The best books about country houses

James Peill Author Of The English Country House: New Format
By James Peill

Who am I?

I have loved visiting country houses ever since I was a child. There is something unique about the combination of art, architecture, and people. Over my lifetime, I have been privileged to visit all sorts of houses and castles. I used to work at Christie’s and during that time I visited many country houses, some of which were completely private. It was a natural progression when I moved to Goodwood and became the curator of the art collection, enjoying the house as part of my daily life. The view from my office looks out through the columns of the portico, across the park, with the sea glinting in the distance. What could be better?  

I wrote...

The English Country House: New Format

By James Peill, Foreword by Julian Fellowes,

Book cover of The English Country House: New Format

What is my book about?

The country houses of England are among her crowning glories. The English Country House describes ten outstanding examples, all still in the hands of descendants of the original owners. They range from Kentchurch Court, a fortified medieval manor house that has been in the Scudamore family for nearly 1,000 years to a delightful Strawberry Hill-style Gothic house in rural Cornwall, the ducal palace of Badminton to Goodwood, England’s greatest sporting estate. Many of the houses are not open to the public and some have not been featured in a book before. The beautiful atmospheric photographs by James Fennell capture the essence of each unique property. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Highland Retreats: The Architecture and Interiors of Scotland's Romantic North

Why did I love this book?

Reading this book is like sheer escapism to the Highlands of Scotland. Beautifully illustrated, the author has an engaging style that carries you along as she tells the story of Highland lodges and how Scotland became the place to go to find rest and escapism as well as great sport. You come away seeing Scotland in a new light and wanting to spend August amongst the heather and hills. 

By Mary Miers,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Highland Retreats as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Featuring breathtaking photographs of some of Scotland s most remarkable and little-known houses, this book tells the story of how incomers adopted the North of Scotland as a recreational paradise and left an astonishing legacy of architecture and decoration inspired by the romanticized image of the Highlands. Known as shooting lodges because they were designed principally to accommodate the parties of guests that flocked north for the annual sporting season, these houses range from Picturesque cottages ornees and Scotch Baronial castles to Arts and Crafts mansions and modern eco-lodges. While their designs respond to some of Britain s wildest and…

Book cover of The Story of the Country House: A History of Places and People

Why did I love this book?

The country house is a subject that has always fascinated me, but I’ve often struggled to define it accurately. Clive Aslet, former editor of Country Life magazine does a brilliant job of refining the topic into very readable, succinct, chapters filled with plenty of anecdotes and charming illustrations. As soon as I finished it, I wanted to read it all over again. 

By Clive Aslet,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Story of the Country House as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The fascinating story of the evolution of the country house in Britain, from its Roman precursors to the present

The Story of the Country House is an authoritative and vivid account of the British country house, exploring how they have evolved with the changing political and economic landscape. Clive Aslet reveals the captivating stories behind individual houses, their architects, and occupants, and paints a vivid picture of the wider context in which the country house in Britain flourished and subsequently fell into decline before enjoying a renaissance in the twenty-first century. The genesis, style, and purpose of architectural masterpieces such…


By Jane Mulvagh,

Book cover of Madresfield

Why did I love this book?

This book takes the reader on a journey back into the mists of time. I was fascinated by how one house can hold so many secrets, that the author, Jane Mulvagh, unravels as she tells her tale. Madresfield was the inspiration for Evelyn Waugh’s famous fictional house Brideshead, although the real story is much more complex and interesting. Inspired by this book, I included Madresfield as one of the ten houses in my own book. 

By Jane Mulvagh,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Madresfield as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Madresfield Court is an arrestingly romantic stately home in the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire. It has been continuously owned and lived in by the same family, the Lygons, back to the time of the Domesday Book, and, unusually, remains in the family's hands to this day. Inside, it is a very private, unmistakably English, manor house; a lived-in family home where the bejewelled sits next to the threadbare. The house and the family were the real inspiration for Brideshead Revisited: Evelyn Waugh was a regular visitor, and based his story of the doomed Marchmain family on the Lygons.
Never before…

Book cover of Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa, and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832

Why did I love this book?

This book is a fascinating insight into the sisters of the 3rd Duke of Richmond and their lives played out among the country houses of England and Ireland. They were all brilliant letter writers, and although they were separated for long periods, kept up a constant correspondence. After reading it, I felt I knew the sisters personally, even though they had lived 250 years ago. It became an instant bestseller when it first came out over twenty years ago and was made into a film, with Julian Fellowes playing the 2nd Duke of Richmond. 

By Stella Tillyard,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Aristocrats as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Lennox Sisters--great-granddaughters of a king, daughters of a cabinet minister, and wives of politicians and peers--lived lives of real public significance, but the private texture of their family-centered world mattered to them and they shared their experiences with each other in countless letters. From this hitherto unknown archive, Stella Tillyard has constructed a group biography of privileged eighteenth-century women who, she shows, have much to tell us about our own time.

Book cover of The Country House: Past, Present, Future: Great Houses of The British Isles

Why did I love this book?

This book combines superb photographs with scholarly text by two of the most eminent writers on the country house today, with additional essays by other authors who are respected experts in their fields.  I like nothing more than to just open it up and flick through the pages, dipping into the text and enjoying the images. The book is a beautiful object in itself. 

By David Cannadine, Jeremy Musson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Country House as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From The Crown to Downton Abbey, the country house speaks to our fantasies of rustic splendour, style, and escape. Featuring three hundred photos from the National Trust, this lavish book draws back the curtain on the finest and most important historic homes in England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, revealing these great houses' intriguing pasts, grand interiors, and vi-brant reinventions for the enjoyment of modern-day visitors, residents, and armchair travellers. Locations include Knole, Cragside, Castle Howard, Chatsworth, Polesden Lacey, Petworth, Castle Bodiam, Blenheim, Longleat, and dozens more. Illuminating essays by country house expert Jeremy Musson, legendary British author and historian David…

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Interested in English country house, the upper class, and Scotland?

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