For over 400 years Hatfield House has been home to the Cecils, one of England’s most influential political families. This magnificent Jacobean mansion was built between 1607 and 1611 for Robert Cecil, first earl of Salisbury and secretary of state to both Elizabeth I and James I. Elizabeth spent much of her childhood in the ‘Old Palace’ here, and the house, which is awash with tapestries, furnishings and armour, proudly displays the Rainbow Portrait, depicting her holding a rainbow.
Other highlights of Hatfield House include its marble hall and stunning carved-oak staircase. Its vast grounds were landscaped by 17th-century botanist John Tradescant, whose collection of ‘rarities’ instigated Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum. An ancient oak tree marks the spot where Elizabeth I first heard of her accession to the throne.
Those parts of the Old Palace that still survive were later turned into stables, and can be toured most days.
The house is opposite Hatfield train station, which has trains to London King’s Cross/St Pancras (£10.10, 20 minutes).