Grey's Court derives its name from Lord de Grey who fought at Crecy and became one of the original Knights of the Garter.
In 1347 Edward III granted Lord de Grey a licence to crenellate his house.
At the end of the 15th century the de Grey line died out and in 1538 Henry VIII secured the estate to Francis Knollys, who later held the office of Lord Treasurer of the Household to Queen Elizabeth. His son, who succeeded in 1596, was an unattractive man and probably the inspiration for Shakespeare's Malvolio.
When he lived at Grey's Court the house was associated with one of the most notorious murders of the 17th century.
In 1613 the poet Sir Thomas Overbury died at the Tower of London in mysterious circumstances. Two years later Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset, the favourite of James and his wife, Frances Howard, a great beauty, were found guilty of his murder by poisoning. The couple were later reprieved but confined at Grey's Court, the home of Frances's sister, during his Majesty's pleasure.
Little remains of de Grey's original medieval courtyard except the 14th century Great Tower and three smaller medieval towers.
The house that stands on the site today has some medieval features but is basically a gabled 16th century building.
It was constructed by the Knollys family, from a mixture of brick and stone, on the west side of the medieval courtyard.
The constant occupation over the centuries has brought many alterations to the house reflecting changing tastes but these only add to the charm of the building.
In the 17th century an oriel window was built on the south front and in the early 18th century a small wing was added. In 1760 splendid plasterwork, attributed to Roberts of Oxford, was introduced in the house and this work which is particularly fine in the drawing room, recalls the craftsman's work in Christ College library. The intimate family rooms are furnished with late 17th and early 18th century furniture, which slightly predates the fine plasterwork.
The 16th century brick outbuildings grouped around the former courtyard including the Bachelor's Hall, the Old Stables and the Wellhouse were also added by the Knollys family.
The well is 200 feet deep and supplied the house until 1914 when it was finally connected to the water main. A great wheel turned by a donkey was used to raise the water and it is the largest surviving donkey wheel in Britain.
The tranquil assemblage of ancient buildings, grass and trees has created a sense of timelessness accentuated by the delightfully informal gardens.
The network of ancient walls has produced a series of sheltered gardens each planted in a different way.
The corner buttresses of the Great Tower rear up in the walled White Garden where Californian poppies, magnolia and other white-flowering plants are set off beautifully by the old stone. A medieval arch leads to the walled rose garden, planted with old many varieties, and this opens into a circular walled area planted long ago with wisterias. The ruins of the tithe barn enclose a garden containing Japanese cherries.
In contrast to the walled areas, to the north of the house is a wide sweep of lawn with views across the ha-ha to the fields and woodlands beyond. An ancient larch graces the lawn and there is an exotic, Chinese bridge over the ha-ha.
An addition to the garden is the Archbishop's Maze which was inspired by the enthronement speech of Archbishop Runcie in 1980.