Penshurst Place is a historic building near Tonbridge, Kent, 32 miles (50 km) to the south east of London, England. It is the ancestral home of the Sidney family, and the house and its gardens are open for public viewing.
The ancient village of Penshurst was within the manor of that name: the manor appears as Penecestre or Penchester, a name adopted by Stephen de Penecestre, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, who possessed the manor towards the end of the 13th century.
The present mansion was built in 1341 for Sir John de Pulteney at the time when such properties ceased to be castles: they were more dwellings that could be defended in an emergency. When Henry IV’s third son, John, Duke of Bedford, occupied Penshurst, the second hall, known as the Buckingham Building, was built.
It was enlarged after 1552 when King Edward VI granted the house to Sir William Sidney (1482–1554), who had been a courtier to the King’s father, Henry VIII. Sir William’s son Henry (1529–1586) married Lady Mary Dudley, whose family became implicated in the Lady Jane Grey affair, although Henry himself escaped any such implications. During his lifetime he added apartments and the “King’s Tower” to Penshurst. He also created what is now one of England’s oldest private gardens.
Philip Sidney (1554–1586), Henry’s son, was born at Penshurst Place in 1554. He was buried in old St Paul’s, in London, having died 25 days after a fatal wounding from a bullet in the thigh at the battle of Zutphen, but his tomb was destroyed in the great fire of London in 1666.
Philip’s brother Robert Sidney now inherited Penshurst. His time there resulted in more additions to the state rooms, including an impressive “Long Gallery”. He had also inherited the Earldom of Leicester: his descendants for the next seven generations continued to live at the mansion. By the 19th century the building was falling into disrepair, but a new occupant in 1818, Sir John Shelley-Sidney, and his son Philip began to restore it. The latter was created Baron De L’Isle and Dudley in 1835; the present peer is now the second Viscount, and it is to him and his father that much of the modern restoration is due, in spite of the house having suffered neglect during World War I. Today the house and gardens are open to the public.