Most of the grand manor houses we see in England have a history involving a lot of ups and downs. Sudeley Castle is the veritable Snakes & Ladders of the genre.

The Gatehouse

The tale began innocuously enough with a commonplace event: William le Boteler of Wem married heiress Joan de Sudeley. (Note the name of the property derives from the female side of that first alliance.) William went the way of all flesh, their eldest son, Thomas inherited and became Baron of Sudeley. The first rung on the ladder.

The title then passed to both of Ralph’s elder brothers: John, who died unmarried and childless in 1410, and William, though married, also died childlessly. William’s widow, Alice, would later be appointed governess of King Henry VI of England in 1424. Another rung.

Sudeley then passed to the third son, Ralph Boteler, coffers enriched through fighting in France with King Henry V of England during the Hundred Years’ War.

Ralph set about enlarging the premises, as befit his new station. He tore down the existing structure, possibly built during the reign of King Stephen (1135–1154) – it’s not clear. Let’s call these rungs 3 & 4.

He built quarters for servants and men at arms on a double courtyard, surrounded by a moat. He also added state and family apartments on the second courtyard, the Chapel (which would become St. Mary’s), and the tithe barn (shown above)

Regrettably, Ralph failed to gain royal permission to crenellate (a big no-no) and had to seek King Henry’s pardon  Ooops. Rung maintained, footing slippery.

Ralph eventually lost Sudeley entirely in 1469, when King Edward IV of England confiscated the castle from him, due to his support for the Lancaster side during the War of the Roses. You backed the wrong horse, Ralph. Down the snake, back to the bottom.

Ralph left no surviving male heir. His son, Thomas, predeceased him, also without a male heir. Thomas’s widow, Eleanor, was the Lady Eleanor Butler, known by the less than complimentary sobriquet, the Holy Harlot. She had an alleged precontract of marriage to Edward IV of England and, as such, claimed to have invalidated Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, thus lending legitimacy to usurping Richard Plantagenet as King Richard III of England. Another interesting turn of events in the very twisty path of Sudeley’s ownership.

This particular twist involves some irony. Having confiscated Sudeley, King Edward bestowed it on his brother, the very same Richard Plantagenet, then Duke of Gloucester, who later did indeed become King Richard III of England. It wasn’t everything Richard was looking for in a country estate, and that was before the damage you see so clearly below was sustained. That came much later – during Cromwell’s “slightings” throughout the English Civil War.

Richard exchanged it for Richmond Castle in North Yorkshire. I’d vote this an upgrade in terms of sheer size and fortress-like protection, but it’s a shade more remote. It’s hard to judge the state of the mod cons at the time. Today it’s a bit rough, certainly not decorator-ready.

Sudeley was put back into the general inventory of the property of the crown, but when Richard became king in 1483, he inherited the whole shebang of crown property. Thus it was his once more. He carried out improvements, adding the Banqueting Hall and adjoining staterooms, now in ruins.

After King Richard’s rather gruesome demise at the Battle of Bosworth, Sudeley passed to the new king, Henry VII of England, and in due course, to King Henry VIII of England.

You may recall that Henry’s sixth and penultimate wife was Catherine Parr. She was the third Catherine; there were two Annes and one Jane, too.

One can see why we branched out in terms of girl’s names, though I would argue we’ve perhaps gone a bit far. I do think vowels should be a prerequisite, and we might give names involving fruit (Apple), seasons (Autumn, Summer) and characteristics of speech (Cadence) a miss.

But I digress. Let’s return to Henry VIII and his six wives. Henry finally passed on in 1547, leaving his estate to his much-wanted, divorced-and-beheaded-for, son, who became King Edward VI of England at the tender age of nine. Given the amount of havoc that Henry VIII managed to wreak during his lifetime, few would contend that his demise was untimely.

Consider, for instance, that Henry VIII managed to plough through three more wives (divorced, beheaded, survived) in the nine years from Edward’s birth to his succession to the throne. As well, it left the crown in a somewhat tenuous position, under a regency as it’s known, when the Crown is held by someone underage, as in this case, or mentally incompetent, as in the case of George III.

