I’m no expert on Anne Boleyn. I’m more of an Anne Boleyn sympathizer. I glean information about Anne from multiple questionable sources, ie The Horrible History series I read to my kids, the epic and very racy television series,The Tudors and a song about Henry’s wives my kids learned in primary school. I can’t really remember how it goes…
Lucky for me, my passionate retelling of the Horrible History books and a quick recap of The Tudors was enough to convince everyone to come with me to Hever Castle in Kent, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn.
Anne Boleyn (2nd wife of Henry VIII) spent her childhood at Hever Castle before attending Court in the Netherlands and France. Her ambitious father, Thomas Bullen (Boleyn) pushed Ann into King Henry VIII’s Court when Henry tired of having Anne’s sister, Mary, as a mistress. Anne was in love with Sir Percy, however, and was heartbroken when her match to Percy was denied. Anne left Court and returned to Hever Castle to nurse her broken heart where Henry VIII, enamored with Anne’s charm, wit and intelligence, visited her there often. She rebuffed his romantic advances and refused to become his mistress, which clearly motivated Henry to redouble his efforts to annul his marriage to Catherine. Eventually, as we all know, Henry VIII broke ties with the Catholic Church and married Anne. He fathered one living child with Anne before he tired of her. She was tried and convicted on a number of questionable charges and beheaded in May of 1536 to make way for Henry VIII”s third wife, Jane Seymour.
The house was eventually given to Henry’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, as compensation for the marital annulment after Henry decided Anne of Cleves was incredibly unattractive and refused to consummate the marriage. Hever Castle passed through a number of families after Anne of Cleves’ death before falling into complete ruin, a sad state for a place that played a role in changing the course of English history. John Jacob Astor, a wealthy American, purchased and restored the house and gardens n 1903.
It’s easy to imagine Anne wandering the grounds as a child or hiding from/with Henry in the hedgerows. Supposedly, Anne’s ghost still wanders over the lovely wooden bridge and around the garden (without Henry) during Christmastime.
The house itself contains an extensive collection of artwork and antiques highlighting the Castle’s role in English history (no photos allowed, sadly). I loved standing in Anne’s tiny bedroom, staring out the window and reading Anne’s prayer books, one of which she took to her execution. Love letters sent between Henry and Anne hang on the wall. They loved each other once-upon-a-time.
It seemed to me a bit insensitive to highlight Henry VIII so boldly throughout the property. He did, after all, execute the woman who lived here. Yet, his portraits and likenesses hang the Long Gallery and the Inner Hall and one of his gilded, personal locks hangs on the door of the Dining Room. Henry’s bedchamber has an original Tudor carved ceiling and a glorious, canopied bed. If only walls could talk….
Things to Know
Hever Castle lies appx 35 miles from London, southeast of Edenbridge in West Kent. It was our first stop on a multi-day trip to the Southeast. If you want to drive, consider taking the train/tube to the outskirts of London and picking up your car there. I didn’t follow my own advice, and it ended in a very long drive and a few minor domestic disputes en route. If you’d rather go by train, check the link here to find out more.
Hever Castle is currently owned by a commercial venture, instead of a private family. I was initially wary about having a “faux” castle experience (you know what I mean) but was pleasantly surprised. The Castle was wonderfully presented. The gardens are spectacular and the grounds have activities for children and grownups….archery, walking trails, camping (shudder) and mazes. Beware the wet maze. It’s called the WET maze for a reason. The Mister was not amused.
The Castle opens later than the grounds, so time your visit accordingly. Check rates and times here before you go. You can spend the night on the castle grounds by contacting the Hever Castle Bed and Breakfast.
If you have good reading recommendations about Anne, I’d love to hear them!