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Hever Castle


A view of Hever as it looked in the 18th century, before its renovation by the wealthy Astor family. Modern Day Hever Castle

About the location:

Hever Castle is located in the village of Hever, in Kent. It began as a country house, built in the 13th century. From 1462 to 1539 it was the seat of the Boleyn family. Anne spent a good deal of her childhood there, before being sent to the Netherlands in 1513 to receive an education at the court of the Archduchess Margaret of Austria. Later, during the early days of Anne’s romance with Henry VIII, she would again spend periods of time at the castle; several of these are included in the novel as the idyllic backdrop to Anne’s unfolding story.

‘Hever is a fairy-tale castle, a miniature and far more homely version of the rather imposing, defensive castles of the earlier Norman era. Turreted and adorned with many beautiful red brick Tudor chimneys, it is surrounded by a double moat; sculpted rose gardens and a wooded parkland, which lies beyond. The castle's partially ivy covered walls embrace the life story of a time which changed England’s history, and I never failed to swell with pride, thinking about the English woman who had grown up here as a child before making her momentous debut onto the dangerous and glittering stage that was the Tudor court.’ Excerpt from ‘Le Temps Viendra: a novel of Anne Boleyn’

Which key events feature Hever Castle in the book:

Summer, 1527:

We first find ourselves at Hever Castle at the very beginning of Part Two, when our modern day heroine gets drawn back into Anne’s world. With the twenty-six year old Anne on the brink of a historic love affair with the mighty, King Henry VIII, we witness the King’s arrival at Hever and his subsequent proposal to Anne. Whilst the king returns to court we begin to explore Anne’s life at the Boleyn family home, and the long distance love affair which is burgeoning between Henry and his lady.

The face of Henry VIII as Anne would have first known him on her return from France. This image of the King was painted in 1520.

The face of the King in 1535; as Anne would have known Henry during her time as Queen.

Winter 1527/28:

Anne retreats to Hever for the entire winter. During this time we meet Margery Wyatt, the woman who would become Anne’s closest friend and confidante, as well as receiving Drs Gardiner and Foxe on their way to the continent to seek a decretal commission from Pope Clement.

Late summer, 2007:

Our modern day heroine returns to the place which she has come to know as home. There is an emotional reunion with her Book of Hours, and at the graveside of Anne Boleyn’s father Sir Thomas, as she pays her respects at his five hundred year old tomb.

Dr. Stephen Gardiner

The real events in history:

  • It is believed that Henry visited Anne at Hever on several occasions during the early days of their courtship.
  • We know for sure that Drs. Steven Gardiner and Edward Foxe did visit Anne at Hever on their way to Rome by command of the King, and carrying a letter for Anne explaining the reason for their visit, penned in his own hand.
  • Anne and her father Sir Thomas, did fall ill with the Sweat at Hever, probably in late June / early July, 1528.

Where to go / what to see / where to stand:

  • Stand in the current Inner Hall and imagine it as it once was; the castle’s kitchens, with a corridor leading directly to the Great Hall lying to the west.
  • In the Great Hall see the lavish banquet held in honour of the King. See Anne dancing and watch her speak secretly with Thomas Wyatt.
  • Imagine sitting in the parlour 9now called The Morning Room)  with Anne and her friend Margery Wyatt, as they discuss the King’s love for Mistress Anne.
  • Climb the stone spiral staircase and walk in the footsteps of our modern day heroine as she falls ill and starts to cross over boundaries in time; imagine hearing a woman’s voice calling out her name from the rooms above.
  • Stand in Anne’s bedroom and look out of the window smelling the ghostly scent of rosewater, as the modern day Anne did as she first touches the 16th century life, which is evermore encroaching on her own.
  • In the ‘Book of Hours Room’: See Anne’s book of house in which she wrote ‘Le Temps Viendra Je Anne Boleyn’ with her own hand.

  • Look at the tapestry entitled 'The marriage of Louis X and Mary Tudor' and see if you can see Anne Boleyn in the ladies gathered.

  • Walk down the Long Gallery and imagine our 21st century heroine, fall into the window seat in the end recess, (the place where Henry is reputedly said to have held a Privy Council meeting during one of his impromtu visits).

