thy battlements are fallen,
And sunk to ruin thy baronial hall,
Once far-famed Sudeley!
Waves the cross no more
On thy reft towers; nor grins the leopard rude
His feudal fierceness on thy tumbling roof.
Sir Egerton Brydges
Sudeley Castle is one of those English traditions which receive plenty of publicity but not always for the best reasons. Essentially it is a former Tudor Palace best restored during the Victorian era which centered on the interiors. I remember watching a BBC special (titled Crisis at the Castle, June 27th 2007) on my local PBS station and was captivated by the naturalness of the family who had gained it by inheritance and matrimony. Every bit as historic as Berkeley, the 15th century castle did not weather the years quite as well but if you are truly a castle enthusiast you will enjoy the grown over ruins of the old part of the castle every bit as much as the Elizabethan portion which is occupied by the current heirs of today, namely the lovely Lady Elizabeth Ashcombe and her children, Henry and Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst (siblings), who struggle with finances and the onerous responsibility of keeping up a privately-owned castle plus supporting a family. Lady Ashcombe, born the daughter of a U.S. Southern doctor, has occupied the castle for over four decades and has put her heart and soul into refurbishment and restoration. The situation reminds me, for all of the world, of Eastnor Castle in Herefordshire- that is, if Eastnor had late-medieval ruins. But Sudeley may be the most relevant castle remaining which weathered the Wars of the Roses and if it was eradicated would leave us at a loss to understand that era in English Royal history without its artefacts, art and architecture- interior and exterior.
At a local level, Sudeley is most famous for the beautiful gardens which have won many awards and happens to be part of the Midlands Garden Tour which dot the B4632 from Cheltenham all the way to Warwick Castle. As a picturesque route the plan was designed to show a variety of English gardens from the most humble cottages and manor homes to castles such as Warwick and Sudeley. Over the centuries the estate eventually comprised 12,000 acres of land but was reduced to 1,200 upon the death of a key member of the Dent-Brocklehurst family in 1932 because of incredible debt owed for death duties- the bane of the manor born. If you approach Sudeley from one of the many footpaths that lead down to it from the Cotswold Hills you will be stunned by the magnificent appearance of the stone and the surrounding gardens. You will see topiary and a prodigious collection of old roses, Queen’s Garden which is central and part of the original Tudor parterre and don’t miss the Knot Garden or the recently replanted Secret Garden by Sir Roddy Llewellyn and originally created by the late Rosemary Verey. The 15th century ruins of the Tithe Barn with a large carp pond are located across the lawns and also a very picturesque and peaceful place to stop and rest. http://www.facebook.com/SudeleyCastleGardeners
I’m sure that the Sudeley presence on the telly brought about more visitors and traffic these past seven years. Being a working castle it is let for corporate and private events, £20,000 weddings and occasional rock concerts. The actress Elizabeth Hurley, who lives in Gloucestershire, was married to Indian textile heir Arun Nayar on Sudeley grounds in 2007 in a well celebrated service. Much is tolerated here but the castle is merited for the plethora of past royal connections alone. Present day visitors of the common kind are accommodated rather than wholly welcome by every family member. If you think this is unusual then imagine your home being basically opened up to the public and having to allow just about anything to transpire which will bring in money. Sudeley inhabitants take their days off from visitors and all outsiders just like anyone else would so make sure you call ahead to visit and perhaps give them as much notice as possible if you have a sizable group. It’s only good manners, anyway! Connoisseur Tours of the private apartments are available on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. This summer it was open daily during normal business hours which ended in October. All special events must be by prior arrangement, of course.
Situated between Winchcombe, and Cheltenham (eight miles northeast) just off the B4632 and nestled in the Cotswold Hills, Sudeley’s rich history spans a millennium and many of the features that remain contain memories, bad and good. Over the course of time it has changed hands more than a dozen times and been a royal residence continually during the Wars of the Roses plus many years after that period. Those were turbulent times to say the very least. As a result, this castle has been host to numerous Kings and Queens with Jane Seymour, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Parr among them. Lady Elizabeth Ashcombe is the current head of a household (since 1979) which was once the property of King Ethelred (the Unready) indicating that the long line of heirs to this property occupied the estate before the Conquest and was mentioned in a 10th century charter as part of the Hawling estate. The original descendants were from a direct line of Charlemagne! A royal deer park was kept stocked in the nearby oak woods and the boundaries of it remain visible to the present day although anything that was built on the grounds from that period is now completely eradicated. Leland, in his itinerary account, said that he could still see the platte (outline) where the former manor stood! This manor would, of course, have been fortified.
