Hever Castle – A Magical Place

Posted By on August 17, 2011

Everyone who has been on one of our tours has commented on the magic of Hever Castle.

Like Anne Boleyn, the place just seems to grab you and you find yourself wishing you could stay there for ever. As Tim and I walked the grounds, we would bump into other members of the group with dazed smiles on their faces, they were in a dream world and loving every minute of it! Dazed smiles and happy sighs, that’s the Hever effect!

Hever Castle and the Boleyn Family

The defensive castle dates back to 1270 but the inner part of the castle, which is actually a traditional Tudor manor house, was added by the Boleyns in the 15th and 16th centuries.

In 1462, the castle fell into the ownership of Geoffrey Boleyn, Lord Mayor of London, who passed it on to his son, William Boleyn. In 1505, Thomas Boleyn, father of Anne Boleyn, inherited the castle and moved there with his wife, Elizabeth (née Howard), and young family.

We don’t know exactly how much time Anne Boleyn spent at the castle, seeing as she was sent abroad in the summer of 1513 and did not return until late 1521, but the primary sources do tell us the following:-

  • 1525 – Anne was sent to Hever after the break-up of her relationship with Henry Percy
  • Summer 1527 – Henry VIII wrote to Anne when she had retreated to Hever to avoid him
  • February 1528 – Anne was visited by Edward Fox and Stephen Gardiner on their way to Rome
  • June and July 1528 – Anne suffers sweating sickness at Hever and then stays there to recover
  • September 1528 – Anne is sent to Hever in anticipation of Cardinal Campeggio’s arrival in England to conduct the legatine court
  • October and November 1528 – Henry VIII writes to Anne at Hever and then visits Penshurst Place, just a few miles form Hever

So, Hever was Anne Boleyn’s home at key moments in her life.

The castle remained in the possession of the Boleyn family after Anne’s downfall until Thomas Boleyn’s death in March 1539. We know that Thomas was outlived by his mother, Lady Margaret Butler, and that she was still living at Hever at that time, but arrangements were made for her to be removed and the King took possession of the castle. In 1540, the castle was granted to Anne of Cleves as part of her annulment settlement and, contrary to what many historians say, Anne of Cleves did stay there, writing a letter to Mary I in 1554 “from my poore house of Hever” and letters to her brother about the local honey and the good hunting in the area.

Hever Castle Today

After the death of Anne of Cleves in 1557 the castle passed into the ownership of various families, the Waldegraves, Humphreys and Waldos, but by the end of the 19th century it was in a very sorry state and would have declined into a ruin if William Waldorf Astor had not purchased the property in 1903.

William Waldorf Astor, a wealthy American who became a British subject and was created the first Viscount of Hever in 1917, set about renovating the castle with the intention of enlarging the property into a Tudor-style “village” without detracting from the castle or ruining it. With the help of his architect F.L.Pearson, he added accommodation such as guest rooms (where tour attendees stay) and staff quarters which were linked by an interior passageway and linked to the main Castle by a bridge that ran across the famous moat.

The grounds of Hever Castle were landscaped under the direction of Joseph Cheal, to allow for a wide range of shrubs and trees to be planted, and a two year excavation project in the surrounding meadows and marshland resulted in a beautiful 35 acre lake which can now be enjoyed by rowing boat or by doing a lake walk and spotting birds like kingfishers, swans, crested grebes and herons. Cheal’s landscaping project also included making a covered walk from the lake, which is bordered by columns and runs through a pretty Italian style garden complete with grottoes, fountains, cascades, statues and sculptures. The statues and sculptures were collected during Mr Astor’s time as the American Ambassador in Italy.

The castle itself was also restored by Astor, a Tudor history lover, who went to great lengths to restore it to its former glory and beauty. He even made sure that his workers used Tudor techniques and tools to handcraft beams and panelling!

