A castle with a ruin

Sudeley Castle is our first castle. Well, it’s not really the first castle we ever visited, but its THE castle that gave us the idea that we should embark on this amazing challenge. Sudeley Castle holds almost a 1000 years of history. Its relationship with royalty starts in the Anglo Saxon days. The area of Sudeley castle was the ancient capital of the Anglo Saxon kingdom of Mercia. Later it was held by the Anglo Saxon King with one of the worst nicknames: Ethelred “The Unready”.

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After the Norman conquest, the castle belonged to the “De Sudeley family” who also gave it their name. They held it for a few centuries until their male line ended in the 14th century when the last Sudeley male died in battle fighting for the Black Prince in France. Sudeley was than moved to the Boteler family by marriage. In 1449, Ralph Boelter was one of the most important nobles in the land. He was Captain of Calais, and later the Lord Treasurer of England. It was time for him to build a home that would show off his new power and prestige so he embarked on the task of building the Sudeley Castle we see today (well, at least parts of it). He also carneleted it and surrounded it with a moat, but he did so not because he felt he needed the protection, but because he wanted to show off… During the Wars of the Roses, Boelter supported the Lancastrian side which meant that he lost his property as soon as Edward IV from the house of York got into the throne. Sudeley was given to the King’s young brother, the Duke of Gloucester, future Richard III. At first, he traded the castle for Richmond Castle, but later when he became the King (after the small incident known as The Prince’s in the Tower), he retook the castle and spent a lot of money on building a lavish banqueting hall, which is the ruin part of the castle today.

During the beginning of the Tudor era, the castle remained a royal property most of the time. And it was visited by Henry VIII with Anne Boleyn. Things changed for the castle during the short reign of Henry VIII’s son, Edward VI. He gave the castle to his uncle, Thomas Seymour. Thomas was also the new husband of Catherine Parr, the sixth and last wife of Henry VIII. Catherine was a powerful and wise Protestant woman, so it was not a surprise that other nobles wanted their kids to be under her supervision. Two of these girls included Princess Elizabeth I who was 14 or 15 when she lived in Sudeley and Lady Jane Grey, also known as the nine days Queen. After the death of Catherine Parr (she had the first Protestant funeral in England) and the execution of Jane Grey and Thomas Seymour, the castle moved hands again.

The new owner was John Brydges who was also named as the 1st Baron Chandos. John was the constable of London Tower during the days of “Bloody” Mary. He was the person who escorted Lady Jane Grey to her execution. Later he received another “prisoner”, Princess Elizabeth. Brydges treated Elizabeth so nicely that after two months, she was moved to another place. The castle stayed in the hands of the Brydges until the Civil War. During the reign of Elizabeth, she visited Sudeley three times. Her most famous visit took place a year after the Spanish Armada. The victory was celebrated in a three-day banquet that almost made the family go bankrupt.

When the English Civil War broke out in the middle of the 17th century, 6th Baron Chandos supported the King. He raised an army of 1000 Cavaliers to fight for the King, and let Prince Rupert use the castle as his headquarters. Sudeley also hosted Charles I who stayed for a few days to recover after his failed siege in the nearby city of Gloucester. The castle was sieged twice, and once it was captured, the Parliament destroyed its roof, and let nature do the rest.

Sudeley became just another ruin. It was used as a farm and even a pub. Sudley’s fortune started to change by the end of the 18th century when the tomb of Catherine Parr was discovered, and It attracted tourists one of them was George III who almost died when he tried to climb the Octagon Tower and fell down the stairs. A new chapter in Sudeley history began when two brothers, John and William Dent went horse riding in the area and saw the castle. They were wealthy glove makers, and they decided to embark on a mission to save Sudeley. They completed the purchase of the castle in 1837 and spent a lot of money rebuilding parts of the castle. For some strange reason, both of the brothers died unmarried and without an heir and in 1856, Sudeley went to their nephew, John Dent, who was married to Emma Brocklehurst who came from a wealthy family, and she continued the task of restoring Sudeley back to its glory days.

During the 20th century, the family achieved a great marriage when Mary Morrison, the daughter of the richest man in England, married Major John Dent-Brocklehurst, and with her, she brought parts of his art collection. This art collection is still helping to pay for the castle maintenance when every few years the family sells a picture. In 2008, they sold one of their Turner paintings for £7M to pay for some repair works. The Dent-Brocklehurst family have continued to hold the castle throughout the 20th and
21st century. During World War II, Sudeley Castle was considered a safe place, so it became home to most of the art collection of the Tate gallery. The grounds of Sudeley were used as a prison for Italian war prisoners. Today the castle is still the home to Lady Ashcombe who was the wife of Mark Dent-Brocklehurst, before remarrying to Lord Ashcombe.

Sudeley Castle is open to the public between the Spring and Autumn. It is associated with HHA. For more information: Sudeley Castle official website

 

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A “must stop here” on a Cotswolds day out

Chasing Castles Review

We visited Sudeley Castle several times, seeing it in almost every kind of weather (including snow). What makes Sudeley unique is the fact that it is part glorious ruin (the banquet hall of Richard III) and part inhabitable castle with formal gardens. This means you can really enjoy a glimpse of two worlds.

There are few guided tours on offer, but you should make sure in advance that one will be available on the day of your visit. However, it is one of these rare places when a tour would not always make sense… The castle is actually split between an exhibition about the family and its history and several rooms that are furnished/designed to present various periods from the castle’s life. The display is probably the best in the country, and it also includes amazing artefacts like the real hair and teeth of a 500-year-old queen.

 

Compared with other sites we visited where the rooms were more lavish, the rooms in this castle seemed less exciting. in this part of the castle you can also watch a number of videos (which surprisingly is a rare thing in castles).

If you travel with your family, Sudeley offers an impressive climbing frame and a pheasantry which is home to rare pheasants from all over the world.  The gardens in Sudeley are relatively small, and they mainly contain the formal gardens and the chapel where Queen Catherine Parr is buried.

If you are travelling from afar (or even from abroad) then you should probably plan to visit the nearby town of Winchcombe which is the hiking capital of the Cotswolds (self-proclaimed). Winchcombe is an excellent example of a Cotswolds wool town and is one of the most beautiful places in this region. To sum things up, Sudeley Castle is a great place to start your castles explorations. It has the heritage, the beauty and the attitude. The only thing that it lacks is a bit of WOW factor interior, but still, it’s impressive.

I like to compare castles with restaurants and use the system of the Michelin Guide to rank them and If Sudeley Castle were a restaurant,  it would probably get two stars, making it one of the 20 most magnificent castles or stately homes in the country.

Sudeley Castle is working with the Historic House Association (HHA) so if you are a member, you can visit the castle as part of your membership.

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