Seymour’s Sudeley

Blissfully located in the northern environs of the Cotswolds and a stone’s throw from the town of Winchcombe lies the little known Sudeley castle. Ignore at your loss or take the detour to explore a castle steeped in history!! One can only imagine the grandeur and splendour this castle enjoyed in its heyday, as it seems to be a place that was unwanted throughout the centuries. There was a reluctance to retain ownership of it. Its occupants’ loyalty to the king during the Civil War and subsequent lack of caring owners for a couple of centuries mean that it has been left to decay over time. The site now appears to be a combination of a stately home and some castle ruins. Imagination is necessary on any visit! The ramparts and fortifications are long gone; any visitor is left to wonder at the true size of the castle from the ruins that remain. We must be grateful to local glove makers who purchased it and, along with their descendants, ensured its survival.

Sudeley is the only castle in the Cotswolds, which is an area of natural beauty in the UK and not to be mistaken with a national park. Much of its beauty and reputation lies in its famous wealthy villages and churches, and people from all over the world are attracted to this quaint region to capture the same images they have seen plastered over the gram. Thankfully, Sudeley seems to be off the beaten track such that it has not been subjected to this racket and has retained its freedom from Instagram fame.

This area of England boasted much wealth throughout the centuries, and this may be seen when visiting the area. The delightful stone-built houses are the subject of photos to adorn chocolate box lids. Sudeley, of course, fed off that wealth. It was established in the valley sitting underneath the wealthy town of Winchcombe. In medieval times, lands and wealth were associated with the church until midway through the 16th century when Henry VIII’s greed took over. The tithe barn that remains on the Sudeley site may have connections with the church and it may well be that local farmers had to give a tithe (tenth) of their crop to the church and this was stored in these barns.

Prior to Henry VIII becoming king, his father, Henry VII, united the Houses of Lancaster and York (their emblems being the famous red and white roses) when he married Elizabeth of York and inaugurated the Tudor dynasty. There had been a massive power struggle that had lasted many a year and culminated in the famous battle of Bosworth, where Richard III was the last/only(?) monarch to be killed on the battlefield in 1485 – ‘My horse, my horse; my kingdom for a horse’; Leicester car park and all that. Richard actually owned the castle a couple of times, as before he was the king, he was known as the Duke of Gloucester. His brother Edward IV had given him Sudeley Castle and estates and the Duke used this castle as a base during the famous battle of Tewkesbury (1471; another beautiful place to visit as there is a nod to those days everywhere). I guess as Richard got more ambitious, he then made the decision to move up north to pursue his dream and exchanged the castle at Sudeley for Richmond castle in Yorkshire (another tremendous place and, again, well worth a visit). No doubt it was a motive of becoming king that led to this move and the subsequent actions. On becoming King Richard III, he acquired the castle for the second time. He set about building the great banqueting hall and state rooms but all that remains today are scattered ruins.

When Henry VII defeated Richard III he became king of the land and set about healing the divisions. One of his main supporters was his uncle Jasper Tudor. Henry rewarded this loyalty with the Sudeley estate. Jasper Tudor died at Christmas time in 1495 with no children and heir and this meant that the castle passed back again to crown. It was perhaps Henry VII’s son and Jasper Tudor’s nephew, Henry VIII, who reigned from 1509-1545, of whom everyone has heard in connection with our history. He wanted to cut ties with Europe (similarities could be made to today) but his desire stemmed largely from a selfish motive to break from the Roman Catholic faith. His legacy, especially that seen in the established Church of England, still plays out in modern Britain with much of our pomp and ceremony associated with the state church.

Controversially, Henry manipulated people and circumstances so that he had 6 wives during his 55-year life. Divorce, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded survived, we all know the riddle. It was his third and sixth wives that perhaps are associated most with this castle. When Henry VIII had Anne Boleyn’s head cut off (he did visit Sudeley with Anne) he had fallen for Jane Seymour and she gave him the son he desperately craved – Edward VI. This meant that the family name (Seymour) grew in strength and power.

