From Abbeys, Castles and Ancient Halls of England and Wales, Their Legendary Lore and Popular History, by John Timbs, Volume II, re-edited, revised, and enlarged by Alexander Gunn; Frederick Warne and Co.; London; pp. 12-13.
On the immediate confines of Somersetshire, to the west of Warminster, was built a stately Priory, the site of which was granted by King Henry VIII. to Sir John Horsey and Edward, Earl of Hertford, from whom it was purchased by Sir John Thynne, ancestor of the present possessor, the Marquis of Bath. Upon this site Sir John Thynne laid the foundation, in January, 1567, of the magnificent mansion of Longleat, which, some writers assert, was designed by the celebrated John of Padua; from which time the works were carried on during the next twelve years, and completed by the two succeeding owners of the property. Sir John Thynne married Christian, daughter of Sir Richard Gresham, Knt., Lord Mayor of London, and sister and heir of Sir Thomas Gresham, who built the first Royal Exchange. His eldest son, Sir John Thynne, Knt., married Joan, youngest daughter of Sir Rowland Hayward, Knt., twice Lord Mayor of London.
Longleat is in the mixed style of the end of the sixteenth century, but principally Roman; and with respect to magnitude, grandeur, and variety of decoration, it has always been regarded as the pride of this part of the country; it was even said to have been “the first well-built house in the kingdom.” Aubrey describes it “as high as the Banqueting 13 House at Whitehall, outwardly adorned with Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian pillars.” In 1663, King Charles II. was magnificently entertained at Longleat by Sir James Thynne. The ancient baronial hall, of very elaborately carved work, is most appropriately decorated with armorial escutcheons, hunting-pieces, and stags’ horns. The picture-gallery contains portraits of the Thynnes, and other distinguished characters of the reigns of Queen Elizabeth and her successors. The grounds were originally laid out in the most elaborate style of artificial ornament, but have been remodelled by Brown. The whole domain comprises a circumference of fifteen miles.
The venerable Dr. Ken, Bishop of Bath and Wells, passed much of his time in this palatial house, which is a more interesting incident than any of the royal visits here. Ken was one of the seven Bishops committed to the Tower for refusing to read James’s declaration in favour of Romanism; and he was suspended and deprived by William III. for refusing to take the oath of allegiance. But he found an asylum in lord Weymouth’s mansion of Longleat; and here he walked, and read, and hymned, and prayed, and slept, to do the same again. The only property he brought from Wells Palace was his library, part of which is to this day preserved at Longleat. In an upper chamber he composed most of his poems of fervid piety. He died in 1711, in his seventy-fourth year, and was carried to his grave in Frome churchyard by six of the poorest men of the parish, and buied under the eastern window of the church, at sunrise, in reference to the words of his Morning Hymn:
It has been erroneously stated that there is not a stone to mark where Ken lies; whereas there is a monument near the spot, probably erected at the time of his death by the noble family at Longleat, where the bishop died. Many years ago the sculpture was decayed, and the epitaph had disappeared: let us hope this memorial has been restored.