This family, of Norman extraction, was originally called de la Montagne.
In the reign of EDWARD III, its members were styled Hill, alias DE LA MONTAGNE; but in succeeding ages they were known by the name of HILL only.
SIR MOYSES HILL, Knight, descended from the family of Hill, of Devonshire, two members of which were judges of England in the beginning of the 15th century, went over to Ulster, as a military officer, with the Earl of Essex, in 1573, to suppress O'Neill's rebellion.
Sir Moyses was subsequently nominated governor of Olderfleet Castle, an important fortress at the period, as it protected Larne harbour from the invasion of the Scots.
He represented County Antrim in parliament in 1613, and having distinguished himself during a long life, both as a soldier and as a magistrate, died in 1629/30, and was succeeded by his elder son, PETER HILL; but we pass to his younger son, ARTHUR HILL, who eventually inherited the estates, upon the demise of Peter's only son, Francis Hill, of Hill Hall, without male issue.
RT HON ARTHUR HILL (c1601-63), Constable of Hillsborough Fort, County Down, was colonel of a regiment in the service of CHARLES I, and he sat in parliament under the usurpation of CROMWELL, as well as after the Restoration, when he was sworn of the Privy Council.
He married firstly, Anne, daughter of Sir Richard Bolton, LORD CHANCELLOR OF IRELAND, by whom he had, with other issue, Moyses, who wedded his cousin Anne, eldest daughter of Francis Hill, of Hill Hall, and left three daughters.
Mr Hill espoused secondly, Mary, daughter of Sir William Parsons, one of the Lords Justices of Ireland, and had three other sons and a daughter; the eldest of whom,
THE RT HON WILLIAM HILL, succeeded to the estates at the decease of his half-brother, Moyses, without male issue.
This gentleman was of the Privy Council to CHARLES II and JAMES II, and was MP for County Down.
He married firstly, Eleanor, daughter of the Most Rev Michael Boyle, Lord Archbishop of Armagh, LORD CHANCELLOR OF IRELAND, by whom he had an only son, MICHAEL.
Mr Hill wedded secondly, Mary, eldest daughter of Sir Marcus Trevor, who was created Viscount Dungannon, 1662, for his signal gallantry in wounding OLIVER CROMWELL at Marston Moor, and had two other sons.
He died ca 1693, and was succeeded by his eldest son,
THE RT HON MICHAEL HILL (1672-99), of Hillsborough, Privy Counsellor, MP for Saltash, MP for Hillsborough, Lieutenant of County Down.
This gentleman espoused Anne, daughter and heir of Sir John Trevor, of Brynkinalt, Denbighshire, Master of the Rolls in England, and First Lord Commissioner of the Great Seal, and had two sons,
TREVOR, his heir;Mr Hill was succeeded by his elder son,
Arthur, cr 1st Viscount Dungannon.
TREVOR HILL (1693-1742), of Hillsborough, who was created, in 1717, Baron Hill, of Kilwarlin, and Viscount Hillsborough, both in County Down.
His lordship married Mary, eldest daughter and co-heir of Anthony Rowe, of Muswell Hill, Middlesex; and dying in 1742, left (with a daughter, Anne, wedded to John, 1st Earl of Moira), an only son, his successor,
WILLS (1718-93), 2nd Viscount; who was created Viscount Kilwarlin and Earl of Hillsborough, in 1751, with remainder, in default of male issue, to his uncle Arthur Hill; and enrolled amongst the peers of Great Britain, in 1756, as Baron Harwich, in Essex.
His lordship was advanced to an English viscountcy and earldom, in 1772, by the titles of Viscount Fairford and Earl of Hillsborough.
Lord Hillsborough was further advanced, in 1789, to the dignity of a marquessate, as MARQUESS OF DOWNSHIRE.
His lordship was a Privy Counsellor, and, in 1763, he was constituted First Commissioner of Trade and Plantations; in 1776, appointed Joint Postmaster-General; and in 1768, nominated Secretary of State for the Colonies, which post he resigned in 1772.
In 1779, he was re-appointed Secretary of State, and became one of the leaders of the administration which had to bear the unpopularity of the American war.
His lordship was Registrar of the High Court of Chancery in Ireland.
He married firstly, in 1747, the Lady Margaretta FitzGerald, daughter of Robert, 19th Earl of Kildare, and sister of James, 1st Duke of Leinster, and had surviving issue,
ARTHUR, his successor;His lordship wedded secondly, Mary, 1st Baroness Stawell, daughter and heir of Edward, 4th Baron Stawell, and widow of the Rt Hon Henry Legge, son of the 1st Earl of Dartmouth, by whom he had no issue.
Mary Amelia; Charlotte.
He was succeeded by his son,
ARTHUR, 2nd Marquess (1753-1801), who wedded, in 1786, Mary, daughter of the Hon Martin Sandys, and his wife Mary, daughter of William Trumbull, of Easthampstead Park, Berkshire, and had issue,
ARTHUR BLUNDELL, his successor;His lordship died in 1801, and Lady Downshire having subsequently succeeded to the estates of her uncle Edwin, Baron Sandys, was created Baroness Sandys, with remainder to her second and younger sons successively.
