Is It Over? September 2012.

Dear Rowley,

Did you enjoy the Paralympic Games Closing Ceremony? I thought it both beautiful and profoundly moving. I even came round to Rhiannon after her sensational performance with Coldplay. It was a fitting end to a perfect weekend and a triumphant summer for London in 2012. Saturday morning saw the Artist and I on an 8am train to the Cotswolds for lunch in Cheltenham with his friend who is one of the greats of London couture who then drove us to Sudeley Castle for a post-prandial visit.

Sudeley is the Cotswolds seat of the Dent-Brocklehurst family. Its chapel is the final resting place of Henry VIIIs sixth and last wife Katherine Parr. Queen Elizabeth I and Lady Jane Grey (the nine-day queen) were wards of Queen Katherine and her fourth and final husband Sir Thomas Seymour. Most exciting for I was the visit by Henry VIII and Queen Anne Boleyn. Any Boleyn connection is thrilling to me. The star exhibit in the castle is a piece of lace worked by Queen Anne and her ladies including her successor as Queen Jane Seymour and the despicable Lady Jane Rochford.

Lady Rochford was Queen Anne’s sister-in-law and it was her evidence that led to Queen Anne’s execution by a French swordsman in the Tower of London convicted of adultery, incest, witchcraft and treason. The main exhibition in Sudeley Castle is one of antique textiles. There is also a fine collection of Tudor miniatures including several pertaining to be Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour. We were fortunate to visit the castle on the same day as Dr David Starkey.

I had the pleasure of Dr Starkey’s company when in the green room waiting to commentate on the fashion at The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee this summer. He is a brilliant, contentious man. The Artist got into a heated debate about whether the miniature of Anne Boleyn was indeed she and whether the insipid features of Jane Seymour correctly identified. The Artist said yes. Dr Starkey said perhaps. Sudeley’s chatelaine Elizabeth, Lady Ashcombe was also in the party  as was her fluffball of a pooch Cola. We made very fast friends and before you knew it Cola was flat on his back holding out a paw to be tickled.

The castle lay in ruins for centuries until the Dent glove manufacturing family married into the Brocklehurst dynasty and brought with them scads of lovely lucre with which to restore the castle and its charming church where the tomb of Queen Katherine Parr was discovered. The grave was opened and artefacts such as locks of hair, shoes, buttons and cuttings of her dress brocade were removed. These ghoulish items are now displayed in the castle. Very little of the castle is open to the public because Lady Ashcombe and her children Henry and Mollie all have suites of rooms.

Like the Duke of Devonshire, Mollie is passionate about contemporary sculpture and every summer the house and gardens are littered with monstrosities that cannot even in their most brutalist or glittery emanations quite spoil the splendour of the grounds. The planting around the church is a symphonic drift of white and green. The borders in the secret garden are drifts of yellow, red, purple and white blooms such as dalias, lavender and the white roses so beloved of Queen Anne Boleyn.

Sudeley is marking the death of Queen Katherine Parr by reenacting the funeral rites with commentary by Dr Starkey. This we did not see but did have a good snicker at a wax effigy of Queen Katherine lying in state in a chapel in Sudeley’s pretty church. The wax models of the six wives of Henry VIII that litter Sudeley Castle are also quite hideous. Katherine Parr looks like Peggy Mount and the costume is both inaccurate and rather stingy on the cloth, jewels and gold work.

But this is simply a little comedy to leaven all of the beauty and the treasures that Sudeley possesses. It was a great shame not to see the Van Dyck portrait of King Charles I but the Artist and I were both enchanted by a portrait painted on wood panels of Henry VIIIs sister Mary. We left feeling so much the richer for having spent an Indian summer day at Sudeley Castle. It’s such a pity Cheltenham Spa station is two and a half hours by train from London. Cheltenham is a Regency jewel of a city and so much the quieter and more refined than London.

Excitements this week include the Rake/Bryan Ferry party at Anderson & Sheppard’s new shop at No 17 Clifford Street and a press night at the Hampstead Theatre for David Hare’s Oscar Wilde play The Judas Kiss starring Rupert Everett as Wilde and Freddie Fox as Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas. We’ve been invited by the Hampstead Theatre’s artistic director Ed Hall and his wife Issy van Randwyck. Both evenings promise to be great fun.

I’m watching the 13-hour TV adaptation Edward VII and the costumes are simply exquisite and incredibly accurate. Annette Crosby as Queen Victoria gives the performance of a lifetime. And so to lunch at Wiltons with my friend Francesca Leon. Hopefully we’ll avoid the Olympic Triumphal procession that is wending its way through London from Mansion House to Buckingham Palace today. Glad it’s all over, aren’t you? Until next time…