While many tourists are attracted to the rolling green hillsides and charming historical market towns of the Cotswolds, they are not the only ones who have discovered the beauty of rural England. Tourists also flock to the Cotswolds because of the region’s numerous connections to famous people, living and dead. The Cotswolds have been home to many celebrities in film and television, and also plenty of historical figures including writers, artists, equestrians, and English royalty. To learn more about the celebrities who have called the Cotswolds home, please see our article on Cotswolds celebrities.
Read on to discover more about the famous historical figures who have resided in the Cotswolds and left their mark on history. Some of these residents and visitors were drawn to the Cotswolds because of their natural beauty, while others were intrigued by the history of the region (even while becoming a part of that history themselves). Still others were brought to Oxford and Oxford University by their studies or work, and many of these famous personages had the fortune to work with one another while living in the Cotswolds. The list below is hardly extensive; in connection to Oxford alone you will find dozens and dozens more names of famous historical personages associated with the Cotswolds. Be sure to ask about them while you are visiting!
King Alfred the Great (849-899 AD)
King Alfred the Great is one of the earliest historical figures to call the Cotswolds home. Born in Oxfordshire (then known as Berkshire), he repelled a number of Viking incursions to become King of England. He also reorganized the military, reformed the legal system, and promoted education.
Jane Austen (1775-1817)
Jane Austen is one of the best-known and -loved English writers, and was a resident of the Regency city of Bath from 1801 to 1806. Even before moving to Bath, she paid the city extended visits. Modern-day visitors to Bath will be able to easily see the influence that the city had in her writings. Two of her novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were set largely in Bath. Strolling through the streets of Bath, visitors will easily be able to imagine life in Jane Austen’s time. While you are in the area, you also might want to stop by Jane Austen’s House museum, which is located in Chawton in Hampshire. Hampshire is not in the Cotswolds, but it is a neighboring county. Austen inhabited the 17th century house during the last eight years of her lifetime.
J. M. Barrie (1860 to 1937)
Another famous Cotswolds writer was J. M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan. Barrie stayed at the famous Stanway House and played cricket on a local team he founded along with other literary friends, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and H. G. Wells.
Winston Churchill (1874 to 1965)
Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945 and hero of World War II, is considered to be one of the greatest leaders in all of English history, and in all of the world. Churchill was the grandson of the Duke of Marlborough and was brought up in Oxfordshire at Blenheim Palace, a beautiful destination that tourists can still visit today. The dukedom went to Churchill’s cousin and not to him, along with the house, but Churchill was very fond of Blenheim, and proposed to his wife Clementine there.
Tourists in the Cotswolds may also visit Churchill’s burial site and that of his wife in the nearby village of Bladon. While touring the place, you can see the room where Churchill as born, and also learn more about his life’s work through photos, letters, and paintings.
T. S. Eliot (1888 to 1965)
Author and publisher T. S. Eliot is probably best known as the author of the poem The Wasteland. While he was born in America, he moved to the United Kingdom at age 25 and became a British subject at age 39. He often visited a friend in Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds named Emily Hale.
Gustav Holst (1874 – 1934)
Gustav Holst, composer of The Planets, was born in Cheltenham and was a friend of Edward Elgar and Ralph Vaughn Williams. Tourists in Cheltenham can still visit Gustav Holst birthplace today to learn more about this famous composer’s life and work.
Edward Elgar (1857 – 1934)
Another famous composer from the Cotswolds was Edward Elgar. Elgar was born in Lower Broadheath near Worcester. Elgar’s best known work is probably Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1.
F. L. Griggs (1876 – 1938)
F. L. Griggs is a famous etcher and illustrator who did work in the English Romantic style. He lived at Dover’s House in Campden High Street and was a member of the Guild of Handicrafts. While living in Chipping Campden, he did architectural work on war memorials and signs and was a member of the National Trust, the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, and also the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. In 1929 he founded the Campden Trust.
William Morris (1834 – 1896)
Perhaps one of the best known and most influential people to ever live in the Cotswolds, William Morris is a famous artist from the Arts and Crafts period. Indeed, he is considered widely to be the founder of the movement, and resided for a time in Broadway Tower where he owned a printing press. You may also visit his home, Kelmscott Manor, while you are visiting the Cotswolds. While in Oxford, William Morris founded the Nuffield College. William Morris’s contributions to the fields of textile art, fantasy literature, and poetry had a huge influence on the artistic world during his lifetime and after.
