Tag Archives: Winchcombe

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!

Tony Soprano, Gone Home to Rest

I already was missing Tony Soprano, and now that he’s gone I have to miss the fine actor James Gandolfini too.  The first time I saw James Gandolfini playing the part that turned him from a character actor into a star, I happened to be in England.  I had resisted watching a show about New Jersey gangsters, plus I didn’t have HBO anyway at the time.  But there the show was, on the screen of the little TV in my hotel room.  I was in Winchcombe, visiting Sudely–a house where Queen Elizabeth I once lived, in the days of turmoil following the death of her father, King Henry VIII.  Elizabeth could very well have ended up executed instead of sitting on the throne of England. The Sopranos explored similar power struggles in a completely different age and place.  Characters and locations change, but life’s dangers and challenges remain the same.

I don’t remember which episode of The Sopranos I happened to catch, but I was hooked.  I never did like the violence of the show.  (I don’t like the violence of the series The Tudors either, but I’ve watched it compulsively.  Good thing we have fast-forward). To me, the genius of The Sopranos was in its humanity.  Over the six seasons, there was a Shakespearean sweep to it–every aspect of the many characters’ lives was explored as they made their way through a chaotic world, always trying to impose some kind of order.

I’ve been thinking about historic dream homes like Tyntesfield. I suppose each of us has a different dream of domestic bliss. Tony Soprano’s dream home actually exists–people go to the house in New Jersey to have their pictures taken in the driveway, where Tony appeared in his bathrobe every morning to pick up his paper.  Tony loved his pool, his pool house, and his kitchen, where he was forever grabbing snacks on his way out to do who knows what.

The house was almost another character on the show.  The writers used it to make points about the characters.  I remember one scene where a designer tried to interest Carmela Soprano in some antiques for her house.  “But my home is TRADITIONAL,” she said, with that innocent blank-eyed stare she used to such great effect.  The writers said so much with those few words.  Carmela had no notion of where “traditional” style might have come from.  What tradition? Whose tradition? The less-than-tasteful aspects of the house rarely received any comment in the scripts, but the house  always spoke volumes about the characters, their backgrounds, and their aspirations.

I remember a great episode where Tony’s daughter Meadow, in rebellion, was living with her boyfriend in a miserable city apartment with no air conditioning.  At the end of a long exhausting night of bitter arguing about where they would spend the summer, the boyfriend wearily said, “Well, we could get married.”  Meadow had learned lessons in manipulation from the best–her own family.  She immediately brightened and called her parents to announce the great news, not only getting what she wanted but setting in motion a new family drama.

I looked forward to seeing James Gandolfini in whatever part he took.  He could be funny, sad, menacing, self-mocking–he had a really endless range as an actor. Now he is gone.  I hope he’s found a peaceful home.