We went to the historic Sudeley Castle while staying in Cirencester, which is tucked away in the Cotswolds northeast of the well-known Gloucester Cathedral. Gloucestershire draws visitors to the Cotswolds every summer to view its honey-colored stone structures and lovely villages that ooze so much character. The best illustration is Painswick, a charming wool mill town with a churchyard that looks like a scene from Alice in Wonderland.
The estate opened its doors in order to generate revenue for its pricey maintenance and ongoing repairs, similar to most castle attractions. Sudeley has a turbulent background compared to other important castles in England; it has changed hands multiple times and was once abandoned in ruins.
The estate, which has since been renovated, holds the distinction of being the only private British residence to contain a queen’s grave. Don’t miss this undiscovered treasure because it has historical details and visuals that are reminiscent of historical romance books.
Within the stone walls, Lady Ashcombe and her family are still residing, however guests are welcome to view the west wing and some of the east wing. The inside tour is divided into two sections: the historical exhibit rooms and the family’s personal quarters. Ten magnificent gardens that exude romanticism are included in the entrance price. Here, We marveled at the Banqueting Hall and Tithe Barn ruin sites.
The Sudeley Castle’s History
Sudeley Castle’s modest and dispersed beginnings may be traced back to the 11th century, when the structure was first constructed as a manor house near Winchcombe, which at the time was the seat of the Kingdom of Mercia under King Offa. This closeness to the governing family is perhaps where Sudeley first acquired its status as a royal estate.
It is generally accepted that the first genuine castle structure was constructed on Sudeley’s site during the Anarchy, the largest civil conflict of the 12th century (1135–1153), however the blueprints for this construction are unclear. Future iterations of this stronghold would be built on the foundation of this adulterous castle, which was built sometime between 1140 and 1144 and destroyed multiple times before its first contemporary iteration.
Building the current Sudeley Castle on a double courtyard plan, with the outer area housing servants and soldiers and the inner courts being occupied by Ralph Boteler and his family, is believed to have been Ralph Boteler, 1st and 6th Baron of Sudeley, a wealthy aristocrat who rose through the ranks of King Henry V and King Henry VI. However, this situation would not persist for very long.
Ralph was compelled to sell Sudeley Castle to the crown in 1469 as a result of new allegiances. Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who served as the castle’s military occupant, received the castle as a gift from King Edward IV. Richard is thought to have added military defenses and decorated Sudeley Castle’s vast Banquet Hall in addition (which now lies, in partial ruins, in the Ruins Garden). Richard died in 1485, and Sudeley passed into the possession of the aristocratic Tudor family.
Edward VI succeeded King Henry VIII in 1547, much to the displeasure of his uncles Thomas Seymour and Edward Seymour, Lord Protector of England. Thomas became the first Baron Seymour of Sudeley because to Henry’s testament, which allowed his executors to bestow themselves with lands and titles. Without the new king’s consent, he took control of Sudeley Castle and relocated there in 1548 with his new bride, the former Queen Katharine Parr—Henry VIII’s sixth and last wife.
Lady Jane Grey, Katharine Parr’s husband’s ward, and the rest of her large entourage made Sudeley Castle their home. Lady Jane Grey would go on to become the Nine Days’ Queen in 1553. Thomas lavished money on the Castle, furnishing it with furnishings and adornments fit for a king. However, Katherine’s tenure as the lady of the house was tragically brief; she passed away in September of that same year, five days after giving birth to her daughter Mary Seymour.
On Sudeley’s property, Katherine was laid to rest in St. Mary’s Church. Even though her tomb would disappear throughout the ages, it was rediscovered and enclosed in a stone vault in 1782 by new owners. Parr’s remains were buried in a neo-Gothic tomb that was topped with a life-size marble effigy after the chapel was restored in 1863; the tomb is still a major attraction today.
Thomas kept Sudeley Castle until his passing six months later, at which point the estate once more passed into the hands of the king.