Before the middle ages and the Saxon occupation period between 500 and 798, Roman villas were built in the area of Winchcombe. It was settled by the Hwicci tribe making it the principal city of Mercia during the reign of King Offa. A Benedictine abbey was built by 811 in the town and was established for nearly seventy years before the Viking invasion when it was heavily damaged. Before the Norman invasion a political struggle ensued over the abbey between secular priests and Benedictine monks for a period of six years with the original priests gaining power in the end. This was settled after the death of King Edward (the Confessor).
From Ethelred the estate of Sudeley was passed to Goda, his daughter, as a wedding present and, eventually, to her son Ralph de Mederatinus, the Earl of Hereford. The first Sudeley heir was Ralph’s son, Harold, who headed a long line of progeny even though he was denied his earldom after the Norman invasion. As a sibling to Edward the Confessor, Goda held onto Sudeley during the invasion because she was distantly related to William the Conqueror and her descendants managed to continue proprietorship up until 1368 at which time it passed on to William Boteler. They were related to the Sudeleys by marriage when John, the 9th Lord de Sudeley’s sister married into the Boteler family. William’s son Thomas was made Baron Sudeley in 1441 as he was a respected admiral serving the Crown under Henry V and Henry VI during the wars against France. He acquired quite a bit of wealth while in service and rebuilt Sudeley as a country house rather than a fortification. His work can still be seen in the Tithe Barn, St. Mary’s Church, and remaining portions of the Banqueting Hall and Portmare Tower which was named after a captured French Admiral- the ransom money paid for the tower’s construction !
When Edward IV took the throne in 1461 the Yorkist monarch forced Boteler to give up Sudeley outright to him and 8 years later Edward granted the castle to Richard, Duke of Gloucester (crowned Richard III by 1483) who, less than a decade later (in 1479), traded Sudeley back in exchange for Richmond Castle in Yorkshire. Middleham Castle was Richard’s boyhood home and official seat in Yorkshire but when he was named Lord of the North, he used Sudeley as his base of operations when he led the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1469. Richard gained Sudeley once again when he ascended the throne of England and he rebuilt the Banqueting Hall (which still shows portions of the Gothic oriel windows) in place of Boteler’s old Eastern range of the inner court and became what was once considered the royal suites. After he was defeated and killed by Henry VII on Bosworth Field (1485), the castle was granted to Jasper Tudor, the Duke of Bedford. Henry VIII visited the castle with Anne Boleyn late in July of 1535 but he neglected Sudeley during his reign. By 1548 the very young Edward VI had granted the castle to his uncle, Thomas Seymour and he in turn married the boy’s step-mother Katherine Parr- the last sovereign queen to Henry VIII. (Henry had died in 1547.) As a former queen she took pre-eminent status with Lady Jane Grey as one of her attendants but her fate was short here. Tragically, she died after giving birth to a daughter, Mary, only a year after residence and she is entombed on Sudeley’s estate in St. Mary’s Church, a 15th century edifice which faces the castle and is surrounded by elaborate gardens. Katherine Parr is the only Queen of England buried at a private residence- all others being entombed at Westminster Abbey. Lord Seymour had built a lavish new suite especially for Katherine’s private use but only one room of it remains today which can also be viewed on the tour and contains many relics of her belongings and effects. A lock of her hair, found when her tomb was re-opened a second time in July 1807, ( previously opened in May of 1784 and October 14th, 1786) was lent to Miss Agnes Strickland for the use of her work, by Mrs Constable Maxwell, of Everingham Park who stated that ,” It was of the most exquisite quality and colour, exactly resembling threads of burnished gold in its hue. It was very fine, and with an inclination to curl naturally.” The fate of Katherine’s daughter Mary is unknown to this day.
