is often referred to as "the house built for the love of a woman who never lived to see it."
Sir William Craven, 1st Earl of Craven, built this Dutch style property during the second half of the 17th century. It sits alone on the Berkshire Downs and gives the appearance of a rather elegant dolls house. However, it wasn't actually built to be a home, but a rather splendid country Hunting Lodge. It was designed by soldier/architect, Captain William Winde, who was born in 1640 to English parents resident in Holland at the time.
Lord Craven via wiki
Unauthenticated history speaks of Lord Craven's great admiration for Elizabeth, the Queen of Bohemia, and that he built this remote hunting lodge as a retreat for her.
Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia via wiki
But who was Elizabeth? ........
She was the daughter of James l of England, and sister of Charles l, who was married to Frederick, the Elector Palatine. They had 13 children, but their reign as King and Queen of Bohemia lasted for just one winter during 1619 - 1620. Frederick was defeated at the battle of White Mountain then he and the family were exiled to the Hague by the Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand ll. Henceforth Elizabeth became known as the Winter Queen.
Her youngest daughter Sophia married the future Elector of Hanover in 1658 and their son became King George l of England.
Electress Sophia painted as an American Indian by her sister Louise Hollandine of the Palatinate - a talented portrait painter wiki
Electress Sophia's son - King George l wiki
Lord Craven first met Elizabeth in the Hague when he was a young soldier. It was then that he fell in love and devoted his service to her. Following the death of Elizabeth's husband, Frederick, of a 'pestilential fever', Craven provided Elizabeth with financial support. He paid her the pension that she was supposed to receive from the English crown.
Following the Restoration in 1660 Elizabeth returned home from the Hague and Craven put his London house in Drury Lane at her disposal.
Lord Craven was very concerned about the plague in London and wanted to build Elizabeth a mini palace in the country away from all of the germs. Knowing her love of hunting, he chose Ashdown, but sadly this is not a happy ever after love story. Just before the hunting lodge was completed in 1662 Elizabeth died of pneumonia. Lord Craven never married, but went on to live for a further 35 years, reaching the grand age of 89. When Elizabeth died she bequeathed Lord Craven all of her papers, hunting trophies and a large collection of remarkable family portraits. All of her collection of portraits originally adorned Lord Craven's seat at Combe Abbey and then his property at Hampstead Marshall.
Years after the death of Lord Craven, 23 of Elizabeth's portraits were received from the estate in lieu of taxes, and it is these paintings that now hang on the walls of Ashdown House. The property is now in the care of The National Trust,
but has been tenanted on a long term basis so only the long cantilevered staircase, where all of the portraits hang, is open to the public.
Princess Elizabeth, Princess Royal and Princess Palatine, Abbess of Hervorden (Hertford)
Of the 23 portraits that once belonged to Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia my favourite is this one, which shows her third child, and first born daughter, whom she also named Elizabeth.
On the landings are carved wooden heads resembling favoured family stags which actually incorporate the real antlers of the particular stag. During the mid 17th century taxidermy was crude and still in its infancy, and had not become established as a practice.
When the flight of stairs have been climbed there is a steep spiral wooden stairway to negotiate that passes through an attractive glass cupola before heading out on to the rooftop.
The roof was used like a small grandstand to provide non-hunting guests with a 360° view of all the hunting and racing activities.
On either side of the lodge at the rear are two identical buildings - the one that can be seen housed the kitchens where all of the food was prepared for the guests, and the other building housed a large stable for the horses.