DiCamillo Companion

Overcourt House, Bisley

  • Earlier Houses: It's likely that a Saxon house existed on the site, elements of which were possibly incorporated into the current house.

    House & Family History: Overcourt is at the center of the famous Bisley Boy theory/controversy/fable (the house is in the village of Bisley). Suspicions have always swirled about Queen Elizabeth I because she never married and would not allow doctors to examine her, even preventing an autopsy after her death. In the village of Bisley these rumors took on more substance: specifically that Elizabeth was a man. The story goes like this: the young Princess Elizabeth (then third in line to the throne) was sent, with her governess, Lady Katherine Ashley, to live at Overcourt (this part of the story is most assuredly true). While living here the young princess developed a severe fever and died just before her father, Henry VIII, was to visit her. Lady Katherine and the controller of Elizabeth's household, Sir Thomas Parry, panicked, knowing that they could lose their lives if the king discovered that his daughter had died while in their care. Much to their luck, they found a pale, thin, red-headed, and androgynous village boy from Bisley, who they dressed as a girl and passed off successfully as the princess. In his 1910 book, "Famous Imposters," Bram Stoker described how Princess Elizabeth was sent with her governess to Bisley, "where the strong sweet air of the Cotswold Hills would brace her up." It was, in fact, Stoker who brought what heretofore had only been a local legend to international prominence. Stoker was almost certainly influenced by the early 19th century discovery on the grounds of Overcourt of a stone coffin containing the remains of a young girl supposedly dressed in fragments of fine Tudor-style clothing. The legend says that these were the remains of the real Princess Elizabeth (Overcourt today has a Queen Elizabeth Bedroom and the garden still contains the stone coffin). All of this was given a new, international exposure in the 2013 novel by Steve Berry entitled "The King's Deception," in which the entire plot revolves around the supposition that the monarch who reigned as Elizabeth I was really a man. It was the queen herself who famously claimed to have "the body of a weak, feeble woman, but the heart and stomach of a king."

  • House Listed: Grade II*

    Park Listed: Not Listed

  • Current Seat / Home of: John and Elizabeth Cowen; Cowen family here since the 1960s.

    Current Ownership Type: Individual / Family Trust

    Primary Current Ownership Use: Private Home

  • House Open to Public: No

    Historic Houses Member: No