Last year, I was fortunate enough to visit the stunning Hever Castle, located in picturesque Edenbridge, Kent. Now, many of you will be very familiar with Hever Castle as the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, and I would be lying if I denied this as the primary reason for my visit. However, I was so pleased to find that Hever was much, much more than just a shrine to the infamous queen.
Upon arriving, we parked our car in well graveled and spacious car park that looked out over the rolling pastoral hills of Kent. From there, it was a short walk to the main gate, which was nestled just beyond a stunning gatehouse and Hever Church. At the gate, we were greeted by one of the friendliest attendants I can ever recall interacting with. From there, we took a lovely walk down a winding and tree-shaded lane that wound down a gorgeous hillside, revealing the beautiful shape of Hever Castle off in the distance.
As we drew closer to the castle, we came to a small bridge which crossed the moat that surrounded the castle. There, we were greeted once more by a member of staff who shared the cheerful disposition we had found at the main ticketing booth. Guidebook purchased and “secret” tips to hand, it was time to enter the castle and see where my hero and idol, Anne Boleyn, once lived.
Crossing the bridge, you are immediately surrounded by stunning gardens and the imposing front of the castle – which is comprised of the original 13th century gatehouse.
Once you cross over the drawbridge and through the gatehouse, it feels as if you are indeed stepping back into time. The square courtyard has been kept as authentic as possible, including the plaster and rough timbered outer walls and original, roughhewn cobbles. It was not a hard thing to imagine a young Anne Boleyn dismounting from her favorite mare and walking through the yard after a long hunt on the rolling grounds.
Once inside the castle, you immediately notice that some (understandable) changes have been made. While the outside of the castle is a very “Tudor” in appearance, the interior is much more modern in many parts, and reasonably so (though elements of its Tudor history have been retained).
The property was purchased in the 1903 by William Waldorf Astor and completely renovated to the comforts of the time. While there are still as many Tudor elements retained as possible, the ground floor is, in the most part, opulently furnished to the standards of the early 20th century. This includes the Drawing Room, Library and Morning Room. It was pleasing to see that even in these rooms, however, so much care was taken by Astor to incorporate as many little hidden historic gems as possible.
These exciting little pieces of history can be seen in places like The Dining Hall which, though heavily renovated in the 20th century, boasts such treats as a gorgeous gilt lock that once belonged to Henry VIII (he was paranoid and brought his own locks with him wherever he went), a stunning tapestry from 1540, and even authentic 17th century chairs and a table from the 1600s. The real centerpiece of the room, however, is the incredible fireplace, carved of Clipsham stone from Rutland and surmounted by the jaw-dropping, hand-carved Bullen coat of arms.
There’s also lots of other lovely hidden artifacts among the ground floor, including a ‘priest hole’ (lest you be caught with one of those pesky devils delivering mass in your home during the reign of Elizabeth I) and a collection of historical artifacts and decor dating all the way back to the 17th century.
Once you’ve explored the lower rooms, you are ushered up a winding staircase and straight into the bedroom of none other than Anne Boleyn herself. Here, you find an imposing headboard (rumored to have belonged to the ill-fated queen) and a small collection of paintings and even a childhood letter penned by the young Anne Boleyn. The room also boasts a beautiful view from a lovely bay window, that looks out over the impressive gardens of Hever Castle.
From there, you move into The Book of Hours’ Room. This will, perhaps, be one of the most impressive and moving for those who have come seeking out the history of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. Here, behind special tempered glass, stands 2 immaculately illuminated prayer books which once belonged to Anne Boleyn. How do we know? Well they bear not only her signature, but some of her own personal memos and writings to Henry himself. And if that wasn’t enough, the room also contains a stunning tapestry of the marriage of Princess Mary Rose to Louis XII (which is rumored to show a young Anne Boleyn and her sister Mary), as well as an impressive Boleyn document of lineage.
As you move among these upper floors, you will well and truly feel as if you have been transported back in time. The greatest of care and attention to detail has been taken to retain the Tudor appearance and feeling of these rooms and it shows as you wonder through each plastered or wood paneled room to the next.
