Your guide to visiting Sudeley Castle in the Cotswolds, including its history, things to do and see, and practical visiting information.
When I was researching things to do and see during my trip to the Cotswolds, I knew I needed a contingency plan in case the weather was less than optimal for outdoor exploration. I came across Sudeley Castle, located near the village of Winchcombe, and immediately knew I had to add it to my list.
Luckily for me, the weather was pretty windy and rainy the morning we set off on the second day of our Cotswolds weekend, so Sudeley Castle made the perfect stop to wait out the dreary weather. Little did I know that I would spend more than two hours exploring this fascinating castle.
Sudeley Castle History
Sudeley Castle is one of the few remaining private castle residences in England and is the only private castle to have a queen buried within its grounds. With over 1,000 years of history, it has something to interest every visitor.
Nearby Winchcombe served as the Anglo-Saxon chief city of Mercia under King Offa. Before the turn of the 11th century, King Ethelred the Unready gave the estate at Sudeleagh (as it was called) to his daughter Goda, who resided in what was then a manor house. The manor house was passed to her son Ralf, and again passed to Ralf’s son, Harold, Earl of Hereford.
However, after the Norman conquest of 1066, Harold was stripped of his title but allowed to remain at Sudeley. Harold’s son, John de Sudeley, revolted against King Stephen and as a result, King Stephen seized the castle and made it into a royal garrison.
The site of the castle remained abandoned until 1442 when Ralph Boteler, who was named Baron Sudeley by King Henry VI, built Sudeley Castle on its present site. Most notably, he constructed St. Mary’s Church and Portmare Tower (pictured above), supposedly named after a French admiral prisoner whose ransom paid for its construction. In 1469, during the War of the Roses, Boteler was forced to sell Sudeley to King Edward IV. Edward granted the castle to his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester (who would become King Richard III). Richard added onto the property and you can view the ruins of his banqueting hall while visiting Sudeley Castle today.
After the death of Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, the new king, Henry VII, granted Sudeley to his uncle, Jasper Tudor, Duke of Bedford, who held it until his death in 1495, when it reverted to the crown.
Royal connections at Sudeley Castle
Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn visited the castle in 1535. After the death of King Henry VIII in 1547, King Edward VI granted Sudeley Castle to his uncle, Sir Thomas Seymour. It was during this time that Katherine Parr, the last wife of Henry VIII, married Thomas Seymour and moved to the castle, accompanied by Lady Jane Grey. Seymour refurbished the castle as Katherine Parr was expecting her first child. Unfortunately, Katherine Parr died on 5 September 1548. She was buried in St. Mary’s Church and her grave remained forgotten until it was rediscovered in 1782 in the ruins of the chapel. Seymour was arrested in 1549 and beheaded and in 1554,
Subsequently, Queen Mary I granted the castle to Sir John Brydges, 1st Baron Chandos. Sudeley remained in the hands of his family for the next 100 years. Queen Elizabeth I visited Sudeley Castle three times during this period, the most famous visit being a three-day celebration to celebrate the anniversary of the defeat of the Spanish Armada.
Things remained calm until the English Civil War when 6th Baron Chandos declared his loyalty to the king. Parliamentary troops bombarded the castle, destroyed the roof, and left the castle to ruin.
The revival of Sudeley Castle
From 1655 until 1837, Sudeley Castle remained in ruins. Two wealthy glovemakers from Worcester, John and William Dent, purchased Sudeley Castle in 1837. The brothers spent a lot of money rebuilding and restoring parts of the castle and acquiring many of the Tudor treasures that remain on view in the castle today.
In 1856, the castle passed to their nephew John Dent and his wife Emma Brocklehurst. Emma worked to restore Sudeley after her husband passed away in 1885. When Emma died in 1900, the castle passed to her nephew Harry Dent-Brocklehurst, whose family has held Sudeley Castle ever since.
Between the wars, crippling debt forced the family to sell off much of the land in order to make necessary restorations. During World War II, the grounds of Sudeley Castle became a POW camp for Italians and Germans and the castle itself was used to store works of art from the Tate in London. In the early 1980s, the family completed two years of work to turn Sudeley Castle into a tourist attraction. It has remained simultaneously open to the public and a private residence.
What to see at Sudeley Castle
When I decided to visit Sudeley Castle during my weekend in the Cotswolds, I thought I might spend an hour max there. Turns out, you can easily spend more than two hours exploring the castle and its grounds and still want to stay longer! There is so much to see.
The Castle Gardens
On a warm, sunny day, you could spend hours exploring the gardens of Sudeley Castle. The grounds are home to 10 gardens which are beautifully preserved to their 15th-century state when the castle was rebuilt by Ralph Boteler.
