Indeed, the country house has existed as an expression of might for hundreds of years. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods, tapestries lining the walls were status symbols, due to their fantastic cost. Some were extraordinarily coloured, woven with rare gold or red thread, in contrast to ordinary houses, which would have been gloomy. Furniture was hand-crafted and therefore a symbol of wealth. King Henry VIII, lord of 63 palaces, had a particularly intricate system of chests labeled according to the rooms that he occupied. Every time he arrived at a new palace, they were unpacked and he had exactly the same furniture in exactly the same rooms as the last. When he left, the rooms became shells until his return.
In the Tudor period, great displays of gold and silver plates were laid out, buffet style, for the world to see. It was part of the notion of ‘magnificence’, championed by James I. The King was keen that lords lived in their country estates and ensured the tables of their great halls were groaning with delicacies to treat friends, travellers and the poor. “That was good for everybody because the lord was spending money, he was employing people. It justified extravagant senators,” says Aslet. “I don’t think it was a very democratic view.” That idea endured until the Regency period, when luxury was defined by lavish, week-long parties and Bridgerton-style opulence.