Hemmed in by park and farmland in Hertfordshire sits the Jacobean fairytale mansion, Hatfield House, only 25 kilometers from Central London. Easily accessible by train or car, Hatfield House makes for a pleasant day excursion out of the capital.
Royal Palace of Hatfield
The main house was built in 1611 and is undoubtedly the star attraction of the site. The adjacent older palace, however, has perhaps even more historical royal clout.
As a matter of fact, the Royal Palace of Hatfield was where Queen Elizabeth I spent most of her childhood. It was here she was informed that she was to become queen of England and it was here, in 1558, she held her first council of state, in the Great Hall.
Hatfield House & Park
Her successor, James I, turned over the palace to his chief minister Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, who had also served under Elizabeth. It was he who built the new Hatfield House, and he who tore down significant parts of the old palace in order to do so. The house is still in the possession of the Cecil family. Rest assured, however, the house is open to the public.
Several of the Cecil family have been prominent politicians throughout the centuries. One is even said to have given rise to the expression “Bob’s your uncle.” The third Marquess of Salisbury, Robert Cecil, was notorious as Prime Minister for placing members of his own family in government.
Much of the Great Park, which surrounds the house, is a nature reserve and access is restricted for the most part. Towards the south, however, run quaint country lanes with cottages dotted across the landscape. Beyond are fields and farmland. In the sun, fat pigs lay down in groups to soak up the rays.
Hatfield House, as an expression of architectural trends, is both of a national vernacular and international style.
The turreted red-brick construction, complete with gables and mullioned windows, would be familiar to the Tudor era of the preceding century. Indeed, compared to the prodigy houses of Elizabethan times, the use of red brick appears like a step back to the days of Henry the Eighth.
The south front, however, is a different experience. Here, the red brick has been exchanged with stone and the classical orders have been assembled in a frontispiece in accordance with the French fashion of the same period.
There is a touch of correctness in the manner in which the orders have been put together, in accordance with rules of classical proportion and Roman precedent. On the other hand, the symbolic nature of the columns as load-bearers shows no signs of being fully appreciated.
The south front is undoubtedly the most defining part of the building. It has been used as a backdrop for several films, including Shakespeare in Love, where the stone façade was used to portray a mansion in Greenwich, London.
To get a sense of the palatial scale of the traditional English country house, Hatfield Houses is, therefore, one of the best bets. That is especially considering how easy it is to reach from London.