The main construction of a quadrangular courtyard house was started in 1427 by Sir Rowland Lenthall on land that was a wedding gift from King Henry IV on Lenthalls's marriage to the king's cousin, Margaret Fitzalan, a daughter of the Earl of Arundel. Building had been taking place earlier when the king was Henry Bolingbroke and Sir Rowland went on to fight at Agincourt - all very Shakespearean.
The palace or castle, whichever you prefer, has changed hands several times with each owner altering and adding to it so that the oldest remaining part is to the north. Some tended to make it more domestic but others reversed the trend and made it more of a castle according to fashion or inclination. The powerful Coningsby family bought it in the 16th century and stayed for 300 years, their name accounting for the theme of white rabbits throughout ("coney" means "rabbit"). After that it was purchased for nearly a quarter of a million pounds by Richard Arkwright, offspring of the famous inventor, whose son John lavished more money on it over a period of 12 years, though making some economies such as scumbling the woodwork in the dining room instead of installing true walnut panelling. (Some oak panelling had been sold off in the 17th century).
The chapel is Medieval and would have been much more colourful than at present: the stained glass was sold in the 1920's though a little remains high up.
The house is great fun although not all is as old as it seems since a U.S. millionaire, Robert Van Kampen, furnished it in the 1990's (to the tune of £17 million) according to his ideas of an English country house, adding armour and stuffed animals. Some complain about the lack of authenticity but I raise a cheer to him for spending his money to recreate his ideal for us all to enjoy. No-one lives here any more but it is the fabulous setting for weddings and events and it has served as a military hospital.
I went there on a perfect July day and was bowled over by the gardens, taking a couple of hours to explore and absorb. They are beautifully maintained without being manicured and signage is kept to a minimum: I was amused to be warned of uneven surfaces near the river due to mole activity and half expected to see Ratty, Badger and Toad as well. There is a river walk of 45 minutes but I contented myself with the shorter one.
There are more formal gardens with a water pavilion, a maze, a secret passage, a wisteria tunnel 150 years old and a sunken pond with a waterfall that some children were persuading their grandfather to go behind. One of them called out:"I love this place - I am having so many adventures." (So was grandpa!) This is perhaps because there are hidden things to discover, several paths to take to different parts, and a hollow tree with a door to hide in.
I was very taken with the Dutch garden which is a contrast to the wilder areas, being symmetrical with a rectangular pond and colourful potted plants. I sat here for a while contemplating and reflecting on how heartening it is to visit a place so carefully and yet so unobtrusively managed. You can have lunch etc with home grown organic produce from the kitchen garden in the conservatory designed by Joseph Paxton or you can bring a picnic and lounge on the grass. There is a shop but nowhere is there any sense of pressure to buy - yet I went burrowing in the archives of the local paper and found an advert of 19th May 2014 with a price tag on the site of £12 million. My piggy bank just isn't fat enough!
This house and gardens make a Grand Day Out for all ages and will keep juniors occupied and active. I couldn't think of any way it could be improved and went home quite uplifted. Opening hours and details of events can be found on their website. This time I went on an organised coach trip with Jenson and the Gwent National Trust Association - so that counts as a Monmouthshire bus microadventure. Afterwards we continued the short distance to Hereford Cathedral which I have now described.
A few of the other castles in or near Monmouthshire that I have visited by bus and written about are Raglan Castle, Chepstow Castle, Ludlow Castle and Caerphilly Castle. Then there is my home fortification of Usk Castle. Many of these articles are linked to others about the people connected with each castle's history.