Her survivor, Sir Thomas Seymour, who was also the brother of Jane Seymour (Henry VIII’s third wife), faced the fate of being mock-tried and executed on 33 counts of treason on March 20, 1549 by his own brother, Edward, the Duke of Somerset, who was the Lord Protector of Edward VI but his treatment of Katherine Parr alone would have been reason enough for the execution, according to an account by a lady-in-waiting by the name of Elizabeth Tyrwhitt. Katherine was not left in peace even in death because her remains were disturbed during the Civil War, when the castle was heavily damaged under orders by Col. Edward Massey and Sir William Waller- the chapel was also desecrated as was the original plaque above her tomb. Sudeley was Prince Rupert’s headquarters and later Charles I during this period and quite a struggle ensued over the years between the Crown and Parliament. From 1644 to 1649 the castle was garrisoned by Parliamentary Troops until the Council of State gave orders that it be slighted or rendered untenable as a military post. The damage was devastating and evidence of it still remains in the ruins.
Lady Jane Grey’s Execution
After the Civil War the castle was abandoned for a span of nearly two hundred years during which time the ruins you will see today were plundered for stone and pillaging took place. Katherine’s brother William, the Marquess of Northampton, took possession, at some point but the property was confiscated by the Crown and he was stripped of his title when it was found that he was involved with John Dudley’s plot to make Lady Jane Grey the Queen of England. The estate and castle were granted to Sir John Brydges in 1554 by Queen Mary making him Lord Chandos of Sudeley but apparently he did not choose to use any part of it as his seat although the estate remained in his family for a century. Queen Elizabeth I was entertained several times at Sudeley including a spectacular week-long anniversary celebration in 1592 following defeat of the Spanish Armada some years before and I suspect it was a great spot to celebrate her victory over one particular inappropriate and ill-fated suitor who traipsed through Sudeley during her tender years! The third Lord Chandos, Giles, entertained the Virgin Queen in one of these ‘Progresses’ (as she called them) and presented her with a special piece of jewelry with a gold chain depicting a falcon or pheasant and inlaid with crystal for the body, head, tail and legs, breast of gold and sprinkled with tiny rubies and emeralds.
Katherine’s tomb was rediscovered in 1782 and was opened only to find that she was nearly intact and the body was undefiled- which means that it had not deteriorated ! Weirdly enough, six years later King George III paid a visit to inspect the ruins and fell down a flight of stairs in the Octagon Tower of the Banqueting Hall where a member of the housekeeping staff, one Mrs. Cox, saved him by breaking his fall ! Inexplicably, over the following decades, Katherine’s coffin was opened several more times which caused the body to deteriorate badly and this was finally put to an end when her tomb was restored and she was re-interred in the year 1861. Her shrine can be visited now and is quite fascinating. Accompanying the fact that she died on the date of my birth-but 410 years prior- has not escaped my attention! On September 10, 2012 a funeral re-enactment was carried out as the first such event to take place at the castle on the anniversary year of Katherine’s birth- 500 years passed ! The most recent public event at Sudeley took place in April this year (and again very recently), displaying a reconstruction of Richard III’s head after his remains were found in a parking lot in Leicestershire last year. A book is now out titled The Search for Richard III: The King’s Grave which was recently reviewed by History Today.
Much of what you will see on a tour is the result of an extensive program of reconstruction beginning in the 19th century with Harvey Eginton of Worcester and, later in 1858, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the architects hired by Worcestershire glove makers, the Dent Brothers, when they acquired the estate in 1837. Many of the furnishings and embellishments were purchased by them from the Strawberry Hill auction when Horace Walpole’s possessions were liquidated. Scott rebuilt the north outer courtyard and restored and stabilized ancient ruins along the inner south court. He completely restored St Mary’s Church, which is seated on the grounds close to the north end facing the castle, saving it from the brink of total disaster. Scott was also responsible for creating a Stable block and restoring the almshouses and school which adjoin Sudeley and were originally built by Lady Dorothy, wife of Baron Edmund Brydges. They still stand and can be viewed by the public.
The interior tours reveal beautiful furnishings and an extensive art gallery throughout and includes surprises such as the Elizabethan Sheldon Tapestry which depicts Adam and Eve expelled out of the garden of Eden, in the library- all giving a long standing good impression on visitors and guests. Emma Dent-Brocklehurst is a good deal responsible for most of the character of Sudeley’s interiors and exuberant restorations and is one of the reasons that medieval and Victorian mesh so well here. She published a book on the history of Winchcombe and Sudeley in 1877 and with the help of J. Drayton Wyatt who was G.G. Scott’s assistant, added to the North and West lodges on the property along with a Golden Jubilee addition (for Queen Victoria) to the western range, North Tower and a new main entrance from Winchcombe along with a piped in water supply for the town- all before the turn of the 20th century.
