Visit to Hever Castle – Tuesday 13 June 2023

Hever Castle, as we see it today, is a glorious pastiche, one very rich American’s idea of an English baronial residence.  Nevertheless, it retains its place in history because of its association with two of England’s queens.  It was the childhood home of Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, and the home of his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, after her divorce from the king.  Actually, even the ‘renovations’ have antique status since they were carried out more than a century ago!  Some of the furniture and furnishings used in the renovation are antiques in their own right although they didn’t actually have any previous association with Hever.

The oldest remaining part of the castle is the gatehouse and walled bailey built in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.  It has the oldest working original portcullis in England.  In fact, there were three portcullises defending the main entrance which enabled any marauders to be trapped (and then killed) before they got into the bailey.

In 1462 the castle was acquired by the Boleyn family and it was converted into a manor by adding a Tudor dwelling within the walls.  Thomas Boleyn, Anne’s father, inherited the manor from his father in 1505 and lived there with his wife Lady Elizabeth Howard and their children George, Mary and Anne until 1539.  The remains of the original country house timbers can still be seen within the stone walls of the fortification.  There are not very many other original mementoes of Anne Boleyn at Hever but there are two early missals on display which are on loan from other museums.

These Books of Hours both date from 1527. One belonged to Anne Boleyn and the other to Thomas Cromwell.  Other displays relating to Anne Boleyn include the costumes from films and television documentaries.

After passing through a series of owners, the property was acquired and restored by the American millionaire William Waldorf Astor in 1903.  His wealth and vision enabled him to create a lavish family home that also indulged his passion for history.  Hever is now a romantic double moated 13th-century castle which houses historic 16th-century portraits, paintings, furniture, tapestries and treasures bought from all over the world by Astor.  The wood panelling on all the walls was crafted in the style of Grinling Gibbons.  The plaster ceilings are copies of those at Hampton Court.  There are some beautiful, very early tapestries which Astor bought at auction. In the Long Gallery there are eighteen original portraits hung in dynastic order telling the story of the Tudors from Henry VI to Henry VIII.

The moated castle provides the historical backdrop for the formal gardens established by William Astor between 1904-1908. The gardens contain a wonderful variety of features including a beautiful rose garden, the yew maze and the Italianate Garden, designed to display Astor’s collection of Italian sculpture.  The garden setting was enhanced by the creation of the lake, which stretches to 35 acres in size. It took two years of digging to create the lake, and as many as 800 men were involved in the digging at one time.

Hever is currently owned by the Guthrie family.  It is now a tourist attraction, drawing on its links to Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, its mazes, gardens and lakes.  It provided a very interesting day out.

Gillian Devine, June 2023