"It was imprudent of us, in the first place, to become authors. We could have become something regular, but we managed not to.
We were lucky, but we were also determined." Roy Blount Jr

"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Tudor History at Sudeley Castle

During my time in Gloucestershire, I visited Sudeley Castle in Winchcombe--Cotswold country. My parents have always spoken highly of the place. I'm familiar with the area but never took the time to visit the castle. As it was the perfect spot to break up the drive from Gloucester to Marlow in Buckinghamshire, we spent part of a day there.

Sudeley was Crown Property for hundreds of years, and thus came into Henry VIII's possession. After his death it was the home of Katherine Parr, his last Queen--the one who outlived him, and her fourth husband (and longtime love) Sir Thomas Seymour (Henry's brother-in-law through the marriage to Jane Seymour.)

In a future blog post I'll share my photos of the gardens and grounds, my favourite part of the visit. But as a onetime Tudor scholar, I did enjoy the public display of costumes from David Starkey's series on Henry VIII and his wives. The garments are the result of impressive historical research and made from materials and dyes that were authentic to the period, as much as possible.

Henry VIII.

Katherine of Aragon, the Spanish princess who was bride and widow of Henry's elder brother Arthur and mother of Queen Mary I. She was the first of the wives to be divorced.

Anne Bolyen, the cause of Henry's divorce, who visited Sudeley with Henry on a Royal Progess and supposedly helped him plant a rosa mundi rose bush. (A variety I grow, possibly my favourite gallica). Also the mother of Queen Elizabeth I, and beheaded for treason and infidelity and worse...

...because Henry had decided that Jane Seymour would bear the legitimate son and heir he required. Indeed she did, but she died as a result.

So, widower Henry cast about for a good-looking foreign bride. German princess Anne of Cleves turned out to be prettier in Holbein's portrait of her than she was in the flesh, so Henry promptly divorced her. She remained in England as his "dear sister."

Still seeking an attractive girl--and some spare male heirs--Henry became besotted with the very young, very giddy, and secretly sexually experienced Catherine Howard. Marriage to an old and ailing King couldn't keep Catherine from reverting to her wild ways, and she got found out. The second wife to be beheaded. (In my acting days I played Catherine in a ghost play which was very sympathetic towards her.)

Hearbroken and aging and suffering from an abcessed leg, Henry decided a nurse and widow was what he needed. He found one at court, twice-widowed Katherine Parr--who happened to be in love with Thomas Seymour, Henry's brother-in-law through the marriage to Jane Seymour. Katherine was clever enough to know better than to turn down a king for true love. As his queen, she reconciled him with his elder daughter Mary, and his younger Elizabeth, shown here in red gown.

Katherine was a proponent of the New Religion and was very learned. Here is her prayer book.

She skillfully avoided getting divorced or beheaded and therefore outlived her King.
Thomas Seymour married her in scandalous haste, becoming her fourth (!) husband. He renovated Sudeley to serve as their marital home. Her stepdaughter Princess Elizabeth lived with them, as did Lady Jane Grey.

The year after the marriage Katherine bore a daughter, but neither of them survived. The Queen was buried in Sudeley's chapel. Her grave was discovered and excavated in the 1790's.

Thomas came to a bad end...his brother persuaded their nephew King Edward to execute him for treason (the charges included trying to mess about with Princess Elizabeth, climbing in to her bed in the morning and tickling her, and perhaps scheming to extend his power by marrying her.)

There is a wonderful textile collection displayed at Sudeley. Among the items is this 16th century christening robe, purported to be the one worn by Elizabeth I as an infant.

Sudeley's chapel is decorated with stained glass depicted Tudor-era notables. Below is a window showing Thomas Seymour, Katherine, and Henry.

And here is Katherine's grave and monument.


Anonymous said...

Hello, nice blog but Anne was mother of Queen Elizabeth I not second (that's the current queen). I'm sure its just a typo. :)

Margaret Porter said...

Yes, of course a typo--out of habit, I suppose, due to the current Elizabethan Queen. Thanks for pointing it out, I shall correct the error! Cheers!