Tag Archives: Katherine Parr

Visiting Sudeley Castle


I don’t know if I’d care to have several separate funerals with crowds of strangers as mourners, but then I’m not an English Queen who was born 500 years ago and survived marriage to King Henry VIII. Katherine Parr, the 6th wife of Henry VIII, was honored last September with not one but two re-enactments of her funeral on the anniversary of her birth. She had already had at least one funeral when she died, plus another one when her coffin was rediscovered following the ruin of her burial place during the English Civil War, plus another one when her tomb was renovated to its present state. An excellent article about the most recent funerals is at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/uk/9474364/Sudeley-Castle-the-curious-life-and-death-of-Katherine-Parr.html.

Sudeley Castle with ruins of banqueting hall

Sudeley Castle with ruins of banqueting hall

Sudeley Castle is one of the most interesting and evocative historic sites to visit in England. Its origins date from around the 12th century. It has passed in and out of royal possession several times, depending on politics and the outcome of battles. It has been the scene of intrigue and rebellion. Most famously, it was home to three Queens at the same time: Katherine Parr, Elizabeth I, and the ill-fated Lady Jane Grey. The castle is mainly a private home, owned since the 19th century by the Dent-Broklehurst family. They open large parts of the grounds and building for visits at certain times. However, English Heritage members receive a 20% discount.

St. Mary's Chapel at Sudeley

St. Mary’s Chapel at Sudeley

The chapel is still part of a Church of England parish. Services still take place there–mostly, I think, on Sunday afternoons. According to the castle website, Sudeley Castle is open from
mid-March to early November
from 10.30am-5.00pm daily. On certain days of the week, it is possible to pay an extra fee and tour parts of the family’s private quarters. I would go out of my way to take the private tour. (Children under 12 are not allowed in the private quarters). There are also special garden tours on certain days. I would always check the opening times before driving out to the Castle, though. Weddings or private events could interfere interfere with parts of the Castle and grounds. I would call.

If the place were open, though, I would cheerfully spend about half a day wandering the grounds, touring the castle and chapel, and having lunch on the terrace or in the very nice indoor restaurant. Since I was there last, the Tudor rooms occupied by the three Queens have been restored. There are museum-quality exhibits of exquisite personal possessions of Katherine Parr–and, somewhat ghoulishly, a blackened tooth taken from her coffin. I also remember seeing a very interesting exhibit about a Victorian ancestor of the present owners, Emma Dent. Possibly the exhibit about Katherine Parr occupies that exhibition space at the moment.

The nearby village of Winchcombe is very pretty and not nearly as crowded or touristy as more well-known towns in the Cotswolds. I once stayed in one of the Sudeley Cottages between the Castle and Winchcombe. The Cottages formerly housed some of the help at the castle. They sleep 2-6. They are well-equipped, charming and affordable. WInchcombe is my favorite base in the Cotswolds. It feels like a regular town where actual people go about their lives as they have for centuries.

Time to start planning an English itinerary!

Sudeley Castle: Home of Three Queens

Katherine Parr, Public Domain

Katherine Parr, Public Domain

King Henry VIII died in January of 1547, leaving his 6th wife, Katherine Parr, a generous settlement. Within a few months of Henry’s death, Katherine secretly married Thomas Seymour. There was a bit of a scandal because of the unseemly haste and secrecy of the wedding, but they rode it out. Thomas was the brother of Henry’s 3rd wife, Jane Seymour. She had married Henry after Anne Boleyn’s execution. She died after giving birth to Henry’s long-awaited male heir, Edward. Many people believed that Katherine had planned to marry Thomas Seymour all along, and had only married Henry out of a sense of duty to her monarch. (I have to wonder whether anyone ever got away with saying “no” to Henry about anything, including marriage).

Henry had entrusted Katherine with the care and education of Elizabeth, the orphaned daughter of Henry and the unfortunate Ann Boleyn. Thomas Seymour, who had high political ambitions, became the guardian of young Lady Jane Grey, who was a minor and cousin of the late Henry. (Later, Thomas was part of a plot to place the innocent pawn Jane Grey on the throne. The doomed plot cost Lady Jane her head at age 17). For awhile, though, the couple and their young charges lived in apparent harmony at Sudeley Castle. I can imagine the two young women and their older guardian studying together in the sunny rooms and peaceful Queen’s Garden.