When Henry died, he left a widow – Katherine Parr (she died the year after Henry VIII), and a very young king. The new King’s uncles manoeuvred themselves to positions of strength with the elder (Edward – 1st Duke of Somerset) becoming Lord Protector of England for his young nephew (Edward VI). He granted his younger brother Thomas, the Sudeley estate and Castle, and granted him the titles of Lord Sudeley and later Lord High Admiral. Thomas was an ambitious man, which was also his undoing. He pursued the hand of the dowager queen (the Queen mother) and he married Katherine Parr in April or May 1547 a few months after the death of Henry VIII who had earlier claimed her hand in marriage ahead of Thomas Seymour.

Upon their marriage they moved to Sudeley Castle where Thomas refurbished the castle for his new bride and her massive entourage. Katherine Parr was wealthy of her own accord, a widow prior to marrying the king, she was also granted much wealth from the king on his deathbed. She also carried on caring for princess Elizabeth (latter to become Elizabeth I). She was to die at the tender age of 36 of puerperal fever shortly after giving birth to their daughter Mary, her only child in this her fourth marriage, who herself died at the age of 2. Katherine was laid to rest in the chapel of St Mary (located in the grounds). This makes Sudeley Castle the only private castle in the land to have a queen buried in it. Thomas Seymour was eventually executed for treason, as one of his many crimes was to try to marry Princess Elizabeth and pursue his own powerful agenda. This resulted in the castle passing to the crown and Mary I granted the castle to Sir John Brydges. Finally, the castle remained in the same family for about a century.  During this time Queen Elizabeth visited on a number of occasions, the third and final time was a 3-day party to celebrate the victory over the Spanish armada (Sir Francis Drake and all that).

Elizabeth was the last Tudor monarch. She never had an heir, which leads us to the Stewart dynasty, another iconic part of our history as it was during this time that the only Civil War this country has experienced took place. King Charles I believed in the divine right of kings and this brought him into verbal conflict with parliament. This developed into something far uglier. He was ultimately unsuccessful in defending his crown and was beheaded early in 1649. Everybody picked sides, either Royalist or Parliamentarian, and the Brydges (Lord Chandos) backed their king. He left the castle in charge of armed tenants and servants to join the king at Shrewsbury in 1642 and the castle fell into the hands of roundheads (another name for Parliamentarians) who turned the church into a stable and slaughterhouse before Prince Rupert of the Rhine (nephew of Charles I), came back to take it into the Crown’s hands in January 1643. They lost it again in 1644, in the topsy and turvy affair that was the Civil War and Cromwell (he is the subject of another story) decided the castle should be ‘slighted’ or rendered untenable as a military post. This resulted in the castle being left to rot and fall into ruin for 2 centuries.

Then in 1837, Sudeley Castle was given a lifeline. The wealthy Worcester glove-makers, brothers John and William Dent, began an ambitious restoration programme. This was continued by the family and means that much of what one sees today is down to their hard work and good will.

Only a tenth of what was once a wealthy estate of 12,000 acres remains, but what is left leaves much to the imagination and fascination. ‘Sudeley Castle and gardens’ may seem like a misnomer as it appears more stately home than castle. The gardens are charming, there is an iconic church which is home to a famous grave, and a castle that has been battered with Britain’s history. It may not look like a castle (think Windsor or Warwick), but British history has decided that for us. We can appreciate what it is and the stories that it must tell. It is and will always be a favourite of mine.

Sudeley Castle, Tewkesbury, South West England, United Kingdom

Berkeley Berserkly

It was the start of the new season. The autumn air that normally fills my lungs with joy was interspersed with the dark cloud of coronavirus. It is like a sword of Damocles hanging over us, but thankfully, protected as best we could have been, the sun finally broke through the clouds on our latest venture. Its warm rays provided the ignition to light that fiery display that this time of year provides, its crescendo some time off, as that pallet of orange that so normally splashes upon landscape views, was only a mere sprinkling of colour. Only the promise of the colour cacophony could be seen that day as the green leaves that provided lush memories of those warm summer’s days had started to fade away. This was no ordinary beginning to the autumn fall; we were escaping the restrictions of a national lockdown and entering a crazy new world. A weird world, where a pandemic had spread throughout it like wildfire, raging berserkly and evoking pendulum wide opinions. We all were imprisoned in their own homes and this had been absolutely necessary. Now we dared to still explore, governed by rules and regulations. These were not the sort of meanderings I’d ever experienced before. Pre-booking, ‘the new norm’, has taken away that spontaneity as military like agendas needed to be created to meet COVID requirements. We judged it best to meet these and at least get out of the house. It is a hard thing to admit but travel and adventures have largely, though not completely as there is a real need to venture out, lost their appeal in this new norm. And as we come to terms with what a future world might look like it is with a sense of despair and sadness that, perhaps, things will never be the same again. Not one to dwell on the future but to live in the moment, Berkeley Castle provided the first chance of freedom.


