ST PETER’S CHURCH, WINCHCOMBE AND THE BOTELERS OF SUDELEY
Sudeley Castle is a beautiful castle in Gloucestershire, once the marital home of Lady Eleanor Talbot (Boteler) and once owned by Richard III, who built the banqueting hall, although most famed for being the burial place of Henry VIII’s last wife, Katherine Parr.
So great are the attractions of the castle that many visitors miss out on the attractive nearby village of Winchombe and the interesting church of St James, which has many connections with the Boteler family.
The original church on the site was raised in Saxon times; later, there was a 12th century building raised on the site, but by the 15th c it had grown ruinous. It was completely rebuilt in 1452-62 by Ralph Boteler, Lord Sudeley, the local Abbot, two churchwardens and the Town Bailiff. Ralph Boteler’s ancestors were buried in the earlier church’s ruins so he was eager to build a chantry chapel for them, and for the use of his family.
At the time the church was rebuilt, the area in which is stands looked very different to today. It stood in the shadow of a large monastic building–Winchcombe Abbey, which was completely destroyed in the Reformation. Not one stone of the Abbey remains visible today above ground, although several stone coffins from the abbey now lie in the present church and one of the doors bears the initials of the last Abbot.
The church is locally famous for the large numbers of unique grotesques set around the roofline. They are extremely large and humorous and are thought to represent those connection with the 15th c rebuild, including a moustached, widely grinning Ralph Boteler and his wife first Elizabeth (his second wife, Alice Deincourt, it might be noted, was Francis Lovell’s grandmother via her first marriage) The guard the porch, with its centrepiece of a winged angel holding a shield bearing the Boteler coatof arms. Ralph and Elizabeth’s only son Thomas Boteler, the first husband of Eleanor Talbot, is also thought to be reprented on St Peter’s. Thomas, holding an expensive short sword, is on the northern side of the building, gazing rather fiercely out in the direction of the castle. Sir Ralph’s image may appear a second time above the now-vanished vestry at the eastern end of the building; here, he wears a baron’s cap and carries a Sword of State. (Ralph was Henry VI’s standard-bearer.) These carvings are not the most famous of the grotesques, however–that honour goes to the Town Bailiff, who is wearing an extraordinary hate and pullin a face–he is said to be the inspiration for the illustrations of Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter! Other figures include men with dogs who may be the churchwardens, a man with a fiddle, a singer, a labourer, and a Master Mason, who may be Robert Janyns, who was the architecht of Merton College in Oxford.
The interior is worth a visit too–the Lady Chapel was once the Chapel of St Nicholas and was the Boteler family chantry. No tombs now remain unfortunately, but on the other side of the church there is a truncated chancel screen which is 15th c. There is also a glass seraphim from arond 1450 in one of the windows, and behind a curtain, the church’s treasure–an altar cloth made of vestment orphrey between 1460-70. The colours still remain vibrant and the images clear even today.