Hever Castle changed history. Built in 1270, it lies fifty kilometres south of London, on the border between three English counties, Kent, Surrey and Sussex. Visitors come from around the world to admire the perfectly preserved stone walls, towers, drawbridge and moat, flawless interiors and award-winning gardens. Many also come to learn about the life of Anne Boleyn and the romance with King Henry VIII that led to political and religious upheaval.
Back in the 16th century, this region was heavily forested and ideal for hunting deer and boar. Hever was close to London and the influence of the royal court. Thomas Boleyn, father of Mary and Anne, was a skilled diplomat. He educated his daughters in the royal courts of Europe, where they learned language, culture, fashion and style. No wonder they caught the eye of King Henry VIII, who was married to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, at the time. Mary became his mistress. Then, the king turned his attention to Anne.
At Hever Castle, Anne received love letters from Henry. The originals, dated between 1527 and 1528, are now held in the Vatican library in Rome, reputedly stolen from Boleyn as they provided evidence of the king’s infidelity at a time that he was petitioning the Pope to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon on biblical grounds because she had briefly been married to Henry’s late brother Arthur. In the letters, Henry declares his love for Anne and asks her to “give up yourself body and heart to me.” He was determined to make her his queen. When the Pope refused to annul Henry’s existing marriage, the king broke with the Catholic Church, declared himself head of the new Church of England, and married Anne.
However, the story did not have a happy ending for Anne, either. She was unable to produce the male heir that Henry VIII required, and was in conflict with his chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, and this led to plotting against her. After little more than a thousand days as queen, Anne was executed on 19 May 1536.
STORIES OF THE PAST
The drama and tragedy of Anne Boleyn brings many visitors to Hever Castle. Stepping inside it is like a journey through time. Every room is filled with history, every piece of furniture, painting and tapestry tells stories of the past. Timbered ceilings, panelled walls, polished wooden floorboards: everything looks as if it is original from the Tudor period. In fact, much of it is early 20th-century renovation carried out by William Waldorf Astor, once the richest man in America.
Outdoors, little remains that Anne Boleyn or Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII fourth wife, might recognise. Only a small herb garden and an orchard and wildflower meadow date back to the 16th century. Astor redesigned the landscape surrounding Hever into one of the world’s great castle gardens. His vision included the construction of a 16th-century-style timbered Tudor village behind the castle. The work at Hever cost him an eyewatering £10 million (around €1.2 billion today). Thanks to Astor, the Boleyns, and other owners, Hever Castle remains perfect inside and out. It is a place where history lives and inspires.