The 4th Duke of Norfolk's youngest son, Lord William Howard, acquired this elevated site just 15 miles from the centre of York in the 16th century. In 1661 his great grandson, Charles, was created the first Earl of Carlisle, but it was the 3rd Earl who employed the fashionable opportunist of the day to build his prestigious home. John Vanbrugh, better known for his play writing at that time, had no previous knowledge of building but somehow managed to convince the Earl that he would be able to produce something stunningly different. It took less than 10 years to create the palatial structure, but a further 15 years to complete the lavish external decoration and the opulent interiors. After the deaths of Vanbrugh in 1726, and the Earl in 1738, a new Palladian style wing was added, giving a lop-sided appearance to the original concept. Many alterations were undertaken in subsequent years but the contrasting splendour of Baroque against the subdued lines of the Palladian features have been maintained to give Castle Howard its striking silhouette.
Whilst the 3rd Earl can take the credit for this inspired and impressive stately home, the 4th and 5th Earls made important contributions to the works of art. Both travelled abroad extensively, one collecting antique sculptures and the other an outstanding gallery of Old Masters, as well as numerous contemporary paintings. Their passion for classical Italian work is prominently displayed throughout Castle Howard, but in the Antique Passage and the Long Gallery the vast collections are exhibited to their best advantage. Each successor at Castle Howard has added their own touch of individuality to the growing collections, including many portraits, porcelain and furniture.
During the 19th century a link was established with the great Derbyshire house of Chatsworth when the 6th Earl married the daughter of the 5th Duchess of Devonshire. Both the 6th and 7th Earls were long-serving MPs, performing many public duties. Commemorative items and gifts from the times when the 7th Earl was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland are dotted around Castle Howard. George Howard and his wife Rosalind, the 9th Earl and Countess, moved in the pre-Raphaelite circles, and one of their many friends was William Morris. As an active Liberal MP, a great traveller and an accomplished painter, the 9th Earl's influence on Castle Howard is clearly visible. The Museum Room is almost pure Victorian and contains many of the Earl's landscape paintings, and the splendid Anglican chapel has hints of William Morris designs among the items brought into this area by the Countess.
When the 9th Earl died in 1911, Castle Howard witnessed the end of an era, with Naworth Castle becoming the Earl of Carlisle's main residence. Castle Howard experienced a brief period of uncertainty before George Howard returned to live at the house after the Second World War. Working together with his wife, George restored the sparkle to Castle Howard and was proud to pass on the inheritance to his son, the Hon. Simon Howard, who continues to live there with his own family.