Friday, 14 September 2012

Quincentenary of the birth of Katherine Parr at Sudeley castle

This summer I was fortunate to visit Sudeley Castle, near Cheltenham, in the quincentenary year of the birth of Katherine Parr, the sixth wife of Henry VIII.  The castle is always worth a visit, but this year, there is a fantastic exhibition running on Katherine Parr with several events taking/taken place to mark the occasion.  Those involved include David Starkey and Alison Weir.  You can see a special film created by David Starkey in which he talks about the personality and character of Katherine.  Katherine must have had an enormous influence on her step-daughter Elizabeth, and the young Jane Grey, who was the ward of Katherine's fourth husband, Thomas Seymour.  She showed them that a woman could wield power, having acted as Regent for her husband Henry VIII when he was at war with France.  She was also the first woman to have her books published in her own lifetime.  Also on show are the costumes used in Starkey's 'Six Wives' documentary for channel 4.  You can see several items that belonged to Katherine, such as a piece of one of her dresses and some of her books, and see the recently restored rooms in her apartments, which had previously been destroyed by fire. 

Sudeley castle is unique in that it is the only private castle in which a Queen of England has been buried.  The story of Katherine's tomb is well known - how, after the castle fell into ruin during Oliver Cromwell's time, and the church was used to stable the horses belonging to the Roundheads, her tomb was discovered by a group of ladies on a walking tour in 1782, who had heard the former queen was buried there.  A slab on top of the tomb had broken, and the coffin was exposed.  Katherine's body had been wrapped in lead, and  a small portion was removed to view her head and one of her arms.  Her body was perfectly intact, her flesh being described as still 'moist and white'.  A lock of her hair and one of her teeth were removed, as well as a piece of seer cloth.   The body was then re-covered.  However, word had got out about the discovery, and the coffin was continually re-opened, so that barely 6 months later, the body had began to seriously decay.  When the Dent family took control of the castle in the 19th century, Katherine was given a proper burial with a fine marble effigy on top of the tomb.  You can see the hair, tooth and portion of seer cloth on show at Sudeley. 

One of the exhibits on show is a piece of lace that was woven by Anne Boleyn for her daughter Elizabeth, which Elizabeth gave to Katherine Parr.  You can clearly see Anne's device of the falcon woven into it.

Above, the ruins of Sudeley castle, the church, and the tomb of Katherine Parr.

A fragmanet of a dress belonging to Katherine Parr
 A lock of Katherine's hair and one of her teeth.  (These were not supposed to be photographed!)
The cloth woven by Anne Boleyn and given to her daughter Elizabeth.


Susan Higginbotham said...

Enjoyed hearing about this!

Kathryn Warner said...

Great pics! Sudeley is a lovely place.

Anerje said...

It's in such a pretty little village as well. I got there so early, I had the gallery to myself so could sneak some photos.

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