One of the members of the Regency Council was Edward’s uncle, also an Edward, Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector of England. He was an uncle through being the brother of the late Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife and mother of the new young king, Edward VI. Under this arrangement, Sudeley again was gifted, but to Edward VI’s other uncle, Thomas Seymour, who became Baron of Sudeley along with receiving the property.

Thomas was something of a scoundrel – ambitious and unprincipled. He had been instrumental in promoting his sister, Jane, as potential wife-material for Henry, while wife #2, Anne Boleyn, struggled to produce a male child. Not that she had much chance to do so, mind you.

We know that Henry VIII had gone nine rounds with the Catholic Church over his desire to annul his 24-year marriage to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Thwarted in that aim, in 1532, he initiated the English Reformation, appointed himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England, and by that authority, declared his marriage to Catherine to be over. He married Anne Boleyn in a secret ceremony in November 1532. She was crowned Queen of England on June 1, 1533, and on September 7 gave birth to Elizabeth. Henry was disappointed to have a daughter rather than a son. After all, that had been the point of the whole battle with the church; besides, he already had one daughter, Mary, from his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. He didn’t particularly want another one. He wanted a son. Pronto.

Anne went on to have three miscarriages in quick succession. Today, it’s theorized that Henry’s syphilis was behind many of his wives’ childbearing troubles, but let’s just say he was not a man likely to consider himself the cause of the problem. By March 1536, Henry was courting Jane Seymour, but to marry her, Henry had to find reasons to end the marriage to Anne. It was becoming something of a habit with him.

Not one to lose time, by April 1536, Henry VIII employed another handy instrument in the royal toolkit: investigation for high treason. On May 2, Anne was arrested and sent to the Tower of London, where she was tried before a jury of peers. She was convicted on May 15 and beheaded four days later. Modern historians view the charges against her, which included adultery, incest, and plotting to kill the king as “unconvincing.”

Within weeks of Henry VIII’s death, Thomas Seymour had rekindled his interest in Catherine Parr, Henry’s sixth wife and, ultimately, widow. That she was now one of the richest women in England was pure coincidence, I’m sure!

Thomas was an active fellow on the dating front. His name had been linked to Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond; he had also been showing interest in marrying either of Henry’s daughters, Elizabeth or Mary.

But with Henry’s demise, Thomas rapidly narrowed his focus to Catherine, and they were secretly married in April or May 1547, far too soon after the king’s death to suit several people.

Lest you think that all this romantic manoeuvring completely consumed Thomas’s attention, rest assured that he also found time to try and overturn his brother Edward’s position on the regency council to young King Edward VI. The man was very, very power-hungry.

Shortly after their marriage in the spring of 1547, Catherine Parr fell pregnant. Lord Seymour began to renovate Sudeley for Catherine’s use. They moved there for the final months of her pregnancy, accompanied by her stepdaughter, the future Queen Elizabeth I (then 14 years old). A  large entourage of ladies attended Catherine, including Lady Jane Grey, great-granddaughter of Henry VII (Henry VIII’s father) through his younger daughter, Mary. So, if you’re a southerner, you have probably figured out that Lady Jane Grey was a first cousin once removed of Edward VI. Whew!

You’d think Thomas would have had enough to occupy him with all that going on, but no. He found time to indulge himself in highly flirtatious and possibly sexual behaviour with young Elizabeth. He was overly familiar, engaging her in daily romps, tickling her, slapping her on the backside as she lay in her bed, or coming into her room clad in his nightclothes. Not good.

Elizabeth’s governess, Kat Ashley, was alarmed by this scandalous behaviour and reported it to Catherine, who at first dismissed it as innocent fun. By late summer of 1548, she was concerned enough to send Elizabeth away to Hertfordshire to live with Anthony Denny and his wife, Joan Champernowne (Kat Ashley’s sister).

In September 1548, Catherine gave birth to a daughter, Mary Seymour.

