Throughout next month, Sudeley Castle will be celebrating the influential women who have helped to shape its past as the castle launches its Women of Sudeley exhibition.
With a history spanning more than 1,000 years, Sudeley Castle and Gardens has played an important role in the turbulent and changing times of England’s past – and women have been at the forefront of Sudeley’s history throughout the centuries.
Now, the incredible women who have helped create the castle’s dramatic story – from a Saxon princess and Tudor queens, to the Victorian and present chatelaine - will be highlighted through a series of stories and exhibits during September.
The month-long event also includes a new exhibition of fashion worn by Lady Ashcombe, Sudeley’s present chatelaine, on special occasions including a royal ball, a family wedding, parties in the 1960's and 1970's, along with favourite designer styles.
During September visitors also have the unique opportunity to buy a selection of vintage and designer pieces donated by Lady Ashcombe, her family and friends, to raise funds to add to the wildlife sculptures in the castle gardens.
Characters from Sudeley Castle’s past will be greeting visitors to the castle on various dates throughout the month, and there will opportunities to enjoy cream tea with Katherine Parr or the castle’s Victorian chatelaine, Emma Dent, in a new series of ‘character conversations’ events available exclusively to groups.
The ‘Character Conversations’ events cost £25pp and include admission to the castle and gardens, cream tea and a talk, and are only available for group bookings (in advance).
Today Sudeley Castle is perhaps best known as being the only private castle in England to have a queen buried within the grounds - Queen Katherine Parr. But the role played by women at Sudeley far predates Tudor times.
In 975 King Ethelred (The Unready) gave a Saxon manor house and estate at ‘Sudeleagh’ to his daughter Goda after her marriage to Walter de Maunt. In the mid-1400s, the Castle was home to a secret Queen of England, Eleanor Boteler, whose royal status was unknown for centuries.
Many other iconic female figures of British history have shaped the castle’s past, including Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey and Queen Elizabeth I. King Charles I found refuge there during the Civil War, when his nephew Prince Rupert established headquarters at the Castle. Following its ‘slighting’ on Cromwell’s orders at the end of the Civil War, Sudeley lay neglected and derelict for nearly 200 years.
Then in 1837, Sudeley was rescued by the wealthy Worcester glove-makers, brothers John and William Dent, who began an ambitious restoration programme, which was continued by their nephew, John Coucher Dent, when he inherited the castle in 1855.
His wife, Emma Brocklehurst, played a pivotal role in Sudeley Castle’s history. Emma threw herself enthusiastically into the restoration of Sudeley Castle, and it is the results of Emma’s dedication that are so evident in the gardens and exhibitions at Sudeley today. At the same time, Emma forged strong links with Winchcombe – she provided the town’s first piped water supply in 1887, to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, and almshouses and a school were built with legacies from the Dent family.
Emma Dent died in 1900 and the castle was inherited by her nephew, Harry Dent Brocklehurst. The Dent-Brocklehursts have held Sudeley Castle in unbroken succession since.
Major Jack Dent-Brocklehurst took over Sudeley with his wife Mary in 1932, with further restoration and improvements made to the castle. Mary inherited and brought to Sudeley the internationally renowned Walter Morrison fine picture collection, most of which still remains at the castle to this day.
Mary lived at the castle until 1969 when Mark Dent-Brocklehurst inherited Sudeley with his American-born wife, Elizabeth, who still lives at the castle today. Mark and Elizabeth opened Sudeley to the public in 1970. Sadly, Mark died in 1972 and Elizabeth began a 20th century renaissance of the property.
Elizabeth later married Lord Ashcombe, becoming Lady Ashcombe, and in the early 1980s they carried out a further refurbishment of the castle. Today, Sudeley Castle remains the family home of Lady Ashcombe and her son, daughter and their families. The family is committed to the continued preservation of the castle, its treasures and the ongoing restoration and regeneration of the gardens, for future generations of visitors to enjoy.
Sudeley Castle is open daily until 22 December, 2019, offering visitors the chance to enjoy the magic of Sudeley in the run-up to Christmas.