Gloucestershire GL54 5JD
Visitors to the Sudeley Castle & Gardens estate on the Cotswolds are getting a rare chance to explore part of a castle that is still a private residence. You may even meet members of the family who participate in the running of this visitor attraction.
The castle and gardens are steeped in history. Most visitors come to Sudeley because of its associations with the Tudors but it has Royal connections lasting over one thousand years, and has played an important role in the turbulent and changing times of England’s past.
King Henry VIII, three of his six wives and his children were regular visitors, and his sixth wife queen Catherine Parr, is buried in the church in the grounds.
From the first Monday in March until the last Sunday in October Open daily from 10:00 - 17:00.
The family’s private apartments are not open to the public of course but the rest of the castle, including some of the rooms that the family use, is accessible. Furnishings are appropriate for the history of the room and volunteer guides are on hand to answer any questions.
Exhibitions include unique items such as original books written and published by Catherine Parr, artwork by Turner and tapestries by Sheldon. The family has created the useful trail of the ’20 Treasures of Sudeley’ to ensure visitors do not miss the highlight exhibits.
The exhibitions feature wonderful family treasures such as Catherine’s love letters to Thomas Seymour and the eye-witness account of the discovery of her body at Sudeley in 1782. These, together with items taken from her tomb, help to illustrate Dr. David Starkey’s film ‘The Life and Loves of Katherine Parr, Queen of England and Mistress of Sudeley’, which is shown alongside the exhibition.
Another exhibition housed in the 15th century West Wing features the replica Tudor costumes from Dr. Starkey’s TV series ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’.
The castle is surrounded by nine individual gardens and a breathtaking 1,200 acre (485.6 hectare) estate.
Spectacular peacocks strut around the Queens Garden, so named because four of England’s queens – Anne Boleyn, Catherine Parr, Lady Jane Grey, and Elizabeth I – once walked upon the original Tudor Parterre.
The Knot Garden is based on a dress pattern worn by Elizabeth I in a portrait that hangs in the castle. More than 1,200 box hedges form its intricate geometric design, interspersed with coloured gravel and a Moorish mosaic fountain at the centre.
The White Garden which borders St Mary’s Church is rich with peonies, clematis, roses and tulips all in virginal white. The Secret Garden is a walled garden with raised beds constantly evolving throughout the year. In the spring it is a veritable sea of tulips – over 2,500 of them! Other plants include Heliotropes, Penstemons and Russian sage.
A special Tudor Physic Garden has been included in the new Herb Garden Walk. The Tudors would have had a productive physic garden at Sudeley to provide the household with culinary and medicinal herbs and these traditional plants are once again being grown in the garden.
The ruins of the 15th-century Tithe Barn form the centre of a garden, featuring a carp pond surrounded by wisteria, primroses, hollyhocks and thistle artichokes.
In the Mulberry Garden, country flowers and greenery surround the mulberry tree planted in 1865 by Emma Dent.
Marvell’s poem The Garden hasinspired Lady Ashcombe to re-design the East Garden as a place of calm and meditative refuge. The poem was written during the turmoil of the Civil War so she has chosen a planting scheme based predominantly on shades of green.
The Castle is an ancient building with steep stone steps, uneven and slippery floors, other steps not immediately obvious and low doorways. In the gardens and grounds there are uneven surfaces, steep terraces, deep water features, steep steps, non-edible plants, low branches and slippery surfaces in wet weather. However, disabled and mobility impaired visitors are welcome with a Disabled Car Park near the castle.
Everything is wheelchair accessible except the Exhibitions on the upper floors of the Castle. Service dogs are welcome.
- Visitor Centre, Cafe & Shops
This facility is accessible without purchasing a ticket to visit the Castle & Gardens.
- The Pheasantry
The Pheasantry at Sudeley houses a collection of 16 rare and endangered species of birds from around the world as part of Sudeley’s programme of breeding and conservation.
