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A Brief History of Sudeley Castle: More Than Just a Stately Home

When planning your getaway to the beautiful Cotswold Hills, no visit would be complete without a stop at the historic Sudeley Castle and gardens. Situated near Winchcombe, 8 miles northeast of Cheltenham, Sudeley Castle boasts a rich history which includes having once been home to Queen Katherine Parr, the last surviving wife of King Henry VIII.

Between the years of 500 and 1000, the site where Sudeley Castle now resides saw a settlement of Anglo-Saxon tribes,  the founding of Winchcombe abbey, and its subsequent near-ruin caused by a Viking invasion around 877.  After 1000, Goda, the daughter of King Ethelred, resided in the castle, then referred to as Sudeleagh. At that time, Sudeleagh  was  still a mere Saxon manor house. The castle was passed on to the son of Goda, Ralf, and again on to Ralf’s son, Harold, Earl of Hereford. The Norman Conquest brought about a swift end to Harold’s Earldom, although he was allowed to remain in Sudeley Castle.

Harold was succeeded by his son John, who revolted against the king around the year 1139, causing then King Steven to seize the castle and destroy it, making it into a royal garrison and later re-siting it. The castle in the location we know it today sat derelict for nearly 200 years until 1442, when it was rebuilt at its current site by Ralph Boteler, a military commander under King Henry V and VI. In 1469, Boetler was forced to sell Sudeley to King Edward during the Wars of the Roses. Edward bequeathed the castle to his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who in 1483 would go on to become the well-known King Richard III.  During this time, the banqueting halls and adjoining state rooms (now in ruins on the property) were built.

After nearly two hundred  more years of Royal occupancy, Sudeley again ran into troble in the year 1643, when Parliamentary troops bombarded and garrisoned the castle, later abandoning it as untenable. It remained abandoned and in ruin for a few hundred years, until the estate was purchased in 1837 by John and William Dent, who were wealthy glovemakers from Worcester.

The turn of the century saw a lot of renovations and improvements at Sudeley, although after several generations of Sudeley  families had to endure crippling death duty taxation on the property, selling-off bits of the estate to get by,  it was soon realized that the only way to preserve the legacy of Sudeley would be to open it to the public. In the early 1980s, after two years of work to transition the castle into a tourist attraction with private apartments for the family, Sudeley opened to the public.

In its present incarnation, Sudeley is home to Lord and Lady Ashcombe, Henry and Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst and their families. The Castle now boasts some of the finest gardens in England, and  the famed garden designer Sir Rodney Llewellyn has worked very closely with the family in cultivating the breathtaking gardens on the estate. The 15th Century West Wing houses exhibitions of artifacts and paintings, as well as a lovely coffee shop. In addition to the gardens, on the estate you can visit the Pheasantry, the medieval ruins, and St. Mary’s church where Queen Katherine Parr lies buried. For the wee ones, there is an adventure playground to use at your leisure.  There are organized tours of the family’s private rooms on certain days of the week during the season, and admission is free to any members of the Historic Houses Association.


Interested in staying in a English Castle? Why not have one to yourself! We have a range of Castles which you can hire on our Castles for Hire page.