Compton Wynyates: The Most Perfect & Secret Tudor House in England?
If you LOVE Tudor buildings, then I can guarantee that the subject of this blog is going to make you tingle with insatiable and unfulfilled lust, wholly directed at seeing for yourself what Emery calls ‘the markedly romantic and singularly complete early Tudor house’, built by Sir William Compton at Compton Wynyates in the early sixteenth century. Whilst many of you will have visited the well-known palaces, castles and manors of the Tudor age, only a very lucky few will have seen Compton Wynyates in their childhood, as today, the manor hides in the heart of the very sleepy South Warwickshire countryside, entirely undisturbed by visitors since the 1960s.
Before we start, so you get a feel for how isolated it is, here is a 40-second video I made a couple of years back with Compton Wynyates in the distance.
There’s no doubt about it; Compton Wynyates is right up there on my top 5 Tudor wish list – and for good reason. To get a glimpse of it from the top of its very private drive, or from the ridge which runs to the north of the house at some distance away, sets the heart racing with cruelly unrequited love. It is perfect; a red-brick manor house, ‘bristling with over forty chimney stacks’, complete with crenellations, towers and turrets and mullioned windows galore; all of which whisper enticingly to the Tudor time-traveller of its hidden interiors.
Sir William ‘You Can Keep Your Hat On’ Compton
We can thank Sir William Compton, Henry VIII’s childhood friend and long-time companion, for much of the house we see today. William’s father died when he was just eleven. As a young boy, his wardship was granted to King Henry VII, and the king placed him as a page to his infant, second son, Henry, who was then just two years old. William could not have foreseen how such a placement would have paved the way to glory, riches and great favour, for, at the time, the little prince was only second in line to the throne.
However, the wheels of fate turned; Prince Arthur, the Tudor heir, died at Ludlow Castle in 1502, and Prince Henry succeeded his father seven years later as King Henry VIII. Although Compton was nine years older than Henry, the two seem to have developed a close friendship, for after Henry’s succession, Compton was soon appointed Chief Gentleman of the Privy Chamber and Groom of the Stool, physically the king’s closest companion.
William also shared the king’s love of vigorous physical exercise, which no doubt bound them further in their bonhomie. On several occasions, there are accounts of the two of them successfully challenging all-comers, ‘with spear at the tilt one day, and at the tourney with the swords on another’. If the contemporary accounts of Elizabeth Amadas are to be believed, then it seems Sir William also played a key role in hosting clandestine trysts between the king and fair ladies of the court at his London home on Thames Street. So great was the king’s favour towards William that a year before his death, he was given the unusual permission to wear his hat in the king’s presence.
As a result of such favour, grants and money would soon follow, bolstering the Compton coffers. Amongst many other offices, he was made constable of both Sudeley and Warwick Castles. This meant he had use of the properties and could make money from the estates, in return for keeping the buildings in good order for the king. Such appointments were lucrative – and much sought after. It was the making of William Compton, and as money flowed in, so Sir William (knighted on the steps of Tournai Cathedral after the glorious English victory there in 1513) turned his attention to his main country residence.
Compton Wynyates: a Grand Country Residence
The Comptons have lived at Compton Wynyates since the early thirteenth century, and there is certainly documented evidence of a house on the site in 1386. This early medieval house was probably completely dismantled and replaced in the late fifteenth, and early sixteenth, centuries.
The current building was erected in two phases; the first a simple quadrangular house arranged around a central courtyard; the second phase shows embellishments to this basic design; turreted stairwells, bay windows, a chapel and a residential tower. It is possible that Sir Edmund Compton, William’s father, was responsible for the first phase. Alternatively, William’s meteoric rise in good fortune allowed him to begin, and eventually complete, both phases.
The exact dating for the start and the finish of Compton’s building campaign is not entirely clear; it could have been as early as 1481 (under Edmund Compton), or after William Compton reached his majority in 1503. The other alternative is that phases 1 and 2 happened quickly, and in succession, when Sir William Compton’s fortunes were in the ascendant, and following the succession of Henry VIII in 1509. According to Emery, the latter seems more likely given the documentary and architectural evidence.
