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South facing view of Hatfield House

Hatfield House is a country house set in a large park, the Great Park, on the eastern side of the town of Hatfieldmarker, Hertfordshiremarker, Englandmarker. The present Jacobean house was built in 1611 by Robert Cecil, First Earl of Salisbury and Chief Minister to King James I and has been the home of the Cecil family ever since. It is currently the home of Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 7th Marquess of Salisbury. The house is open to the public.

Early history

Hatfield House Old Palace
An earlier building on the site was the Royal Palace of Hatfield. Only part of this still exists, a short distance from the present house. This palace was the childhood home and favorite residence of Queen Elizabeth I. Built in 1497 by the Bishop of Ely, Henry VII's minister John Cardinal Morton, it comprised four wings in a square surrounding a central courtyard. The palace was seized by Henry VIII with other church properties.

Henry VIII's children Edward and Elizabeth spent their youth at Hatfield Palace. In 1548, when she was only 15 years old, Elizabeth was under suspicion of having illegally agreed to marry Thomas Seymour, the House and her servants were seized by Edward VI's agent Robert Tyrwhit, and she was interrogated there. She successfully defended her conduct with wit and defiance. Seymour was executed in 1549 for numerous other crimes against the crown. After her two months of imprisonment in the Tower of London by her sister Queen Mary, Elizabeth returned to Hatfield. The Queen Elizabeth Oak on the grounds of the estate is said to be the location where Elizabeth was told she was Queen following Mary's death. In November 1558, Elizabeth held her first Council of State in the Great Hall.

Elizabeth's successor James I did not like the palace much and so gave it to Elizabeth's (and his own) chief minister Robert Cecil, First Earl of Salisbury, in exchange for Theobalds which was the Cecils' family home. Cecil liked to build and so tore down three wings of the Royal Palace (the back and sides of the square) in 1608 and used the bricks to build the present structure.

The Third Marquess of Salisbury was three times Prime Minister during the closing years of Queen Victoria's reign. The city of Salisbury (now Harare) in the colony of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwemarker) was founded in his time, and named for him.

Hatfield House is a popular tourist attraction because it has so many objects associated with Queen Elizabeth, including some gloves and a pair of silk stockings that are believed to have been the first ones in England. The library displays a 22' long illuminated parchment roll showing the pedigree of Queen Elizabeth with ancestors back to Adam and Eve. The Marble Hall holds the "Ermine Portrait" of Elizabeth by Nicholas Hilliard.

The State Rooms house many important paintings, furniture, tapestries and armour. The richly carved wooden Grand Staircase and the rare stained glass window in the private chapel are among the house's original Jacobean features.


Hatfield House Gardens

The Gardens, covering 42 acres (170,000 m²), date from the early 17th century, and were laid out by John Tradescant the elder. Tradescant visited Europe and brought back trees and plants that had never previously been grown in England. The gardens included orchards, fountains, scented plants, water parterres, terraces, herb gardens and a foot maze. They were neglected in the 18th century, but restoration began in Victorian times and continues under the present Dowager Marchioness of Salisbury.

During World War I, the grounds were used to test the first British tanks. An area was dug with trenches and craters and covered with barbed-wire to represent no-man's land and German trench lines on the Western Front. To commemorate this, the only surviving Mark I tank was sited at Hatfield from 1919 until 1970 before being moved to the Bovington Tank Museummarker.

The Rhodesian Light Infantry Regimental Association has placed its 'Troopie' memorial statue on the grounds of Hatfield House, due to the long association of the Cecil family with Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). At its base is a roll of regimental members ('troopies') who fell in the Rhodesian Bush War, along with the inscription 'Zimbabwe. For Peace and Reconcilliation.'


The State Rooms can be seen in the midweek guided tours, and visitors can look around in their own time at weekends. On Friday, the Garden Connoisseur's Day, the House is open for guided tours and for pre-booked specialist groups. The Park contains the national collection of model soldiers, and five miles of marked trails.

Film credits

The north front in 1880

The most important aspect in all the movies seems to be the very Britishmarker atmosphere and architecture, such as the huge size of the manor and its park.

Other films include Cromwell with Alec Guinness, west side of the house, The Avengers with Sean Connery overlooking the maze,Charlie and the Chocolate Factory starring Johnny Depp and V for Vendetta with Stephen Fry.



Further reading

  • Cecil, David. The Cecils of Hatfield House: An English Ruling Family. Houghton Mifflin, 1973. [written by the younger son of the 4th Marquess of Salisbury]

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