Althorp House: A British Treasure for Five Centuries
Althorp House, home to the Spencer family for five centuries, is currently owned by Charles Spencer, the 9th Earl of Spencer and brother to the late Lady Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales. This elegant house, located in England's East Midlands, contains some 100,000 square feet of interior space and 31 bedrooms. The home sits on an estate of 14,000 acres — an area approximately the size of Manhattan. Though this current structure is a couple of centuries newer, the original house on the estate dates to the year 1508, when the Tudors still ruled England. In more recent times, guests to the home have included Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev, Winston Churchill and nearly every British king and queen for the past 400 years.
This exterior view of the mansion is a favorite of Charles, the present Earl of Spencer. Though it's famous as a historic and ancestral family home, most of the world knows Althorp as the final resting place of the late and much-beloved Princess Diana. She is buried on a tree-covered island in a small lake near the main house. More than 30,000 people make pilgrimages to the site annually, but visitors may pay homage to the late princess only from the water's edge. No one is allowed to set foot on the island without special permission, and Diana's actual grave is unmarked. A path leading from the house to the lake is lined by a row of 36 oak trees planted by Diana's brother Charles — one tree to commemorate each year of Diana's life.
The 9th Earl of Spencer
Charles, the current Earl Spencer, stands on the 340-year-old staircase in the entry space known as the Saloon. In the original Tudor structure, this space was actually an open courtyard. It was enclosed and turned into this magnificent room in the 1670s.
Althorp House: Picture Gallery
Though it's not the largest, the picture gallery is perhaps the grandest room in the Althorp house. This room was originally designed to allow the lady residents of the house to take exercise during inclement weather. (Exercise consisted simply of walking back and forth along the room's 115-foot span.) Some of the Spencer family portraits in the home's collection date back as far as 19 generations, including a portrait of William Spencer, born in the year 1496.
Althorp House: Portrait Collection
Paintings in the home's collection include works by the famed Baroque artist Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641).
The Blue Gallery at Althorp is lined with masterworks of both sculpture and portraiture.
The library at Althorp is one of the most visually arresting rooms in the house. At one time, the book collection at Althorp numbered more than 40,000 volumes — the largest private book collection in the world. The present Earl's great-great-grandfather sold the collection to a British university in 1892 to pay family debts. The purchase price for the collection at the time was 210,000 pounds — roughly equivalent to $30 million today. The library collection has since been rebuilt, although not to its former enormous scale. Still, the current library provides ample reading with an offering of about 10,000 books. Since 2003, the Althorp estate has played host to a world-class literary festival sponsored by Christie's of London.
Althorp House: Stables and Gatehouse
The gatehouse and stables at Althorp, seen here, were built around 1732 and are regarded by some as the finest example of architecture on the estate. The main castle was built by the second Earl of Sunderland in 1688. The original house was in the decorative Tudor style, but it was altered dramatically by a redesign commissioned in the 18th century.