The Godolphins were typical of many Cornish landed gentry. The family was an old one, rooted to a spot to the west of Tregonning Hill in the parish of Breage. Fortune had smiled on them in the sense that underneath their land lurked rich tin reserves. As mineral lords they were due a proportion of the tin raised, whether or not the mines made profits. On this basis the Godolphins grew rich and built a new house in the late 1400s that replaced the former castle, which became the site of formal gardens.
In the days of Henry VIII the family gained political prominence to add to their economic security. Their rapid move to ensure law and order in 1537 and 1548 defused potentially serious risings by the common people. But even the Godolphins, adroitly trimming their sails to the new Protestantism, could not prevent the Prayer Book Rising in 1549.
The house dates mainly from the seventeenth century, during the course of which Sidney Godolphin – poet and aesthete – gained posthumous fame after being shot in the service of the King in the civil wars at Chagford in Devon. He became a symbol of the Cornish landed class’s devotion to the royal family.
Another Sidney, born in 1645, two years after the first Sidney was killed, became MP for nearby Helston and a client of the up and coming Marlborough family. This Sidney, later Earl, served Queen Anne as Lord Treasurer from 1702 to 1710 and has a better claim than Robert Walpole to be called Britain’s first Prime Minister. He steered the Act of Union with Scotland through Parliament in 1707 and financed the long war of the Spanish Succession against the French. The costs of this war eventually lost Godolphin his post and he was dismissed in 1710, to die at St Albans in Hertfordshire two years later.
In the eighteenth century the family declined and gradually ran out of male heirs, their estate passing to the absentee Duke of Leeds in 1785. The house was left virtually undisturbed for 200 years until the final decades of the 1900s.