Private Splendor: truly splendid!

December 3, 2007 at 1:20 pm (Anglophilia, books, History)

splendor.jpg alexis.jpg Private Splendor: Great Families at Home, with text by Alexis Gregory [pictured above] and photography by Marc Walter.

This is quite possibly the most beautiful book I have ever seen. In it, eight European estates are profiled and photographed:

kasteel2.jpg kasteel.jpg Kasteel De Haar in the Netherlands

pilatos2.jpg pilatos.jpg Casa De Pilatos in Seville

harewood_house_seen_from_the_garden.jpg Harewood House in Yorkshire

gangi.jpg Palazzo Gangi in Palermo, Sicily

sacchetti-galleria-138.jpg sacchetti-149.jpg Palazzo Sacchetti in Rome

scloss2.jpg schloss.jpg Schloss St. Emmeram in Bavaria

palacio_dos_marqueses_da_fronteira_e_de_alorna.jpg Palacio Fronteira in Portugal.

And Chateau De Harque in France.

Despite enormous challenges, mainly financial, the families to whom these magnificent homes belong have managed not only to stay connected to their vast properties, but to reside there part or full time. How have they pulled off this daunting feat? From the jacket flap (which serves as the book’s introduction):

“Solutions involve compromises ranging from opening the houses to the public during established visiting hours to renting out the great salons for social occasions and business events, from marrying demanding and unattractive heiresses [!!] to receiving government grants or selling the family jewels.”

This is one of those rare coffee table books in which the text is well worth reading; that is, after you’ve recovered from the jaw-dropping experience of looking at the photographs. The families attached to these homes have fascinating histories. Their struggle to hold on to and maintain these properties is not just a matter of family pride, though that in itself is a force to be reckoned with. Often the family’s history is intertwined with that of the land they inhabit.

I had the great good fortune to visit Harewood House in 2005. The audio tour was narrated by George Lascelles, 7th Earl Harewood and Queen Elizabeth’s first cousin. Okay, yes, I’m a sucker for this kind of thing! Maybe it takes one whose grandparents traveled in steerage to this country with not much more than the clothes they were wearing to appreciate real lineage in others. On the other hand, the debt I owe to my grandparents for undertaking this journey (in order to escape the pogroms that were a fact of life for Russian Jews in the early part of the 20th century) can never be overstated.

At any rate – Harewood House is simply breathtaking, as are its gardens. See for yourself…

dscn0043.jpg dscn0041.jpg dscn0045.jpg

[Photos by (gasp) Yours Truly!]

ingilby.jpg ingilby2.jpg When I returned from Yorkshire in 2005, I purchased online a book entitled Yorkshire’s Great Houses: Behind the Scenes, by Sir Thomas Ingilby. Around the year 1306 the first Sir Thomas Ingibly aquired an estate at Ripley, a tiny village near Harrogate, through marriage to its heiress. His son, also named Thomas, is supposed to have saved the life of King Edward III in the year 1355. It seems that they were hunting in Knaresborough Forest, and the King was threatened by a wild boar. Sir Thomas speedily dispatched the beast, thereby acquiring favor – and more land – from Edward. Since the fourteenth century, Ripley Castle has been continuously inhabited by the Ingilby family. The present Sir Thomas offers this anecdote in the book’s introduction: “I hate form filling, but there is nearly always a question that asks, ‘How long at present address?’, so I write, ‘697 years,’ just to test the system. It happens to be true in our case, but you would think that the answer would be sufficiently unusual for someone to raise an eyebrow. Clearly not. In thirty years of writing this answer, I have never received a single query.”

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