A Swedish discovery in an English castle

At the end of March I visited Longford Castle near Salisbury, having booked a tour some time ago.  It was only when I looked for more information the day before that I discovered an amazing Swedish connection. 

As a young Swedish noblewoman, Elin or Helena as she became, travelled with Princess Cecilia, daughter to Gustav Vasa, on a visit to the English court at the invitation of Queen Elizabeth in 1564.  They had to avoid Denmark and the North Sea due to previous hostilities and the roundabout journey through the Baltic and German states took almost a year! 

Once arrived in London they settled at Bedford House. Queen Elizabeth took a liking to the young red-haired Helena and when Cecilia returned to Sweden, Helena stayed as Maid of Honour.  Soon she was spotted by an elderly nobleman, Sir William Parr, brother of the former queen Catherine Parr.  They were married and Helena became Marchioness of Northampton.  Within a year she was a wealthy widow, and returned to court, where she was attracted to the much younger Thomas Gorges, second cousin of Anne Boleyn.  They married and settled at his estate at Longford.  By chance a Spanish galleon was beached at Hurst Castle not far away in 1588 and Elizabeth, still favouring her “royal” relative, allowed the couple to benefit from the treasures on board.  So their ambitions for the new castle could now be matched by gold – and a grand building not unlike Gripsholm Castle in Sweden took shape.Helena Snakenborg

Helena and Thomas had eight surviving children and several properties, one near the Queen at Sheen, Richmond, and continued to be part of the court until Queen Elizabeth died in 1603.  Helena, still Marchioness of Northampton, served as chief mourner at her funeral.  Helena died at the age of 86 in 1635 and joined her husband in the elaborate marble tomb in Salisbury Cathedral.  At that time it was said there were over 90 living descendants.  (according to Wikipedia)

(A few weeks before I had seen this portrait at Tate Britain of a young red-haired women, “probably Helena Snakenborg, later Marchioness of Northampton”.)  (Picture courtesy Tate)