Chez WW in England

Chez WW in England

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Sudeley Castle, England

04 May 2011

It is impossible to drive around the beautiful Cotswolds where we live and not see signs for Sudeley Castle. I was curious and thrilled to discover that it was the home to Katherine Parr after Henry the VIII died. It was here that Elizabeth I lived with her her step-mother. It was here that Katherine lived with Thomas Seymour and died. Katherine Parr is entombed in St Mary’s Church on the castle grounds.



I HAD to go and see for myself. Sudeley Castle is currently occupied by Lord and Lady Ashcombe. As a private residence, access to the inside of the castle is very limited. Connoisseurs tours are offered a few days a week during the season. As a nosey person, I was beyond excited to see how the other half lives. Aren’t we all?


We joined the Historic Houses Association which allows friends free entry to many private homes in England. We had planned to visit Sudeley Castle and Blenheim Palace so the membership will pay for itself and we still have a whole year to visit some other amazing places.


Our tour guide was a retired school teacher and very animated. Sudeley is rumoured to be haunted. Ladies have felt their ankles being touched. I was wearing pants but quickly rolled them up to expose my legs. I wanted to make it easy for the spirits to reach out and touch me.


These great homes are filled with many priceless treasures and it requires  enormous amounts of money to preserve these treasures. Opening the doors to a paying public provides the funds to maintain these treasures and allows the public to experience the rich history of these historic houses. from another time. It is possible to stand just an inch away from paintings by the great masters.  A lot has happened in the past 900 years in England and the history of Sudeley reflects the history of England.


Sudeley Castle dates back to the 10th century. King Ethelred gave the estate to his daughter Goda when she married. When the Normans came, Sudeley was owned by the de Sudeley’s. Harold de Sudeley married the great-niece of William the Conqueror and was descended from Normans. This connection may have protected Sudeley from leaving the hands of the de Sudeley family.


It is believed that the castle suffered its first destruction in 1139. The castle had been fortified during the reign of King Stephen. There were many attempts to over throw the King durning England’s long and bloody history. De Sudeley was not immune and revolted against the King in an attempt to place his wife Matilda his wife on the throne.

Sudeley Castle was eventually returned to the de Sudeley family. Ralph de Sudeley became Lord Sudeley. It is rumoured that Ralph may have found the Ark of the Covenant as a leader of the Knights Templar and brought it home to Warwickshire. The second son, William, took his mother’s name de Tracy. It is believed that William was one of the four knights who murdered Thomas a Becket in Canterbury Cathedral.

In 1367, Sudeley Castle passed onto Margery Boteler (sister of the last de Sudeley) when John de Sudeley died without children. Ralph Boteler received Sudeley from his Aunt Margery. Ralph served both King Henry V and King Henry VI. Ralph was rewarded handsomely by King Henry VI and was flush with the spoils of war. He used that money to build Sudeley Castle that is present today. His design was for a double court yard surrounded by a moat. The Portmare Tower, the Dungeon Tower and the Tithe Barn are the remains of Boteler’s original building . Ralph de Sudeley supported the Lancasters during the War of the Roses and was forced to sell the castle to the King when the House of York gained the throne. Sudeley Castle had glazed windows and was a very valuable property.


Sudeley Castle was used as a base during the Battle of Tewkesbury by Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who had received the castle from his brother Edward VI. Richard became king as Richard III. The ruins of the Banqueting Hall still stand today. It is believed that it was built by King Richard III.




The castle remained the property of the King until the death of Henry VIII. Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII visited Sudeley in the last week of their marriage. They planted a rose tree in the garden. the original is gone, but another still blooms in that very spot.


