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  • Writer's picturePhil

Tudor Tangles and the Dreamy Caludon Connection

My city centre guided walk, "The Bard, the Blitz and the Tudors" focuses partly upon the aristocratic Berkeley family of Coventry's Caludon Castle, their role in both national and Coventry's local government, and in particular their relationship with both William Shakespeare and the Tudor royalty.

I have this week been watching the BBC documentary "The Boleyns". The story shows how one of those central to the rise and fall of the Boleyn family was Thomas Howard, third Duke of Norfolk (1473 - 1554).

Thomas Howard was uncle to both executed queens - Ann Boleyn and Catherine Howard and also grandfather to Caludon's Lady Katherine Berkeley (1538 - 1596).

Thomas escaped execution unlike his son, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (Lady Katherine Berkeley's father) who was beheaded on the orders of Henry VIII in 1547. Apart from his political tribulations, Henry was a literary man and introduced the sonnet into English literature. His form was later to be referred to as the "Shakespearean" sonnet.

Lady Katherine's husband was Lord Henry Berkeley, born at Caludon and the last aristocrat to die there (in 1613) was godson to Henry VIII. Their son Thomas Berkeley was born at Caludon during the time of Elizabeth I's famous visit to Robert Dudley amongst huge celebrations at Kenilworth. On the news of the birth the queen gave herself as godmother to Thomas Berkeley. There were connections between the Dudley and Berkeley families and the mere (body of water) at Caludon was based upon that at Kenilworth.

Queen Elizabeth was also godmother to Thomas Berkeley's future wife, Elizabeth Carey, daughter of the Lord Chamberlain, George Carey - patron to Shakespeare's player's "The Lord Chamberlain's Men".

"The Lord Chamberlain's Men" had performed at Coventry's St Mary's Guildhall - a site of royal banquets, lavish entertainments and also seat of local government. Thomas Berkeley served on the local council there as representative for the Gosford Street area. He never took up a seat in the national parliament as he was outlived by his father Henry who as a Lord served there.

Shakespeare was familiar with the history of the Berkeley's Coventry family home. In the historical play "Richard II" he describes how Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk rode out from Caludon to meet Henry Bolinbroke for a fight to the death at Gosford Green. Both were banished by Richard (who seized their lands including Caludon). Bolinbroke was to eventually overthrow Richard to become Henry IV and go on hold Parliament in Coventry.

Evidence strongly suggests that Shakespeare wrote "A Midsummer Night's Dream" for the marriage of Thomas Berkeley and Elizabeth Carey - he would have been familiar with them both with his troupe enjoying the patronage of Elizabeth's father.

The play includes references to Thomas Nashe's work, "The Terrors of the Night" which was dedicated to Elizabeth Carey who had a strong interest in the interpretation of dreams. Other works by Nashe included references to Elizabeth's executed father Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey who had introduced the form later to be known as the "Shakespearean" sonnet to England.

It is sad to reflect that Lady Katherine Berkeley in later life was taken to solitary melancholy walks around the gardens of Caludon Castle. Having lost her father as a child to the executioner's axe under Henry VIII, she was also to lose her brother in the same way under the orders of Elizabeth I - a reminder of the dangers that hung over some of those closest to the Tudor monarchs and embroiled in the political tribulations of the time. These were turbulent times with her father being executed by the godfather of her future husband and her brother executed by the godmother of her son - the reality of life at the top of Tudor society.

Many who today enjoy a stroll around Caludon Park and take in the remaining wall of the castle will have little idea of its former cultural prominence and strong links to Tudor royalty and the world's most famous poet - a part of our local history which we should really be making more of!

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