From Abbeys, Castles and Ancient Halls of England and Wales, by John Timbs, Vol. II, re-edited, revised, and enlarged by Alexander Gunn; Frederick Warne and Co.; London; pp. 7-8.
Wilton, three miles north-west of Salisbury, is a place of great antiquity, and gave name to the county, which is called, in the Saxon Chronicle, Wiltunscire. Here, in 821 or 823, Egbert, King of Wessex, fought a successful battle against Beornwulf, the Mercian King, and thus established the West Saxon dynasty. In 854, at Wilton, Ethelwulf executed the charter by which he conveyed the whole of the tithes of the kingdom to the clergy. It was the scene of one of Alfred’s earlier battles with the Danes, in 871, whom he defeated after a most sanguinary contest.
Wilton was the occasional residence of the West Saxon Kings; and an Abbey for nuns, which was originally, or soon after became of the Benedictine order, existed here at an early period, to which Alfred and his successors, Edward the Elder, Athelstan, Edmund, Edred, and Edgar, were great benefactors. Wilton was plundered and burnt by the Danish King, Sweyn, in the reign of Ethelred II. (1003), but it so far recovered as to be a place of importance at the time of the Conquest. It received a charter from Henry I. In the Civil War of Stephen, the King was about to fortify the nunnery, in order to check 8 the garrison which Maud, the Empress, had at Old Sarum, when Robert Earl of Gloucester, the Empress’ chief supporter, unexpectedly set the town of Wilton on fire, and so frightened the King away. Here the first English carpet was manufactured by Anthony Duffory, brought from France by the Herberts, in the time of Queen Elizabeth. The church was formerly the Abbey church. The Hospital of St. Giles was the gift of Queen Adelicia, wife to King Henry I. Adelicia was a leper; she had a window and a door from her lodging into the chapel, whence she heard prayers.
Wilton House, the magnificent seat of the Pembroke family, originated as follows: William Herbert married Anne, sister to Queen Katherine Parr, the last wife of Henry VIII. He was knighted by that monarch in 1544, when the buildings and lands of the dissolved abbey of Wilton, with many other estates, were conferred on him by the King. Being left executor, or “conservator” of Henry’s will, he possessed considerable influence at the court of Edward VI., by whom he was created Earl of Pembroke. He immediately began to alter and adapt the conventual buildings at Wilton to a mansion suited to his rank and station, the porch designed by Hans Holbein. Solomon De Caus, Inigo Jones, and Webb and Vandyke, were employed by succeeding members of the family upon Wilton. Horace Walpole says: “The towers, the chambers, the scenes, which Holbein, Jones, and Vandyke had decorated, and which Earl Thomas had enriched with spoils of the best ages, received the best touches of beauty from Earl Henry’s hand. He removed all that obstructed the views to or from his palace, and threw Palladio’s theatric bridge over his river. The present Earl has crowned the summit of the hill with the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, and a handsome arch designed by Sir William Chambers.” “King Charles I.,” says Aubrey, “did love Wilton above all places, and came thither every summer. It was he that did put Philip, first Earle of Pembroke, upon making the magnificent garden and grotto, and to build that side of the house that fronts the garden, with two stately pavilions at each end.” Again, Aubrey tells us that “in Edward VI.’s time, the great house of the Earls of Pembroke, at Wilton, was built with the ruins of Old Sarum.”
Elf.Note. — For an “adventure” at Wilton Abbey, see Chapter VII, of the History of Flagellation, anonymously authored.