Sudeley Castle & Gardens, located in Winchcombe, Gloucestershire, is set within a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the rolling landscape of the Cotswolds. Sudeley Castle is a beautiful Grade I listed building that was built in the 15th Century and it has played a significant role in the history of England. Standing within the castle grounds is St. Mary’s Sudeley, a chapel that would be the final resting place of Queen Catherine Parr (1512–1548), who was the sixth and last surviving wife of King Henry VIII. Many members of the household staff have reported seeing the ghostly figure of a tall woman in a green, Tudor-styled dress walking through the Queen’s garden. The spooky figure is thought to be that of Catherine Parr, who tragically died of puerperal fever at the castle, one week after giving birth to her daughter, Mary Seymour.
Today, Sudeley is one of a few castles left in England that is still used as a residence, but it is also a popular visitor attraction.
The castle, including the Chapel and the Tithe Barn was originally built in 1442, by Ralph Boteler with the riches he had earned fighting in the Hundred Year’s War. In 1469 King Edward VI of England took the castle from Ralph Boteler and gave it to his brother, the Duke of Gloucester, who later became Richard III of England. Richard used the castle during the Battle of Tewkesbury, but later exchanged Sudeley for Richmond Castle, which consequently made Sudeley the property of the crown. When Richard died at the Battle of Bosworth, Henry VII inherited the castle and he gave it to his uncle, the Duke of Bedford.
When King Henry VIII took over the throne the property again became the property of the crown. When Henry VIII died, the castle fell into the hands of his son, Edward VI, who presented it to his uncle, Thomas Seymour. In 1547 Thomas Seymour married Henry VIII’s widow, Queen Catherine Parr. Catherine Parr gave birth to their daughter, Mary Seymour on 30 August 1548, but tragically died one week later. In 1728 Catherine’s grave was discovered after the grounds had been obliterated by the English Civil War. She was later buried again and a memorial tomb was erected in 1817.
At the end of the Civil War, on the orders of Oliver Cromwell the castle remained neglected and derelict for nearly 200 years, before it was rescued in 1837 by wealthy businessmen; John and William Dent. Their nephew, John Coucher-Dent inherited the castle in 1855 and it was his wife, Emma Brocklehurst who was instrumental in the restoration of the former glory of the castle.
The grounds of Sudeley Castle contains nine world-famous gardens. The main garden is called the Queens’ Garden and is so named because four English Queens; Anne Boleyn, Catherine Parr, Lady Jane Grey and Elizabeth I, all spent considerable time in the garden. Close to St Mary’s Chapel lies the White Garden which is surrounded by an enormous variety of roses. It is within the White Garden where Catherine Parr is entombed. The pattern of the Knot Garden is said to be based on a dress pattern worn by Queen Elizabeth I, which is also shown in a portrait which hangs in the castle. The Knot Garden comprises of a geometric pattern of 1,200 box hedges, and has a Moorish fountain at the centre. Other gardens in the grounds include the garden in which the Tithe Barn is situated, the Secret Garden, the Mulberry Garden and the Herb Garden Walk. Presently the gardens are maintained by a dedicated team and Sudeley’s ethic is to manage the gardens in a manner that sustains the habitat for the insects and wildlife in the area.
At present Sudeley Castle is owned by Lady Elizabeth Ashcombe and her two children; Henry and Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst, who currently live in the Castle with their families and manage the castle as a visitor attraction. The castle and the gardens are open daily from 10am to 5pm.
The castle currently contains three permanent exhibitions. The ‘Threads of Time’ exhibition features a range of textiles made using techniques spanning 400 years. The ‘20 Treasures of Sudeley’ exhibition contains a grand collection of art and antiques that have been collected throughout the castle’s history. The Catherine Parr Exhibition showcases copies of original books written by Catherine Parr, who was the first queen to have work published professionally.
In February 2012 the remains of the body of Richard III were found in a car park in Leicester, and in April 2014 the castle was one of seven venues across the UK to host the official 3D facial reconstruction of Richard III. A permanent Richard III exhibition can be found within the castle.
The castle hosts regular events including talks from historians, family fun days, music performances and book signings. The castle is also available for weddings and corporate events and Sudeley Castle Cottages can be hired for family holidays.