Hatfield House

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Hatfield House is a country house set in a large park, the Great Park, on the eastern side of the town of Hatfield, Hertfordshire, England. The present Jacobean house was built in 1611 by Robert Cecil, First Earl of Salisbury and Chief Minister to King James I and has been the home of the Cecil family ever since. It is currently the home of Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 7th Marquess of Salisbury. The house is open to the public.

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Early history

An earlier building on the site was the Royal Palace of Hatfield. Only part of this still exists, a short distance from the present house. This palace was the childhood home and favourite residence of Queen Elizabeth I. Built in 1497 by the Bishop of Ely, Henry VII's minister John Cardinal Morton, it comprised four wings in a square surrounding a central courtyard. The palace was seized by Henry VIII with other church properties.

Henry VIII's children Edward and Elizabeth spent their youth at Hatfield Palace. In 1548, when she was only 15 years old, Elizabeth was under suspicion of having illegally agreed to marry Thomas Seymour, the House and her servants were seized by Edward VI's agent Robert Tyrwhit, and she was interrogated there. She successfully defended her conduct with wit and defiance. Seymour was executed in 1549 for numerous other crimes against the crown. After her two months of imprisonment in the Tower of London by her sister Queen Mary, Elizabeth returned to Hatfield. The Queen Elizabeth Oak on the grounds of the estate is said to be the location where Elizabeth was told she was Queen following Mary's death. In November 1558, Elizabeth held her first Council of State in the Great Hall.

Elizabeth's successor James I did not like the palace much and so gave it to Elizabeth's (and his own) chief minister Robert Cecil, First Earl of Salisbury, in exchange for Theobalds which was the Cecils' family home. Cecil liked to build and so tore down three wings of the Royal Palace (the back and sides of the square) in 1608 and used the bricks to build the present structure.

The Third Marquess of Salisbury was three times Prime Minister during the closing years of Queen Victoria's reign. The city of Salisbury (now Harare) in the colony of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) was founded in his time, and named for him. He is also known for often putting members of his family into the Government while Prime Minister. As his first name was Robert, this habit gave rise to the still-popular expression 'Bob's your uncle' (meaning roughly 'It's all right, everything is sure to come off')

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