Mistress Sue at Tutbury Castle


We met an amazing lady yesterday at Tutbury Castle in Staffordshire. This is Mistress Sue, guide, re-enactor, Tudor musician and all round interesting lady.

The weatherman tried to con us at the weekend by saying the weather was going to be lovely on Saturday but soggy on Sunday. He lied.

So once we had had breakfast and realised  it was going to be another lovely day, we decided to look for a castle from my Fifty before Fifty list (I’ve got to get up a gear, there are only two and a half years to go).

We chose Tutbury, just over the border into Staffordshire and, I’m ashamed to say, not somewhere I had ever heard of.


But this castle has a long and riotous history. There have been settlements here since the Stone Age but the first recording of a castle here was in 1071. It was one of the ‘ new builds’ given to friends of the Norman invasion to keep down subversives.

It’s mostly ruinous now but you can still climb :)

005bAnd when you do you get views like this. This is the river Dove, meandering it’s way across the countryside. You can still see the channel cut through the fields so the river fed the castle moat.

025bGraffiti up the stairwell of the tower. I actually find graffiti quite interesting. There’s a bit of social history here. The earliest ones I could find at quick glance were from the 1830s.

Now Tutbury belonged to the de Ferrers family and is now owned by the Duchy of Lancaster.

Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned here no less than four times. In fact it was at Tutbury that she became involved in the plot that was eventually to lead to her execution.

This castle was once a seat of power in medieval England. John of Gaunt lived here and it has been attacked and rebuilt many times.


But if you want to know more about it, head inside where Sue, sitting quietly in the Great Hall can give you quite a shock when you get to the top of the stairs :).

Dressed as a 14th century housekeeper, she will wax lyrical about the history of this enigmatic place. She told us about the history and the artifacts, which included an executioner’s sword that she allowed us to hold, and this amazing Venetian doctor’s plague mask (straight out of Assassin’s Creed).

017bShe told us tales of ghosts, which include a soldier on the ramparts, a white lady in the window and, of course, Mary Queen of Scots.

Sue takes part in re-enactments with her husband Dan. They also visit schools to educate youngsters about history and are in a group of period musicians with songs and stories of medieval life. Her husband plays a wide range of medieval pipes, bagpipes and recorders. She played us some of the music. It was beautifully haunting.

Her group is called Merrie Din and you can find out more about them at their website here.

027bTutbury is a fascinating place and a variety of events are held there throughout the year – ghostly goings on a specialty. And, if you do ever visit, make sure you have a chat with Sue, a lovely, fascinating lady with a wealth of knowledge. She also gave us a list of not to be missed places to visit in Northumberland, where we are planning a longer road trip :).

  1. I enjoyed the inclusion of The Merrie Din website and listened to their music! I go to Stratford Festival Theatre ( Stratford, Ontario, Canada) frequently and the music is familiar to me. I bet Sue was most authentic and interesting but I like the fact from their website that they don’t take themselves too seriously!

    • They certainly don’t :) but the music is absolutely astounding. The other thing I found very interesting was her descriptions of the different types of pipes and bagpipes, modern creations of medieval instruments.

  2. Sounds like a fascinating day, Dory… coincidentally I’m going to see the opera Maria Stuardo on Sunday… love the way the Italians italianise Stuart!!!!
    I’m now off to the Merrie Din !!!!

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