The Evolution of Sudeley Castle
King Charles I utilized Sudeley Castle as a military outpost in 1642 during the First English Civil War. Although there were few battles in the castle throughout the difficult time, a 500-man army eventually besieged it the following year. When Sudeley’s force was driven out, the castle was looted and ultimately abandoned. Since Sudeley Castle could no longer be utilized as a military outpost in 1649, when the war was still raging, much of the internal apartments and the inner courtyard were demolished.
By this time, Baron George Brydges, the owner of Sudeley, had begun to receive financial assistance as a result of this parliamentary directive, but it was insufficient, and he passed away poor in 1655. Later, his widow Lady Jane Savage, who, like her husband, had the resources to fund the restoration of such a substantial fortification, inherited Sudeley Castle. As a result, the Castle was abandoned and left to deteriorate for almost 200 years.
But there was still some hope. Sudeley Castle had a kind of renaissance in the 18th century. Although not yet fully restored to its former splendor, it resumed serving as a host for many significant figures of the era, in part because of its new owners. The Lucas Family, who included many members of the local gentry, rented out Sudeley when the Pitt Family, descended from Lady Savage, took control of the property.
King George III was not only welcomed to the castle’s interior halls by the patriarch Joseph Lucas, but the housekeeper of the Lucas family is also credited with saving His Majesty’s life by catching him after he fell from the Octagon Tower during a fire.
The Worcester Dents
Sudeley Castle was still a historical landmark and a big draw for wealthy members of industry despite its dilapidated condition (and despite its tenancy period wherein various owners lived among the crumbling state, one even turning the enormous structure into a pub before selling off much of the building’s timber and stone).
As an illustration, the prosperous Worcester brothers John and William Dent who bought the castle in 1837 and immediately set about restoring most of the site while purposefully leaving some of the picturesque ruins intact to enhance the romantic character of the castle are still able to be seen today.
The Dents filled the inside cabins and apartments with their collection of art and antiques. Following the passing of both brothers in 1855, the ownership of the castle shifted again. Nephew John Croucher Dent took over with the same romanticizing of the palace ethos, most of which was led by his wife, Emma, a decedent of a wealthy silk manufacturing family.
Sudeley Castle staged costume balls and soirees under Emma’s tasteful supervision, and hosting responsibilities were upheld for the majority of her reign, restoring the property’s status as a proper, regal castle.
However, Emma was not content and by 1859, she had bigger goals in mind. She started a modernization project that resulted in the building’s first piped water supply, increased space footage, considerable remodeling, and a new tower.
By 1900, Sudeley Castle had been passed down once more to members of the Dent Family, this time to Henry Dent-Brocklehurst. Fortunately, he continued the romanticized vision of his forefathers and continued to add rare artwork to the interior galleries, building a magnificent collection of great art. So spectacular that several of the artworks at the Tate Gallery in London were relocated outside of the city up to Sudeley during the early years of World War II to safeguard them from falling bombs during the Blitz.
Following his father’s passing in 1969, Mark Dent-Brocklehurst took over ownership of Sudeley Castle while his mother, Mary, remained a resident. This year saw Sudeley’s official debut as a popular tourist destination. Early in the 1980s, Elizabeth Dent-Brocklehurst married Lord Ashcombe, who later became Lady Ashcombe, and the two started another renovation project to stabilize the delicate balance between a private residence and a public site.
Today, Sudeley Castle and all of its grounds are managed by Lady Ashcombe and her children.
Parks at Sudeley Castle
I thought the grounds beyond the castle walls were quite gorgeous with their contrasted patterns. The previous owner, Emma Dent, is credited with creating some of the patterns. I admired each one as I moved from one to the next, their designs drawn from the castle’s past.
The Queens’ Garden, with its assortment of roses and yew trees around it, is the apex of the grounds. The four queens—Elizabeth I, Katherine Parr, Lady Jane Grey, and Anne Boleyn—were the inspiration for this focal garden.
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As one might expect, a typical English garden must be visible from within the grounds of a property as large and impressive as Sudeley Castle. As fate would have it, Sudeley Castle is home to ten—TEN—such gardens, totaling about 15 acres, all of which are free to the public and offer award-winning sweeps throughout the spectacular, 1,200-acre estate.
