Inheritance by Robert Sackville-West
After a recent visit to the Knole estate in Kent, the home of the Sackville family for over 400 years of tortuous inheritance, the sheer size and scale of the property (bigger than an Oxford College) had me intrigued. The current incumbent, Robert Sackville-West, now living with his family in just one wing of the property, and sharing ownership with the National Trust, has brought together the meandering and complicated story of his family history.
Mercifully, this is not a cover-up job, an attempt to reinterpret the history so that all the bad bits are airbrushed out. The author delves into both the good and the bad; he roots about in the murky corners to tell us of the infidelities and illegitimacy, the soured relationships over wills and inheritance, the strains of madness and depression in the genes, the sibling rivalries and the interminable and expensive court cases which beset the family over the generations.
He makes generous reference to Vita Sackville-West’s similar attempt to write the biography of the house and family, in Knole and the Sackvilles, a century ago, but he also tells us much of Vita’s passion for the house, as well as the long love affair she had with Virginia Woolf, who based most of her writing on Knole.
But, of course, the author has a familial reason for writing this volume. As he says at the end, and in the light of the ownership passing from the family to the National Trust: “This book is my stamp of territoriality, my equivalent of Thomas Sackville’s initials on a drainpipe”.
And with 147 years remaining on the Sackville lease, there is a great deal more to be written…….