- Adventure Playground
For children there is a wooden fort to scale, a zip wire to whiz down and a 10-piece assault course to tackle.
- Food & Drink
The Terrace Cafe is located in the Banqueting Hall and is open all day. Hot meals are served between 12:00 and 15:00. If the Cafe is closed for a private function, refreshments can be obtained from the Sudeley Cafe in the Visitor Centre.
Contact & Further Information
01242 604244 Visitor Centre - 10:00 to 17:00 Monday to Sunday during open season only
01242 604357 Recorded Information
01242 602308 General Information - 09:00 to 17:00 Monday to Friday
Some Historical Events
The fortunes of the neighbouring village, Winchcombe and the castle estate have been inextricably linked ever since c. 500-798 when the Romans began building villas and homesteads in the area. Anglo-Saxon tribes settled the Severn Valley and Winchcombe became one of the chief cities of Mercia under King Offa.
A Benedictine Abbey was erected in the 8th century and some of the stones are still visible in the castle grounds. It was in this abbey that King Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell planned the Dissolution of the Monasteries some 740 years later.
Set in the beautiful Cotswold Hills, Sudeley became a rich and productive property. In the 1085 Domesday Book it is recorded as being “...taxed at 12 Hides; there were 31 plow villages, whereof 4 were in demean, 6 water mills and a wood 3 leagues long by 4 leagues wide (4½ miles by 3 miles).”
In 1139 during the Anarchy, John de Soudley supported the losing faction and King Stephen seized the castle and made it a Royal garrison. This was the first of several times when Sudely was gifted by the King to loyal followers for services rendered. For the next 300 years the estate changed owners a number of times but always retained its wealth and influence.
Then owner, Ralph de Boteler built Sudeley Castle on its present site using his spoils from the Hundred Years War with France. He also built the Tithe Barn and . The Chapel (now St Mary’s Church).
Politics once again affected Sudeley’s fortunes with the start of the Wars of the Roses in 1469.
King Edward IV of the House of York came to power and Boteler a Lancastrian supporter was forced to sell Sudeley Castle to the King. Now Royal property, Edward IV granted Sudeley Castle to his brother, Richard Duke of Gloucester who held the estate for nine years, using it as his base for the Battle of Tewkesbury.
Richard acceded to the throne as Richard III and became the owner of Sudeley Castle for the second time. During his ownership he built the magnificent Banqueting Hall with its splendid oriel windows and adjoining State rooms (now in ruins).
The end of the Wars of the Roses and the demise of the House of York occurred at the Battle of Bosworth when King Richard III was killed.
The new monarch, King Henry VII, granted Sudeley Castle to his uncle and staunch supporter, Jasper Tudor, Duke of Bedford, who held it until his death in 1495 when, as he left no children, it reverted to the Crown.
Sudeley was once again a royal residence and from 21st-26th July in 1535 King Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn, visited the castle. The King met with Thomas Cromwell at Winchcombe Abbey to plan the dissolution of the monasteries, while Anne visited Hailes Abbey to investigate the Blood of Christ ‘holy relic.
As mentioned above, Sudeley Castle became a favourite residence for the Tudor children and Henry’s subsequent wives especially Catherine Parr. When Henry VIII died his young heir King Edward VI gave Sudeley to his uncle Thomas Seymour whom Catherine Parr later married.
We all know that King Henry VIII was desperate for a legitimate male heir and when his lecherous gaze fell upon Catherine Parr he was determined to marry her. Although she was in love with Thomas Seymour and about to marry him, she accepted Henry’s proposal. It was not wise to cross the King so Henry got his way and married his sixth and last wife, Catherine Parr, in 1543.
Following King Henry VIII’s death in 1547 Sudely became the property of his son, King Edward VI, who then granted it to his uncle, Thomas Seymour. Thomas married Henry VIII’s widow, Catherine Parr and they moved into Sudeley Castle accompanied by their ward, Lady Jane Grey.