Hever Castle Highlights

Visitors to the castle and grounds today can enjoy:-

  • The Tudor Portraits – A collection which David Starkey has described as “one of the best collections after the National Gallery”.
  • The castle dining room, or Great Hall, complete with a 1540 tapestry and Henry VIII’s lock, which he took to every place he visited for security
  • The inner hall which was once the Great Kitchen – Admire the beautiful carved walnut columns and panelling, as well as the portraits of Anne Boleyn and Mary Boleyn
  • The Priest’s hole – Legend has it that a priest perished in this hole and that he now haunts the castle
  • Anne Boleyn’s bedroom – The bedroom traditionally thought to have been shared by Anne and Mary Boleyn.
  • The Book of Hours Room – Here you will find two beautifully illuminated prayer books which belonged to Anne, one with her famous “le temps viendra, je Anne Boleyn” inscription and astrolabe motif, and also an exquisite tapestry depicting the marriage of Princess Mary Tudor and Louis XII of France in 1514. It is likely that Anne and Mary Boleyn are among the ladies in this scene as they both attended Mary at this time.
  • The hidden chapel built behind panelling in the late 16th century
  • The stunning Italian Garden which leads down to the lake
  • Water features, grottoes and the formal Loggia fountain
  • The Tudor Garden, rose gardens, Rhododendron Walk and Anne Boleyn’s Walk
  • Yew Maze and water maze

The Astor Wing

Attendees on all of our tours get to stay in the private and exclusive Astor Wing of the castle. This wing consists of individually designed, luxury, en-suite bedrooms, the music room for socialising and the Tudor Suite of dining and function rooms which feature rich panelling and portraits. We book out the whole wing so it’s completely ours and is a beautiful place to stay. Some rooms have views over the castle, others have views over the gardens and grounds. One of my favourite things is drawing back the curtains and taking in the Hever view – a happy sigh moment!

Highlights for Tour Attendees

  • Out of hours access to the castle and grounds – Our private guided tour takes place before the castle is open to the public and we can stroll around the gardens at our leisure.
  • Eating in the main castle dining room – Each tour has one dinner in the main castle dining room and there’s nothing quite like eating in the Boleyn family’s Great Hall with its tapestries and portraits.
  • Waking up at Hever – I still have to pinch myself every morning!
  • The Hever magic fairies – Beds magically made or turned down, bedroom lights switched on… No matter how many times I return to my room I’ve never been able to catch the fairies! Seriously, the Hever staff are wonderful and nothing is too much trouble.
  • The food – Hever Castle’s food is to die for! So yummy!
  • Hearing Tudor historians speak in an historical setting
  • Getting lost – On purpose: one tour attendee didn’t turn up for a buffet lunch because she couldn’t drag herself away from the gardens. By accident: The corridors of the Astor Wing are a bit maze-like so scatter breadcrumbs or be guided by the portraits, but ask yourself “is there any better place to get lost?”

The Bad News

We asked Anne Boleyn Experience 2011 attendees if there were any negatives about the tour and quite a few people responded “going home”! Sorry, the bad news is that you do have to tear yourself away from Hever, but I can assure you that the magic lives on and you will never be the same again.

Our Tours

Hever is visited on every single one of our tours so do check out the tour itineraries and details at our special tour website History Tours of Britain. We offer:-

  • The Anne Boleyn Experience – This Anne Boleyn focused tour runs in May and September 2012 and is completely based at Hever, with day tours to the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace.
  • The Executed Queens Tour – This takes place in June 2012 and is split between Coombe Abbey and Hever Castle. Attendees will visit places associated with Mary Queen of Scots, Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey.
  • The Discover the Tudors Tour – New for 2012, this June tour is an 8 night/9 day tour taking attendees back in time through visits to the Tudor attractions of London and Stratford-upon-Avon. We also visit Bosworth Battlefield and accommodation is split between London, Stratford-upon-Avon and Hever.

Early Bird Booking Offer

We’re presently offering an Early Bird Discount of £100 off the full cost of The Executed Queens or Discover the Tudors Tours if you book before midnight on Monday 22nd August. You can reserve your place with a deposit of £300 per person. Click here to reserve your place.

Now sit back and enjoy these photos of Hever Castle taken on our past tours by Tim Ridgway and Paudie Kennelly:-

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