Boasting over 6 centuries of grandeur, Knole is a historic home in Kent, England, which has served as the residence of archbishops, princesses and nobility. Knole’s primary dwellers were the Sackville family who gradually withdrew into the immense house’s centre as it opened for visitors in the 18th century.
Gifted to the National Trust in 1946, Knole is open to the public although private apartments continue to be inhabited by the Sackville-West family. Knole is rumoured to be a calendar house featuring 365 rooms, 52 staircases, 12 entrances and 7 courtyards. However, the myth is incorrect – the house contains around 400 rooms with 15 open to visitors.
An early manor house is recorded at Knole in the late 13th and early 14th centuries, the first owner being Robert de Knole. The estate and house were built and extended by the Archbishops of Canterbury after 1456. Thomas Bourchier, archbishop and Lord Chancellor between 1455 and 1486, added a large courtyard and an impressive castellated entrance tower.
Knole passed into royal possession under the Tudors as a popular hunting spot for Henry VIII, who later used Knole to house his daughter Mary I while he divorced her mother, Catherine of Aragon. During the reign of Elizabeth I, Knole was gifted, returned and competed for by those vying for the estate’s income and prestige.
Knole eventually passed to the queen’s cousin Thomas Sackville, who bought the lease for £4000 in 1603. The prominent Sackville family designed Knole to display the family’s wealth and status, hosting monarchs including James I.
After the Civil War, the marriage between Frances Cranfield and Richard Sackville in 1637 secured the family finances as well as an impressive art and furniture collection amassed by Frances’ father. Several Sackvilles later, European Old Masters’ paintings were brought to Knole as well as a statue of ‘La Baccelli’. La Baccelli was a dancer who captured the heart of the 3rd Duke of Dorset and together they had a son. The statue was later moved to the attic.
Like La Baccelli, the women of Knole stamped their marks on its impressive hallways despite the gendered laws of primogeniture that meant only men could inherit Knole. These rules saw the author Vita Sackville-West parted from her beloved ancestral home when her father died in 1928.
Vita’s cousin Edward Sackville West or Eddy therefore inherited the estate and lived in the Gatehouse Tower at Knole between 1926 and 1940. Passionate about art, music and literature, as a novelist and critic Eddy often hosted the figures of the Bloomsbury Group – including Vita. Eddy was also known to have had relationships with men although without the freedom that other Bloomsbury members had.
Today, visitors can wander the estate and house owned and maintained by the National Trust. Walk underneath the impressive fortified gate entrance into the Green Court before following the Sackville leopards up the Great Staircase to see the 400 year old ‘Spangled Bed’.
Climb the 77 steps to the top of the Gatehouse Tower to admire splendid views across the park. Within the tower residence be sure to stop at the exhibitions that explore Eddy’s experience as a gay man in the early 20th century. After exploring the immense property and its equally immense history, grab a cup of tea at the Brewhouse Cafe.
Getting to Knole
The easiest way of reaching Knole is via car. From London, leave the M25 at exit 5 (A21) following signs for Sevenoaks. Parking is just off Sevenoaks town centre. Otherwise, the nearest train station is Sevenoaks which is a 20 minute train journey from London Charing Cross.