Saturday, July 5, 2014

A Potted History of Sudeley Castle and some thoughts on the people who lived there (guest post by Judith Arnopp)

Today I'd like to welcome Judith Arnopp, author of many wonderful historical novels, who is introducing her most recent book, Intractable Heart:  The Story of Katheryn Parr.  She has prepared a most interesting post about the history of Sudeley Castle, the last home of the queen who survived Henry VIII.

 Besides this tale about the woman who was the last of Henry VIII's six wives, Judith has written two other novels set in Tudor times,  The Kiss of the Concubine:  A Story of Anne Boleyn, and The Winchester Goose:  At the Court of Henry VIII.  She is also the author of other books set in the British Isles in earlier times:  Peaceweaver, The Forest Dwellers, and The Song of Heledd.  All are available on Amazon and on Barnes & Noble (see buy links below).

Judith Arnopp

Here's a little biographical information, in Judith's own words:

I live on a smallholding in West Wales with my husband, John.  We used to do the whole self sufficiency thing but ill health put a stop to that and now we just care for our daughters elderly pony and enjoy our naughty Jack Russell, Bryn.

My greatest loves have always been writing and history.  Since I was very small I have had a book in one hand and a pen in the other. These days I am able to write the sort of books that I love to read. Historical settings with a strong female lead. 

A Potted History of Sudeley Castle and some thoughts on the people who lived there.

      Near Winchcombe in Gloucestershire, a little north of Cheltenham, lies Sudeley Castle. A comparatively small place in the scheme of things, set against the backdrop of the Cotswolds. Sudeley is and has been many things; today it is a family home, a beautiful garden, a historic jewel, and the last resting place of an English queen.

      Sudeley Castle is steeped in history and was first mentioned in a 10th century charter. King Ethelred hunted deer in the park and later, when the castle passed to Goda, her distant relationship to William the Conqueror, saved it from Norman take over.

      Sudeley remained in the hands of Goda’s family until the reign of Henry V when the castle was gifted to Thomas Boteler in way of repayment for his action in the war with France. It was Boteler who began to transform Sudeley into an enviable home, enlarging and updating the existing fabric of the building to create a place fit for royalty.

Sudeley Castle

      When the Lancastrians were defeated and Edward IV took the throne the Boteler family were forced out and Sudeley’s new owner was no other than the king’s brother, Richard of Gloucester, later King Richard III of car park fame.

      When the tables turned again and Richard was defeated at Bosworth, Henry VII took it over, bestowing it on his loyal uncle Jasper Tudor. After Jasper’s death Sudeley once more became crown property.

      Henry VIII visited once with Anne Boleyn. They met with Thomas Cromwell there to discuss the reformation of the monasteries and took a keen interest in the Blood of Christ housed at nearby Winchcombe Abbey. At this time the castle was run down and unoccupied for much of the time.

Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley

Katheryn Parr

      On his accession to the throne Edward VI made his uncle, Thomas Seymour, Lord of Sudeley and after his marriage to Katheryn Parr, Seymour and his new wife made their home there.

       The Seymours implemented many improvements and Katheryn took great care in choosing the d├ęcor of the nursery for their expected child. Unfortunately, to Thomas Seymour’s sorrow, Katheryn died scarcely a year later, having given birth to a healthy daughter, whom they named Mary.

      With Thomas’ ward, Lady Jane Grey, acting chief mourner Katheryn was laid to rest in St Mary’s church adjacent to the castle. Today visitors to Sudeley can view a love letter and portrait gifted to the queen by her husband.

The church at Sudeley Castle

      Katheryn’s step daughter and friend, Elizabeth Tudor, later Queen Elizabeth I, visited Sudelely on three occasions during her reign. It is easy to imagine her walking in the garden, remembering her stepmother, recalling conversations, small personal details of their shared life that are now lost to history.

      Sudeley’s history doesn’t stop with the Tudors. During the civil war Prince Rupert made the castle his headquarters, and Charles I stayed there for a time during the campaign to take Gloucester.

      During the course of the war Sudelely passed back and forth between Royalist and Parliamentarian hands until Parliament ordered the ‘slighting’ of Sudeley making the house indefensible. The roof was removed, and the rest of the building fell swiftly into decay. The fine worked stone was quarried by locals until the grand castle became nothing more than an attractive romantic ruin. For the next two hundred years it was left to the mercy of the elements, a trysting place for lovers, or a hideaway for thieves.

      In 1782, Katheryn Parr’s grave was rediscovered. The lead casket was opened the body found within reported to be 'uncorrupted'. She was reinterred in 1817 by the Rector of Sudeley and a plaque copied from the original inscription on the lead coffin placed upon it. Today there is an effigy on the tomb but this was made in Victorian times.

Tomb of Katheryn Parr

      Sudeley remained in elegant decay until the nineteenth century when it was bought by two brothers, John and William Dent, who embarked upon a restoration project. They employed architect Sir Gilbert Scott to restore the chapel. The walls and large parts of the castle were restored. Finally Lady Emma Dent spent almost fifty years putting the finishing touches, filling Sudeley with fine art and historical artefacts.

      Yet, of all the people mentioned in this potted history; the Lords, the ladies, the kings, the politicians; it is Katheryn’s memory that lingers. Visitors flock there, not just to see a splendid house and a magnificent garden; they go there because of Henry VIII’s last queen, Katheryn Parr.

      The Tudor style parterre is only a reconstruction but, although Katheryn may have gone it is easy to imagine her there, inhaling the scent of the flowers, the kiss of summer rain on blush pink petals.

      While you move quietly between the roses, or pass through the old yew hedge, you can imagine a footstep on the gravel behind you, the sweeping red skirts of her kirtle as she joins you. And as she follows you around the flowerbeds, you may feel the brush of her hanging sleeves.

You can learn more about Katheryn and the sort of woman she may have been in my book Intractable Heart: The story of Katheryn Parr. Click here to buy ( or here (, US).


Many thanks to Judith for that fascinating history!  To learn more about Judith and her work, visit her website, her blog, or see all her books on Amazon.

Images in this post:  Pictures of Sudeley Castle and of the church at the castle are both licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license, the former to Gordon Robertson, the latter to Jason Ballard.  The picture of Katheryn Parr's tomb is licensed to TudorQueen6 via the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.  The portraits of Thomas Seymour and Katheryn Parr are in the public domain due to expiration of copyright.


April Hollingworth said...

A wonderfully poignant history, I want to visit Sudeley Castle now.

Judith Arnopp said...

It is well worth visiting, the place is gorgeous, especially when the roses are out and the gardens are full of scent.