However, what is more certain is the date of the likely completion of Compton Wynyates. The arms of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon appear in three places in the house; over the entrance porch, in the chapel window and in the Henry VIII bedroom. Documents also name ‘the new tower room’ in the residential block in 1523. The conclusion being that the most likely date for the second phase of building at Compton Wynyates was between 1515 and 1520, before Katherine of Aragon’s fall from grace and her replacement by Anne Boleyn.
Compton Wynyates: the Layout of the House
Emery writes that ‘the internal plan of Compton Wynyates survives, though somewhat distorted’. However, the hall, the buttery (with a chamber above it) the chapel and the privy apartments in the residential tower all retain their original, early sixteenth-century glory. And so, let us re-imagine the building at the time of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon’s visit in September 1526. By the way, this is an interesting date; Henry’s affair with Mary Boleyn is probably over; Thomas Boleyn seems high in the king’s favour, and at some point around this time, Henry’s attention falls on Anne Boleyn. We might therefore suspect that Anne was in tow as one of Katherine’s ladies during the 1526 progress.
The visitor at this time would find a luxurious, fashionable manor house, built of deep-red brick, diapered in places, held lightly by the gently sloping hills which surround it. Entry to the manor was via ‘the great drawbridge’, which crossed the [probably dry] outer moat. This, in turn, led to ‘the great court’ containing service buildings, barns and stables, mostly timber-framed. To reach the house, a second, inner moat was crossed with a porch leading through into the inner courtyard. Above the porch, Sir William was granted permission to display the royal arms, surmounted by a royal crown with the inscription ‘Dom Rex Henricus Octav‘ [My Lord King Henry VIII]. There it remains to this day.
Imagine that directly opposite you is the great hall, with its usual configuration of kitchen, buttery and pantry at the low end, and access to the public and private apartments via the high end. Many of the hall features are original, or salvaged from another nearby Compton property, Fulbrook Castle (including much of the vaulted ceiling and bay window). The wooden screen, which screens off the lower end of the hall, contains a central panel ‘supposed to represent French and English Knights at the Battle of Tournai’ – clearly a nod to Sir William’s finest hour in service of his lord and master.
Sir William’s Privy apartments, and adjoining chapel, were located in the south range, catching the best of the summer sun. The apartment block, built by Compton, is four storeys high and presumably contains the ‘Henry VIII bedchamber’ where Henry, and perhaps later his daughter Elizabeth, slept during their visits to Compton Wynyates. There is certainly a record of ‘King Harry’s gilt bed’ being pillaged by the Parliamentarian forces (which seized Compton Wynyates from the family) in 1644. After the Restoration it was returned to the house, only to be sold tragically when the family faced hard times in 1774. Just think where it might have ended up! Of course, it is likely that in this privy chamber block, if not in this very room, Sir William Compton succumbed to ‘The Sweat’ in 1528. It was a virulent disease that could carry away the sufferer in a matter of hours.
Sir William was buried in the nearby church (this sits separately to the manor house and is not to be confused with Compton Wynyates chapel). One presumes that this was once the parish church for the village, which Compton had cleared away to improve the outlook and surrounding for his grand country home.
Unfortunately, there is no known portrait of Sir William, except for his depiction in stained glass both at Balliol College in Oxford and in the chapel at Compton Wynyates; and that must be my final treasure in the house. Wenceslaus Hollar sketched the image in the Compton Wynyates chapel, and we can see this below; the image of a slender, clean-shaven gentleman, sword at his side, spurs fixed in place, kneeling in prayer opposite his wife, and accompanied by three children; two sons and a daughter.
But what of Sir William’s body? The aforementioned church was destroyed during the Civil War but was rebuilt in 1665. The mutilated, stone-carved, recumbent figure of William Compton, wearing a ‘collar of S’s round his neck, bearing a rose badge of the Tudors’ was recovered from the moat at the restoration. It was replaced on the north side of the church where it remains to this day.
