Hatfield House, a London Prodigy
Hatfield House is a country house located about an hour's drive from London that you may well recognise if you have watched the recent film 'The Favourite', much of which was shot here.
The film portrayed the life of Queen Anne who never actually lived here, although there was originally a Royal Palace in the grounds where Queen Elizabeth I grew up, of which a significant section remains to this day and is immediately identifiable by the typically Tudor diagonal patterns of darkened bricks in the walls as you walk towards the main entrance. It is said that it was in the extensive grounds where Elizabeth discovered that she would be the next Queen in 1558.
The principal house dates from a few years later than this, built in 1611 for Robert Cecil, the 1st Earl of Salisbury who was one of Queen Elizabeth I’s most important advisers. To this day, Hatfield is the home of the 7th Marquess and Marchioness of Salisbury and their family and I rather like the fact that when walking around the Armoury recently, I noticed a little section cordoned off full of modern children’s toys. You really do get a sense this is a house that is lived in.
Hatfield is an example of a 'prodigy house', a large, ostentatious home designed to impress and astonish, ensuring any visitor was in no doubt as to the wealth and power that its owner commanded. It was also one of the first houses to have electricity. This wasn't always a great thing though as the lights would occasionally burst into flames and the family had to throw pillows at them, although I would have opted for something less flammable myself.
Notable items belonging to Elizabeth I are on display, including her gloves, a pair of silk stockings that are believed to have been the first in England and the famous 'Rainbow Portrait' in which she appears dressed as if for a masque.
But for my money, the real wow factor is the Long Gallery which runs the entire length of the South Front and has a ceiling that is covered in gold leaf, very much in the Venetian style of the mid-1700s.
I also spied a couple of headstones in the garden to William and Harry, who I suspect were much beloved family pets. Either that or someone is not telling me something 😉