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A house 're-edified' - Thomas Sackville and the transformation of Knole 1605-1608

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posted on 2023-06-07, 15:47 authored by Edward Town
Thomas Sackville was a courtier and a politician during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I. Shortly prior to his death in April 1608, Sackville began work on his largest architectural project, the transformation of the archbishops’ greathouse at Knole, near Sevenoaks in Kent. The house holds a seminal position in the landscape of country houses of the period, and as Sackville’s only surviving house, is an important monument to his ambitions as patron. However, Sackville’s significance as a patron has often been underplayed, in the same way that his position as a leading politician and a minister of state has often been seen as only a brief interlude between the hegemony of William and Robert Cecil – Sackville’s predecessor and successor as Lord Treasurer respectively. The research of this thesis focuses on Sackville’s transformation of his house at Knole, highlighting the fact that during his political apogee, Sackville was a leading patron of his day, who employed the finest artisans, craftsmen and artificers available to him. In the historiography of English architectural history, Knole is often sidelined, and seen as the last moment of Elizabethan building practice before the innovations of the Jacobean period. This not only underplays the complexity of the building’s development, but also detracts from what Thomas Sackville aimed to achieve during his campaign of building at Knole between 1605 and 1608. New evidence has afforded a fuller insight into Thomas Sackville’s role as patron and also the extent to which his numerous intellectual and cultural interests were brought to bear on the transformation of the house. This evidence suggests that what Sackville achieved at Knole was a remarkable synthesis of what was inherited from the existing fabric and what was newly built, and the product of this synthesis was a house that reflected both Sackville’s intellectual and political ambitions.


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