Alexander Pope (1688 – 1744)
Few poets are as famous as Alexander Pope, who also happened to be a landscaping artist. You can see his work at Cirencester Park as well as Prior Park near Bath. While staying in a tower at Stanton Harcourt Manor, he penned the story “A Lightning Romance at Stanton Harcourt” and finished translating the Iliad. The Viscount renamed the tower Pope’s Tower in his honor.
Beatrix Potter (1866 – 1943)
Beatrix Potter is one of the world’s best-loved children’s authors. She is best known for her Peter Rabbit stories, but she also authored a children’s story called the Tailor of Gloucestershire, inspired by her many visits to Gloucester.
William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)
William Shakespeare, author of numerous sonnets and plays, is perhaps the best known playwright on the planet. William Shakespeare grew up in the village of Stratford-upon-Avon. Visiting Stratford-upon-Avon, you can visit Shakespeare’s childhood home as well as the home where Ann Hathaway lived before she married him.
C.S. Lewis (1898 – 1963)
C.S. Lewis, one of the best known essayists, theologians, and novelists of the 20th century, was born in Belfast, Ireland, and spent much of his time in the Cotswolds. He held an academic position at Oxford University and was an active participant in a literary group of famous authors in Oxford known as the Inklings.
J. R. R. Tolkien (1892 – 1973)
J. R. R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, was a close friend of C.S. Lewis’s, and also a member of the Inklings. Tolkien, like Lewis, held a position at Oxford University as a faculty member. Seven blue memorial plaques are scattered throughout England, commemorating places Tolkien visited. One is located in Oxford, another in Bournemouth, one in Leeds, and four in the town of Birmingham.
Tolkien is also well connected to the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire, Herefordshire, and Gloucestershire. It was C. S. Lewis who first introduced him to the Malvern Hills. The landscape became a major inspiration for Tolkien. According to George Sayer, Head of English at Malvern College, Tolkien would talk animatedly of his writing as they walked together in the Malvern Hills, comparing parts of the scenery to areas in Middle Earth, the setting of his famous novels.
Charles Williams (1886 – 1945)
Charles Williams, yet another member of the Inklings circle, resided in London prior to World War II, at which point Oxford University Press, his employer, relocated to Oxford. Williams was sad to leave London but glad to be able to spend more time with his other literary friends. The group spent a great deal of time at The Eagle and Child pub in Oxford, also known as “The Bird and Baby.” Williams is buried in St. Cross Churchyard in Oxford.
Gertrude Bell (1868 – 1926)
This famous Englishwoman was a writer, traveler, archaeologist, and spy. She spent a great deal of time meeting with tribal leaders in the Middle East and was among the most powerful women of her time in England. Bell received her education at Oxford University—yet another famous person connected to that college in the Cotswolds.
T.E. Lawrence (1888 – 1935)
T.E. Lawrence is scarcely a footnote in most history textbooks, but his campaign in Arabia during World War I is among the most fascinating stories of the 20th century, and was dramatized in the film Lawrence of Arabia starring Peter O’Toole. Proceeding the war, Lawrence lived and studied in Oxford where he attended Jesus College. He graduated with First Class Honours and did some work in archaeology prior to the outbreak of World War I. Following the war, he returned to Oxford where he penned The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, his autobiographical account of his campaign in Arabia.
John Locke (1632 – 1704)
John Locke, one of the most famous philosophers in history, is known as the Father of Classical Liberalism. He was considered one of the greatest thinkers of the Enlightenment. Locke attended Christ Church in Oxford, yet another famous Cotswolds connection.
John Betjeman (1906 – 1984)
John Betjeman was a famous British poet of the 20th century. He received numerous awards for his compositions, and spent time at Sezincote House in the village Bourton-on-the-Hill in the 1920s. During that time, he was a student attending Oxford University Magdelan College. Sezincote is a well known landmark in the Cotswolds, one of the more unusual manor houses in the region with a unique Indian style of architecture melded with traditional British styles. Betjeman also lived in Wantage in Oxfordshire for some years, where he wrote a number of poems evocative of the beauty of his surroundings. If you visit Wantage, you can drop by the Betjeman Memorial Park and see a statue of Betjeman and read several of his poems.
While you are visiting the Cotswolds, be sure to visit Oxford as well as Chipping Campden, Wantage, the Malvern Hills, and the other exciting destinations mentioned in the short biographies above. No matter what your historical interests are, you are sure to find plenty to explore and discover while you are visiting one of the most beautiful and historically significant regions in England or in the entire world.