The fifteenth century hall was willed to Elizabeth I from her father, Henry VIII. Edward VI, however, was Henry’s successor and he granted it to Sir Walter Mildmay in exchange for property elsewhere. Elizabeth is known to have dined there in 1562 and 1566. Sir Anthony inherited it from Walter who in turn left it to his daughter who had married Sir Francis Fane, later Earl of Westmorland. The Fanes held it for three hundred years. Both James I and Charles I were enamoured of it. English Heritage say:
“James I so loved Apethorpe that he personally contributed to its extension to make it more suitable for his 'princely recreation' and 'commodious entertainment', particularly for hunting in the nearby royal forest of Rockingham. The resulting series of state rooms, including the King's Bedchamber and the impressive Long Gallery, is one of the most complete to survive from the Jacobean period”
In 1622 King James I gave Fane 100 oak trees and permission to buy 100 more 'at reasonable rates' to enlarge Apethorpe 'for the more commodious entertainment of his majesty.' Thus, Apethorpe Hall reached its zenith. Charles I also stayed there regularly.
The Hall was acquired by the Brassey family (still resident in the area) in 1904 when the Westmorlands fell on hard times. After World War II, the hall and grounds were the site of an “approved school” (non UK readers or UK readers of a more recent vintage should be aware this was a school for young criminals and delinquents) run by the Roman Catholic Church. The hall eventually became the property of Wanis Mohammed Burweila, but he left the country after the Libyan Embassy siege in 1984. Sensible chap. Libyans weren’t too popular in the UK at that time. I continue the story from 2004 when the Government acquired it, having allegedly ridden roughshod over one Simon Karimzadeh, a Libyan businessman who fondly imagined he had already bought it! I quote from the Daily Telegraph of 24 September 2004:
“The saga of Apethorpe Hall, a Grade I-listed country house in Northamptonshire, and how it was snatched from under Mr Karimzadeh's nose by a compulsory purchase order, is convoluted by any standards. Dickens would have made a novel out of it. Trollope would have made three novels out of it. The cast list includes mystery Libyans, the president of Queens Park Rangers football club and Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary - and that is before m'learned friends are taken into account.
In brief, the house fell into disrepair, like many a great English country house before it. Serious disrepair. Walking around it today is enough to make a lover of architecture weep. The grand designs of previous generations - the 15th-century hall, the handsome, 17th-century façades, the 18th-century library wing - have fallen victim to Old Father Time. The exterior of the house is still terrific but, inside, it looks like a war zone. Dust, rubble, peeling wallpaper, exposed wires, great gaping holes in the floors and ceilings. On top of that, the house has been visited by the floods that have layed waste the rest of Britain this summer. The ground floor is awash with mud. Flies buzz around the water pipes. There is a stench of damp and decay”
Having acquired it for £3.5 million, English Heritage proceeded to spend £8 million restoring it and then in 2008 put it on the market at a price of £4.5 million. Fabulous economics, eh? After all it had only “a 51,000 sq ft hall, complete with stable block, gardener's cottage and 45 acres of land” so really it was a c**p property, wasn’t it?. It remained on the market until it was bought for £2.5m by French professor, diplomat and academic, Jean Christophe Iseux, Baron von Pfetten. You might be interested to read about the real Jean Claude on Wikipaedia here. What a great piece of business for the country, though. Why, you could acquire a three-bedroomed penthouse apartment in London for that price. There was a sting in the tail though. Oh, yes. You see, the Baron has to open it to the public for - wait for it - .fifty days a year. Phew. What a sacrifice for the poor old Baron. Really, he wuz robbed, wasn’t he?! I long for an announcement that a French chateau on the Loire has been sold for a couple of million Euros to a British “professor, diplomat and academic”.
In the interests of fairness, even after the English Heritage intervention the Hall still lacked some basic facilities and is alleged to still require millions more “investment” before it can become “a family home”. Sorry, but I have to giggle at that last bit!
It is now “rebranded” as Apethorpe Palace due to its status as a former B&B that got great Royal Trip Advisor reviews. That’s nice for Jean Christophe, I’m sure. Just don’t call it “Palace” when you are in Apethorpe (or, as Diana and I found out, in nearby King’s Cliffe), though. The locals who at the time of writing have just seen their local pub close might put you in the old stocks. They seem to have this strange idea that their heritage has been sold for the proverbial mess of potage.