The Royal Garden
Four English queens, all of whom had a unique link to the castle—Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey, Elizabeth I, and Katherine Parr—have their names engraved in the magnificent central garden of Sudeley’s grounds.
The Garden of Knots
This serene, protected area is made up of thousands of box hedges that have been arranged in a special pattern inspired by a dress worn by Elizabeth I, a painting of which hangs inside the Castle.
The Garden of Herbs
The Herb Garden, one of the newest additions to the Sudeley Castle grounds, is made up of six distinctive garden beds that each produce different kinds of culinary and medicinal herbs. A plant-like construct in the form of a human being is sitting silently on the garden seat, reading a book while donning a big, floppy hat. It’s a calm and reflective place.
The Garden of Ruins
The appropriately called Ruins Garden, which is flanked by the historic walls of the Sudeley Castle’s Banqueting Hall, was another early casualty of Cromwell’s Civil War damage. A somber and subdued portion of the grounds, this expertly-designed garden gives visitors a picture of what a lush green area, complete with climbing ivies and golden blooms, may have looked like in the 1500s.
Garden of the Mulberries
The Mulberry Garden, which is centered around a historic mulberry tree that was first planted by one of the Castle’s pre-Victorian doyennes, Emma Dent, in the early 19th century, is frequently brimming with luxuriant vegetation. However, the mulberry leaves, which are the only food supply for silkworms and the main product that Emma’s hardworking family produces, are where its significance resides.
The White Garden, which surrounds the outside of St. Mary’s Church, is made up of a huge variety of white flowers as a representation of the eternal purity of Queen Katherine Parr, whose body is interred in the chapel. The White Garden is not just a symbol of homage to Sudeley Castle’s most famous tenant, it is also thought to be the location where Lady Jane Grey entered the chapel each day to pray.
Garden of Tudor Physic
The Tudor Physic Garden’s herbs were used to create tinctures and medicines before the development of modern medicine. Today’s visitors to the estate are able to meander through this tranquil area, retracing the paths Katherine Parr surely took while she lived at Sudeley.
This charming part of the grounds, which was inspired by Andrew Marvell’s lyrical poem “The Garden,” provides a special setting for introspective strolls and focused reflection.
Garden of the Secrets
The Secret Garden, so named because of its secluded design, was replanted in 1979 by Lady Elizabeth, the present Sudeley chatelaine, to honor her marriage to husband Lord Ashcombe. Each year, it overflows with thousands of tulips and boasts a lineup of horticultural marvels that is constantly changing.
Garden at the Tithe Barn
This area has been surrounded by lush foliage since the early 15th century, when Oliver Cromwell partially destroyed the Tithe Barn. Amazingly, the building has been repaired, and the Tithe Barn Garden is now a vibrant space filled with vegetation, highlighted by a tranquil koi carp pond.
Church of St. Mary
You’ll learn that Sudeley Castle is not just one of England’s most impressive historical locations, but also the only private castle in the nation with a queen’s grave located on its grounds.
Since her passing in 1548, Katherine Parr, the final of Henry VIII’s six wives and the last monarch of the House of Tudor, has been buried in St. Mary’s Church.
St. Mary’s Church, which is located on the Castle grounds and is a Grade I listed building, was restored between the years of 1859 and 1863 by Sir G.G. Scott. Its founding date is estimated to be around 1460. (when the property would still have been in the hands of the Dent family).
Today’s Sudeley Castle
Whatever you’re searching for: a peaceful family vacation, an educational school trip, an interesting professional retreat, or a romantic break for infatuated couples, there are plenty of options for a fun and engaging historical tour around Sudeley Castle and gardens. Nothing can inspire, educate, and entertain like the picturesque surroundings and dramatic backdrop of this medieval fortification.
The castle makes for a fantastic adult day trip, but it’s also an excellent place for families. Children can enjoy viewing the displays within the castle, and outdoors, there is a sizable fort on the adventure playground. By scaling the towers, navigating the bridges, and gazing through the castle windows, kids of all ages may act as though they are defending their kingdom.
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