I will always hold a soft spot for Sudeley Castle. No matter how often I explore this historic romantic retreat, I still view it as an absolute dream of a visit.
My attachment to Sudeley Castle began a few years ago, when I was still a Tudor-obsessed teenager seeking my next Tudor fix. Naturally, this grand estate hidden within Winchcombe in Gloucestershire, called to me as my next Tudor pilgrimage. Not only was Sudeley Castle relatively close to my childhood home, but it was also crammed full of Tudor history. I mean, Henry VIII’s sixth wife Katherine Parr is buried within its grounds! Need I say more?
Whilst making my first pilgrimage to Katherine Parr’s resting place, the ‘history gods’ were smiling upon me, because it was at Sudeley Castle where I was offered my first volunteering role within a heritage site. I will therefore be forever thankful to Sudeley Castle, for allowing my love for history to blossom within such a historic, beautiful, and public place. My early experiences within heritage at Sudeley Castle, arguably sparked my ambitions to become a public historian today.
Ok… so you could argue that my love for Sudeley Castle is slightly biased. However, I still wholeheartedly encourage you all to pay a visit! Sudeley’s location within the midst of the Cotswolds is so idillic and captivating, that the castle’s picturesque surroundings will undoubtedly enchant you.
Even if you’re not a Tudor fanatic, there is still a wealth of fascinating history associated with Sudeley Castle. The Roman exhibition sheds light upon the estate’s ancient settlements. The Wars of the Roses also played a significant role in Sudeley Castle’s story, with both the Lancastrians and the Yorkists laying claim to those lands at some point during the conflict.
The controversial King Richard III was to build Sudeley’s magnificent Banqueting Hall, during the late 15th century. Although the hall is now in ruins, it still gives you an impressive glimpse into the castle’s regal past. One of Sudeley’s previous owners Eleanor Talbot, was also influential in the fate of the two Princes in the Tower. Her story – alongside Richard III’s – is recreated through a little exhibition, (which additionally contains a replica reconstruction of Richard’s head)!
Richard III was not the only monarch to have known Sudeley Castle. Charles I once sought refuge there during the English Civil War. It was due to Sudeley’s strategic importance, that the Parliamentarians later ‘slighted’ the castle and left it in ruins – a ghost of its once majestic life. The blast of a canon ball during the siege, can still be found hidden amongst the ruins. (This well-aimed shot supposedly decapitated a rather unfortunate solider in the process…). Even today, ghosts of 17th century soldiers can still be seen marching through the grounds when you least expect it!
Fast-forward the the late 18th century, and King George III pays Sudeley Castle a swift visit. He desired to explore the castle’s royal ruins, yet during his climb up the turret staircase, the King tripped and toppled all the way down to the bottom. Many feared that the fall had killed him, but luckily the King’s fall was broken by none other than the castle housekeeper! She was of course, handsomely rewarded for her efforts.
Furthermore, the modern royal family also has close connections with Sudeley Castle. Today, the castle is still a well-loved family home for Lady Ashcombe and her children. Lady Ashcombe’s late husband Lord Ashcome, was the uncle to Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. During the quincentenary of Katherine Parr’s birth in 2012, Camilla acted as the patron for the celebratory events. She even graced the castle with a visit!
If history really does not float your boat however, then do not fear! There are plenty of other attractions at Sudeley Castle which are sure to catch your interest. Sudeley is not regarded as one of Britain’s most romantic castles for nothing. The gardens which are interwoven around the sandy Cotswold stone, are just spellbinding! During the spring and summer months, there is nothing more mesmerising than a wander through Sudeley’s ruined Tithe Barn; the dazzling Queens Garden, the fantastical Secret Garden, the charming Elizabethan Knot Garden, the insightful Herb Garden and the wonderful peasantry – (which never fails to entertain)! In other words, the gardens perfectly compliment the beauty of Sudeley Castle.
Sudeley Castle also houses a great Textile Exhibition, which is widely considered as one of the best in the country. Here you can discover a striking stump work box, historic tapestries, royal bedding and even a lovely lace canopy, which is said to have been woven by Anne Boleyn for her daughter Elizabeth.