Edward VI became King and gave Sudeley to his uncle, Sir Thomas Seymour. Seymour had fancied Katherine Parr before her marriage to Henry VIII. Upon Henry’s death, the spark was re-kindled and the two were married in 1547. Katherine Parr moved to Sudeley. Before her marriage to Thomas, Katherine had set up court at her Chelsea mansion. Lady Jane Grey and the Princess Elizabeth were under her care. Thomas had plans to marry Elizabeth and for Jane Grey to marry King Edward VI. His plans came to naught Thomas proposed marriage to Katherine. Katherine brought her considerable wealth and these two important girls into her marriage with Sir Thomas Seymour. Katherine Parr died at Sudeley in 1548 after she gave birth to a daughter. After the death of Katherine, Thomas resumed his pursuit of The Princess Elizabeth. Elizabeth had been sent from Sudeley by Katherine because of Seymour’s over-attention to Elizabeth. Katherine was no fool. She had survived the court of King Henry VIII. Sir Thomas Seymour was beheaded in 1549 after being indicted on 33 charges of “treason and other misdemeanours” against King and Crown.


Sudeley passed to William Parr, Marquess of Northampton. He was executed and had Sudeley taken away when the plot to place Lady Jane Grey on the throne failed. Mary I gave Sudeley Castle to Sir John Brydges and the family held the castle for the next 100 years. During this time, Sudeley would enter its time of glory. Renovations and building were happening. Elizabeth I visited Sudeley Castle three times.



England entered into a bloody Civil War in 1642 when King Charles I was on the throne. The sixth Lord Chandos, owner of Sudeley Castle, sided with the King. Sudeley was in a very strategic location and had to endure sieges. Lord Chandos had to pay a heavy price for supporting the King. Sudeley was “slighted” so it could not be used a military base and the roofs were removed. For all intent and purposes, the Castle had been demolished.


For two centuries, Sudeley Castle was left to crumble and suffered from total neglect. Despite, it being a ruin, the Castle still attracted visitors. The beautiful location and the rich history of Sudeley kept it on the map. In 1782, a group of ladies were exploring Sudeley and noticed a plaque on the wall of the ruined chapel. A local farmer dug by the wall and a lead coffin was discovered. ” Here lyeth Queen Kateryn, Wife to Kyng Hemy VIII”. It was not until 1861 that Queen Katherine would reach her final resting place inside of St. Mary’s Church at Sudeley.



The 19th century saw Sudeley castle rises from the dust of history to once again become a stunning sight. The Dent brothers of Worcester were wealthy glove makers. The Dent brothers were keen antiquarians and restoring Sudeley castle and the grounds to their former glory became a consuming passion. They bought whatever they could that had anything to do with the history of Sudeley. The Dent brothers had no children and when they died the Castle went to their nephew, John Coucher Dent. John was married to Emma Brocklehurst, who also had a great passion for restoring Sudeley. Emma devoted her life to Sudeley Castle and much of the modern day Sudeley is the result of her tireless work.



Emma Dent was a formidable woman at a time when women were little more than chattel. The village of Winchcombe benefited from her and her husband. They used their money to better the lives of others. They built almshouses and a school. Emma Dent paid for pipes to run from the well at Sudeley Castle into Winchcombe to provide water to the village. John and Emma Dent had no children. When Emma died in 1900, Sudeley was left to a nephew, Henry Dent Brocklehurst. The Dent-Brocklehurst family still own Sudeley Castle today and that early love affair has not dimmed over the generations.




During the Second World War, Sudeley was used as a prisoner of war camp for German and Italian POWs. They worked the land of the estate. Bikes were gathered and on the weekends the prisoners would bike around the Cotswolds. Some of the treasures of the Tate Gallery were stored at Sudeley during the war. The prisoners had no idea what was being stored just feet away from them.



Such a huge estate requires an enormous staff as well as deep pockets to maintain. During both the First and Second World War men who could work the land were scarce. Money was also getting scarce. No major work had been done to the Castle since the 1930′s and the Castle was in very bad shape. When Mark and Elizabeth Dent Brocklehurst inherited the Castle in 1969, they decided to open the castle to the public as a way to help pay for the up-keep. Mark died in 1972 leaving Elizabeth with the great estate. Elizabeth married Lord Ashcombe in 1979 and became Lady Ashcombe.



Sudeley Castle has risen from the dust of history and still stands glorious today. The world is lucky to have people like the Dent Brocklehurst family who have such an incredible passion for protecting the past and preserving it for future generations.





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