Claire and Owen talk about The Boleyns of Hever Castle
Posted By Claire on May 4, 2022
To celebrate our book The Boleyns of Hever Castle being a number 1 bestseller again on Amazon and being an Amazon Kindle offer on Amazon UK at 99p for the month of May, Owen and I decided to do an interview for Anne Boleyn Files followers because, after all, it’s through this website that we actually met!
You can find out more about our book (and buy it!) at
That will take you to your country’s Amazon shop.
How did you first become interested in Anne Boleyn and her family?
Dr Owen Emmerson: My first encounter with Anne Boleyn and her family happened when I was just 4-years-old and my lovely mother sat me down to watch the 1969 film ‘Anne of the Thousand Days’. I was absolutely spellbound by Genevieve Bujold’s performance of Anne, and fast became hooked by the Boleyn saga. For my next birthday, my parents took me to me to Hever Castle and that visit began a life-long affection for that lovely, important place.
Claire Ridgway: I first learnt about Henry VIII and his six wives when I was 11 and had to do a project at school. I just couldn’t believe that this king had married six times and that he’d executed two of them. At secondary school, I did History A’ Level and covered the Tudors in British History and the European Reformation in European History, and then at university, when I studied Religion, I covered the Reformation again and became fascinated with the English Reformation, Henry VIII’s break with Rome and what sparked it off: his obsession with Anne Boleyn.
That interest stayed in the back of my mind until 2009 when I had a dream about Anne Boleyn’s execution. I had been very moved by Natalie Dormer’s performance in Showtime’s “The Tudors”, and I think that, and my frustration with my job as a freelance writer (writing web content, ghost-writing books, writing product descriptions etc.), combined to give me the dream that quite literally changed my life. In my dream, I was a spectator at Anne Boleyn’s execution on 19th May 1536 and I knew that Anne was innocent. The growing horror I felt at what was unfolding in front of me will stay with me forever. I knew she was completely innocent, but there was nothing I could do. I tried to shout out, but my tongue was like sandpaper and my scream was silent. I woke up just as the executioner swung the sword. I shook my husband awake and told him that I needed him to help me set up a blog called The Anne Boleyn Files and that I was going to research Anne’s real story and write about it. The rest, as they say, is history.
How did the two of you come to be working together?
Owen: Claire and I had known each other virtually since around 2009 when she set up the magnificent Anne Boleyn Files page, and when I used to upload videos to YouTube about Anne Boleyn’s life. We didn’t actually meet in person until many years later, at Hever, when we decided to embark on a Hever Castle related book project together. It was the perfect setting for such a decision.
Claire: I remember coming across Owen’s wonderful videos on YouTube just after I had started researching Anne and I can’t remember how exactly we started corresponding but I never dreamt that he’d become one of my best friends and my co-author. I’m a lucky girl! I remember finally meeting Owen, who was dressed as Henry VIII at the time, at Hever Castle and telling him he really ought to write a book on the castle. Owen’s answer was something like “Well, I’d like to write it with you!”, and that was that!
How did you handle working on a book together during the pandemic and when you live in different countries?
Owen: The biggest challenge was the fact that the necessary archives were forced to close because of the pandemic, and this very much shaped the direction and form of the final book. Initially, we were going to focus on the entirety of Hever’s history. However, when the pandemic hit, we simply didn’t yet have enough archival material for the post-Boleyn chapters, and really couldn’t write about this era with any degree of authority. We therefore made the decision to focus on the history of the castle during the Boleyn’s tenure. Other than that, the process of writing the book with Claire was a wonderfully effortless one. We are incredibly fortunate that we see the Boleyn family story through very similar lenses, and we both brought different areas of expertise to the table.
Claire: Owen is kindly forgetting the fact that I said in early 2021, after Hever Festival Theatre booked us to talk on the Boleyns at Hever, that we should change our plans and focus on the Boleyn part of our book and launch it at that talk. It put a huge amount of pressure on us, but luckily we both work well under pressure! Fortunately, the research for the Boleyn part of the original book idea was pretty much finished.
We chat via social media all the time, so it wasn’t hard to share ideas and to plan things, and we just shared out the work. We’re lucky in that our writing styles are very similar so could be woven together easily. We also used things like Dropbox to share files and research.
Why another book on the Boleyns? What’s different about your book?
Owen: Apart from a pamphlet created in the 1960s by the Astor family, there hadn’t been a book which focused on the Boleyn family and their relationship with Hever. We soon came to the conclusion that Hever had been a significant part of the Boleyn family’s everyday life. Indeed, it was an important part of establishing their identity. The Boleyns had married into the nobility, and had amassed enormous wealth, but the Boleyn name itself was rather ‘new’ compared to other established families. Having a fortified castle in the provinces helped to establish and shore up the family’s identity as a force to be reckoned with. It served as the place where Thomas Boleyn situated and educated his children, and it because a vital location for Anne Boleyn to retreat to when Henry VIII began pursuing her. The fact that Anne can be found at Hever again and again during the scandalous late 1520s really helps us to understand that it was a place that mattered to her.
