Highclere Castle: More History Than a ‘Downton Abbey’ Drama

Larger than life: Art that inspires us through the ages
October 5, 2020 Updated: October 5, 2020

Highclere Castle, in the southeast of England—known to many as “Downton Abbey”—existed long before the fictitious drama captured the hearts of millions of television viewers around the world. 

Highclere Castle
Highclere Castle has been the home of the Carnarvon family since 1679. (Courtesy of Highclere Castle)

The Domesday Book of 1086 records the original settlement on the Highclere Castle site, but the site dates back even earlier to 749 and the Bishops of Winchester. The Highclere estate site has been transformed over the years since the first settlement. A few notable examples: In the late 14th century a beautiful palace with delightful gardens was built there for the Bishops. Then, in 1679, Highclere Place House was built when Sir Robert Sawyer bought the estate.

The Highclere estate has been owned by the same family, Saywer’s descendants, for more than 340 years.

Highclere Castle
Visitors attend a 1920s themed event at Highclere Castle on Sept. 7, 2019. (ISABEL INFANTES/AFP via Getty Images)

The third Earl of Carnarvon commissioned architect Sir Charles Barry to remodel the manor house, creating Highclere Castle, as we know it today, in 1842. The resulting Jacobethan-style of Highclere Castle took inspiration from the architecture of both the Elizabethan (1558–1603) and Jacobean (1603–1625) periods, spanning a time that was considered the English Renaissance. From 1837 to 1860, Barry famously remodeled the Palace of Westminster (the Houses of Parliament) in the Gothic Revival style.

HIghclere Castle
The Drawing Room (Courtesy of Highclere Castle)
Epoch Times Photo
The music room is adorned with Italian tapestries. Its ceiling was painted in the 1730s by Francis Hayman, a founding member of the Royal Academy of Arts. (Courtesy of Highclere Castle)
Highclere Castle
An entry into the saloon. (Courtesy of Highclere Castle)
Epoch Times Photo
The saloon was designed in Gothic Revival style. (Courtesy of Highclere Castle)
Highclere Castle
Highclere Castle’s Library holds over 5,650 books. (Courtesy of Highclere Castle)
Highclere Castle
The oldest books in the library date back to the 16th century. A portrait of Henry Herbert, the First Earl of Carnarvon, hangs over the fireplace. (Visit Britain)