Sadly, Catherine died a few days later due to complications from childbirth, just before Elizabeth’s 15th birthday. Catherine was buried in the Chapel on the grounds of Sudeley.

The castle and the chapel were largely demolished during the English Civil War, and Catherine’s grave disappeared from view.

In 1782, her grave was rediscovered, but she was not reinterred until 1817 when an elaborate tomb was erected in her honour.

Upon her death, Thomas became one of the richest men in England, and his roving eye returned to Elizabeth. She sidestepped him, though, and returned to her childhood home, Hatfield House, with her governess, Kat Ashley.

In 1549, things finally caught up with Lord Seymour: he was arrested for treason. Seymour’s associates, including 15-year-old Elizabeth, were enveloped in a cloud of suspicion. Not alarmed at first, the seriousness of the situation began to dawn on Elizabeth when her servants, including her governess Kat Ashley, were arrested.

The regency council was confident that Elizabeth had been complicit with Thomas and tried to bully her into confessing; she was interrogated for weeks. But something of the Shrewd Queen Bess was already evident in the young girl. A game of wits ensued between the council and Elizabeth. She proved herself a master of both logic and defiance. The sordid details of the flirtatious incidents with Seymour came to light, but no evidence of complicity. Game, set, and match to Elizabeth.

Seymour was ultimately beheaded, after which Sudeley Castle became the property of Catherine’s brother, William Parr, 1st Marquess of Northampton, a man seemingly cut from the same cloth as Thomas Seymour. Parr was involved in the plot to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne of England. While she was beheaded on Tower Hill, he was merely stripped of his property and title by Queen Mary I of England. Parr later regained his titles under Queen Elizabeth I of England; Sudeley remained the property of the Crown.

In 1554, Sudeley had yet another temporary owner, when Queen Mary I gave it to John Brydges, 1st Baron Chandos, where it remained throughout her reign and the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, as well. He is buried in the chapel.

Fast forward to today. The situation is, er, complicated. The castle’s ownership is split three ways. Think family cottage complicated, on steroids. The current owners are Elizabeth, Lady Ashcombe, widow of Henry Cubitt, 4th Baron Ashcombe. She owns 50%.  Her two children, Henry Dent-Brocklehurst and Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst each own 25 per cent.

The family complications entered the public arena with the June 27, 2007 airing of BBC Four’s investigation into the castle titled Crisis At The Castle. The program laid bare the turmoil associated with managing a castle with three sets of owners and their families, all giving conflicting instructions. Are we open today? Are we closed? Visitors, frustrated by the last-minute, chaotic decisions began to give the place a miss, resulting in a dramatic fall in visitor numbers in the three years leading up to the creation of the programme.

Sudeley is occasionally the backdrop for high-profile events, such as the 2007 wedding of English actress Elizabeth Hurley to Indian textile heir Arun Nayar, which took place in the private chapel.

Fans of P. G. Wodehouse may be interested to know that Sudeley is regarded by many as the model for Blandings Castle, and the adaptation for BBC television of Wodehouse’s Heavy Weather (1995) was filmed there. And Scene 1, Episode 5 of the Father Brown Series, was also filmed at Sudeley.

No interior pictures were allowed when we visited, so I’ve shown only snaps of the exterior. The grounds are gorgeous, with nine individual gardens and an extensive collection of exotic birds. Teddy and Penny were happy to pose with the peacocks, from the safe confines of the surrounding fence.

That’s a wrap, folks! I hope everyone has had a good weekend and is enjoying the slow, albeit chilly, arrival of spring. We woke up to SNOW yesterday morning. Happily, it didn’t linger, but you can be darned sure we had a fire going in the grate as soon as I could persuade Glenn to light one. I spent the weekend doing a deep clean and reorganization of the kitchen, baking a batch of hot cross buns and a chocolate cake filled with raspberry curd and iced with Swiss meringue buttercream. Both buns and cake have been photographed, divided and distributed to neighbours!

I’m sharing this post with Between Naps on the Porch.