Claire: We both felt that Hever is a huge part of Anne’s story. It served as a haven for her on many occasions and was also where she would have discussed her relationship with the king with her family, and we believe it’s where she made the decision to accept his proposal, something that changed the course of English history and ultimately led to Anne’s death on the scaffold. We wanted to tell the Boleyns story through Hever Castle and take readers back in time to the Boleyns’ home, and that has never been done before. For me, Hever is where you get a real sense of the Boleyns, you are walking in their footsteps, seeing things they saw, touching things they touched. It’s hugely significant.
What’s your favourite part of Hever Castle?
Owen: Gosh, this is a question that I get asked a lot, and one which I struggle to answer because there isn’t an inch of the place which I dislike. I think it would have to be the Boleyns’ solar, and specifically their Great Chamber: a room currently known as the “Books of Hours” room. This was the very heart of their family home, where every member of the Boleyn family would have gathered throughout the day, eaten, corresponded, played music etc. It was the equivalent of a multi-functional living room for them, and I don’t believe that you can get closer to the Boleyn family than standing in that glorious space.
Claire: Can I cheat and say all of it?! It really is my happy place. Owen calls it my home, and it really is. My perfect day is meeting up with Owen at Hever and just taking in my surroundings. When we walk through the castle I feel the Boleyns with us, smiling down on us.
If I have to choose part of it, I’ll choose the inner courtyard. I love standing in it and looking up at the windows and walks above me, thinking of Genevieve Bujold looking out of the window in “Anne of the Thousand Days” and imagining the real Anne doing the same. It’s also where Owen and I shook hands over our book idea. It was the start of what I think will be a long partnership.
Owen: My favourite object would have to be the replica clock on the mantlepiece in the Inner Hall. It is a silver copy of the gilt brass clock gifted to Anne Boleyn by Henry VIII on her wedding day. My favourite portrait would have to be the “Hever Rose” portrait of Anne Boleyn, which is a mysterious and precious thing. My favourite artefacts are Anne’s Books of Hours, which she has both inscribed and signed. They are without a doubt the jewels of the extensive Hever collection, and I am so fortunate to get to spend my days near them.
Claire: My favourite object/artefact is Anne’s Book of Hours, the one with the “Le temps viendra” inscription. I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to hold both books of hours and I will never forget that experience. I got completely choked up. I was holding something that Anne would have used a few times a day, something that was precious to her. I’ll never forget that day.
My favourite portrait is the Hever Rose one of Anne. It is stunning and I love it so much that I commissioned a copy of it in oils for my house!
Is there anything that surprised you during your research for the book?
Owen: What surprised me most during the research was quite how important Hever was to the Boleyns, and how much time Anne Boleyn
spent there. This had very much been underestimated in previous narratives, including those given by Hever itself. It was truly wonderful to be able to piece together all of the evidence of their tenure, and to be able to establish a much firmer link between the Boleyns and their castle than had hitherto been accounted for.
Claire: Snap! Like Owen, I was surprised and pleased that Hever had such significance in Anne’s story. It was more than a Boleyn property, it was the place they chose as their home and they loved it.
What’s your favourite portrayal of Anne Boleyn and/or the Boleyn family?
Owen: I think my favourite Anne will always been Genevieve Bujold in ‘Anne of the Thousand Days’. She was my gateway Queen and in spite of its inaccuracies, she gave the first fully rounded, complex and messy portrayal of Anne Boleyn. I did also very much enjoy the portrayal of the wider Boleyn family in the recent BBC2 docu-drama ‘The Boleyns: A Scandalous Family’ which Claire and I both had the privilege of working on.
Claire: Genevieve Bujold, definitely, but I thought that Natalie Dormer did a wonderful job in Season 2 of “The Tudors”. Despite the inaccuracies, I think Natalie brought to life Anne’s final days in the Tower so movingly. I know that it is highly unlikely that Anne did get to see the men’s executions, but that scene where Natalie portrays Anne seeing the men die is incredible. It’s so raw, and I can’t watch it without sobbing. Natalie also encapsulated Anne’s wit and intelligence.
I was also pleased with how “The Boleyns: A Scandalous Family” didn’t just focus on Anne, but really brought Thomas Boleyn to life. I’m waiting for a good portrayal of George, though!
What’s the inaccuracy/myth about the Boleyns that annoys you the most?
Owen: I think it would have to be the notion that Thomas Boleyn was a scheming, Machiavellian and ruthless father was prepared to sacrifice his children at the alter of his own ambition. That simply isn’t held up in the sources, and I think it diminishes Anne Boleyn’s own role in her rise, and helps to suppress the recognition of Anne’s agency.
Claire: It’s so hard to limit it to just one. I think the idea that the Boleyns were social climbers and schemers who played a game, lost and paid the price. It’s so ludicrously unfair and two-dimensional.
Do you plan on working together again?
Owen: Yes, absolutely! We have a few projects lined up and we may well cross Hever’s path again during them, so watch this space!
Claire: Nah! Ha! Only joking, yes, yes and yes. We keep coming up with ideas so we’re going to be busy.
Here’s the link for our book again – https://getbook.at/boleynhever.
I know I’ll get some comments about it only being on offer on Amazon UK. We’re sorry, but it’s an Amazon decision, not due to us or MadeGlobal Publishing.