Tudor Tattershall: what went on at the castle during the Tudor Dynasty

Charles Brandon

During the 118 years of Tudor rule in England Tattershall Castle was considered home to some of the most important officials in the country including the Kings Mother, the Kings best friend and the Lord High Admiral of the Navy Royal. After the years of neglect following the death of the castle’s builder, Lord Cromwell, the austere brick residence was once again made a place of power, wealth and beauty.

A new base of operations

In October 1537 the country was in crisis. King Henry VIII was seeking divorce and in order to make this a reality the King was forming a new Church of England and severing ties with Rome. In Louth a protest began against the suppression of the Catholic religious houses which quickly escalated to 40,000 commoners marching on Lincoln. Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk (and the King’s best friend) was chosen to lead the forces sent to quash the rising. The task was given to Brandon primarily because his new young wife, Catherine Willoughby (he was 49, she was 14; it was considered scandalous even by sixteenth century morals), was a member of the Willoughby de Eresby family who owned vast areas of the county. Thankfully the protesters dissipated before Brandon arrived, but once in Lincoln Brandon quickly tried and executed the ringleaders.

Detail of King Henry VIII (1491-1547), studio of Hans Holbein the younger, c.1543-1547 / NT 486186
Detail of Henry VIII by studio of Hans Holbein the younger
Detail of King Henry VIII (1491-1547), studio of Hans Holbein the younger, c.1543-1547 / NT 486186

On 4th April 1537, as a vote of thanks for his assistance in stopping the ‘Lincolnshire Rising’, King Henry gifted Tattershall Castle to Brandon. He was instructed to relocate to Lincolnshire in order to keep the county in check and Tattershall Castle became his new base of operations. Charles Brandon was so taken with Tattershall that in the event of his death he requested to be buried in Holy Trinity Church (adjacent to the castle). Henry VIII ignored this request and buried Brandon with much expense and ceremony at St Georges Chapel in Windsor Castle; a true sign of the level of friendship the pair shared.

When fancy fabrics adorned the beds, floors and walls

Unfortunately time has been very unkind to Tattershall and very little documentary evidence survives about how the castle was decorated and furnished. We do however have scraps of information in the form of an inventory made in 1551 of some of the fabric items that were removed from Tattershall following Charles Brandon’s death in 1545.

Stained glass window with the coats of arms of Charles Brandon
Stained glass window with the coats of arms of Charles Brandon
Stained glass window with the coats of arms of Charles Brandon

The list contains Turkish carpets, sumptuous bed hangings, woollen blankets and numerous tapestries (including a piece with the story of Moses, a piece of “Our Lady” and twelve pieces called the “Ragged staffe” depicting the months that use the heraldic symbol associated with Warwick as a border motif). Amongst the list of tapestries are four pieces “of Alexander”. The ‘Wars of Alexander the Great’ were a very popular set of tapestries during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The inventory listing of the Alexander hangings may be the reason why Lord Curzon chose to purchase three Flemish tapestries of the same theme, to adorn the walls of the newly restored Audience Chamber in 1914.

Also included in the inventory is a tester for a bed “of the richest purple velvet, roses and percullesses” i.e. the Tudor rose and the portcullis. It is therefore assumed that this bedding was left from when Margaret Beaufort, King Henry VII’s mother, was owner of the castle; the Tudor rose and the Beaufort Portcullis being prominent symbols of power and propaganda in the sixteenth century.