Four Centuries of Change in a Historic Country House 

English Heritage

Audley End House and Gardens 

Audley End
In the heart of the Essex countryside, spectacular Audley End was one of the greatest houses of early 17th-century England. It has a complex architectural history. Successive owners have demolished, rebuilt, repurposed and redesigned the building in a variety of ways.

The site began life as a Benedictine monastery, Walden Abbey. After the Reformation, Henry VIII granted the abbey to his loyal supporter Sir Thomas Audley (c.1487–1544). Audley converted the abbey into a house.

In about 1605 Audley’s grandson, Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Suffolk and James I’s Lord Treasurer, began to rebuild the house. By the time the work was completed almost ten years later, he had created one of the most ambitious houses in Jacobean England.

Successive owners of Audley End made changes to the house, but in the 1760s retired soldier Sir John Griffin Griffin began a series of works that transformed the property.

He sought advice from two of the most fashionable and sophisticated designers of the Georgian period: architect Robert Adam and landscape gardener Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown.

In 1825 Richard Neville, 3rd Baron Braybrooke, began extensive works to restore Audley End to its Jacobean roots.

The result is a spectacular building that blends Jacobean, Georgian and 19th-century faux-Jacobean influences.

Architectural Highlights
As you wander round the house, you catch fascinating and beautiful glimpses of the centuries of interior design work that have taken place at Audley End.

Despite the many architectural alterations to Audley End over the centuries, the great hall retains much of the original character of the Jacobean house.

This is in part a result of the efforts of the 3rd Lord Braybrooke to remove the Georgian alterations of Sir John Griffin Griffin.

Most of the hall, its roof, and the magnificent carved oak screen remain much as Thomas Howard built them in the early 17th century.

The great hall is dominated by its magnificent oak screen.

While the screen’s appearance today reflects its original bare wood finish, it has been subject to redecorations. In the 1760s it was painted white and gilded by Sir John Griffin Griffin.

However, in 1825 the screen was stripped back by Richard Neville, 3rd Baron Braybrooke.

In its present form, the Saloon epitomises the combination of modern comfort and ancient splendour that Sir John Griffin Griffin and his successors sought to create from the remains of the Jacobean Audley End.

In 1777 Sir John had a major redecoration of the Saloon carried out, in an attempt to impress George III. Unfortunately the king was too unwell to visit.

The frieze around the walls in the Saloon was originally created for the long gallery, which was demolished in 1753 by Sir John’s aunt, Elizabeth Griffin, Countess of Portsmouth, the then owner. The house was falling into disrepair at the time and the countess was forced to reduce it to a manageable size.

The original 17th-century plasterwork ceiling panels, which show scenes of sea monsters, merfolk and ships, are thought to celebrate the naval career of Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Suffolk.

Howard is famous for having discovered and alerted James I to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. But the pinnacle of his career was his role in defeating the Spanish Armada in 1588.

In his redecoration of the Saloon, Sir John Griffin Griffin wanted to create a baronial hall. He achieved this in part by installing portraits of his ancestors.

The Art of Audley End
The  portraits adorning the walls of Audley End’s Saloon represent the past owners of Audley End and their ancestors, as far back as the 15th century. These were 18th-century additions designed to show the importance of Sir John Griffin Griffin and his family.

Thomas Audley, Baron Audley of Walden (1488–1544)

This portrait has been identified as Thomas Audley, Lord Audley of Walden. He was Lord Chancellor under Henry VIII and founder of Magdalene College, Cambridge.

Lord Audley married twice. His first marriage was to Christina (or Margaret) Barnardiston, and his second to Elizabeth Grey. Thomas and Elizabeth had two daughters, including Margaret Audley, who married as her second husband Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk.

Margaret Audley, Duchess of Norfolk (1540–1564)

Margaret Audley was the daughter and heiress of Lord Audley. In early 1558 she was betrothed to her fifth cousin, Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk. A papal dispensation was required for them to marry, since his first wife, Lady Mary FitzAlan, had been Margaret’s first cousin.

But when the Protestant Elizabeth I succeeded her sister, Mary I, in November 1558, Norfolk and Margaret married without papal dispensation. In March 1559 Parliament ratified the marriage.

Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk (1536–1572)

Norfolk was Elizabeth I’s second cousin through her maternal grandmother and was trusted with public office, even though he was suspected of having leanings towards Catholicism.

