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The Lansdowne Family

The Bowood Estate was bought in 1754 by John Petty Fitzmaurice, 1st Earl of Shelburne (1706–1761); his descendants have lived here ever since. Not simply land owners, the Petty Fitzmaurices have served in public office almost continuously for over 200 years. The changing fortunes of the family, through difficult and easier times, are reflected in the evolution of Bowood House and Gardens.1
Bowood was purchased with the fortune left by Sir William Petty (1623-1687). A remarkable polymath, and Professor of Anatomy at Oxford in 1651, he became Physician-General to Cromwell’s army in Ireland, where he made the first survey of Ireland to be measured down on paper (the Down Survey), completed in 1656. A founder member of the Royal Society, he was knighted in 1661 after the Restoration and is still renowned as a political economist. His widow was created Baroness Shelburne in 1688, and their daughter, Anne, married Thomas Fitzmaurice, 1st Earl of Kerry. Anne’s son John inherited the Petty fortune from his uncle and was created 1st Earl of Shelburne in his own right. He also took the Petty name and it was he who bought the Bowood estate in 1754, undertaking substantial improvements in the remaining few years of his life.
William, 2nd Earl of Shelburne (1737–1805), later 1st Marquess of Lansdowne, inherited his father’s fortune at the age of 24, when he was already following a political career with strongly Whig sympathies. He immediately set about a further programme of improvements to the house and gardens at Bowood and, in 1765, purchased an Adam house in Berkeley Square, London. Known as Shelburne House and, later, Lansdowne House, this property was sold in the 1920s and is now a London club. Both of his houses were sumptuously decorated in the contemporary style to provide impressive hospitality to guests from the worlds of the arts, literature, sciences and politics. Lord Shelburne’s greatest political achievement lay in negotiating peace with America, as Prime Minister (1782–83), at the close of the War of Independence, for which he was created Marquess of Lansdowne in 1784.
His eldest son, John Henry, 2nd Marquess of Lansdowne (1765–1809), travelled widely. Keenly interested in politics and the arts, he was MP for Wycombe from 1786 to 1802 but, dogged by ill health, he survived his father by only four years. Throughout that time, he did not return to Bowood. Burdened by the process of repayment of his father’s debts, he sold almost all of his father’s collections, leaving Bowood temporarily uninhabitable. The 2nd Marquess died childless and was succeeded by his half brother.
4Henry, 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne (1780–1863) was Chancellor of the Exchequer at the tender age of 25. He served as a Whig under eight prime ministers, becoming Lord President of the Council and the friend and political confidante of Queen Victoria, from whom he declined a dukedom in 1857. Like his father, the 3rd Marquess built up an outstanding art collection and delighted in entertaining friends and colleagues at Bowood.
5Henry Charles, 4th Marquess of Lansdowne (1816–1866), second son of the 3rd Marquess, was an MP for 20 years and Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs from 1856 to 1858. He was also Chairman of the Great Western Railway. His wife, Emily, was a daughter of the Comte de Flahault, through whom the fascinating Napoleonic Collection came into the Lansdowne family. He died only three years after his father and was succeeded by his eldest son. 


Henry Charles Keith, 5th Marquess of Lansdowne (1845–1927) started as a Junior Lord of the Treasury at the age of 24, becoming Under Secretary for War at 27. To assist the failing family finances, he served abroad as Governor-General of Canada (1883–88) and Viceroy of India (1888–94). After his return he became Secretary of State for War, Foreign Secretary and Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords. He was responsible for negotiating the Anglo-Japanese Agreement in 1902, and the Entente Cordiale with France in 1904. Despite the demands of high office, he and his wife took a close interest in the estate and the village of Derry Hill, choosing to be buried in the village churchyard. Lady Lansdowne was made one of the first Companions of Honour in recognition of her welfare work in the First World War.


Henry William Edmund, 6th Marquess of Lansdowne (1872–1936), eldest son of the 5th Marquess, was keenly interested in the history of the family and the estate and wrote numerous books and papers on subjects relating to the Bowood archives. He died in 1936 and his two surviving sons were killed on active service in 1944, within a few days of each other…


Thus it was that the present Lord Lansdowne’s father succeeded his cousin Charles Hope, 7th Marquess of Lansdowne (1917–1944).


George John Charles, 8th Marquis of Lansdowne (1912-1999) was the only son of Lord Charles Mercer Nairne, second son of the 5th Marquess, who was killed at Ypres in 1914. After the War he followed a political career, becoming Joint Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign Office (1958–62) and Minister of State for Colonial Affairs (1962–64) and for Commonwealth Relations (1963–64). It was he who took the difficult decision to demolish the Big House at Bowood in 1955, in order to be able to continue to live at Bowood and keep the estate in the possession of the family.


Bowood is now the home of Charles Maurice and Fiona, 9th Marquis and Marchioness of Lansdowne. The family moved back into Bowood House in 1972 where the youngest of the four children, William, was born. Both William and Arabella, the eldest, were married in the chapel. For the first time in its long history, the house has been permanently lived in. Lord Lansdowne was active in local government since 1964 at parish, district and county levels and was a member of the South West Economic Planning Council from 1972 to 1977.  His primary objective since moving back in to Bowood House has been to modernise and transform The Bowood Estate into the viable business it is today.

What’s On

Mar 18

10KM Fun Run – Sunday 18th March 2018

March 18 @ 10:00 am - 2:00 pm
Bowood House & Gardens
SN11 0LZ
01249 812102
Mar 29

Spring Bulb Containers – Masterclass with Rachel Wilson

March 29 @ 11:00 am - 3:30 pm
Bowood House & Gardens
SN11 0LZ
01249 812102