Knole, Sevenoaks

Record ID:  MNA192746 / MNA192746
Record type:  Building
Protected Status: Listed Building: Grade I
NT Property:  Knole; London and South East
Civil Parish:  Sevenoaks; Sevenoaks; Kent
Grid Reference:  TQ 5392 5422
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Knole is one of the greatest English houses, in scale as well as in the significance of its buildings, contents and setting: its surrounding landscape has been in use for many thousands of years. Knole also has a long history as a visitor attraction – the property and its illustrious owners were mentioned in William Lambarde’s ‘Perambulation of Kent’ in 1576, birds-eye views were produced in the 18th century and in 1780, the antiquarian Horace Walpole wrote evocatively of his visit to Knole and the property’s ‘faded splendour’. The first guidebook to the property by John Bridgman was published in 1817 and by the late Victorian period, Knole’s popularity with visitors was such that revised and updated guidebooks were produced almost annually. Vita Sackville-West wrote the first National Trust guidebook after Knole was acquired by the Trust in 1946.

Identification Images (1)

Aerial view of the house, garden and wider estate at Knole, Kent © National Trust / Mike Calnan / Chris Lacey
Aerial view of the house, garden and wider estate at Knole, Kent © National Trust / Mike Calnan / Chris Lacey

Most Recent Monitoring

None Recorded

Monument Types

  • (Former Type) ROYAL PALACE (Mid 16th C to Early 17th C - 1538 AD to 1603 AD)
  • (Former Type) ARCHBISHOPS PALACE (Medieval to Mid 16th C - 1456 AD to 1538 AD)
  • COUNTRY HOUSE (Early 17th C to Mid 20th C - 1603 AD to 1946 AD)
  • (Former Type) MANOR HOUSE (Medieval - 1440 AD to 1456 AD)


While Knole is not specifically mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, it is likely that it was assessed as part of the large manor based near Otford. Over time, sub-manors developed with settlements, churches and markets including nearby Sevenoaks (in existence by c.1100); the sub-manor of Knole is first mentioned by name during the late 13th century. A definite location for a manor building of this period is still unknown: it’s possible that early fabric has been hidden or removed by the building programmes of the 15th century and onwards, if indeed the original manor was on the same site as the present palace. To the east of the main house (near the 18th-century Birdhouse) lie further structural remains, parts of which could also be medieval in origin and may represent the fragments of an earlier house. What is more certain is that in 1446 Knole was acquired by James Fiennes, later Baron Saye and Sele. His dwelling was arranged around a central courtyard and accessed via a gate in the east-facing perimeter wall (now a minor entrance to Water Court). The east wall probably had corner turrets at its northern and southern ends and was eventually incorporated into the East Range. Fiennes’s execution in 1450 left Knole to his son, William, who sold it to Thomas Bourchier, the Archbishop of Canterbury for £266 13s 4d.

Bourchier (1404-1486) was a man of considerable consequence in 15th-century England and he began work on the development of his palace at Knole shortly after his acquisition of the estate in 1456. It is his archiepiscopal palace that remains as the core of the present extended house. Throughout the later part of 15th and into the early 16th century, further building campaigns gradually increased the size of the palace: the orientation of the house changed in this period to face west, while the single central court of Fiennes’ building was divided by new buildings including the Brown Gallery and the East Range was extended to the north and east. Stone Court and the Inner Gatehouse were developed to the west along with Green Court, while a new hall and chapel were built. In 1538 Knole was surrendered by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer to Henry VIII, who used it as a private retreat and hunting ground; visits by the king to Knole are recorded in 1541 and 1542. After being briefly returned to archiepiscopal ownership during the reign of Mary I, the property reverted to the Crown under Elizabeth I, who spent five days at Knole with members of her court in 1573. The property was then occupied by tenants (the Lennard family) during the final decades of the 16th century, until it was acquired in 1603 by Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset, Lord Treasurer and one of Queen Elizabeth’s favourite cousins.

Sackville was influenced by the European architecture he had seen while serving as an ambassador to France. As Lord Treasurer, he was able to secure the services of the finest craftsmen such as Richard Dungan (Master Plasterer) and Cornelius Cure (royal Master Mason) to rebuild, decorate and furnish his new home in lavish splendour over a period of just a few years (1605-8). These extensive renovations created the splendid series of Showrooms largely as they remain today, and marked him out as one of the most significant artistic patrons of his day. The decorative plasterwork, painted and panelled schemes were of the highest quality, influenced by the Renaissance revival of the classical orders and directly informed by the prints of Dutch and Flemish artists. In remodelling the existing medieval palace, Dorset created a great Jacobean progress house, notable for the symmetry and grandeur imposed on a previously irregular building, and realised in the decorative gables and Sackville leopards on the entrance front that give Knole its distinctive character.

Sackville’s successors, again exploiting their court connections, filled the lavish Jacobean interiors with cast-off furniture from the royal palaces together with tapestries, silver and paintings of the highest quality. From at least the early 18th century the Sackville family retired to the more comfortable, domestic ground floor apartments of the house, where generations of the family have lived ever since, whilst the ostentatious first floor Showrooms, lined with royal Stuart furniture, were consciously presented and maintained for display.

[From 'Knole Revealed' by Nathalie Cohen & Frances Parton, 2019]


  • --- SNA68956 - Book: National Trust. 2019. Knole Revealed: Archaeology and Discovery at a Great Country House.


Other Statuses and References

  • Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty: KENT DOWNS

Associated Events

  • ENA5636 - Field Survey, An Archaeological Survey: Knole, Sevenoaks, Kent
  • ENA10150 - Heritage Assessment, Conservation Management Plan: Knole, Sevenoaks, Kent
  • ENA11036 - Heritage Assessment, Lived Experience in the Later Middle Ages: Studies of Bodiam and Other Elite Landscapes in SE England, 2010-2014

Associated Finds

None Recorded

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