Following Margaret's death in 1564, Norfolk married Elizabeth Leybourne in January 1567. After her death later that year in childbirth, he supposedly plotted to marry Mary, Queen of Scots. He was executed for conspiring with Mary in 1572.

Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Suffolk (1561–1626)

Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Suffolk, was the second son of the 4th Duke of Norfolk. He was created Lord Howard de Walden in 1597 and Earl of Suffolk in 1603.

Suffolk rebuilt Audley End, which can be seen in the background of his portrait. He married Katherine Knyvett in about 1583, and the couple had a large family.

Theophilus Howard, 2nd Earl of Suffolk (1584–1640)

Theophilus Howard was the eldest son of the 1st Earl. He was born at Audley End, and also owned Framlingham Castle in Suffolk. In 1612 he married Lady Elizabeth Home.

The 2nd Earl was the dedicatee of the first English translation of Don Quixote. The reason for this remains unknown, but he may have been a distant relative of the book’s author, Cervantes.

James Howard, 3rd Earl of Suffolk (1619–1689)

James, the eldest son of Theophilus Howard, inherited Audley End in 1640. In the same year he married Lady Susannah Rich.

The 3rd Earl was appointed joint commissioner of Parliament to Charles I at Newcastle in 1646.

In 1669, overburdened with debts, he sold Audley End to Charles II.

Susannah, Countess of Suffolk (1627–1649)

Lady Susannah Rich, Countess of Suffolk, was the daughter of Henry Rich, 1st Earl of Holland.

Countess Susannah was the mother of Lady Essex Howard. The barony of Howard de Walden passed to her descendant John Griffin Whitwell, 1st Baron Braybrooke, in 1784.

Lady Essex Howard, Lady Griffin (1641–1705)

Lady Essex Howard was the daughter of James, 3rd Earl of Suffolk, and his first wife, Susannah. She married Edward Griffin, 1st Baron Griffin of Braybrooke, in 1666.

Edward Griffin, 1st Baron Griffin (c.1630–1710)

Edward Griffin was Lieutenant-Colonel of the Duke of York’s regiment of foot guards. He was the treasurer of the chamber to both Charles II and James II.

He followed James II into exile and was with his son, the titular James III, in France until 1707/8, when he was taken prisoner while on a mission to Scotland.

Lord Griffin was tried for treason and condemned to death in 1708, but was reprieved shortly before the date set for his execution. He spent the rest of his life in the Tower of London.

James Griffin, 2nd Baron Griffin (1667–1715)

James Griffin was the only son of Edward Griffin. He became Member of Parliament for Brackley, Northamptonshire, in 1685.

The Honourable Elizabeth Griffin, Countess of Portsmouth (1691–1762)

Elizabeth was the eldest daughter of James, 2nd Baron Griffin, and Anne Rainsford. She married firstly Henry (Neville) Grey of Billingbear and secondly, in 1741, John Wallop, 1st Earl of Portsmouth.

In 1745 the 10th Earl of Suffolk died childless and intestate, and Audley End House and estate were divided among the Howard family. Audley End’s survival was due to the Countess of Portsmouth.

In 1751 she bought the house and park from Lord Effingham for £10,000 and added them to her adjacent share of the estate. She was childless, but her chosen heir was John Griffin Whitwell, her sister Anne’s eldest son.

Lady Portsmouth employed the London builders John Philips and George Shakespear to reduce and remodel the house. All the alterations were undertaken in the Jacobean style, reusing material from the demolished parts to preserve these historic features.

The avenues in the park had been felled for the value of their timber by the impoverished Howards. In their place the countess introduced informality to the landscape, planting trees in a ‘natural’ fashion.

The Hon. Anne Griffin, Mrs William Whitwell (c.1695–1770)

Anne, the younger sister of Elizabeth Griffin, married William Whitwell of Oundle. It was their eldest son, John, who became the Countess of Portsmouth’s chosen heir.

Sir John Griffin Griffin, 4th Lord Howard de Walden, 1st Baron Braybrooke (1719–1797)

Sir John, who was formerly known as John Griffin Whitwell, inherited Audley End from the Countess of Portsmouth in 1762.

In 1784 Sir John achieved a lifelong ambition when George III recognised his claim to the barony of Howard de Walden.

As well as restoring the Saloon as a picture gallery of his Howard ancestors, Sir John employed Robert Adam to design some of the finest neoclassical interiors of the period. Much of this work survives today.

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Peter Moore, Rose Arkle

Visit Audley End House and Gardens

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