Unearth Tudor ruins on our crowdfunded dig in the heart of the Cotswolds
When the grand pages of history are dominated by castles, manor houses, and fortifications, it’s easy to think of royal tents and gardens as little more than decorative doodles. But just as deer parks were used to cement social and political relationships in the early 16th century, Tudor gardens – and the royal tents often built within them – became places to entertain, feast, and to display newly found wealth, success and power.
One particularly detailed description of a temporary banqueting house built at Whitehall in 1581, ahead of negotiations for Elizabeth’s potential marriage to the Duc d’Alencon, states that the 332 foot long structure took 3 weeks and 3 days to build, was held up with 30 masts, and involved 375 people. The canvas walls were painted to look like stone, the roof was painted with stars, clouds and sunbeams to look like the sky, while the insides decorated with “292 glass lights… and… all manner of strang[e] flowers… garnished with spangs of gould [and fruits like] pomegarnetts, orrnges, pompions, cowcumbers, grapes, carettes, peas and such like”.
As historians are increasingly beginning to assert, these royal tents were not only enormous and elaborate undertakings that often took weeks to build, they are also vital to a proper understanding of Tudor politics, in which a mobile court that could indulge in elaborate displays of wealth and magnificence while moving around country was fundamental.
And as we approach the 500th anniversary of the Field of the Cloth of Gold (the meeting that took place just outside of Calais between Henry VIII and Francis I, King of France, and which took its name from the array of fabulous golden tents that housed the two kings’ entourages), the potential significance of this discovery becomes all the more clear.
This was especially true during the reign of Elizabeth I, whose love of display accelerated the creation of increasingly elaborate gardens.
Unlike her father, for whom it was unthinkable that any noble might live in more splendid surroundings than his own, Elizabeth egged them on, and indoor politicking spilled into the open.
Each summer, Elizabeth and her court would leave London on a ‘progress’ around the country, lodging with noble families often for weeks at a time. These visits were highly coveted by her two closest advisors; Dudley, a close confidant harboring romantic intentions, and Cecil her chief political advisor intent on keeping Dudley at bay. To entice Elizabeth to visit, and amuse her once she arrived, they created gardens and landscapes of increasing complexity, each bolder and more elaborate than the next.
Rosemary bushes shimmered with gold leaf. Bridges magically brimmed with wine. Dudley and Cecil, the two most powerful men in England, driven by their rivalry, devised ever more elaborate gardens to impress their queen.
It’s little wonder, then, that as Elizabeth toured the country, each of her hosts felt compelled to construct brand new gardens ahead of her arrival – each one a miniature wonderland, where the queen and her retinue would revel, feast and be entertained.
But these visits served a dual purpose. The “honour” of such a visit could also reduce a lord’s wealth substantially; Elizabeth and her retinue would devour all their stores. By the time they finally left Sudeley Castle in 1592, her host Lord Chandos had nearly bankrupted himself.
The startling thing is that for all their extravagance, barely a single Elizabethan garden survives. If they weren’t destroyed in the Civil War, they crumbled into ruin over the next few decades. And those that made it any further were erased during the popular landscaping movement of the 18th and 19th centuries.
The ghostly outline revealed at Sudeley Castle gives us a unique chance to unearth an original Tudor garden, and recover a moment in time when the humble garden became a beloved part of English life, and took on an even more important role: one of political influence.
This crowdfunding campaign will enable us to run an eight day excavation, with the specific aim of finding out more about the garden, the party held during Queen Elizabeth’s visit in 1592, and the role of royal tents and temporary structures in Tudor England.
Crowdfunders will be able to:
Our archaeological goals:
We need to raise £10,000 to carry out our excavation, analyse everything we find, and make the results available online. By supporting the dig, you will be helping us to:
You’ll need to pick which date you want to start at checkout (our new intake days are Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday)
Each dig day runs from 9:30 am – 4:30 pm and you’ll need to arrive in plenty of time. This is especially important on your first day, as you’ll need to complete an archaeological briefing and risk assessment before we can get you into the trenches.