Of particular note are:
- The Queens’ Garden, which is named after Anne Boleyn, Katherine Parr, Lady Jane Grey, and Elizabeth I. It houses more than 80 varieties of roses.
- The Knot Garden, which is made into an intricate geometric design based on a pattern from a dress worn by Elizabeth I.
- The East Garden, which is a small garden with trellises that you’ll likely walk through on your way to the pheasantry.
To learn more about the gardens at Sudeley Castle, visit their website.
Richard III’s Great Hall
When Richard III took over Sudeley Castle, he built a magnificent banqueting hall as an addition to Sudeley Castle. Unfortunately, it remains in ruins but you can sense how magnificent it must have been when looking at it.
Perhaps most surprisingly, I discovered that Sudeley Castle is home to a pheasantry that Lord Ashcombe established in the 1980s. In fact, it has one of the world’s largest public collections of rare and endangered species of pheasants from around the world.
With many pheasant species close to extinction globally, Sudeley Castle’s pheasantry works closely with the World Pheasant Association and participates in a program of breeding and conservation of some of the rarest species. Today, you’ll see 16 species of pheasants in their habitats as well as a couple of peacocks who roam freely around the area.
St. Mary’s Church
The original St. Mary’s Church was destroyed during the English Civil War and was rebuilt from 1855-1863. Inside, you’ll find the marble tomb of Katherine Parr, the last of King Henry VIII’s eight wives. The side chapel is the original chapel that was used for fortnightly services after the ruin of the church during the English Civil War.
The Private Rooms
Sudeley Castle is one of the few castles left that is still a residence. Downstairs, you’ll find the morning room with a beautiful Turner painting hanging on the wall. In addition, you’ll enter the library, which houses more than 1,000 delicate books and a rare 16th-century Sheldon tapestry depicting the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise. The library also has several other beautiful works of art, including a portrait of Rubens by Anthony Van Dyck.
Upstairs, you’ll walk through a couple of bedrooms: the Chandos bedroom, whose bed is said to have been slept in by King Charles I; and the Major’s dressing room, the room Major Jack Dent-Brocklehurst used between the two world wars to dress for dinner and sleep while his wife slept in the Chandos bedroom next door.
The beautifully decorated Katherine Parr’s anterooms are the final two rooms of the second floor, both used by Katherine Parr as anterooms to the state apartments. They are two of the oldest rooms in the castle.
Upon entering the castle, you’ll find yourself taking a deep dive into the castle’s 1,000+ years of history and its various inhabitants and important visitors. What I loved about this exhibition was that it included artifacts and fun facts to appeal to everyone – letters, official documents, clothing, furniture, books, lace, weapons, etc., all housed in the original 15th century west wing of the castle. The castle exhibit also does a great job of providing easy-to-digest information for children. On your way out of this part of the castle, you’ll even walk down a staircase supposedly haunted by a Victorian housekeeper.
Tithe Barn & Reflection Pool
Ralph Boteler built the tithe barn in the 15th century. Unfortunately, it was badly damaged during the English Civil War. The reflection pool was added in the 1930s.
Victorian Dog Kennels
During the Victorian period, these kennels at the bottoms of the castle steps held hunting dogs
Where is Sudeley Castle?
Sudeley Castle is located near the village of Winchcombe in Gloucestershire and about 8 miles northeast of Cheltenham. Sudeley Castle is most easily accessible by car and has free parking on site. The closest train station is Cheltenham Spa. Its postal code is GL54 5JD.
Practical information for visiting Sudeley Castle
Sudeley Castle is open from roughly mid-February until the Christmas holidays each year. Its season begins in early February and ends in December just before Christmas each year. Normally, Sudeley Castle is open Monday-Sunday from 10 am-4 pm. The last admission is one hour before closing. Check their website for official visiting information.
Purchasing tickets: Tickets can be purchased online, but you must do so at least a day (24 hours) in advance. You will save 10% on admission when purchasing tickets online for visits between 30 March and 1 November. You will 20% on admission when purchasing tickets online for visits between 10 February-29 March and 2 November-20 December.
Tickets purchased at Sudeley Castle upon arrival are £17.25 for adults, £7.95 for children, and free for infants and caretakers of disabled visitors.
Dining at Sudeley Castle: Sudeley Castle has a restaurant that serves light lunches, sandwiches, scones, cakes, and hot meals. You can also have afternoon tea when visiting Sudeley Castle, but it is subject to availability and must be booked at least 48 hours in advance.