During his lifetime, Sir William Compton was one of the most influential men in England. He was the king’s childhood friend, a close companion and loyal servant. Rewarded for that loyalty, in the early sixteenth century, he set about renovating his country house to create a manor fit to receive the royal court – as it did on several occasions. It is a cliché perhaps, but Compton Wynyates is that Tudor time capsule, which has remained well-preserved across the centuries when other houses were being ‘messed with’ by well-meaning Georgians or Victorians.
Open to visitors during the mid-twentieth century, it is now the private home of the Marquis of Northampton and has not been open to the public, as far as I know, for around fifty years. As a result, only the lucky few hold cherished childhood memories of visits there with their parents on lazy summer afternoons. The rest of us can only dream of once again being able to follow in the footsteps of Sir William and the royal court; to see again some exquisite Tudor treasures and the dreamily romantic, and singularly beautiful manor of Compton Wynyates.
Note: If you have memories of visiting Compton Wynyates as a child, please, please post a comment below. I’d love to read about what you can remember. P.S. Since launching this blog, many people have, indeed, shared their memories of visiting Compton Wynyates as a child. I was also sent a brochure from back in the day and have included a gallery below of some of the images inside.
I was one of the lucky ones to visit as part of a school party in the mid 1960’s. Although specific memories are vague I can remember a priest hole and a warm and comfortable home with lots of wood panelling.
Thanks so much for sharing what you can remember. I love the fact that it felt like a home.
It must have been open later. I visited in 1979. We picnicked in the gardens – warm sun and strawberries – perfect.
Thanks for that clarification. I knew it was somewhere around the late 60s or 70s but now we have a date of 1979. You must be one of the last ones to see it. Lucky you!
I visited on a family holiday in the Cotswolds in summer, 1967 – I was 15. I don’t remember much in detail, but I do remember falling absolutely in love with the house – ever since it has been my ideal of the perfect Tudor mansion. A few years ago I recreated it as a ceramic plaque, working from a photograph in a lovely coffee table book called ‘Ancient Houses’. Such a shame it isn’t open to the public any more. Surely they could manage one day a year? Especially as they’re doubtless in receipt of numerous grants and subsidies to maintain the fabric of such a historic building.
I just love your recollection of how the place made you feel and that having visited you wouldn’t disagree that it is the ‘perfect’ Tudor mansion. Do you still have your plaque?
Of course I still have my plaque! I was very pleased with it and it’s survived not only a house move, but several acrobatic and mountaineering cats.
I visited several times as a child in the early 50s. As I was only about 10 or 11, I don’t remember too much. But I remember the priest’s secret room, and a general feeling of comfort and familiarity, even as a child. I live in Canada now and have for many years. I am hoping to visit the UK, and was considering going back to Compton Wynyates, and taking my family. But now I know it’s no longer open to the public,sadly, I will make other plans. Maybe drive close enough to see it though.
A wonderful recollection, Ann. Thanks for posting. The theme seems to be of a warm and comfortable country home. Sorry you will have to change your plans but hopefully this has saved you unexpected disappointment. Let’s hope someday it will open again…
I would love the chance to visit, very sad that it’s never open to the public. Researching my family history I found that my ancestors were born, married and baptised at Compton Wynyates as they were servants, dating right back to the time of the Civil War. What a fascinating life they must have lived! As a child I was taken to Warwickshire, and had a vague recollection of my Mum telling me how important her family history was, but of course, memories are hazy as I was only 5. Now doing loads of research into this gorgeous house. Enjoyed your blog, thank you!
Hello! Thanks for your post. What a great story! How wonderful for you. I’d love to get inside, wouldn’t you?! Good luck with your research. Sarah
Although this beautiful building closed to the public before I was born, one of my all time favourite films growing up was Disney’s ‘Candleshoe’ starring Helen Hayes, David Niven and Jodie Foster. This was filmed in and around the grounds so you can see much more of the pictures you have in black and white of the inside of the Manor House and estate as well as the lovely staircase.
I would really recommend this to anyone, although the dvd is more popular in America than here (my dvd is region 1 which plays on a multi region DVD player).
I realise this isn’t a documentary on the house and obviously there will be some set dressing but you can see much of the original building with some wonderful features. It’s also a great Sunday afternoon film.
Hope you can give it a go ????
