Sudeley Castle:

If your expectations are of a medieval fairy-tale castle with high walls, moats, turrets and towers, then Sudeley will not meet them. Most of the original castle is now a scattering of ruined remnants, the existing castle much more akin to a Renaissance country house, the sort of place where Lord Emsworth (as in the P.G.Wodehouse stories) might spend his days pottering in the shrubbery and fussing over his prize pig). But it looks very pretty set against the surrounding hills and the gardens are delightful. Its history is also the history of England.

A castle may have been built on the site during the reign of King Stephen (1135–1154). In 1442, Ralph Boteler, created Baron Sudeley by Henry VI (the only child and heir of King Henry V of England. Born in 1421 at Windsor, he succeeded to the throne at the age of nine months on 31 August 1422, thus making him the youngest person ever to succeed to the English throne) built the  castle on its present site using what he had earned fighting under Henry V in the Hundred Years’ War, a series of separate wars waged from 1337 to 1453 between England and France and their various allies for control of the French throne, which had become vacant upon the extinction of the senior Capetian line of French kings.

Sudeley Castle View From Garden

The Boteler’s elevation to the aristocracy arose from the marriage of Ralph’s grandfather, William le Botiler of Wem, in Shropshire, to heiress Joan de Sudeley which led to his father, Thomas, succeeding to the title of Lord of Sudeley, the Barony of Sudeley being conferred upon him by Letters Patent, a published written order issued by the monarch. The title passed first to Ralph’s elder brothers: John who died childless in 1410, then William, who also died childless seven years later. William’s widow, Alice, was appointed governess to Henry VI in 1424, which no doubt helped Ralph gain the office of Lord High Treasurer of England from 1443 to 1446.

Along with the title, Ralph inherited Sudeley Castle, which he rebuilt in the 1440s. It seems he failed to gain royal permission to crenellate it (in other words, fortify it, although permission to fortify was not strictly necessary, so it may not be true), and had to seek Henry VI’s pardon. He lost the castle in 1469 due to his support for the Lancastrian cause but beforehand had built up quarters for servants and men at arms in the double courtyard, surrounded by a moat, as well as state and family apartments in the second courtyard. He also built the chapel, which would become St. Mary’s, and the Tithe Barn.

In 1469, Edward IV confiscated the castle and presented it to his brother, the Duke of Gloucester, who later became Richard III of England and who would use the castle as a base for the Battle of Tewkesbury, fought on 4 May 1471, one of the decisive battles of the Wars of the Roses. During his reign the Banqueting Hall with oriel windows and the adjoining State rooms, now in ruins, were built in place of the Eastern range of Boteler’s inner court as part of a Royal suite.

After Richard’s death at the Battle of Bosworth, it passed to the new king, Henry VII, who then gave it to his uncle, the Duke of Bedford. By the reign of Henry VIII, the castle had become  property of the Crown again; in 1535, Henry VIII visited the castle, which had been empty for some time, with his second wife Anne Boleyn.

When King Henry died, the castle passed to his son, Edward VI. He presented it to his uncle, Thomas Seymour who became Lord of Sudeley. The Seymour family had risen to prominence through Jane Seymour who had been a lady-in-waiting at court and then Henry VIII’s third wife, mother to Edward. Thomas Seymour became Master-General of the Ordnance in 1544 and Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports (a historic series of coastal towns in Kent and Sussex established by  Royal Charter in 1155 to maintain ships ready for the Crown in case of need), whilst his brother Edward became Lord Protector. Thomas was notoriously ambitious and jealous of his brother’s success and thought to have harboured designs on the Princess Elizabeth.

However, in 1547 Thomas married Edward’s stepmother Catherine Parr, last wife of Henry VIII, whom he had wooed before her marriage to the king and for his pains been banished to Brussels. Moving into Sudeley, they were accompanied by Lady Jane Grey, who was a member of Catherine’s household and who, as the great-granddaughter of Henry VII, was famously to become the ‘Nine Day Queen’ in 1553, as part of an unsuccessful bid to prevent the accession of the Catholic Mary Tudor. The future Elizabeth I, a ward of Catherine, was also a guest at Sudeley during this period.

Sudeley Castle Topiary Garden

Catherine became pregnant and it has been conjectured that during her pregnancy her husband had some sort of affair with Princess Elizabeth. Catherine gave birth to her daughter, Lady Mary Seymour, but died shortly after and was buried in the Chapel. After the castle and the chapel had been left in ruins by the English Civil War, her coffin disappeared, but was rediscovered in 1782 by a farmer, who took a few locks of hair and reburied it. Finally, the coffin was exhumed in 1817 and Catherine’s body moved to the tomb of Lord Chandos in St. Mary’s Chapel, which unusually for a castle chapel, is part of the local parish of the Church of England. Her daughter, abandoned by her father, was taken in by Catherine’s close friend Catherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk and apparently at one time a candidate for Henry VIII’s seventh wife. There is no record of Mary Seymour after 1550.

In 1549, Seymour was arrested on thirty-three counts of treason, and beheaded. It seems that he had continued to pursue Elizabeth and had plotted to supplant his brother as Lord Protector. The castle passed to Catherine’s brother, William Parr, Marquess of Northampton. After Parr’s involvement with the plot to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne, he was stripped of his property and title.

In 1554, Queen Mary gave Sudeley Castle to John Brydges, 1st Baron Chandos, who was lieutenant of the Tower of London during the earlier part of her reign, where he had the custody of Lady Jane Grey. Sudeley remained in his possession throughout the reign of Queen Elizabeth, who visited the castle several times, including in 1592 on the occasion  of a spectacular three-day feast to celebrate the anniversary of the defeat of the Spanish Armada.

Following it’s ‘slighting’ on Cromwell’s orders at the end of the Civil War, Sudeley lay derelict for nearly 200 years. In 1837 Sudeley was rescued by the wealthy Worcester glove-makers, brothers John and William Dent, who began a restoration programme which was continued by their nephew, John Coucher Dent, when he inherited the Castle in 1855, and his wife, Emma Brocklehurst.

The current owners are Elizabeth, Lady Ashcombe, wife of Henry Edward Cubitt, 4th Baron Ashcombe, and her two children, Henry and Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst.

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