The pretty village of Winchcome has been blessed with the stunning buildings and gardens of Sudeley Castle since the time of the Doomsday Book when the manor was held by Harold de Sudeley. It lies serenely in a glorious corner of the undulating Cotswolds, where for centuries, sheep belonging to wealthy Medieval merchants roamed the green wooded hills and gentle valley's.
Since the first castle was built in the 12th-century, Sudeley has played an important role in English history, and nearly always the way was led by women. It is a romantic, fabled place of great beauty and enchantment, which has been nurtured by the great female characters who proudly step from the pages of history.
The castle we see today is the second castle to be built here, it was built by Ralph Boteler in the mid 14th-century, and around the grounds there remains relics from the earlier castle.
Henry VIII brought his sixth wife Katherine Parr to Sudeley, she was to return here after Henry's death in 1547 as the wife of Thomas Seymour who had courted her before her marriage to Henry. Katherine was happy at Sudeley, life was more relaxed, she led the life of an English country lady, caring for her step-daughter the Princess Elizabeth, daughter of ill-fated Anne Boleyn, and tending to her garden - now known as the Queens Garden. Sadly, Katherine was to die a few days after giving birth to her only daughter Mary. In spite of the King's wish for Katherine to be buried beside him in the Royal vault, she chose to be buried in the chapel at Sudeley.
In later years Queen Elizabeth I returned to Sudeley to be lavishly entertained in 1592. It must have been a poignant visit, tinged with memories of the happy childhood she had spent with the Queen who was to prove the last of her four step-mothers. Elizabeth Tudor stayed at the castle for several days and made her daily devotions in the chapel where Katherine Parr lies buried.
Another of King Henry VIII's Queens to visit Sudeley was Lady Jane Grey, who reigned for only nine days. In her short life she was to say she had spent her happiest days at Sudeley Castle.
The castle was Crown property for centuries, at the time of the Civil War, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, nephew of Charles I, made the castle his garrison headquarters. It was at the hands of Cromwell's troops that Sudeley began to feel the hand of destruction. The castle lay neglected for almost two hundred years during which time it was visited by several Royal personages including George III, but none was prepared to take the castle on. It was eventually sold in 1837 to John and William Dent of the Worcestershire glove making empire.
In 1855 the castle passed to John Croucher Dent and his wife Emma, and a huge debt of gratitude is owed to Emma Dent for her forthright determination to resurrect Sudeley, and make it once more the glittering castle of former days. Emma Dent worked tirelessly in her role as "Lady of the Manor" she cared for the poor and the sick of the estate, helped with Sunday School and Night School, started the foundations of the castle gardens and planted avenues of trees. An elegant, well educated lady, wealthy in her own right, well-travelled. possessed of a warm and generous spirit, her one great sadness was that she had no children of her own. Thus, she ploughed all her energies into Sudeley. Emma Dent kept everything relating to her life at Sudeley, and over a hundred years after her death, Lady Ashcombe, the present chatelaine of Sudeley, uncovered a hoard of treasures belonging to Emma; these include letters, diaries and scrapbooks into which she had poured her every thought on the happenings at Sudeley and her ambitions for the castle.
Today, owing to the keen continuation of Emma Dent's work by Lord and Lady Ashcombe, we are able for a short while to step back into the past and experience a world far removed from the society of the modern day. We can wander sweet scented gardens, stroll through Yews planted by Emma Dent, walk in the footsteps of Katherine Parr, view the elegant 'Long Room' where there is a 'Six wives of Henry VIII' costume exhibition, Tudor paintings and many other artefacts. You can visit the chapel where Katherine Parr rests in peace and where a great Tudor Queen worshipped. You can admire the romantic ruins of the earlier castle, take tea in a pleasant restaurant, and the children can have a fine time in a carefully thought out play area.
Sudeley is an evocative place, it is both romantic and mysterious, within its walls you quickly become enslaved by the women who have made this treasured castle the beautiful place it is today.
The village of Winchcome has a wealth of exciting stone properties, some lovely antique shops, ancient pubs and restaurants, and if you visit Sudeley Castle you should allow time to experience its picturesque streets and squares.
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