Marble Hill House and Gardens Tour

Marble Hill House is arguably the finest and complete surviving example of a ‘Neo-Palladian’ villa and one of the last remaining houses of the villa type (which were once plentiful) to survive along the River Thames. Illustrated by Colen Campbell (Vitruvius Britannicus, volume III, 1725), designed by Henry Herbert, 8th Earl of Pembroke and built by Roger Morris between 1722-28, the building was designed for Henrietta Howard, the long serving (and suffering) mistress of King George II. Built with money provided by the King, the building of the villa was kept secret from Henrietta’s brutish husband, Charles Howard, for fear that if he found out of its existence he would gamble away the capital.

Henrietta Howard was a lady of great vision and in 1714 she travelled with her husband to the small German principality of Hanover to seek employment with Sophia, Electress of Hanover. This time in Germany served her well as on 26th October 1714 Henrietta was appointed a ‘Women of the Bedchamber to the Princess of Wales’ and in 1731, on the death of her brother, Henrietta progressed even further within the Royal bedchamber securing the curveted position of ‘Mistress of the Robes’.

Henrietta Howard was also one of the most cultured and remarkable women of her age, holding her own social court for engagements at Marble Hill House and entertaining some of the greatest talents and wits of her age, including the poets John Gay, Jonathan Swift , former Jacobite and Tory leader Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke, and her close neighbour Alexander Pope. In later life she befriended the antiquarian and collector Horace Walpole from what would become Strawberry Hill House.

The guided tour of Marble Hill House will explore the fascinating story of Henrietta Howard and her villa at Marble Hill which she enjoyed with her second husband, George Berkeley. The tour will also showcase some of the best art from the English School of eighteenth-century painters, together with viewing a fine collection of chinoiserie influenced ceramics and painted mirrors highlighting Henrietta’s fascination with the orient and the exotic. The tour will then venture outside and view the gardens designed by Alexander Pope and the King’s gardener, Charles Bridgeman.   

Above - Henrietta Howard, Countess of Suffolk. Attributed to John Harris.

In the eighteenth-century many aristocrats in the service of Royalty and men connected to the arts lived along this stretch of the Thames as it was close enough to reach the Royal Palaces at Hampton Court and Richmond Gardens. One such person as the poet Alexander Pope who was close friends with Henrietta Howard and whose services had been called upon by Queen Caroline to advise on designs for her gardens at Richmond.  

Above- View of Marble Hill House from the River Thames (c.1762) by the Arcadian painter Richard Wilson (1714-82).

Above- Rear elevation (river view) of Marble Hill House illustrating the symmetrical composition of much Palladian architecture where each section of the building can be treated as an independent, freestanding unit but which also complements and reflects the other sections. The symmetry of the villa incorporates harmonic proportions reflecting the beauty and symmetry of the human body (a popular Renaissance concept as illustrated in Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic ‘Vitruvian Man).

The guided tour of Marble Hill House and Gardens Tour is priced at £15.00 per ticket and includes entrance fee to the villa. Tours last approximately ninety minutes.