Castle Howard

Discover the ancestry seat of the Howard family, one of the great palaces of Europe

Castle Howard

Castle Howard is a grand stately home in the Howardian Hills, Yorkshire, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) - and now the fictional country estate of the Duke of Hastings in the hit period drama “Bridgerton”.

The Charles Howard, the 3rd Earl of Carlisle, built Castle Howard during England’s golden age of stately home construction. Britain was soon to become the United Kingdom with the union with Scotland, and globally Britain was soon to be a maritime superpower. The optimism fuels a county home building boom. 

The British and Irish stately home is a status symbol, a giant work of art in stone and place to entertain on a vast scale. Castle Howard is one of the best; much like a jewel wedged between the rolling Yorkshire Wolds and heather-clad North York Moors.

A brief history of Castle Howard
Charles Howard, the 3rd Earl of Carlisle, was immensely ambitious and was able to gain a long list of governmental positions of authority. That list included, but is not limited to; Lord of the Treasury, a Commissioner for the Union with Scotland, Constable of the Tower of London and acting Earl Marshall of England. The Earl needed a country seat to match his ambitions, wealth and status. 

Charles chose an unlikely architect for his splendid home, that of Sir John Vanbrugh. Charles met Vanbrugh at the Kit-Cat Club, a group of men devoted to limiting the Crown's power, promoting the protestant side of Christianity and curtailing the power of France. The joy of theatre, food and art seems to be a common trait of the group too. Vanbrugh was an unusual person, a cloth merchant's son, with wide-ranging connections in business, art and aristocratic circles. 

Bizarrely, Vanbrugh worked undercover delivering secret messages from William of Orange (future King William III) in The Hague to London. The communications were part of a plan to depose the Catholic King James II of England and replace the King with William of Orange – ultimately the plan worked. While returning from Europe Vanbrugh was stopped in Calais and detained by French authorities on "suspicion of espionage", he remained in captivity for four and a half years.

On his return to England Vanbrugh became a successful playwright and then turned his attentions to architecture. Although not trained, Vanbrugh was a man of ideas. He needed a sidekick with technical skill, training and patience, that man was Sir Nicholas Hawksmoor, a student of Sir Christopher Wren of St Paul’s Cathedral fame. Building began in the early 1700s. 

Rules did not spoil Sir John Vanburgh’s ideas as with other architects. Convention dictated an East to West orientation. John chose North to South, allowed him to take advantage of the site's typography and bathing the south side of the house in glorious sunshine. He pushed the boundaries by instigating the building of a dome, elaborate keystones, and multitudes of huge urns all balancing on the roof. Construction carried on for many years when in 1800 the 5th Earl’s trustees final completed all of the interiors. 

Today the house and estate are run by a limited company. The Howard family are actively involved in the running of the estate. It is still the Howard family home, which is always nice to know. 

The house
Suppose you enjoy the interwoven tales of Britain’s aristocratic families. In that case, you will like to know that Lady Georgiana was the daughter of Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire of Chatsworth House fame and subject of a book and movie. She married the 6th Earl of Carlisle and her rooms at Castle Howard remain the same since her death in 1858.  

Other bedrooms contain beautiful paintings, Chippendale furniture and exotic wallpapers. 

The Antique Passage is a wonderful Vanbrugh idea, one of many. He planned to make a walkway or corridor a feature instead of an interior sidewalk of sorts. Arches and large windows allow for the display of statues. The BBC filmed the Antique Passage on many occasions for the TV adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited; it seemed to be a favourite camera shot.  

Like all great British homes, you must have a Great Hall. They have changed from rustic timber-framed structures to elegant baroque spaces with fluted columns and in the case of Castle Howard, a beautiful dome. The dome sits 70 ft above the floor covering a huge 52 sq ft. 

If you enjoy paintings, rooms display works by Gainsborough, Reynolds, Rubens, and of course the obligatory family portraits. The house also contains 20,000 antique books dating from the 16th Century. 

The intricately decorated Chapel is Anglican and is used for services throughout the year. 

The grounds
The 600 acres of parkland are a place to escape and unwind, beyond there are over 8,000 acres farmland and woods. From the grounds, you views of the surrounding Howardian Hills (AONB) and carefully planned avenues pivoting on the great monuments.  

Enjoy a picnic in grounds by the lake, and the children can let off steam in the adventure playground. Take a stroll through the Woodland Garden and see wild roses, magnolias and hydrangeas. There are also 800 species of rhododendron to admire and identify. On a warm sunny day at Castle Howard take a boat out on the lake. There is plenty to do.  

The grounds have an impressive range of statues, but most impressive is the ninety feet high rotund mausoleum. Twenty pillars support this perfectly proportioned classical building, which remains a private burial place for the Howard family. The Temple of the Four Winds is another surprise with colossal dimensions. The temple originally designed as a garden retreat, for drinks and light luncheons. The servants would have prepared food in the cellars below.

One of the most admired garden ornaments at Castle Howard is the Atlas Fountain. Its position sets off the house beautifully; it is the classic Castle Howard photograph shot. 

Touring and accommodation
Castle Howard is an easy day tour from the historic City of York and can be combined with a driver-guided tour of the North York Moors or Fountains Abbey. Our Classic Tour of England itinerary includes Yorkshire. We can customise your tour of England to match your requirements.

Stay overnight at The Grand Hotel York and enjoy all the diversions of that City in the evening. There is a wide choice of accommodation in the UK; CottagesManor House Hotels and traditional Guest Houses.

If this is your first time to England, we would recommend a custom version of our Town and Country Tour; it covers the famous places and allows you to utilise your private driver-guide by getting-off-the-beaten-path. Our Classic tour of Ireland is a good place to start for the first trip to Ireland, and we suggest the Classic tour of Scotland for your first trip to the bonny Highlands. 

Jewel of Yorkshire

Castle Howard, a Vanbrugh Masterpiece

  • Explore the 600 Acre Estate
  • Adventure Playground
  • Woodland and Walled Garden
  • VIP Tours Available
  • Baroque Interiors