Sudeley Castle’s 1000 year royal history is credited to strong and resourceful women. At several of the most dangerous moments in the Castle's history, it fell to a chatelaine to ensure that the estate was preserved.
From the Anglo-Saxon Princess Goda, to Queen Katherine Parr, to the Victorian Emma Dent, right through to the present owner, it is the women of Sudeley, as much as the men, who have shaped the Castle’s character and determined its destiny.
The daughter of King Ethelred the Unready, who gifted her the original Saxon manor house as a wedding gift after her marriage to Walter de Maunt. Princess Goda later survived an attack from Canute (King of Denmark), and managed to retain Sudeley, becoming the first in the line of notable women who have had to steer the estate through difficult times.
In the mid-1400s, the Castle was home to Eleanor Boteler, whose royal status was unknown for centuries. Eleanor is said to have been married to Edward IV before his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville and thus gave Richard III reason to usurp his ‘Princes in the Tower’ nephews, and make Eleanor Boteler our ‘Secret Queen’.
After Henry VIII’s death, Katherine married Thomas Seymour and moved to Sudeley to give birth to their daughter, Lady Mary Seymour. Katherine sadly died just days after giving birth and is entombed in St Mary’s Church in the castle grounds. Today, visitors can see Katherine Parr’s tomb as well as love letters to Thomas Seymour, a lock of Katherine’s hair, her prayer book and more.
Lady Jane Grey
Lady Jane Grey was great-niece to Henry VIII. When she was 10 years old, Thomas Seymour bought her wardship and she came to live with him at Sudeley, with Katherine Parr who took her under wing. When Katherine died, Lady Jane Grey acted as Chief Mourner at Katherine’s funeral in the Castle Chapel.
Queen Elizabeth I visited Sudeley on several occasions on royal progressions. In 1592, Elizabeth went on a particularly grand progress to celebrate the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Giles, the third Baron Chandos, presided over perhaps the most glittering event in the Castle’s history and he spared no expense to win Elizabeth’s favour.
Emma Dent 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 today. She planned the layout of the gardens and supervised their planting. She also acquired many fine antiques and antiquities, she amassed a large collection of autographs. Most notable however, was the world-class collection of lace and needlework that she assembled over the course of her life, some prize items of which are still on display in the Castle.
At the same time, Emma and her husband John forged strong links with Winchcombe – she provided the town’s first piped water supply in 1887, to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, built almshouses, a school and helped to renovate the parish church. As a widow, Emma rebuilt the entire road from Winchcombe to the Castle, together with its bridges, along what is now called Vineyard Street.
Emma’s warm and self-deprecating characters can be seen upon arrival to Sudeley in the avenue of beech trees she planted. In her diary she wished they would “grow up and cast their pretty shadows and spread their arms to catch the rays of the sun – and men and women would walk by them and children play under them – even when there was no one left to remember the old lady who lovingly planted them”.
The first female High Sheriff of Gloucestershire, and Chatelaine during World War II. 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.
Elizabeth, Lady Ashcombe
Living in Sudeley Castle for over 50 years, making her the longest residing Chatelaine to date, Lady Ashcombe is responsible for opening Sudeley to the public in 1970 and continuing to ensure its success and intrigue to this day. Lady Ashcombe and her family are 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.