We provide all the tools, training and one-to-one instruction you will need in order to learn and have a great time whilst you are on site with our team. You just need to bring yourself, a packed lunch and a bucketful of curiosity!
We’ll send you the exact details of where to meet us within the castle grounds once you’ve signed up for the dig.
Whether you’re a newbie or an experienced digger, joining us for just a day or staying the full two weeks, we’ll do our best to make sure you have a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
We’ll make every effort to provide a healthy dose of fun and social activity, but it is still a real research excavation; it’s not your usual relaxing holiday! Fieldwork can be challenging, and weather conditions, daily work schedules and varied terrain are all part of the rich tapestry of archaeological fieldwork.
Participants must accept this as part of what archaeologists regularly deal with during research digs, and as part of what makes DigVentures experiences so unforgettable! So, please prepare to learn, to laugh, to work hard, and to play a bit as well!
Once you’ve had your morning briefing, and completed the basic training, we’ll head straight to the trenches.
Depending on what’s been uncovered by the time you arrive, this could be:
You’ll have an experienced and friendly archaeologist at your side, and before long, you’ll be learning to identify artefacts, spot features and new archaeological layers and record your own discoveries in our online app.
The specifics of what we do on site will change daily, depending on the archaeology that needs to be done, but we will ALWAYS have elevensies, lunch and an afternoon tea break!
Please remember that archaeology isn’t just about digging – it’s also about recording and understanding everything we find. This is a vital part of the process, and it’s where you really get to start thinking like an archaeologist!
Food, transport and accommodation are not included. You’ll need to make your own arrangements.
Food: We recommend bringing a packed lunch suitable for enjoying picnic-style in the gardens. Alternatively, there’s the option to buy lunch in Sudeley Castle’s Terrace Restaurant for anyone who prefers to enjoy eating in style!
Transport: If you want to make shared travel plans with other Venturers, please note we will be emailing all our crowdfunders a link to our Facebook chat group, where you can make shared travel and accommodation plans together if you wish.
Accommodation: There are plenty of places to stay in the area, including Sudeley Castle cottages. If you’re interested in booking one, please contact them directly letting them know you’re part of the DigVentures excavation.
Hooray! So you’ve decided to crowdfund the campaign. We’ll ask you for any relevant details, like t-shirt size, or your preferred dates, and the names of any companions you’ll be bringing, at checkout.
You’ll receive a payment confirmation as soon as you make your payment, and a separate follow-up email providing a bit more information.
We’ll also email you a reminder including how to watch the dig, and any final details you need to know, two weeks before the dig begins.
If you’re keen to start planning your trip, we’ve provided some suggestions about where to stay in the food, transport and accommodation section.
If you’re joining us on site, you’ll receive your t-shirt when you arrive.
If you’re watching from home, we’ll send out any physical goodies, like team t-shirts, at the end of field season.
You’ll then start getting all your digital goodies (like videos updates and virtual artefacts) when the dig begins.
Once the dig is over, it takes us about 12-18 months to analyse the finds and write up the official report. We’ll keep you updated with any significant developments from the lab during this time. It will be well worth the wait!
ABSOLUTELY! We invite everyone who crowdfunds the dig to come and visit. Bring friends, bring family, make a day of it! If you give us a heads up, we might even be able to squeeze you onto one of our VIP tours.
You can also check our calendar for details of any free or other public events we’ll be running alongside the dig closer to the time.
We can either transfer your dig days to another excavation, or you can bequeath them to someone else… go on, pass on the archaeology love!
Archaeology isn’t only outdoors! If the weather’s truly terrible, we can head to the archaeology lab to work on the finds… cleaning, examining and identifying the things we’ve found so far.
Crowdfunding isn’t the only way you can help. Even just sharing our campaign on social media could introduce us to someone else who wants to support the dig!
Choose your benefit level and join the team - online, or on site!
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