One of my all time historical places that I wanted to visit was; Hever Castle. I have the privilege to say that I have been to this amazing and beautiful castle three times now and I still never get bored with it!
Hever Castle is situated in Hever, Kent and is infamously known as the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII and the mother of Elizabeth I. I remember the first time that I visited the castle, it was in the month of July and I went with my dad on one of the hottest days of the year, the temperature was around 26 degrees, which is way too hot for me! However, looking back at the day now, even though it was too hot to function, I am glad when I went, as I saw all the beautiful flowers and got to enjoy the gardens and the lake in all it’s glory in the sunshine!
Before telling you my experience at the fantastic castle, I will tell you a bit of history about the castle first! The oldest part of the castle is the gatehouse and the walled bailey, which has been dated to 1270, but the castle was converted and renovated by the family that would be infamous with the building; the Boleyn Family. Anne Boleyn’s great-grandfather Geoffrey Boleyn made the castle that we see today, as it was in need of repair.
However, in 1505 the castle was inherited by Anne Boleyn’s father; Thomas. It is widely believed that Anne and her siblings, Mary and George were not actually born in Hever Castle but more likely was born in another family estate not too far away, Blicking Hall. However, this is the home that Anne had known as a child and would know until she left for the Low Countries (now we would know it as the Netherlands). Hever would remain a constant feature in Anne Boleyn’s life throughout her courtship with Henry Tudor (Henry VIII), throughout the King’s Great Matter, and would remain in her family’s possession (after Anne and George being arrested and executed for treason, and the family’s fall from grace) until her father’s death in 1539.
However, not many people know (except if you know your Tudor history) that after Thomas Boleyn’s death in 1539, Hever Castle came into the hands of Henry VIII, but one of Henry’s wives acquired the Boleyn’s former family home. Anne of Cleves was a German princess who Henry had chosen to marry when he had seen her portrait, but however she was only married to Henry VIII for 6 months in 1540, when after months of tension he wanted a divorce but due to her compliance he decided to reward Anne, rather than punish her. As gratitude for her compliance in the annulment proceedings of their marriage, Henry bestowed Hever Castle to Anne of Cleves. After Anne died in 1557, it fell into the hands of different families, but after the castle fell out of use, William Waldorf Astor invested his time and money on the castle to restore it to the beautiful place that you can visit today!
As soon as I walked into Hever Castle, I must say that I was completely enchanted, and was smiling ear-to-ear with knowing that I would be walking in the footsteps of Anne Boleyn in one of the homes that she lived in and would know throughout her life. The view of the castle as I walked closer made my heart swell for the woman who I had read about and admired for years. I couldn’t believe that after all of my wishing and wanting to visit that I was finally here! I was so excited that I said to my dad that the first place that I want to see is “…the castle! I need to see inside the castle and see what would have been Anne’s bedroom!”
As I walked over the bridge and under the portcullis to the castle’s courtyard, it was a wonder and was so excited to be able to walk through the doors of Anne Boleyn’s former home. I looked up at the windows wondering which one would Anne have looked out of, and especially with her courtship with the king, I imagine her looking out of the window to see all the pomp and ceremony that would have followed the king. Once I had stepped foot into the castle, I walked straight into the Entrance Hall which was added to the castle in 1506 by Anne’s father Thomas. There is beautiful furniture to look at, and even a chest that would have been in the castle of the time of Anne Boleyn.
All I wanted to do was see ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING and that is actually what I did! The first room that I saw was the Inner Hall. It is a beautiful room with its walnut panelling, but they were added under William Astor’s renovation of the castle. Back in the Tudor era, this particular room would have been the Kitchens but from the look of it now, you would never think that it used to be the kitchens. However, it is one of my favourite rooms due to the fact that it has multiple portraits of certain Tudor figures; Henry VIII, a portrait believed to be Anne Boleyn, another portrait believed to be Anne’s sister; Mary Boleyn. There are several portraits throughout the castle in many different parts of the castle which are always a joy to look at when visiting and can give you a more human and visual representation of some of the Tudor figures that many people research and take into their hearts, which has also been praised by Dr David Starkey as he has stated in many interviews that;
Hever Castle has one of the best collection of Tudor portraits after the National Portrait Gallery – Dr David Starkey
After visiting the Inner Hall, I passed through the Drawing Room which was designed for William Astor, then onto the Dining Room which would have been the Great Hall. I was fascinated with the fireplace as it had the Boleyn family’s coat of arms which put a massive smile on my face to see their coat of arms. After the Dining Room, there are some narrow steps to walk up, which will lead you into one of my favourite rooms of the castle; Anne Boleyn’s Bedroom.
Even though it is disputed amongst historians, I would like to believe that the room would be Anne’s bedroom, as she would have had an amazing view from the window, and it puts images into my head of Anne as a child daydreaming by the window and dreaming of her upcoming time in the court of Margaret of Austria. There is a bedhead in the room, that shows above ‘1520, Anne Boleyn’s Bed‘ but sadly it seems that the bedhead does not correlate with the date on the bedhead as it was found that it does not date before 1600. However, there is no harm in imagining that it could have been part of her bed, and imagining Anne getting ready before bed and her waking up in the morning to see all the beautiful gardens surrounding the castle.
