The original palace was built between 1456 - 1486 for Thomas Bourchier on the site of a medieval house. Bourchier was Lord Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury.
On his death the house was bequeathed to the See of Canterbury and it remained the residence of four more archbishops before Thomas Cranmer was persuaded to give it to Henry VIII. The King spent money on the house but never actually lived there.
In 1566 Queen Elizabeth I granted Knole to her cousin Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset, whose descendants, later Dukes of Dorset, have lived here ever since.
Between 1603 - 1608 the 1st Earl made extensive alterations and additions, transforming the interior. He added panelling and plasterwork in the Great Hall and other principal rooms and installed the magnificent Great Staircase.
At the same time he began the collection of Jacobean furniture for which Knole is notable today.
The 4th Earl supported the Royal cause during the Civil War and fought at the Battle of Edgehill, while his wife was for a time governess to the Royal children.
In 1642 Parliamentarian troops sacked Knole and in 1645, when the Parliamentary commissioners were installed at the house, much else was stolen.
In the next generation some of the deprivations suffered by Knole were put right when the 5th Earl married a great heiress, Lady Frances Cranfield. She inherited the estates of her father, the Earl of Middlesex, and much of the furniture, tapestries and paintings at Knole were brought from Copt Hall the Cranfield family home in Essex.
The collection of 17th century furniture and textiles at Knole was mostly acquired by the 6th Earl.
As Lord Chamberlain to William III the Earl was entitled to take away furnishings discarded from the Royal palaces. As a result the galleries at Knole are filled with state beds, chairs, stools and tapestries that once adorned Whitehall, Kensington and Hampton Court.
The King's Room contains a beautiful silver looking-glass, table and candlestands. The splendid great bed is embellished with cloth of silver and gold with matching chairs and stools.
The cultivated and romantic 3rd Duke of Dorset treasured Knole's venerable atmosphere and ensured that the house was not remodelled in the classical style during the 18th century.
It is the lack of alteration which makes Knole such a precious survival amongst the great houses of Britain.
Knole was the birthplace of Vita Sackville-West, whose father was Lionel, 3rd Lord Sackville.
Virginia Wolfe's historical fantasy 'Orlando' was inspired by Knole and her friendship with Vita Sackville-West.
In 1946 Vita's uncle, Charles, 4th Lord Sackville, passed Knole into the care of the National Trust much to her distress. However, the contents of the house and the park remain the property of the Sackville family.
Knole's furniture, embroidered textiles and tapestries, ornate plaster ceilings and carved chimneypieces are a reflection of the superb craftsmanship which created the house.
Family paintings include work by Van Dyck, Kneller, Lely, Hoppner and Wootton. There is a whole room devoted to the work of Sir Joshua Reynolds.
The beautiful 1,000 acre park where herds of Sika and fallow deer graze is incised by deep valleys and planted with ancient oaks, chestnuts and beeches.