11th Earl to modernist Wilton House and provide more space for the Earl to display his growing collection of paintings and sculpture. Wyatt’s architectural work at Wilton House was in the Gothic style, a change from his usual neoclassical approach.
The changes Wyatt made to the north front of the house, relocating an ‘arc de triumph’ from Wilton’s park to the entrance forecourt and adding an equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, have not always been met with praise. However, Wyatt’s addition of the cloisters, a two-storied gallery added in recognition of Wilton’s monastic past, and creation of a natural-light filled space to display the Pembroke collection of sculpture, is largely celebrated.
A Palladian bridge by Roger Morris that sits astride the River Nadder is a highlight of Wilton’s grounds and gardens. Wilton House has been open to the public since 1951 and since 2012, the 18th Earl, William Pembroke, has lived in the house with his family. Wilton House’s 21 acres of landscaped parkland, particularly its water and rose gardens, are incredibly popular among visitors.
What Makes Wilton House Famous?
Wilton House has been described as being the best example of Palladian architecture in the UK, it’s Single and Double Cube Rooms have been described as being the finest staterooms in England and its collection of van Dyck paintings has been described as the best in the world. The country seat of the Earls of Pembroke for over 400 years, Wilton House is an architectural and artistic gem.
Wilton House in TV and Film
- The Young Victoria (2009)
- Pride and Prejudice (2005)
- Mrs Brown (1997)
- Sense and Sensibility (1995)
- The Madness of King George (1994)
- The Bounty (1984)
- Blackadder (1986 TV Series)
- Barry Lyndon (1975)
- Thomas Herbert Pembroke (2015) A Description of the Antiquities and Curiosities in Wilton House
- Neville Rodwell Wilkinson (2010) Wilton House Guide: A handbook for Visitors.
- (1988) Wilton House and English Palladianism: Some Wiltshire Houses
- Sidney Herbert Pembroke (1968) A Catalogue of the paintings and drawings in the collecton at Wilton House
Wilton House is open to the public from April to August, Sundays to Thursdays. Opening hours are between 11:30am and 5pm and admission charges are £14.50 for adults and £7.50 for children.
If traveling to Wilton House by train, get off at Salisbury Station. Buses R3 and R8 will take you from the station to Wilton House. If driving to Wilton House, head for Salisbury, just off the A36 for Warminster/Bath.