Moving from the Book of Hours’ Room, you will wonder across the Staircase Gallery. Here, you will find a row of paneled windows. It is rumored that Anne Boleyn once watched her husband-to-be, Henry VIII, from one of these windows as he rode out to the hunt with her father and brother (or returned, depending on which story you hear). You will also find a set of christening robes (not unlike the ones worn by Elizabeth I), as well as a few stunning and priceless paintings of Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots. It is also important to note that this room was originally designed and added by none other than Sir Thomas Boleyn, the father of Anne Boleyn. It is one of the most original rooms of the house still in use to the general public, and one of the rooms that gives you the strongest sense of being in communion with Anne Boleyn herself.
It was also during this time that I was lucky enough to receive a private peek at the Minstrels Gallery, which is accessed from a rather discreet door in the Staircase Gallery. While not in use to the general public, this handsome gallery is where musicians would have arrayed themselves as they played for the entertainment of their lord in the room below. I was offered this opportunity after a fantastic member of staff noticed my passion for the history of the castle, and while it is not safe to enter the gallery, it was an incredible opportunity just to have a peak.
From the Staircase Gallery, you then move on to another room which is known as King Henry VIII’s Bedroom. This room is rumored to have been used by King Henry VIII when he stayed at Hever, though it is really impossible to tell. It boasts yet another stunning fireplace, as well as a beautiful fourposter bed, bedecked in furs and intricately carved posts.
Once you move on from the Staircase Galley and Henry VIII’s Bedroom, you will move up into the Long Gallery of the castle. This is yet another room that was added by Thomas Boleyn after his inheritance of the home in 1504, and it is one of the last “Tudor rooms” you will experience on trip through the castle. This stunningly paneled and molded-ceilinged room is where the family would have entertained and exercised on less-sunny days, and it was also a place the lord of the castle could display his pricey and impressive collection of artwork. Here, you will also find several costumed models of Anne Boleyn, depicting various moments from her life.
After working your way through the portrait collection and scenes of the Long Gallery, you move into the Astor Suite, which is a handsomely appointed room used by the Astor family during their occupation of Hever Castle. Here, you will see remnants of WWI, as well as the loving scenes of the family in their day-to-day life.
From there, you will wonder through various other rooms, which inform you of the much longer history of Hever Castle. You can learn about the 13th century gatehouse, the working of the impressive portcullis gates, and other facts of life in those distant times.
After we had thoroughly explored the interior of the castle, it was time to move out into the grounds.
Now, if you are a gardens fan this castle and its grounds are a must-visit.
When the property was purchased by Astor in 1903, he not only spared no expense in renovating the interior of the castle. Astor also spent a massive amount of time and money completely renovating and upgrading the gardens, working hard to create what I believe to be one of the best gardens in all of the UK. More than 1,000 men worked on the garden, with more than 800 of them working over 2 years to dig out the 38 acre lake which can be found at the far end of the expansive and impressive Italian Garden. When they were done, Hever Castle boasted 125 acres of classical and natural landscapes that include an orchard, a topiary garden and a rose garden with more than 4,000 bushes.
If visiting Hever it is, dare I say it, a sin to miss out on these stunning gardens. The moment you step into them, not only will you feel as if you have been transported back into some regal and majestical time, but you will feel as if you have been taken away right into the heart of some magical and whimsical world of faeries, light and laughter.
Before I close, I also feel it’s important to share one more thing about Hever Castle, and it is perhaps the thing I found most impressive and pleasing about the whole experience:
Hever is a place where many fanatical Tudor fans come to make a pilgrimage. Often, those types of venues are staffed by overworked, disinterested and often quite gruff figures, who care little for the history of the place. Hever was the opposite of this experience in every conceivable way. As a student and author of Tudor history, I was please to discover that every member of staff that I spoke to (and that was several) from start to finish shared a deep and genuine passion for the history of not only Anne Boleyn and the Tudors, but for the history of the property and local area as well. While I’m not proud to say it, I was even moved to tears by a discussion with one of the staff members, who not only shared my passion for Anne Boleyn, but shared a similar extensive knowledge and reverence for the infamous queen. It was humbling to share that with someone who was a virtual stranger, and it truly lifted my soul to know that a place that holds such importance for me was under the stewardship of people who seemingly shared such a deep love and passion for the castle as well.
So, if you’re looking for a trip that you will never forget, all I can say to you is: Hever Castle. From the warm and welcoming staff to the stunning grounds, tasty fish-n-chips and year-round beauty and entertainment, it is not something that should be missed.
– EB Johnson (Lady V.)
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