William de Percy came to England at the time of the Norman Conquest, and his family soon established their dominance in The North. Building an empire that spread throughout Northumberland, Cumberland and Yorkshire, the Percy estates continued to grow through marriage to other far-reaching outposts. In 1150 the Queen bestowed the fortified manor house and estate at Petworth on the 4th Baron de Percy as a wedding present.
For over 400 years Petworth House was only an occasional home to members of the Percy family, but in 1572 the 8th Earl of Northumberland was compelled to remain at Petworth House by order of Elizabeth I. It was at this time that many repairs, renovations and extensions were made to the medieval buildings, and the 9th Earl made further additions. The most significant contribution, however, was the vast collection of portraits commissioned and purchased by the 10th Earl, many of which can still be seen at Petworth House today. But it was not until the late 1680s that the palatial 'baroque' mansion was created to reflect the status of its new successor, the 6th Duke of Somerset. At one time filled with exquisite French and Dutch furniture, massed displays of Chinese porcelain, several Old Masters, valuable pieces of sculpture, and some impressive carved work by Grinling Gibbons, the re-modelled 17th/18th century Petworth House must have emulated a Royal palace.
With each family succession so the collections grew and Petworth House is today renowned for its wealth of art treasures. One of the most important English collections of classical antique statuary has survived intact and is still displayed in the gallery built for that purpose. Amongst the huge collection of paintings there are several by Turner, who spent a lot of time making detailed sketches of the interiors, or capturing views across the park at Petworth. During Lord Egremont's time, in the first half of the 19th century, many English artists were encouraged to add their paintings and sculptures to the expanding collections already in situ at Petworth House.
Now in the hands of the National Trust, but still lived in by the present Lord Egremont and his family, Petworth House is continually being restored and improved to reflect the historical building schemes so important to the display of art throughout this magnificent home. There are only nine rooms open to visitors but the luxurious décor of each, and the sheer volume of artistic works on display, make up in quality what lacks in quantity. The only surviving room from the medieval house is the 14th century Chapel, albeit a wonderful combination of the original work and that of the 17th century transformation.
The parkland has also seen many changes over its 800 year history. From a relatively small walled garden with ornamental ponds, it expanded to some 700 acres of landscaped pleasure grounds with ornamental terraces, orchards, fish ponds and a bowling green. Swiftly brought 'back to nature' by Capability Brown in the mid 18th century, this extensive park is open every day of the year and is free of charge.