Fabulous recommendation. I saw it a long time ago – but before my real interest in Tudor buildings. I’d love to see it again. Top recommendation. Thanks!
Most of the interiors are filmed on a set, or the house has changed a enormous amount since i was lucky enough to vist the house in the 1990s and when it was filmed.
I grew up nearby and my dad knew the area very well. Somehow he managed to wrangle us onto an extremely rare tour of Compton Wynyates when I was a kid (maybe around 10?) in the 1990s. It was coach party, but I have no idea of how they managed to wrangle entrance. It made a massive impression on me (especially the attics and the incredible great hall) and whenever I’m visiting (my dad is buried in Tysoe) I try to get a sighting of it from the road or the ridge!
Oh, golly! That is my dream. Lucky you. That is rare indeed. If you ever find yourself wrangling another trio, can you invite me along : )
I lived at a farmhouse less than a mile away. I remember Candleshoe being filmed during the impossibly hot summer of 1976. Our friends farmed Compton Wynyates land and we went up the main drive many times to have supper with them next door to the Manor house itself. I was pregnant at the time and that baby is 43 this Wednesday. I wondered if I could visit, but have just found out that it’s not possible.
I love all these wonderful stories of Compton Wynyates! Thanks so much for sharing yours. That is SO interesting! Let’s hope maybe one day we will be able to get in there again.
My dad exercised racehorses at Compton Wynyates around 1951-52. We have a few photos (probably taken by my mother) of the yard with the horses in it. I visited Upper Tysoe in 2018 and took a few photos of the house through the gate. Such a pity that it isn’t open. It looks to be a magnificent house/garden. Nice article.
I wrote a blog post on my blog that included a mention of Compton Wynyates. I linked to this post. I hope you don’t mind. Lovely post. http://www.shareacuppa.com
Not at all… a lovely story and very interesting story wrapped around the chapel! Just down the road from me, so I might have to go check it out. Thanks for dropping by and reading my blog.
I remember visiting Compton Wynyates as a small child in the late sixties, and have recently stumbled across the guide book my parents bought during our visit.
Remember coming upon this beautiful house by accident in 1979 and it was open remember the secret priests hole ,much beautiful linenfold panelling and the topiary garden ,
. Does that still exist ? Such a perfect house went there recently could only gaze at it from the entrance gates .
Hi Suzanne, lovely t hear your story of Compton Wynyates. Like you, sadly, I have only been able to stare down the drive. So I don’t know what lies behind those gates today. It’s at the top of my bucket list!
You might be interested in reading a book called SECRET CHAMBERS AND HIDING-PLACES
HISTORIC, ROMANTIC, & LEGENDARY STORIES & TRADITIONS ABOUT HIDING-HOLES, SECRET CHAMBERS, ETC. By Allan Fea, available online at Gutenberg.org. It mentions Compton Wynyates in chapter 5, with a brief, but wonderful description. I was so intrigued by it, I searched for more information online, and discovered your blog. So glad I did! Thank you for the information, sorry to hear that the house can’t be visited at the moment.
oooh, that is RIGHT up my street. I will definitely take a look. Hope you find lots more to enjoy here. I also have a podcast, The Tudor Travel Show and YouTube Channel, where there are loads more to see. Welcome!
I went in the 70s as it was in the Historic Houses and Gardens Guide. Remember the beautiful setting and walm mellow interior. Sure I have the Guide they sold somewhere
I’ve found the Guide I bought it also describes the house as Compton-in-the-Hole. It’s not dated but the entry prices have been altered into decimal by biro under 12s were now 20p and over 12s 40p
Funny! Someone just sent me the old brochure. It’s good to see it.
My parents live about 5 minutes away from Compton Wynyates. In my teens I would walk my dog on the hills behind the house for a sneak peak! There is a 1977 feel good family film called Candel Shoe starring Jodie Foster filmed in the house. Worth a watch if your interested in the interior of the place.
I remember visiting here as a young lad of about 6 or so with my mother, I seem to recall one of my relations worked here as house keeper or butler all now sadly gone, this beautiful place have stuck in my mind for the last 50 years. Would love to go back.
