Woburn Abbey, comprising Woburn Park and its buildings, was originally founded as a Cistercian abbey in 1145. Taken from its monastic residents by Henry VIII and given to John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford in 1547, it became the seat of the Russell Family and the Dukes of Bedford. The Abbey was largely rebuilt starting in 1744 by the architects Henry Flitcroft and Henry Holland for the 4th Duke. Anna Maria, the wife of the 7th Duke, originated the afternoon tea ritual in 19th century England.
Following World War II, dry rot had been discovered and half the Abbey was subsequently demolished. When the 12th Duke died in 1953, his son the 13th Duke was exposed to heavy death duties and the Abbey was a half-demolished, half-derelict house. Instead of handing the family estates over to the National Trust, he kept ownership and opened the Abbey to the public for the first time in 1955. It soon gained in popularity as other amusements were added, including Woburn Safari Park on the grounds of the Abbey in 1970. Asked about the unfavourable comments by other aristocrats when he turned the family home into a safari park, the 13th Duke said, "I do not relish the scorn of the peerage, but it is better to be looked down on than overlooked."
In 1970, Lucio Fulci filmed scenes for A Lizard in a Woman's Skin there. In May, 1973, scenes from Coronation Street were set there and featured a cameo from the 13th Duke. He played himself greeting the characters: one of them, Hilda Ogden, was very impressed with the 'Canney-Letty' (sic) room.
In the early 1990s, the Marquess and the Tussauds Group planned to turn the Abbey into a large theme park with the help of John Wardley, creator of the roller coasters "Nemesis" and "Oblivion". However, Tussauds bought Alton Towers and built one there instead.
In the 1990s, the Marquess and the Marchioness, the former Henrietta Joan Tiarks, featured in the BBC series "Country House", detailing the life and running of the Abbey.
The Marquess of Tavistock became the 14th Duke on the death of his father in November 2002 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, United States. The 14th Duke was the briefest holder of the Dukedom and died in June 2003.
His son Andrew became the 15th Duke on his father's death and continues his father's work in running the Woburn Abbey Estate.