A three-day auction of family heirlooms at one of Britain's most famous stately homes has fetched £7.9 million.

The sale, which finished today at Cowdray Park House near Midhurst, far exceeded expectations as it was hoped to amount to in the region of £5 million.

Billed as the largest and most important country house auction of the year, it saw 1,122 lots sold to bidders from 34 different countries.

The top price was paid for an early 17th century portrait of a woman identified as Queen Elizabeth I but more probably Catherine Carey, Countess of Nottingham, which sold for £325,250.

A portrait of Francis Thynne, Lady Worsley, in a red dress and a blue ermine-lined mantle fetched £65,000, while a Charles II oak dresser dating back to 1680 went for £4,800 and a set of three mid-17th century Flemish tapestries sold for £31,000.

The sale of furniture, silver, old master paintings, tapestries and European porcelain was made up of items from both Lord Cowdray's country home and from Dunecht House, the Scottish home of his brother, Charles Pearson.

Andrew Waters, head of private collection and country house sales at Christie's, said: “We saw a high level of bidding from international clients via the internet and the telephone, with a healthy crowd of collectors experiencing the auction first hand in the marquee.

“A team of nine auctioneers oversaw the sale which lasted nearly 24 hours over the course of three days, and which produced very strong prices for all categories of art represented at the sale.”