Arthur Moyses William, 2nd Baron Sandys;
Arthur Marcus Cecil, 3rd Baron Sandys;
Arthur Augustus Edwin;
His lordship was succeeded by his eldest son,
ARTHUR BLUNDELL SANDYS TRUMBULL WINDSOR, 4th Marquess.
The heir apparent is the present holder's son, Edmund Robin Arthur Hill, styled Earl of Hillsborough.
- Arthur Robin Ian Hill, 8th Marquess (1929–2003);
- Arthur Francis Nicholas Wills Hill, 9th Marquess (born 1959).
The Downshire Papers are deposited at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.
In 1870, Lord Downshire owned 115,000 acres, mostly, though not entirely, in County Down; and a further 5,000 acres at Easthampstead Park in Berkshire.
These estates generated an income of £80,000 per annum, or £3.6 million in today's money.
The Downshires also maintained a grand residence in London, Downshire House (above) at 24 Belgrave Square, now part of the Spanish embassy, it is thought.
HILLSBOROUGH CASTLE, County Down, has been described by the late Sir Charles Brett as, "by far the largest and grandest house in north County Down."
“Criticism has remarked that the...beauty of the town would have been greater if...the mansion, with its picturesque home-view, had been removed a little farther from the public road.
Yet whatever may be said about the demesne, the town acquires an almost aristocratic air from the proximity of the mansion and seems as if caressed between the lawn and the park.”
The Downshires also had a holiday home, Murlough House, near Dundrum, in the same county.
Lord Downshire sold Hillsborough Castle to the Government about 1921, I think, and Murlough remained with the family till the 1940s or 50s.
There are references to the building of demesne walls around the "Large Park" at Hillsborough in 1668.
This was the site of a former house and surrounding ornamental grounds, now much altered.
It contains a lake, parkland, an artillery fort, mature trees and forest planting.
The Small Park, on the west side of the village of Hillsborough, is the site of the present house of ca 1797.
This area was totally enclosed by walls during the 1840s, after the main road to Moira was re-routed away from the house.
The property has had the advantage of being in the hands of one family until the 1920s, when it was acquired by HMG.
Atkinson, in 1823, observed that the Hills paid more
‘… attention to the profitable results of a good estate, than to the fanciful decorations of a picturesque landscape.’Yet handsome lakes were created in both Parks and early 19th century maps show extensive walks, rides and tree- planting.
The Small Park is described in the Ordnance Survey Memoirs of 1837 as,
‘… beautifully wooded and the walks tastefully laid out. The garden is extensive, in it are green houses, hot houses and a pinery.’The ‘garden’ referred to is the walled garden, which was cultivated until the 1970s.
It is now grassed but retains a summer house.
After the enclosure of the Small Park it was further enhanced in the vicinity of the present house.
Terracing was added to the south front, the Yew Walk going west towards Lady Alice’s Temple and the Lime Walk with north-south orientation leading to a pinetum belonging to the late 19th century improvements.
There are some notable plants, including a very large Rhododendron arboretum hybrid, which is in the Guinness Book of Records.
An impressive feature is the Downshire Monument of 1848.
Following the departure of the Downshire family, the Large Park, of almost 1,000 acres, was divided for use by the Department of Agriculture for NI, half for farming and half for forestry.
The latter part (northern) is open to the public and both areas have been developed as such for the last seventy years.
The Small Park has been used by the former Governors of Northern Ireland and latterly by Secretaries of State.
Some have had an interest and impact on the gardens, such as Lord and Lady Wakehurst, who developed a glen on the west side and Lady Granville, who created a Rose Garden.
The cast-iron gates from Richhill House at the main entrance to the Castle, are a feature.
Other buildings of note are:- Lodge and Guard House; Ice House; and Garden Store.
Boundary walls and gates in the "Small Park" are included with the house.
The house and grounds of the Small Park are private, used by the Royal Family and as the official residence of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland; and sometimes open for official functions.
There is public access to the northern half of the Large Park.
The Most Honourable Arthur Francis Nicholas Wills [Hill] is the 9th and present Marquess of Downshire, Earl of Hillsborough, Viscount Kilwarlin, Viscount Fairford, Baron Hill of Kilwarlin and Baron Harwich.
Lord and Lady Downshire live with their family at Clifton Castle, near Ripon in Yorkshire.
In 2005, when Royal Ascot re-located to York race-course, the Daily Telegraph published this about the Castle:
"Clifton Castle, a Georgian country house in Masham belonging to the Marquess and Marchioness of Downshire - or Nick and Janey to guests - has seven bedrooms and sleeps 14. It costs £40,000."That was for one week, incidentally.
*Select bibliography: NI Department of the Environment Historic Buidlings Section; Downshire arms courtesy of European Heraldry. First published in July, 2010.