My husband and I went to visit the Windmill on the hill behind Compton Wynyates today. Looking down on the house from the hill I remembered visiting there as a teenager with my parents probably around 1968. I don’t remember going into the house so wonder if we possibly just visited the grounds. I have two very clear memories though of sitting on a hill looking at the many different chimneys and the Topiary in the grounds. My parents were always visiting gardens most of which I found very tiresome, but this one certainly left quite an impression. Thanks for all your research and information into the history of the house.
Wonderful! I like that walk up to the windmill. Just take a great pair of binoculars : )
We went on a school trip in the late 70s. I remember the priest hole and wood panelling. I’m sure they had a gift shop too. I loved the building and have always wanted to go back. It sparked a love of tudor buildings.
How lovely! There’s quite a crowd of us dying to visit, I think!
Visited there when I was at primary school in the 60’s. Probably my first sighting of Tudor chimneys and I seem to recall that there was a death mask of Oliver Cromwell on display there in a glass cabinet, (typical odd detail for a small boy to remember I guess). Overall I came away with a lasting impression of Compton Wynyates and was quite sad to find out a few years ago that it was no longer possible to visit.
I am a descendant of William Compton and love reading everything and anything about my ancestors! I would love to be able to visit a part of my heritage.
So I am. Can we connect? Christelcompton@gmail.com
I’m family of William and Edmund Compton, they are my 14th and 15th great grandfathers. How can I learn more or get in contact with my family that may live there now?
Well, I would address it to the estate office at Compton Wynyates. The owner is the Marquis of Northampton – oh, and of you get an invite, can you please take me with you! I only live 15 minutes down the road. Good luck!
My uncle Maurice (Jack) Dolman was care taker at Compton Wynyates !Spent many happy holidays there in the 50s. I absolutely love it !So magical!
I was a pupil at a boarding school in Warwickshire and can still vividly remember visiting Compton Wynyates with my parents in 1962 during the half term holiday. We had been driving for some time down country lanes and I was wondering what our destination was. As we descended the hill we suddenly turned right at the entrance gates and I caught sight of the house and was captivated. It had particular significance because the period I was studying in History that term was the Tudors.
That visit was the catalyst for my enduring interest in historic houses. A few year later my father and I received the privilege of a private tour of Ightham Mote in Kent when it was owned by Charles Robinson.
A decade later, although it seemed a huge amount of money at the time, the best investment my fiancée and I ever made was Life Membership of the National Trust. The first property we visited after receiving our green cards was Baddesley Clinton.
Wonderful recollections! Thank you for reading and posting.
When I lived in Stroud, Glos, and used to visit my parents in Wigston, Leics, in the 60s and 70s we often used to detour via B roads to vary the journey. Compton Wynyates was one of my favourite stopping spots. What we could see of the house made it always look somehow magical, but I suspect that was the illusion of it being a very old house viewed through the lens of a modern era. How I envy the people who managed to visit it during the short period it was open to the public. As a writer of historical fiction a house like it may yet make its way into one of my books.
Thanks for stopping by, Victoria. You will have to let us know if it does make its way into one of your books. I am sure there are plenty of people here who would love to read about it. Best wishes, Sarah
Thank you for this fascinating webpage. I did visit Compton Wynyates at least once – I imagine this was while I was at university, or in my twenties. My wife and I, more recently, have looked down at the house from the top of the drive more than once, and longed to be able to go in. Perhaps one day!
I did make an abortive attempt to take my family there in, I believe, the 1990s, not realising that the house was no longer open. I couldn’t find a phone number for it, but I still possess an old guide book and so worked out the updated number from that. When I rang, I was bluntly told that the house had been “no longer open to the public since around 1980”. I think I was also asked where I had found out the number. Ah, well.
That sounds about right. I get a distinct feeling any approach, which I am dying to do, would be met with the same short-shrift! ?
Interesting Anthony. I too was at a boarding school near Compton Wynyates but in the 1950s. I hated it and the only happy, wonderful memory I have of that time is visiting CW twice. I have never forgotten it (except for lots of the details) and to me it still retains its magic. Magical is a word we throw around without really thinking what it means but I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to have seen the cast of A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream there. For me it has remained the most perfect, beautiful house and setting I have ever seen.
