The history of Audley End closely aligns with key events in English history.
Audley End was not always a grand manor house, but started existence as an Benedictine Abbey, until the Reformation when Henry VIII was confiscating the Church's lands and assets for the Crown. The Abbey was granted to Henry VIII's Lord Chancellor, Sir Thomas Audley, who converted the Abbey into a house. He married Elizabeth Grey, sister to Lady Jane Grey (of famed Nine Day Queen), and their daughter married Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, who owned Audley end until he was executed by Elizabeth I in 1572 for high treason for conspiring with Mary Queen of Scots. The Howard family lost the estate of Audley End and their titles...until another stroke of history changed the family's fate.
Audley's grandson, also named Thomas Howard, redeemed the family's reputation and gained Elizabeth I's confidence by his successful command of a ship during England's defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1566. Under James I, Howard was made 1st Earl of Suffolk and appointed Lord Chamberlain. With his newfound wealth and associations to the crown, Howard demolished Audley's original house to build a grander estate fit for a king. James I visited twice and, for the Jacobean period, Audley End was the largest privately owned house in England.
It may have looked like this at one time:
Only the front section, a quarter of the original building remains today. To build this monstrosity of a house, Howard, as Lord Treasurer embezzled funds and was convicted of corruption, extortion, and bribery. The debt of building the house was the family's downfall and was inherited by later generations with the house for the next 120 years. King Charles II eased the family's debt by buying the house because of it's proximity to Newmarket races. The family remained on the property as keepers of the new palace. Charles II didn't use the house and his successor, William III, returned the house to family in 1701.
By this time, the house had deteriorated and the architecture was out of fashion. The family, unable to afford repairing the house, began reducing it to the north and south wings. The 10th Earl of Suffolk solved the family's debts by marrying a wealthy brewery heiress, but because the had no children, the long association of this house with the historic Howard family ended. After the Earl's death in 1745, his wife sells off the contents of the house and a nephew inherits Audley End. The nephew, the first Earl of Braybrooke, restores the house by adding galleries, rooms,and storeys. He also hired "Capability Brown" to remodel the grounds with rolling green hills and Palladian bridges. The interior as it is displayed today were the efforts of the 3rd Earl of Braybrooke whose aim was to recover the Jacobean character of the house in the 19th century. Surviving Jacobean elements were repaired and new work in the same style was added.