Hatfield, Hertfordshire, England. We have not yet seen “The Favourite,” for various reasons, but it’s clear that we should have done so before touring Hatfield House, where at least part of it was filmed.
A large Jacobean country house set in a large park, it was built in 1611 by Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, and Chief Minister to King James I. It has been the home of the Cecil family ever since. The estate includes extensive grounds and surviving parts of an earlier palace, part of which is still standing. The house is currently the home of Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 7th Marquess of Salisbury.
An earlier building on the site was the Royal Palace of Hatfield, the remnants of which are a short distance from the present house. Built in 1497 by the Bishop of Ely, King Henry VII’s minister, John Cardinal Morton, it comprised four wings in a square surrounding a central courtyard. The palace was seized by Henry VIII with other church properties.
Henry VIII’s children, King Edward VI and the future Queen Elizabeth I, spent their youth at Hatfield Palace. That palace was the favorite residence of Queen Elizabeth I. His eldest daughter, who later reigned as Queen Mary I, lived there between 1533 and 1536, when she was sent to wait on the then Princess Elizabeth as punishment for refusing to recognize Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn and his religious reforms. It was at Hatfield where Elizabeth I learned she had become queen. And it was in the Great Hall in the palace that she held her first court as Queen. But once she left the palace, she never returned.
We were the only people on a tour of the palace, given by Eric McLaughlin, who quite believably claims to have been in charge of state dinners and visits at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and the Royal Yacht Britannia. He now seems to manage the use of the palace and the house by film and tv crews, and just finished up a segment yesterday with Rob Lowe. Name-dropped all over the place, but we love that kind of insecurity. Very knowledgeable and entertaining. He imitated the American Southern accent (sorry, Gail) of a tourist who asked him, “How on earth do you remember all those old dates?” “Madam,” he replied, “I was there. Botox does wonders, doesn’t it?”
While we were lucky to get into the original Palace on one of the few days it is open, Hatfield House itself is a year-round popular tourist attraction because it has so many objects associated with Queen Elizabeth I and because of its elaborate interiors. The library displays a 22-foot long illuminated parchment roll showing the pedigree of the queen with ancestors back to Adam and Eve. (Clearly done pre-Ancestry.com and 23&Me.) The Marble Hall holds the “Rainbow Portrait” of Elizabeth.
For those of you who have seen the film, here are some of the original costumes, sprinkled throughout the house.
The final important building to see was the nearby parish church of St. Etheldreda’s, which is where the Cecil family still worships.
All in all, another impressive country home, loaded with history and ours for the day.