The harmony did not last long. Soon rumors flew that Thomas Seymour was overly interested in the young Elizabeth, and she in him. She was packed off to live elsewhere.


Katherine died a few days after giving birth to her first and only child in 1548. Thomas Seymour was off to bigger and better things. He abandoned the infant daughter, who was taken in by a friend of Katherine’s and essentially never heard from again. Katherine was buried in St. Mary’s Chapel at Sudeley, mourned mainly by young Lady Jane Grey. But a hundred years later, during the Civil War, the chapel was ruined and her body was lost. A farmer found her coffin in 1782. He opened it, found her body well-preserved, took a lock of hair, and reburied her. The coffin was dug up again and reburied several more times, once upside-down by drunken hooligans. Finally, in 1817, her body was moved back to Sudeley, the chapel was rebuilt, and eventually a magnificent tomb was built as a final resting place for Katherine.


A ghost adds immeasurably to the elegance of any castle, especially a royal ghost. Sudeley’s is believed to be Katherine Parr. Tour guides report that a lady dressed in green has appeared to numerous people. I doubt I will ever see the ghost, but I have seen a Green Lady–or, rather, two of them. On the pathway from the castle to the chapel stand topiary figures of Katherine and her dear companion, the young Lady Jane Grey. Tour guides explain that the two women attended chapel every day during the short time they had together.


Royal or not, women in the Tudor and Elizabethan era lived in perilous times. Between political machinations controlled by men, and the dangers of childbirth controlled by no one, they often lived short and tragic lives. I’m looking forward to a new historical fiction account of Katherine Parr’s life, Queen’s Gambit, by Elizabeth Fremantle. I’m sure it will relate the stories of Lady Jane Grey and the young Elizabeth to Katherine Parr’s life. A Wall Street Journal article about the writer’s process of telling this remarkable woman’s story is at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323610704578627820370655036.html.

Join me next time for more on the art, history and literature of Europe and the British Isles!

Katherine Parr: The Wife Who Survived

Katherine Parr was the 6th wife of King Henry VIII.  Considering his marital history, she must have thought twice before she showed up for that wedding in 1543, when she was 31.  The already-ailing Henry died in January 1547.  Katherine had already survived two husbands. She did marry Henry, and lived to tell the tale.  Then she married Thomas Seymour, believed by many to have been her real love all along. She was unlucky in that marriage, though. She did become pregnant, for the first time, at age 35.  But she died a few days after giving birth to a daughter. Her fourth husband, for his part, was involved in various scandals and worse.  He was executed for treason in 1549.

In The Wall Street Journal, the British writer Elizabeth Fremantle writes about the process she used in writing her new historical novel about Katherine Parr.  The article is titled “The Life of the Wife of Henry VIII.”  It is at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323610704578627820370655036.html. The article reproduces a fine portrait of Katherine.

Katherine Parr, Public Domain in USA

Katherine Parr, Public Domain in USA

The book, “Queen’s Gambit” (Simon and Schuster),  will come out in a few days.   Elizabeth Fremantle writes eloquently of how this Tudor-era queen came alive for her when she visited Hampton Court Palace, where Katherine married Henry VIII. The day of the writer’s visit, actors happened to be portraying the wedding festivities.  Afterward, the writer visited the kitchens, all extensively preserved and restored, and gained insight into the lives of people who must have served the royals.

I’ve been to Hampton Court Palace too.  It is truly steeped in history, and much easier to take in than many of the sights in central London.  The best way to get there from the city is by train.  Visitors who buy a day return on the train receive a nice discount on admission to the Palace.


It’s easy to see why Henry VIII appropriated this peaceful and luxurious river retreat from his right-hand man, Cardinal Wolsey.  I will certainly be reading Elizabeth Fremantle’s new book about this very intelligent woman who navigated her way through perilous times in the Tudor era.

Join me next time for more explorations into the art, history and literature of Europe and the British Isles!