This unattractive, rugged structure provides a differing form of intrigue and illusion, one that such historic places create. The name of Berkeley is well and truly etched in every stone for the family name has lived here for almost 900 years. If only these stones could talk……. They could relive the battles they have witnessed or recalled the visitors that graced the place or even borne witness to a murder. For so much of Berkeley’s beauty lies within its ‘tales’.

The castle was first built as a Norman motte and bailey. A wooden fortress built on top of the mound, and throughout the centuries was alternatively strengthened and weakened. When Robert Fitzgerald’s loyalty to the crown was rewarded with the grant of the castle and estates in 1153, he set about building the stone keep at the heart of the castle that one sees today (and where one’s tour starts as one climbs the steps to the first floor).

Over the next 300 years the family was in and out of favour with the monarchy as most families seem to have been in their time. At one point the Berkeley family were one of 50-70 noble families who helped govern the land but as their fortune ebbed and flowed, so did their wealth and favour. They were given dubious responsibility of holding a famous prisoner.  In 1327 the castle kept the deposed king, Edward II, who was then murdered here (as you enter the Kings Gallery (named after the family’s collection of paintings of kings of England) one sees where the not-so-pleasant deed was committed – allegedly). By now the castle was clearly being expanded and strengthened. The kitchens, butteries and great hall (displays a large flag which we missed on our first visit as we were drawn to the stained glass windows; we returned to this room when we came back from the kitchen and noticed it hanging there) were added, which are now part of the interesting tour that one embarks on when visiting. By the mid 1500s the castle was very appealing to some who wanted to get their hands on it, and upon the death of the fourth Lord Berkeley, an inheritance dispute took place, and with no direct heirs, it was fought amongst a couple of cousins, the crown and another earl wanting to get his hands on it. Years of dispute ensued. In between all of this it made its way into the hands of crown on a couple of occasions and Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite, the Earl of Leicester, most certainly took a fancy to it. He managed to persuade the queen to hand it over to him – the castle and estates were so valuable. It eventually made its way back into the hands of Lord Berkeley at a great cost (this throws into doubt the claim that the same family has lived here for 900 years). By now the Tudor dynasty was coming to an end to be replaced by the Stuarts (the Tudor period is referenced on the tour by the name of the room one enters when leaving the King’s Gallery – Drake’s room – which houses a number of paintings of ships).

The Stuart era was a fascinating period of English history as civil war broke out, the only time this country has experienced such turmoil, and Berkeley was no exemption as far as choosing a side to support was concerned. The castle’s location halfway between Bristol and Gloucester meant it was possibly a key strategic location. It changed hands an incredible 5 times between the parliamentarians and the royalists. Part of the successful Oliver Cromwell’s legacy ensured valuable and interesting items were destroyed as he went about rebuilding the land in his own image by removing any vestiges of Catholicism. Even the castle’s defences were destroyed, and one wonders why this should have been. I guess Oliver Cromwell sought loyalty from people in return for him giving back their lands; I guess he needed to know that the castle could never be used against him. So, Cromwell instructed the breach of the keep wall so that it could never be used as a fortress again. During the years the family has inherited some properties, estates and lands. Their most notable inheritance was Berkeley Square in London; sadly, this no longer belongs to the family as it was plundered during its ownership to service their lavish lifestyle but adds another point of interest to visit when returning to London one day.

As the sun was still shining it would have been rude not to explore the gardens – in many properties that is all that can be seen in these trying times. We went to explore what autumn had done to the foliage in the grounds. We followed the ‘new norm’ – the one-way system. Whether or not we followed it correctly was anyone’s guess, it was not that clear which way it went. The steepness of the steps going down meant that much landscaping of the gardens was difficult, and really all that is left is a walled garden. We managed to find some water features which led to a pond. This area provided a time to sit and reflect; I sometimes wonder in 20 to 30 years’ time how I would describe this year and I am left puzzled as to how I would explain it.

