Ashdown House, originally a hunting lodge, looks more like a tall doll’s house stranded on the Berkshire Downs. The architect was probably the Dutch-born gentleman amateur Captain William Winde (before 1647–1722). It was built by Sir William Craven (1608–1697), 1st Earl of Craven. Legend would have it he built it for Elizabeth of Bohemia (1596–1662), the ‘Winter Queen’, to whom Craven was devoted but who died before it was completed.
Elizabeth was the daughter of James I, and wife of Frederick V, Elector Palatine, who for one brief season in 1619–1620 was the crowned King of Bohemia, before being exiled in the Netherlands by the Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand II. Her youngest daughter Sophia married the future Elector of Hanover in 1658 and their son became George I. Craven paid the ex-Queen the pension that she was supposed to receive from the English crown and, after the Restoration in 1660, he put his London house in Drury Lane at her disposal.
Craven was left all her papers and the remarkable collection of portraits of herself, her sons and her daughters by the Dutch artist, Gerard van Honthorst. These adorned his seat at Combe Abbey and then Hampstead Marshall. Since the suicide of the 7th Earl in 1983, 23 of these have been secured in lieu of tax as of particular interest for Ashdown House. The widow of the 4th Earl who had drowned in 1921, Cornelia (d.1961), Countess of Craven, had given the House to the National Trust in 1956, with 35 acres and an endowment.