Nathalie Cohen and Frances Parton
National Trust, £10
ISBN 978-0707804507
Review Amy Brunskill

Knole is a house with a long and historically significant past. Since the present house was built in 1446, it has had many different phases: from the archiepiscopal palace of Thomas Bourchier in the 15th century, and a royal palace of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I in the 16th century, to a great Jacobean house by the early 1600s. It is also significant for its large collection of royal Jacobean furniture and textiles, as well as works of art, which has been displayed to the public in showrooms since around 1730.

In this book, Knole’s history is explored in detail, using new information gathered through recent archaeological and conservation work. These findings are presented in a clear and interesting way, grouped together into sensibly themed chapters. Beginning with information about the building itself, the book shows how the house developed over time, with detailed descriptions of certain elements of construction, helpfully illustrated by photographs and diagrams.

The next two chapters, discussing artefacts and graffiti, make the lives of Knole’s occupants more tangible. Of particular interest is the evidence of superstitious behaviour, such as the placement of a shoe in a fireplace, thought to ward off the devil, and the carving of ‘ritual protection marks’ near the entrance to the high-status part of the building. Artefacts and graffiti found throughout the house also provide an insight into more mundane parts of life, such as the message in a bottle left by a member of staff in a void above Lady Betty’s room, detailing the installation of radiators and hot water in 1906.

The next section looks at the landscape of Knole, its relationship with the house, and its ability to provide detail about the changes that have occurred to both over the centuries. The last two chapters focus on more recent work at Knole and look to the future. They emphasise the importance of public engagement and conservation work, as well as other efforts made to enhance our understanding of Knole’s history, ensuring that it is preserved and that the history of the house can be experienced by visitors for many years to come.


This review appeared in CA 356. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

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