Wednesday, 9 March 2016

The queen who rests at Sudeley

Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire is one of the prettiest royal residences you could hope to visit. It is kind of like a fairytale come true with its honey stone walls flanked by lacy ruins of a room which once hosted Elizabeth I for dinner. There are gorgeous gardens, stunning views and enough history to keep anyone busy for weeks on end. I love Sudeley, it's one of my favourite places. And as spring starts to decorate its pretty fields with flowers, over the coming weeks there will be a look at some of the royal links to this captivating castle. And it starts with a hugely important event linked to perhaps its most famous royal resident - Kateryne, Quene of England.

Kateryne, the Quene, perhaps Sudeley Castle's most famous royal resident

Katherine Parr, last wife of Henry VIII, outlived her husband by just 18 months.  On his death in January 1547 she became queen dowager and expected to have large role in the running of his kingdom, now ruled by his young son, Edward VI.  On her death, in September 1548, she was a sidelined figure stuck in the middle of the beautiful but remote Gloucestershire countryside.  Her funeral, which took place on September 9th 1548, went virtually unremarked.  But it was as exceptional and game changing as the queen herself had been in life.

Katherine Parr, last wife of Henry VIII, was the first public figure in England to be given a public Protestant funeral
Queen Katherine of England died after giving birth to her only child, Mary, the daughter of her fourth marriage to Thomas Seymour.  Her little girl was just a few days old when Katherine succumbed to childbed fever at Sudeley Castle near Winchcombe in the heart of the Cotswolds.  While little Mary was in her cradle being cared for by nurses, Katherine's funeral procession wound through the picture perfect grounds of Sudeley to its chapel where she was laid to rest.  But it was her funeral service that really changed things.  Katherine was the first public figure to be given a public Protestant funeral.

The 2012 re-enactment of Katherine Parr's funeral at St Mary's Church in Sudeley, Gloucestershire

Katherine was a devoted follower of the new form of religion that was sweeping Europe.  It had almost lost her the crown she won in 1543 when she married Henry as her religious views won her enemies and her writings and conversations on it had started to annoy her husband who didn't like his queens to show too many interests of their own.  But Kate had reined her faith back in until Henry's death and kept her head into the bargain.

The ruins of the earlier Sudeley Castle where Katherine Parr spent the last months of her life

The simple Protestant ceremony of Katherine's funeral was a marked contrast to the spectacle that had marked royal burials until then.  Just a handful of mourners, led by Lady Jane Grey, attended the service for the queen of England.  The words of the service was plain and the burial itself had none of the pomp other queen consorts had been laid to rest with.  The White Queen, Elizabeth Woodville, had been given a simple funeral ceremony but that had been widely criticized for its lack of honour for a former queen consort.  Katherine's funeral made religious history but its doubtful whether anyone outside her circle noticed.  By the time of her death, power was concentrated in the hands of her fourth husband's family and the woman who had once ruled England as regent faded into history with little fanfare.

The peaceful countryside around Sudeley has remained pretty much unchanged in the years since her death although the castle itself was rebuilt along with a lodge after Cromwell's forces attacked in the 17th century

In 2012, an reenactment of her funeral was held with commentary by Dr David Starkey at Sudeley Castle.  To modern eyes, the service was elaborate but for the people of the brave new world of Tudor England it was a barely noticeable farewell for their former queen. Katherine still rests at Sudeley and her tomb can be visited when touring the castle.  Its simple memorial plaque is humble and sensible, very like Katherine herself, but just like Henry's last Kate liked to do it also reminds those who look on it that once she was Queen of England.

Photos of Sudeley: Lydia Starbuck

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