The next part of the castle is the Book of Hours Room which houses two beautiful and stunning prayer books which Anne Boleyn possessed. Within the books, Anne had physically written in them ‘Le Temps Viendra’ (The time will come) and bears her signature ‘Je Anne Boleyn‘. They are really a sight to behold, to be able to be up, close and personal with an object that Anne actually held and wrote in is just an amazing experience! Also within the room is a magnificent tapestry which portrays the marriage of Louis XII to Mary Tudor (Henry VIII’s younger sister) in 1515 and is thought of have Anne Boleyn on the tapestry as she was sent to France to be part of Mary’s household. The tapestry is stunning, but sadly over time and exposure some of the colour and shine of the gold thread has faded, but whilst standing there, it is not too difficult to imagine how bright and colourful it would have been, and how mesmorizing it still is! In recent years, it has come to light a new panel that belonged to Anne of Cleves with her initials, it is very valuable due to there being very few artefacts associated with Anne, but the panel has been dated to 1544 on the order of Anne of Cleves’ herself, but it is now on display in The Queen’s Chamber, which is the next room to visit!
The next room of the castle to visit is known as The Queen’s Chamber, which holds a large amount of Tudor portraits which has been praised by Dr David Starkey as previously stated above. This will be your chance to see the portraits of all Henry VIII’s wives (Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Kathryn Howard and Catherine Parr) in one place, and also mannequins which represent Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII and Anne’s sister, Mary Boleyn.
When walking out of the The Queen’s Chamber, you will walk throughout The Staircase Gallery which was built above the Entrance Hall in 1506 by Anne Boleyn’s father in 1506, as it gave access between the house and the Long Gallery. The next room to visit is King Henry VIII’s Bedchamber, which is believed to have housed Henry when he stayed at the castle during his wooing and courtship of Anne Boleyn. When I walked into the bedchamber, it is easy to understand why the Boleyn family would have given Henry this room to stay in, as it is very grand, but did make me imagine that Henry loved being in this room as he would be closer to his hearts desire and thought about her whilst he laid in the bed.
The next favourite part of the castle is The Long Gallery, which was built during the 1500’s and was used for entertaining guests and now displays many Tudor figure portraits. However, now the exhibition shows the Wars of the Roses all the way through to the Reformation with portraits of certain figures such as Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV, Margaret Beaufort to Henry VIII. When I went to Hever Castle, they had an exhibition of Anne’s life through the use of mannequins to depict her as a child with her governess, to her courtship with Henry VIII. I also got the luxury of being able to see the bedframe that Henry VII and Elizabeth of York slept in, and believed may have conceived Henry VIII in. It had such a beautiful and stunning design that I was just in awe of everything in the Long Gallery that I didn’t want to leave and could have spent all day there, just walking in the footsteps of Anne Boleyn and her family.
When you come out of the castle, there is so much more to see especially the stunning 125 acres of grounds to visit! I didn’t get bored walking around the beautiful gardens to admire the Pompeiian Wall, the Italian Garden, and the English Rose Garden which holds 4,000 rose bushes, with all beauty and fragrance.
The first garden that I visited was The Tudor Garden, where it had an exquisite water fountain, but with so many beautiful pale pink flowers throughout the whole garden. It was heavenly and peaceful. It is an amazing place to read and just admire the castle from the gardens. It also contains chess pieces and an astrolabe (which is used the measure the position of the sun, and the position of the sky during the day and night) that has been dated for the reign of Queen Anne. There are herbs that have been planted in the garden, such as marigolds, rosemary, lavender and so many other different herbs.
The next garden that I walked through was the stunning Italian Gardens, which has the exquisite Pompeiian wall. They are such beautiful and colourful gardens, I loved walking through the gardens and even though I know that the gardens were built a long time after Anne Boleyn, but I could imagine her walking through the gardens, admiring the Pompeiian Wall and choosing a flower to smell, and reading outside in the gardens.
The further you walk down through the Italian Gardens, you will reach the Loggia which overlooks the lake, which has a elegant and magnificient water fountain known as The Nymph’s Fountain. It depicts cherubs and female figures, and is made from marble which was taken from Athens. There are plents of animals and wildlife to see at Hever Castle, especially with birds on the lake, but there you can expect to see bees, butterflies and in the Moat by the castle, there are fish swimming about (Koi Carp).
You will never get bored at Hever Castle, there is something for all the family including children, where Hever has a water maze where you must explore which steps you may stand on without water sprouting up and making you all wet! This is definitely a place to visit if you love history, especially Tudor history, but this is certainly a place to visit if you admire and would love to walk in the footsteps of Henry VIII’s infamous second wife; Anne Boleyn!
TIP: If you are coming to Hever by train, Hever train station is a good 15 minute walk to Hever Castle, but I warn you there is a sign for a footpath for Hever Castle, I did once take it and it did not take me anywhere close! My advice would be to follow and walk on the road straight from the station, and when you get to the bottom of the road, turn left and carry on walking until you see a sign for Hever Castle.
TIP: Also, if you have time or would like to see more portraits, I would visit the small, lovely and cosy pub called ‘King Henry VIII’.
TIP: When visiting Hever Castle, before leaving Hever completely, I would suggest that you visit St Peter’s Church across the road from the pub and a 1 minute walk from Hever Castle. This church is very important to the Boleyn history as Anne Boleyn’s father, Thomas Boleyn is buried within the church. Definitely a place to visit if you enjoy learning more about Anne and her family!