DiCamillo Companion

Shirburn Castle (Sherborn Castle)

  • House & Family History: Thomas Parker, later 1st Earl of Macclesfield (1667–1732), purchased the Shirburn Estate in 1716, which included the medieval, moated Shirburn Castle, the earliest brick building in Oxfordshire. In 1710 Parker was made a privy councilor; in 1714 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Parker of Macclesfield. He served as lord chief justice from 1710 until 1718. As a favorite of King George I, he was raised to Earl of Macclesfield (and Viscount Parker) in 1721. On the death of Queen Anne on August 1, 1714, Lord Parker (as he then was) was designated regent of Great Britain, Ireland, and the realms beyond the seas until the new king (the Elector of Hanover, later George I) could be notified that he had inherited the crown of Great Britain. Lord Parker reigned until September 18, 1714, becoming the last non-royal to act as sovereign in British history. He acquired enormous wealth and liked to exhibit his riches; one of his lasting legacies is the famous Macclesfield silver wine cooler set (today in the collection of the V&A), the only complete set known to survive. In 1725 Macclesfield was impeached and tried in the House of Lords for corruption and found unanimously guilty of taking over £100,000 in bribes (approximately £13 million in 2012 inflation-adjusted values using real price commodity index). He was removed as a privy councilor, fined £30,000, and placed in the Tower of London until payment was received. The payment of the fine ruined Macclesfield financially; he died in 1732 and was buried at Shirburn Castle. George Parker, 2nd Earl of Macclesfield (circa 1695–1764), was a noted astronomer who conducted astronomical observations at Shirburn Castle and built an observatory in 1739 (demolished) and a chemical laboratory (the astronomer Thomas Hornsby observed the transit of Venus from the grounds in 1761); all of this contributed to making Shirburn one of the most important scientific and literary centers in 18th century Britain. Beechwood Estates Company, the Macclesfield family estate management company, owns the house today. After a long-running and acrimonious court battle, the 9th Earl of Macclesfield, Richard Timothy George Mansfield Parker, was evicted from Shirburn at the end of 2004. One of the results of the court battles was that, between 2004 and 2008, Sotheby's conducted an auction in 12 parts of the great library of the earls of Macclesfield. Shirburn Castle is currently unoccupied.

    Collections: William Hogarth's "William Jones," formerly in the collection at Shirburn, was purchased by the National Portrait Gallery in 1984. The famous Macclesfield wine cooler set (a silver fountain, cistern, and cooler made by Anthony Nelme, 1719-20, for Thomas Parker, 1st Earl of Macclesfield) is today in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, where it is considered the finest of its kind in existence (see "Images" section). Between 2004 and 2008 Sotheby's conducted an auction in 12 parts of the great library of the earls of Macclesfield at Shirburn (the library included two Caxtons and the letters of Isaac Newton among its collection of antique books). The highlight of the sales was the Macclesfield Psalter, a lavishly illuminated 252-page manuscript from East Anglia, written in Latin and made circa 1335. The psalter sat unrecognized for centuries on the shelves of the library at Shirburn until 2004, when the Macclesfield library was cataloged by Sotheby's in preparation for its sale at auction. The Fitzwilliam Museum attempted to purchase the psalter, but was outbid by the Getty Museum, who offered £1.7 million for the book. The British government put a temporary export ban on the psalter (until February 10, 2005) to allow the Fitzwilliam to raise the money to meet the Getty's bid. The Fitzwilliam, assisted by an £860,000 contribution from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, raised the £1.7 million, and the psalter is today in its collection. The Macclesfield Psalter was likely intended for private devotion (rather than public use in church) and is believed to be by the same scribe as two other psalters from the East Anglian Group: the Douai Psalter and the Stowe Breviary. The original patron of the psalter is unknown; it could very possibly have been owned by John de Warenne, 8th Earl of Surrey, the probable patron of the Gorleston Psalter.

  • John Bernard (J.B.) Burke, published under the title of A Visitation of the Seats and Arms of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain and Ireland, among other titles: Vol. II, p. 223, 1853.

    John Preston (J.P.) Neale, published under the title of Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen in England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, among other titles: Vol. III, 1820.

  • Title: Early Georgian Interiors
    Author: Cornforth, John
    Year Published: 2004
    Reference: pg. 111
    Publisher: New Haven: Yale University Press
    ISBN: 0300103301
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Sotheby's Auction Catalog: The Library of the Earl of Macclesfield Removed From Shirburn Castle: Part One: Natural History
    Author: NA
    Year Published: 2004
    Publisher: London: Sotheby's
    ISBN: NA
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: British Tradition and Interior Design
    Author: Piras, Claudia; Roetzel, Bernhard; Tenison, Rupert (Photographer)
    Year Published: 2001
    Reference: pg. 173
    Publisher: Cologne: H.F. Ullmann
    ISBN: 3829048513
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Classical Architecture in Britain: The Heroic Age
    Author: Worsley, Giles
    Year Published: 1995
    Reference: pg. 183
    Publisher: New Haven: Yale University Press (The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art)
    ISBN: 0300058969
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Disintegration of a Heritage: Country Houses and their Collections, 1979-1992, The
    Author: Sayer, Michael
    Year Published: 1993
    Publisher: Norfolk: Michael Russell (Publishing)
    ISBN: 0859551970
    Book Type: Hardback

  • House Listed: Grade I

    Park Listed: Grade II

  • "Inspector Morse" (1992 - TV series, as the Balcombe family home in the episode "Happy Families"). "Philomena" (2013 - as the Roscrea Convent cemetery). "Agatha Christie: Poirot: Curtain: Poirot's Last Case" (2014 - TV series). "London Spy" (2015 - TV mini series, as Alex's childhood home).
  • Past Seat / Home of: Warin de Lisle, 14th century. Chamberlain family, 17th century. Thomas Parker, 1st Earl of Macclesfield, 1716-32; George Parker, 2nd Earl of Macclesfield, 1732-64; Thomas Parker, 3rd Earl of Macclesfield, 1764-95; George Parker, 4th Earl of Macclesfield, 1795-1842; Thomas Parker, 5th Earl of Macclesfield, 1842-50; Thomas Augustus Wolstenholme Parker, 6th Earl of Macclesfield, 1850-96; George Loveden William Henry Parker, 7th Earl of Macclesfield, 1896-1975.

    Current Ownership Type: Individual / Family Trust

    Primary Current Ownership Use: Unoccupied

    Ownership Details: Owned by Beechwood Estates Company, the family company of the earls of Macclesfield; Parker family here since 1716.

  • House Open to Public: No

    Historic Houses Member: No