Weather check at your destination:


A Journey Back in Time to the Real Childhood Home of Anne Boleyn

For anyone who loves Anne Boleyn, Hever Castle in the heart of ‘England’s Garden’ of Kent is a natural place of pilgrimage. If you have ever made that pilgrimage you will know that this quintessential fortified mediaeval manor house, nestled in the bottom of an idyllic, gently sloping valley, is utterly beguiling and catches your heart in an instant. The setting makes the picture perfect English postcard; sculpted lawns, pretty lily covered moats; all around you, immaculately tended flower and herb gardens abound. To visit the castle on a beautiful English summer day is to luxuriate in allowing oneself to be seduced by its charms over and over again… and all this before you have even stepped inside this most historic of buildings.

I have visited Hever on many occasions and no matter how busy it seems to be with eager tourists and school parties, I always find its rooms hold themselves with dignified poise. There is serenity about the castle and it sucks you in, leaving space for the walls to whisper their secrets to you. The interior of the Castle was last extensively renovated by the wealthy Astor family in the early 20th century.  As a result, many of its rooms are now sumptuously clad in oak panelling, the staircase and minstrels’ gallery in the Great Hall are both intricately carved in the grotesque style (so popular in Henry VIII palaces), the ceilings are ornately moulded in traditional designs and the rooms stuffed full of beautiful antiques (although not all contemporary to the 16th century). Finally, its collection of Tudor portraits makes for a Who’s Who of the Tudor court; a collection which has been described as second only to that of the National Portrait Gallery in London. As you wander round this charming little home, it is not hard to imagine Sir Thomas or Lady Elizabeth or any of the Boleyn children moving about its rooms; perhaps even receiving the King of England as he visited Hever in passionate pursuit of Anne.

Yet it turns out that appearances are somewhat deceiving. During the course of my research for my up-and-coming novel, ‘Le Temps Viendra: a novel of Anne Boleyn’, as with all of the other places so closely associated with Anne’s story, I wanted to find out about the castle that she would have known; to uncover the real childhood home of Anne Boleyn. What I found out, I admit was quite a surprise and what I hope you will learn from this article, as I have done, is how different was the Tudor castle of Hever compared to the one which we see today. So, if it pleases you my Lord, or Lady, allow me to be your guide. Let us go back in time to 1510; to a time when Sir Thomas Boleyn, Knight of the Garter, has completed the renovations, turning Hever from a rather outdated, moated mediaeval castle into a fine and contemporary English manor house fit for an aspiring courtier.

The first thing you notice as you approach the castle on horseback is just how different is the setting; it is much more wild and rugged than you are used to. For defensive reasons the back of the Castle (to the North) abuts the banks of the pretty little River Eden. The original Norman castle had its origins in the classic motte and bailey design with a central timber-framed hall defended by a surrounding ditch and palisade. Later, in the 13th Century a stone gatehouse was erected which contained its own hall; this for a time then became the heart of the castle. The gatehouse protected against attack from the open ground to the front. To the west of where you are now, you can see a little track running through a tiny village of modest dwellings; this is the original village of Hever. It was later moved to its present position when William Astor relocated the road and village lock stock and barrel to provide his family with greater privacy! As you urge your horse forward, you make your way toward the Castle from a raised area of ground which lies to the south of the main entrance (today this path is known as, ‘Anne Boleyn’s walk’). In Anne’s time, this was in fact the only dry area of ground immediately in front of the Castle; you can see clearly that most of the area which lies in front of the building is covered in boggy marshland; one assumes that originally this functioned as a good natural defence against attack from the South. Other than this, Hever Castle is surrounded by dense forest; in Norman times this was given the name, ‘Andredswald’ which roughly translated means, “The woodland where no man dwells”. Even the King’s map makers of medieval England knew of its reputation as being notoriously lawless and dared not enter it. Apparently, if you look at some of the early maps of the Norman period this particular area of Kent is uncharted and remains blank.