On the 30th August 1548, 36 year old Katherine Parr gave birth to a daughter, Mary, but died seven days later. She was buried in the crypt of the castle chapel which is now St Mary’s Church, Sudeley.
In 1554 Queen Mary I granted the castle and manor of Sudeley to Sir John Brydges who as Lieutenant of the Tower had attended Lady Jane Grey on the scaffold. Mary created him Baron Chandos of Sudeley and his descendants held Sudeley Castle for the next 100 years.
During the Tudor era Sudeley was often visited by Royalty. In 1592 Queen Elizabeth I visited Sudeley Castle for the third time. She stayed with the 3rd Lord Chandos during her summer progress to celebrate the anniversary of the defeat of the Armada. The three day celebrations have been described as one of the longest parties in history!
The Civil War 1642 - 1651
Of course, the Sudeley Castle estate supported King Charles I in his dispute with the Parliament and as a result suffered retribution. St Mary’s Chapel was desecrated and the castle reduced to ruins.
For two centuries the ruins of Sudeley Castle lay neglected and left to the ravages of the weather, and the title and estates changed hands many times. In 1782 Catherine Parr’s tomb was discovered in the ruined Chapel and her coffin opened for the first time. Rumour has it that her body was perfectly preserved with flesh still on the bones! Her coffin in its exposed grave was plundered a number of times and she was eventually moved to the Chandos family stone vault.
Saving Sudeley Castle & Gardens
In 1837 John and William Dent, wealthy glovemakers from Worcester, bought the castle from the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, having already purchased the rest of the estate from Lord Rivers in 1830.
They set about restoring the castle, first making the Elizabethan ranges of the outer courtyard habitable. They acquired some of the valuable Tudor treasures which help to furnish Sudeley Castle today, and between1854-1863 employed architect George Gilbert Scott to build the Stable block, and restore the Sudeley Chapel.
In the mid 19th century the estate passed to a nephew whose wife, Emma Brocklehurst had a deep affection for the Sudeley Castle estate and the neighbouring village of Winchcombe. Dent family legacies paid for Almshouses and a school in the village, and later the village’s first piped water supply to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.
Emma Dent completed the building works at Sudeley Castle which included the North and West Lodges, the Jubilee addition to the Western range, the North Tower and the new main entrance from Winchcombe.
At the beginning of the 20th century the estate passed to the Dent-Brocklehurst line who have held it ever since. With each family owner’s demise, crippling death duties were being levied necessitating more of the estate to be sold off. The estate is now only a tenth of its original 12,000 acre size.
During the Second World War a Prisoner of War camp for Italians and Germans who worked on the land was sited in the castle grounds. The castle itself became a ‘safe house’ where much of the Tate Gallery’s picture collection was protected from the London Blitz.
Around 1949 the family inherited and brought to Sudeley the internationally renowned Walter Morrison fine picture collection – a collection of Dutch and English Old Master paintings built up by James Morrison (1790-1857).
To save the estate from being completely eaten up by death duties, the family decided to turn their home into a Visitor Attraction for the general public to enjoy.
Staying on Sudeley Castle Estate
If, after reading this article you would like to experience the magic of Sudeley, accommodation is available in self-catering cottages. For cottage Bookings & Enquiries Tel: +44 (0)1242 609481
- By Car
Sudeley Castle & Gardens is situated near Winchcombe, 8 miles (12.9 km) north east of Cheltenham on the B4632 (A46) or just 10 miles (16 km) from Junction 9 of the M5 motorway. Follow the brown tourist signs.
- Car Park
Free visitor car park next to the Visitor Centre. If using the M4 motorway the Castle and Gardens are 43 miles (69 km); or the M40 (Oxford) motorway, 61 miles (98 km)
- By Bus
A bus service operates between Cheltenham and Winchcombe or Broadway and Winchcombe. Please contact Castleways on 01242 602 949 for more information.
- By Train
The closest station is Cheltenham Spa plus 2 changes of bus. We do not recommend this complicated method of travel.
Google Maps - Sudeley Castle