The earliest visible features at Basing House today are the huge circular bank (or ringwork) and defensive ditches of a castle built in the 1100s by the de Port family, who arrived with William the Conqueror in the Norman invasion of 1066. It was on top of these castle remains that Sir William Paulet, the first Marquess of Winchester and Lord Treasurer of England, chose to build his new house in 1535.
When first built it was the largest private house in the country with around 360 rooms, and in its heyday was frequently visited by the monarchs of the day including Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and Philip II of Spain and Queen Mary I who honeymooned there in 1554 after their marriage in nearby Winchester
When the English Civil War broke out in 1642, England was divided between the Royalist, and often Catholic, supporters of King Charles I and those who favoured a more powerful Parliament, mainly Protestants.
At this time Basing House was owned by John Paulet, the fifth Marquess of Winchester. He lived up to his family motto "Aymez Loyaulte" (Love Loyalty) and supported the king.
Basing House was attacked by Parliamentary troops on three occasions. The final assault came in August 1645 when 800 men took up position around the walls. The garrison held out, despite further reinforcements to the attacking force, until Oliver Cromwell himself arrived with heavy artillery. By 13 October 1645 the walls of the house had been breached.
Oliver Cromwell at the Storming of Basing House by Ernest Crofts RA
The final storming of the defences was violent, and between forty and a hundred people were killed. Parliamentary troops were given leave to pillage the house and a fire finally destroyed the building.
Parliament ordered the complete demolition of what remained, from which the villagers of Basing were allowed to remove building materials for their own use. John Paulet had his estates confiscated, and was sent to the Tower of London on a charge of high treason. The charges against Paulet were later dropped, and the site of Basing House returned to him at the Restoration by King Charles II.
Some years later, and after John Paulet's death, his son Charles Paulet became Marquess of Winchester and pulled down what was left of Basing House and built a new house at Hackwood. The remains of the House can still be seen today, and the Museum at the site tells more of the long and fascinating history of Basing House.
Every year at Basing House, dedicated volunteers and staff from the Hampshire County Council Museums Service Archaeology Team work carry out a Community Archaeology Dig.
This excavation runs each year for a few weeks, and organisations such as the Basingstoke Historical and Archaeological Society and the Young Archaeologists Club get involved in finding out a bit more about Basing House’s long and fascinating past.
Community Archaeology Excavations at Basing House 2010
You can read more about the last few years of excavations at the site on the following pages, but there is much more to see in our Museum at Basing House, including a display dedicated to the Community Archaeology Dig, as well as information about archaeologists working on site, going right back to the 19th century.
See our blog and learn more about recent improvements at Basing House