Despite its apparent uniformity of style, Burton Constable has a long and complicated building history. In the thirteenth century the Constables added their name to the manor of Burton (meaning settlement at a fortified dwelling). The lower part of the north tower, known as Stephen’s Tower, is the oldest part of the house that survives and had served to protect the village since the reign of King Stephen in the twelfth century. In the late fifteenth century a new brick manor house was built at Burton Constable, eventually replacing Halsham as the family’s principal seat. Much of this was demolished in the 1560s when Sir John built ‘a new addition of a greater beauty’. The new Elizabethan mansion at Burton Constable incorporated remains of the earlier manor house including the north lodgings wing and north tower, both of which were ‘modernised’ with new stone mullioned windows and mock quoins to match the new building.
Sir John’s transformation included the addition of a new range with a great hall, parlour and great chamber, together with a south wing that had another tower to harmonise with the surviving north tower. This south wing contained a kitchen, additional lodgings and a chapel. A turreted gatehouse and courtyards, together with a stable block adjacent to the north wing can be seen in the earliest known painting of the house that hangs in the Great Hall.