Finally, who can resist an opportunity to nose around a stranger’s house? Well, at Sudeley Castle you are all invited to snoop around Lady Ashcombe’s library, alongside some of her bedrooms and bathrooms. Within the private apartments, you obtain a real sense of life at Sudeley during the 21st century. Guest bedrooms contain Charles I’s very own campaign bed, and all the rooms are decorated by amazing pieces of artwork.
Yet, I cannot resist it no longer… no visitor to Sudeley Castle can possibly avoid its incredible Tudor history! The castle was such a hive of activity during this time, that it produced the castle’s most famous resident: Katherine Parr.
Henry VII granted Sudeley Castle to his faithful uncle Jasper Tudor during the late 15th century. Later in 1535, King Henry VIII visited the estate whilst accompanied by his second wife Anne Boleyn. It was during this time, that a significant part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries was enacted at the nearby Hailles Abbey. Henry and Anne’s daughter Elizabeth I, would also visit Sudeley Castle on several occasions throughout her reign. It was reported that during her last visit, Elizabeth’s prolonged and extravagant stay nearly bankrupted poor Lord Chandos, who was unfortunate to own the castle during that period.
No Tudor story at Sudeley Castle can rival that of Katherine Parr’s however. Katherine is renowned for being King Henry VIII’s sixth and final wife – the one who survived! Yet Katherine’s story is so much more dramatic than that, and the final days of her inspirational life was spent within the grounds of Sudeley Castle. Before her marriage to King Henry, Katherine had been married twice before to older men, whom she married for duty. Katherine’s marriage to King Henry was considered no different, apart from the fact that it was made all the more difficult, due to her deep attraction and desire to marry the handsome Thomas Seymour.
Mere months after Henry’s death, Katherine shockingly married Thomas in secret, (who would later become Thomas, Lord of Sudeley). Quite soon after this romantic reunion, Katherine was happy to discover that was expecting her first child! Tragically however, Thomas Seymour became scandalously close to Katherine’s stepdaughter, the Lady Elizabeth. Elizabeth was extremely close to Katherine Parr, yet she found herself getting even closer to her husband! Soon enough, the pregnant and heartbroken Katherine sent the young Elizabeth away from her household. It was then considered best for Katherine to travel to Thomas’ estate at Sudeley, where she could give to their child in the relative comfort that this distant country house provided. On 30th August 1548, Katherine gave birth to her daughter Mary within the confines of Sudeley Castle. Sadly, less than a week after the birth of her beloved child, Katherine contracted puerperal fever. She lamented against Thomas’ betrayal during the heights of her delirium, and poor Katherine eventually passed away on 5th September.
Katherine’s funeral was held at St. Mary’s Church, which is situated within Sudeley’s grounds. Thomas and Katherine’s ward – Lady Jane Grey, the future Nine Day Queen – acted as Katherine’s chief mourner. This amazing woman was later buried within the Church, and her tomb was recreated by the Victorians into the grand monument which you can see today.
As well as seeing Katherine Parr’s tomb, visitors can also discover survivals of Katherine’s personal belongings; including the books which she published, love letters which she composed to Thomas Seymour during their courtship, and cuttings from her hair and clothing, which were recovered from her coffin when it was reopened centuries later. (Did you know, that when Katherine’s coffin was rediscovered in the 18th century, farmers decided to reopen it and suddenly found themselves gazing into the beautiful preserved face of this Tudor queen? After several occasions of the coffin being opened, Katherine’s body eventually deteriorated into dust, and is now entombed within the current Victorian monument). One of Katherine’s small antechambers, which survived the ruinous actions of the Parliamentarians after the Civil War, is also opened to visitors today.
After all my waffling, I hope that you are now inspired to one day visit this delightful, historic castle for yourself? Here you will encounter years of mind-blowing English history, and walk in the footsteps of many infamous historic figures – including renowned kings and queens! You will get to visit the tomb of Henry VIII’s incredible six wife Katherine Parr, who even five centuries later, remains to be the only English queen to be buried upon a private estate. No matter what your interests are, I’m sure that you will be enchanted by the beauty and marvellous history of Sudeley Castle. You may even – (like me) – fall head-over-heels in love with it..?
Last visited: April 2017.
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