Longleat House is widely regarded as one of the best examples of high Elizabethan architecture in Britain and one of the most beautiful stately homes open to the public.
Originally completed by 1580 and now home to the 7th Marquess of Bath, Longleat House is set within 900 acres (400 hectares) of magnificent ‘Capability’ Brown landscaped parkland with a further 8000 acres (3,200 hectares) of woodland, lakes and farmland. In the late 13th Century a priory belonging to the Black Canons of the Order of St Augustine occupied the site where Longleat House now stands.
The priory failed to maintain itself financially and, in 1530, it was taken over by the Carthusian monks of Hinton Charterhouse. The priory was put up for sale during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536-39 and it was bought by John Thynne in 1541 for a total sum of £53! He was only 25 years old. John Thynne, builder of Longleat House, had worked as a clerk of the kitchens to Henry VIII and later rose to wealth and power in the service of Protector Somerset.
He was knighted after the battle of Pinkie in 1547 when fighting the Scots – hence the knot in the tail of the Scottish lion which is featured in the family coat of arms. Sir John died in 1580 with Longleat still unfinished though building operations had not deterred Queen Elizabeth I from visiting in 1574 – the first in a long line of royal guests.
The Safari Park
In 1966, Longleat became the first location outside Africa to open a drive-through Safari Park. Despite the understandable initial concerns of locals with regard to the introduction of lions to Wiltshire, the Safari Park concept has been a great success and Longleat’s ground-breaking innovation has been repeated at wildlife collections all over the world. Some 40 years later this unique way of showing animals in their natural surroundings still delights hundreds of thousands of visitors to Longleat each year.