I am a 75 year old American architect whose research finds my ancestry coming through Compton Wynyates. Would love to visit this beautiful home and compare notes on how our family got to where I am today!
Wouldn’t that be fun!
My Compton line goes through Eli Hugh Compton of Virginia, who was wounded at Gettysburg and had a hundred acre farm of which my grandmother, Daisy Compton Lucas received a share upon it’s sale.
Sadly It also goes through William Compton who had his jaw shot off in the first year of the Revolution fighting for the U.S. and New York. His wife was Hannah Post from Holland.
About 16 years ago (circa 2007), I was touring England with my father. We sought out Compton Wynyates specifically. I’d admired the house for years and wanted to see for myself. I got a good picture from the front gate, sticking my camera lens between the bars and zooming in as close as I could. As we were heading away toward our next destination, I realized I’d lost my lens cap. We pulled over so I could search inside the car. As I looked, a magnificent convertible, heading toward the house and occupied by a very distinguished couple, rolled to a stop (we were less than a quarter-mile from the house) and the driver asked if I needed assistance. Like a fool, I said no, thanks, but never thought to ask if they were the owners of Compton Wynyates. Not that I would have expected an invitation to tour the house, but still. How many people in luxury convertibles (Rolls Royce, perhaps?) would be driving so close to such an extraordinary house and NOT be connected to it? Who knows? It could have been a golden opportunity, lost because I didn’t think quickly enough!
Hi Mark! Great story. Thanks for sharing…one day I’ll pluck up the courage to contact the estate office and see if I can get an invite! Who knows how close you got ?
We lived in Coventry and spent most weekends driving around rhe Cotswolds, enjoying the landscape and visiting villages and grand houses. We didn’t actually visit Compton Wynyates but parked the car and climbed a hill for our picnic. My father drew my attention to the view through the trees; below were the roofs of a great house with the most glorious Tudor chimneys, all shapes and styles, and so many. It took my breath away and confirmed my hope at that time of becoming an architect. (I never did, too long a training, but many years later I gained an MA in History of Modern Architecture). Thank you for reviving that beautiful memory of Compton Wynyates.
Fantastic story. Thanks for posting it!
I am currently transcribing from cassette the story of a nurse at Ellen Badger Hospital in the early 1930s. She says, ‘One day-off I walked across fields and over stiles about fourteen miles to Compton Wynyates, the country home of the Duke of Northampton I think it was. It was noted for its topiary gardens…’ That’s all she says about her visit. I had to look at your website to find information about the house. I though her brief comment might be of interest.
I am so pleased it was of use to you. A wonderful place indeed!
Amazing article! I recently found out through genealogy research that I am a direct descendant of William Compton! I live in TN in the USA. Absolutely fascinated and would love to visit this home. It is a shame it is closed to the public.
I visited with a school party in 1956. As we crossed the immaculate topiary clad lawn I asked a gardener how they had got it so good. ‘Three hundred years of hand weeding’ was his reply. Much was made of the priest holes on our visit but I don’t remember there being much furniture.
We later climbed a hill to a large dovecote; a food store in days of yore.
Sad such an iconic building should be denied public view. The memory has lived with me.
Wonderful recollections! Thanks for sharing about the priest holes. I didn’t know about them. Best wishes, Sarah
I also am a descendant of the Compton Wynyates family – but from Australia. My ancestor arrived here in the early 1800’s, In the very late 60’s / early 70’s my Uncle visited Compton Wynyates as a tourist. When he was passing through the entrance he introduced himself to the ‘Gentleman’ at the door and was immediately removed from the group – the greeter was the incumbent! My uncle was escorted to the kitchens where he spent his ‘tour time’ filling the family in on the ‘Aussie’ connection as well as learning about our British cousins. He saw very little of the house but said it was the best experience he could have ever asked for!
In 1986 while visiting the UK I, like so many on this blog, was parked at the top of the hill looking longingly down upon the house, wishing I could see within. We can all live in hope …
Another brilliant story…I think I need to present all these stories to the Marquess of Northampton and see if he’ll do one open day!