So, as autumn begins to warm my heart, I have to disentangle myself from the ever-increasing number of spider webs that now appear. It’s a favourite time of the year – we are so blessed to have 4 seasons. Its spectacular display of colour captivate my attention and I muse upon the fact that I should be preparing for the winter hibernation and not the start of our first travel plans of the year. I’m grateful for the history of this land, as it will provide me with distraction, and, thinking positively, welcome mental activity, during these lonely and scary times.

Berkeley Castle, Stroud, South West England, United Kingdom

Glorious Gloucester

The next stop on my mission to blog about every English city took me to glorious Gloucester. Water, architecture and history merge together to form another favourite English city of mine.

Its Roman roots, awesome architecture, historic docklands, glorious cathedral have won me over and will surely be worth revisiting. Over 2000 years of history have shaped this place. Its strategic location doesn’t appear to me as obvious as say Bristol down the road, but it has clearly been an important location in this country’s historic past.

Ruins grace the park and school near the cathedral and show the turbulent past that abbeys and minster churches once knew. Even at first sight it’s hard to disagree with the description of the cathedral as one of the country’s finest medieval. It’s incredible to imagine how this grand and impressive building was ever constructed back in those days. Think of the troubles, the legislation, delays and spiralling cost we would surely have seen were it built today. Would we have the skill or devotion to do so? Inside the cathedral is the graveyard of royalty. Edward II is buried in the cathedral along with the son of William Conqueror. The stained glass does not let much sunlight in and walking around inside can make the place feel dark and gloomy. ambiance highlights At times picture taking is difficult as the light varies. Despite this, and probably because they had a lot of equipment to enhance the lighting, Warner Brothers were clearly impressed as they made it a location for not one but for two Harry Potter films. The cold chill around the cloisters meant for a quick photo and didn’t mean I searched for that famous instagram post. After visiting it might be bold of me to say that it is perhaps not one of my favourite cathedrals although free entry is always a bonus, and the stained-glass windows shouldn’t be ignored being perhaps some of the best I’ve seen.

Outside the cathedral and bathing in the heavenly winter sun are some blocks telling the tale of the city’s past. Just behind them as you leave the cathedral behind you and hidden down a side street adjacent to the cathedral is a fascinating museum! Although it has the appearance of a shop the museum is in memory to Beatrix Potter. Free entry again means it should be a must for anyone visiting the city. A step inside and we were greeted by a humble and dear old man who welcomed us with tales of the history of the shop and its links to Beatrix Potter’s ‘Tailor of Gloucester’. Her talents have probably been appreciated by us all, and clearly mean something to the passionate volunteers.

The streets of the city centre seemed ghost like first thing in the morning; by lunchtime a buzz and atmosphere was flowing around as I left the cathedral in search of docks. There were small scatterings of shops abandoned, the now common ‘to let’ sign in the window but didn’t seem as noticeable as in other cities. An intricate piece of art sat about a jeweller’s shop – a highlight and delight. Sadly, a number of the churches dotted around the city were inaccessible due to closures because of funding and safety issues yet another sign of the ever changing landscape of beliefs of the people in this country.

Part of Gloucester’s rich heritage was its waterways as the canal was built to link the city with the coast through the port of Sharpness. The warehouses around the harbour stand as proud beacons to Britain’s most inland port. Sitting on the harbour edge, the buildings provide near perfect reflections as the sun sets on another winter’s day. The warehouses probably don’t serve the purpose for which they were once built but thankfully they have remained and taken on a new identity. On the outside these warehouses still look the same, proudly displaying their names; on their inside pubs, restaurants and accommodation spring up to adorn what is now a modern ‘dockyard’. Small boats/barges replace the larger vessels that once were there to unload their cargo. The only memories are the odd railway crane and track. Oh, how times move at pace.

So as I drag myself away from this glorious city, and head further north to Worcester, I can reflect on the joy of a wonderful discovery, and look forward to returning here again in the future.

Gloucester, England, United Kingdom