As a time traveller who has seen the 21st-century Hever in all its manicured glory, you are also surprised and somewhat disappointed to find that there are no formal gardens of any kind! Rather than the picturesque double moat that we see today, it is clear that the front entrance to the Castle is guarded only by a single moat which is transversed by a stone bridge. The main body of the Castle itself is squatter than you are used to; there are only two floors in existence in the early 16 century (the third floor was added by William Astor much later, in the 20th century). The Gatehouse, however, is very familiar.
As I have already suggested, it is in fact the earliest part of the Castle, dating back to the mediaeval period and remains much as it was when it was first built in the 13th century. Originally, this was the place where the Lord and his Lady, his family and servants would have eaten, slept and conducted business; there is no doubt that privacy was hard to come by! However, by the time Sir Thomas undertook his renovations at Hever there was already a growing appetite for private chambers; families of wealth and status began to seek increasing privacy away from the public gaze and as a result, by the turn of the 16 century, we begin to see the development of rooms reserved only for the use of the family.

But come, as an honoured guest of Sir Thomas and Lady Elizabeth Boleyn you are greeted warmly and led immediately through the front door, (the position of which has remained constant across the centuries). You momentarily pass through a small passage which lies directly in front of you before turning left into the Great Hall of the Castle. Sir Thomas or Lady Boleyn will be with you shortly; so, take a moment to look around. Yes, you will have to get your breath back for the appearance of the hall is very different to the modern day hall at Hever; there are no fancy tapestries or fine oak panelling, (the latter were also added as part of the later Astor renovations). Rather, the walls are covered in plain, light coloured plaster and simple terracotta floor tiles are laid beneath your feet. The fireplace still lies over to your right but what is striking is that there is no ornate stone carving; it is fashioned into the simple shape of the iconic Tudor arch we now so associate with the period, whilst above it hangs an heraldic oil painting depicting the Boleyn coat of arms. If you cast a glance over your shoulder, you will not fail to notice that there is also no ornate minstrels gallery which so dominates the modern day room. As a result, the hall looks, in the round, much more plain and open. The two windows that we see today still cast light into this fine space although, it may surprise you that there is no glass in any of the windows, just shutters closed at night and to keep out the worst of the weather. The Boleyn family, like any family of the time, tend to live their life mainly outdoors; they come in only to shelter in the foulest weather, to eat, sleep or entertain guests. At the top of the hall (which is the part of the hall which is the furthest distance from the entrance) stands a dias upon which rests a grand table. Here, during the day, when Thomas Boleyn is at home you will find him working on his documents and family business. This place is also reserved for the Lord, his family and any honoured guests to eat. To facilitate this whole process of dining, at the lower end of the hall (from where you have just entered) is a passageway which leads directly into the kitchen. In modern day Hever, this room was ripped out to be replaced by the grand and sumptuously decorated Inner Hall. A pantry and buttery probably also existed as part of the kitchen but partitioned off from this space as separate, small rooms in their own right. In early mediaeval times, before Sir Thomas’s renovations, it is probable that a doorway connected the top end of the hall to the family’s main, private retiring room or parlour which lay beyond. However, now Sir Thomas has added the main Entrance Hall and the Staircase Gallery (on the first floor), this doorway (if it ever did exist – which is likely) is now sealed up and the Entrance Hall now forms the main walkway to access the rest of the family’s rooms on the west wing of the house.

Oh look, Lady Boleyn is approaching; she greets you warmly and proceeds to explain that her husband has been called away on urgent business and invites you to retire with her to the parlour. You follow Lady Boleyn back through the Entrance Hall, towards the west wing. Today a visit to Hever will lead you into an elegant library created by W.W. Astor; its walls crammed with precious books in fine oak cases. However, this wing of the Castle was not always so grand. It is likely that as you pass from the Entrance Hall towards the parlour, on your left extends a series of administrative offices, including that of the chatelaine’s office where Elizabeth Boleyn runs the estate in her husband’s absence. This is of course a task which was expected to be performed by any noble lady whilst her husband was away furthering the family’s interests at court.

