Two favorites on the same day? Yes! My favorite place—the Cotswolds, and my favorite wife of King Henry VIII—Katherine Parr.
Where? At Sudeley Castle, near Winchcombe in Glouscestershire. I've been there before, the first summer we lived here, but with a new set of houseguests who wanted to see a castle and the Cotswolds, I realized Sudeley Castle was the perfect destination.
As with any of these old places, it's hard to pinpoint exactly when Sudeley was built. Saxon records indicate a "Sudeleagh" manor home from the 10th century, yet before that there were Roman villas at the location. The Domesday Book records the de Sudeley family ownership of "12 Hides" at Sudeleagh. Although the manor house is long gone, there are oak trees from the time of the Domesday Book on the grounds.
Skip ahead a few centuries, and we find the beginnings of the present castle, begun in 1442, along with St Mary's chapel and the Tithe Barn (now a ruin enclosing a garden). The castle changed hands a few times, but finally in the nineteenth century a wealthy glove making family, the Dents, came into possession of Sudeley, and Emma Dent made the place what it is today. (She was also an antiquarian who explored the Roman ruins and collected an amazing fabric collection, on view at Sudeley's exhibition rooms.)
But what of Katherine Parr? How did the only woman to survive marriage to Henry VIII end up at Sudeley?
After Henry's death, Katherine married her first love, Sir Thomas Seymour, uncle to the new king Edward VI, who gave Sudeley to his mother's brother. Not long afterward, Katherine became pregnant, but five days after giving birth to a baby girl, she died. Her daughter, Mary, disappeared a couple of years later. History has no idea what happened to her.
And for a long time, no one knew Katherine lay buried at St Mary's Chapel, either. (It didn't help that Cromwell sacked Sudeley Castle during the English Civil War.) Then, in 1782, a group of sightseeing ladies (not unlike myself) discovered an alabaster panel at the ruined Chapel and then found the coffin with the inscription "Here lyeth Quene Kateryn, Wife to Kyng Henry VIII."
Her body (which was still apparently "white and moist" at the time of discovery) was later interred properly at St Mary's Church in the castle gardens.
Katherine Parr wasn't the only Royal resident. Richard III, who later ended up in a carpark, owned Sudeley for a while. And Jasper Tudor, uncle of Henry VII, was given Sudeley after the Battle of Bosworth. And Henry VIII himself spent some time there with his wife Anne, and Lady Jane Grey, who was Queen, sort of, for nine days, lived there with her foster parents, Katherine Parr (who signed her name such even after two marriages) and Thomas Seymour.
In 1592, Sudeley was the location for one of the longest parties in history. Elizabeth I visited and the owners nearly bankrupted themselves entertaining her at what had been her home briefly when she lived there with her stepmother.
Sudeley is a mile south of Winchcombe, a charming Cotswold village. If you go to Sudeley, you can make a day of it by visiting nearby Hailes Abbey, a monastery dissolved by Henry VIII, and Belas Knap, a neolithic burial mound with an interesting false entrance.
But unlike that other famous castle, Highclere, Sudeley is lived in by the present owners, the Dent-Brocklehurst family. The private family quarters are open for tours certain days of the week; otherwise, the castle tour doesn't include the living quarters. There is a fine exhibit of the textile collection, including a piece of Katherine Parr's dress, as well as Roman finds from the area.
Sudeley Castle is about a two hour drive from London, off the A40. If you take the back roads, you'll see some lovely views of the hills, views which surely haven't changed since Katherine Parr lived there.
Below are more photos.