History of the House

Full of History and Ancient Tales

Originally a monastery, Woburn Abbey was given by Edward VI to the Russell family in 1547. Since then, leading architects, including Henry Flitcroft, Henry Holland and Sir Jeffery Wyatville, have created the stunning historic house that it is today. Woburn Abbey and the Russell family have been at the centre of social and political intrigues for centuries and today's Duke and Duchess of Bedford are making their own impact on this fascinating ancestral home.

Review our timeline for an insight into some of significant dates and events within Woburn Abbey’s history.

Timeline

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A charter for the Abbey from the 12th Century.

1145

Hugh de Bolebec founds Woburn Abbey, with monks from Fountains Abbey.

Pictured: A charter for the Abbey from the 12th Century.

The Abbot was hung from a tree in the park. It is thought to be this tree still standing today.

1538

Abbot Robert Hobbes is executed for treason by Henry VIII and the Abbey is dissolved.

Pictured: The Abbot was hung from a tree in the park. It is thought to be this tree still standing today.

John, 1st Earl of Bedford, after Hans Holbein

1547

Sir John Russell is given Woburn Abbey by Edward VI and in 1550, following instructions in the will of his father, Henry VIII, John is created 1st Earl of Bedford.

Pictured: John, 1st Earl of Bedford, after Hans Holbein

The Grotto.

1620's

Francis, 4th Earl, moves his family into Woburn Abbey. In the 1630’s he builds the two-storey north wing, with the grotto. Both are still part of the house today.

Pictured: The Grotto.

A walking stick given to William, 5th Earl, by King Charles I at Woburn in 1647.

1647

King Charles I had previously twice visited Woburn as a welcomed guest but on his third visit he was the prisoner of Parliament and had a fateful meeting with Oliver Cromwell.

Pictured: A walking stick given to William, 5th Earl, by King Charles I at Woburn in 1647.

The posthumous pardon  for the wrongful execution of the 5th Earl’s eldest son, William.

1683

William, Lord Russell is executed for his involvement in the Rye House Plot. Posthumously pardoned by William III and Mary II, his father is granted the Dukedom of Bedford in 1694.

Pictured: The posthumous pardon for the wrongful execution of the 5th Earl’s eldest son, William.

The largest collection of Venetian views in one room, painted by Canaletto.

1731

The future 4th Duke’s Grand Tour takes him to Venice where he commissions paintings by Canaletto as a souvenir.

Pictured: The largest collection of Venetian views in one room, painted by Canaletto.

The West Front, Woburn Abbey.

1747

The 4th Duke employs Henry Flitcroft to rebuild the West Wing, turning Woburn Abbey into a graceful Palladian house.

Pictured: The West Front, Woburn Abbey.

Sèvres Mortar.

1763

The 4th Duke negotiates the Treaty of Paris, which ends the Seven Years’ War. Louis XV gifts a Sèvres porcelain service in appreciation.

Pictured: Sèvres Mortar.

Grass Garden plan from 1817.

1817

The Abbey Gardens is the site of the world’s first ecological experiments whose results later influence Darwin’s argument on the origin of the species.

Pictured: Grass Garden plan from 1817.

Parquetry bureau a cylindre used by Lord John Russell.

1832

Lord John Russell is instrumental in the passing of the Reform Bill through parliament and twice becomes Prime Minister during Queen Victoria’s reign.

Pictured: Parquetry bureau a cylindre used by Lord John Russell.

The Blue Drawing Room.

1840's

Afternoon Tea is said to have been popularised by Duchess Anna Maria, wife of the 7th Duke, who entertained her friends at Woburn Abbey.

Pictured: The Blue Drawing Room.

Queen Victoria’s Bedroom .

1841

Royal visit by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Although the guest State Bedroom had been used for many visiting dignitaries it has since been called Queen Victoria’s Bedroom.

Pictured: Queen Victoria’s Bedroom .

The riding school converted into a military hospital.

1914

Mary, wife of the 11th Duke, takes on the role of administrator and nurse and turns Woburn Abbey into a military hospital during WWI.

Pictured: The riding school converted into a military hospital.

Duchess Mary, also known as The Flying Duchess, c.1935.

1937

After several record breaking flights in previous years, Mary disappears on a solo flight to Norfolk.

Pictured: Duchess Mary, also known as The Flying Duchess, c.1935.

Aerial view before the east wing, riding school and tennis court were demolished in 1950.

1939-1945

Woburn Abbey is offered to the Government for black propaganda headquarters and billeting of Wrens from Bletchley Park during WWII.

Pictured: Aerial view before the east wing, riding school and tennis court were demolished in 1950.

1955

The Abbey opens to public visitors.

The 14th Duke and Duchess on their 40th wedding anniversary.

1999-2002

The 14th Duke and Duchess become television favourites on the TV series ‘Country House’.

Pictured: The 14th Duke and Duchess on their 40th wedding anniversary.

The 15th Duke and Duchess.

2003

Andrew, the 15th and present Duke, inherits the Estate.

Pictured: The 15th Duke and Duchess.

Restoration projects in the Gardens.

2004-2014

Restoration and recreation of the Abbey Gardens to Humphry Repton’s designs from 200 years ago.

Pictured: Restoration projects in the Gardens.

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