At regular intervals, Sudeley has gone through several restorations, mostly during the latter part of the 16th century and during Emma Dent’s period of possession in the 19th century- resulting in a splendid overall view to the remaining estate which leaves an impression of true architectural wonder and is well preserved to the present day. Among the stand out rooms you’ll find a Gothic Miniature room (a bit overdone but the view of the Knot Garden from the windows is breathtaking) and the function and events rooms such as Chandos Hall, North Hall, Banquet Hall and Pavilion are memorable. A Tudor Document Room, at the commencement of the tour is decorated in rich colors of purple and gold and contains Katherine Parr’s handwritten books along with a love letter written to Seymour accepting his proposal of marriage. The Sewing Room provides a look at antique textiles and the nicest surprise of all- a wonderful view of the landscaped ruins ! The library is also well known for its comfort, architectural functionality and beauty. There is also a permanent exhibition, with fascinating artifacts from the Roman period up to the present day and spanning the entire history of the estate and castle including a good portion of English monarchs- long and short term. Civil War memorabilia is also a part of the exhibition especially in the Chandos bedroom where you can view the bed where Charles I laid his head and the Major’s dressing and bathrooms. The Morning Room is also lovely and the Lace bedroom showcases a canopy which Anne Boleyn hand made for her daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth I !
Alongside paintings throughout of Dutch and English Old masters encompassing Turners and Van Dycks, many royal portraits can be seen validating the castle’s history. Among them are a portrait of King Henry VIII and his children, by Sir Antonio More; The marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, by Mabeuse; Charles I by Van Dyke; a portrait of Queen Elizabeth, by Zucchero; also the two most valuable carvings of King Henry VIII, in bone, stone, and boxwood, by Holbein; a pictura dura table weighing nearly a ton, formed from the rarest and most valuable marbles, elaborately worked in intricate devices, and enriched with turquoise, lapis lazuli, and other precious stones, the stem gracefully carved and gilt, displaying the ducal arms of Tuscany! It formerly adorned the Medici Palace at Firenze of Lorenzo de Medici.
Sudeley interiors are absolutely overwhelming and when you are finished with the tour you will see the castle as an art treasure trove with internationally recognized collections. Mary Dent-Brocklehurst was the supplier of the Walter Morrison paintings. During WWII Sudeley became a safe house for the Tate Gallery’s entire collection while the London Blitz raged on and even housed POWs on the grounds for a decade during the mid-20th century. This year the extended and revamped route of the tour included a special collection of artifacts titled ’20 Treasures of Sudeley’ featuring works of art with great historical importance.
This year a Channel 4 TV documentary on Richard III was aired and Sudeley was one of seven venues chosen to take part in ‘The King in the Car Park’ shows which took place on April 2nd and 15th giving guests a chance to actually see, by recreation, the actual face of a key historical figure in England’s history and hear talks from several authors and historians on the impact of the discovery. If you’ll recall, I put up an entry about the find of his remains on April 23, 2013. The exhibit was returned to Leicester afterward to go on display in the new King Richard III visitor center but a permanent exhibition will also remain at Sudeley Castle for all future guests !
If you should find yourself unable to leave the castle premises, once you’ve fallen under its spell, I have good news! There are fourteen holiday cottages available which can accommodate up to five people right on Sudeley property. You must book ahead, of course and make plans accordingly. There is so much to do here that you could make this a regular holiday. No squatters allowed, though. The map below will give you a little bit of the lay of the land which includes a licensed restaurant, gift shop, plant center, visitor center and vintage shopping. An adventure play fort is close to the adjacent parking with regular falcon and owl talks and live exhibitions for the kids. It’s all here !
1. Visitor and Plant Center
2. Tithe Barn and carp pond.
3. Castle entrance
4. Talks and tours meeting point
6. Mulberry Garden and Lawn
7. Queens’ Garden
8. White Garden
9. Knot Garden
10. Castle ruins
11. East Garden (new)
12. St Mary’s Church
13. Secret Garden (1979)
14. Pheasantry (rare bird exhibitions)
15. Tudor Physic Garden (Tudor herb garden)
16. Herb Garden Walk
17. Adventure Fort Play Ground
http://hauntedwiltshire.blogspot.com/2010/04/sudeley-castle.html an interesting take on the castle by Willow
http://thegallopinggardener.blogspot.com see the gardens before you go ! June 10, 2010
T- 01242 602959
enquiries addressed to Kevin Jones