The retiring room or parlour is the main private reception room for the family on the ground floor. Here you are to be entertained in the presence of a roaring fire and offered a drink to quench your thirst after your long journey. Note that chairs are a rarity in the early 16th century; you are offered instead a stool to take the weight off your feet. Once you are rested and refreshed, Lady Boleyn enquires if you would like to take exercise in the Castle’s newly created Long Gallery – you thought she would never ask! Please follow Elizabeth Boleyn back towards the main front door. Here you stumble across another major difference in the layout of the Castle; one that Anne Boleyn would have known during her lifetime. The staircase originates just to the left of the short gallery that separates the Great Hall from the kitchen; almost opposite the main front door. When William Astor performed his renovations, this staircase was flipped around so that it subsequently originated in the Inner Hall as we see it today. You now ascend this grand staircase to the first floor. As you do so, you can hear the haunting voices and laughter of children emanating from the Long Gallery above you. However, before you get to them, on the first floor you alight on the magnificent Staircase Gallery; the epitome of 16th century chic and fashion. It is a broad, light and airy space; it is also the only place in the Castle to sport expensive glass windows all inlaid with brightly coloured heraldic emblems of the Boleyn family tree. As the sun catches the glass you notice how it makes pretty pools of coloured light across the oak floor.
Lady Boleyn suddenly pauses for a moment, realising that she has left something in the Solar, the main family room on the first floor and she asks you to follow her momentarily. You walk along the Staircase Gallery, all too soon finding yourself in a large room which extends across the entire length of the west wing. Here the family relax and sleep. This part of the Castle yet again looks entirely different to how you have come to know it in your modern day life. In the 21st-century, it is divided into three main, separate rooms; Anne Boleyn’s bedroom in the North West, a large room which houses two of Anne’s prayer books and finally overlooking the moat to the South, the room containing numerous fine Tudor portraits. Yet in the early 16th century, this room is (probably) open; only screens at its southern end wall off the area where Thomas and Elizabeth Boleyn sleep in a fine oak bed (Nobody quite knows the arrangement of this room for sure but it is likely to be something along these lines). Elizabeth picks up a book of hours from a nearby sideboard and entreats you to accept it as a gift for the loyal and humble friendship you have shown to the family. You do so graciously before following the Lady back along the Staircase Gallery as she explains, in response to one of your questions, that the family themselves do not use the east wing of the Castle (this was probably reserved for servants). In truth, the magnificent Henry VIII bedroom which currently occupies part of this wing is sadly only named in honour of the King; it is unlikely that he ever used this room. What is more likely however, is that the Boleyn family would have decamped to Polbrooke Manor, located just a few hundred metres from the Castle, thus allowing the King to take sole occupancy of the Boleyn family home during his visits.

Now, follow Lady Boleyn up the staircase which has turned about upon itself to reach the upper level; this houses the impressive 100Ft Long Gallery. This particular room was created in 1506 by Thomas Boleyn who did so by putting a ceiling over the Great Hall below and thereby reducing its height (at one point it would have been open to the rafters as was the fashion; a hole in the roof allowing smoke to escape from a central hearth). As you look about you, you notice once more that the Gallery appears much simpler than the sumptuously wainscoted room that we see today; although, you also notice the pretty ceiling which is highly decorative and much stuccoed with foliage. Of course, the Long Gallery serves several purposes; a number of pieces of art are displayed along its walls; many faces which you do not recognise, whilst its size provides the perfect space in which to take exercise when the weather is inclement. Today you are beguiled to find three young children playing together at the far end of the Gallery minded by their governess. Elizabeth Boleyn indicates for her to take them downstairs; with all your heart you wish they could remain for you are fascinated to know more about these 3 people who, in time, will carve their place in English history. As they leave the room, a slender child with dark hair an oval face and the most compelling black eyes stares at you as she wonders who you are and what you were doing in her home. You think to follow her but cannot. You walk and talk awhile with Lady Boleyn but all too soon even that time comes to an end. As you take your leave and ride out across the drawbridge you turn and look over your shoulder at the Castle, searching its windows to see that little girl’s face for just one more time; but elusive and enigmatic as ever she is nowhere to be seen.

Note: The material which I used for this article comes from two main sources. The first is an original article written by Peter Watson who was a guide at Hever some 20 years ago. The article is entitled ‘Medieval Hever’ and was written in 1987 (and edited in 2006). It was kindly sent to me by Hever’s current Deputy Head Warden, Anna Spender. Secondly, on a recent research visit I was lucky enough to have a personal guided tour of the Castle by Jan, one of the guides on duty that day. She was incredibly helpful in answering all the questions that I still had about the original layout – as Anne would have known it in her lifetime. I would like to express my thanks to Peter, Anna and Jan for bringing the story of Anne’s home to life for me.

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