In the Kent countryside lies a picturesque moated Castle, a castle which was the childhood home of Anne Boylen, Henry VIII’s second wife who was executed on the scaffold in 1536. This Castle is Hever and it has over 700 years of history to explore as well as 125 acres of grounds. Over the next few pages, I will be giving a brief overview of the history of the beautiful castle and if you visit, which I strongly recommend you do, what can be seen today both inside the walls and out.
There have been three major periods in the development of Hever. When it was first built in 1270, then in 1462 when it went through some major changes under the ownership of Geoffrey Boleyn (great grandfather to Anne.) The final major development was in the early 20th century when the American millionaire William Waldorf Astor brought it. These three developments changed Hever from a small farmhouse with a walled bailey and gatehouse, to a Tudor mansion and then finally with a touch of modern mod cons in the 20th century, a popular historic tourist attraction. It is this last development which we can see much of today and is the reason why there are beautiful gardens to stroll and explore.
Hever castle is a small semi fortified sandstone building which has an inner courtyard and moat. The original site was a fortified farmhouse by the de Hever family. It is their three storey gatehouse which can be seen today (dating from 1270). The castle was crenulated in 1383 by John de Cobham. To crenulated meant to build a rampart around the top of the castle, which had regular gaps in which to fire arrows from.
Inside the castle there are a number of rooms, some have changed from their original functions. There is an Inner hall, which was originally the Kitchen. Today it is covered in panelling and holds a collection of antique furniture. Also in this room is a walnut cassapance, which dates from 1550. There is a Drawing room, which has seen the likes of Churchill, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle be entertained. The dining hall we see today was the great hall of the Bolyen’s and leads to the long gallery, which was also added during their ownership of the castle. Within this room is a gilt lock, which originally belonged to King Henry VIII. He would take a number of these locks with him to where he was staying to add extra security to his rooms.
Other rooms include the entrance hall, a library which was possibly the estate office before, and a morning room with a beautiful fireplace with the carved initials of HW from he time of the Waldergrave gamily. Within this room there also lies a secret priest’s hole, installed during the reign of Elizabeth I.
In the Castle today you can visit Anne Boleyn’s room, which may have been Anne’s room while growing up. It is possible she will also have shared this with her sister Mary. There is also Henry VIII’s bedchamber. There is no evidence to show that Henry slept in this room but as it is the largest one in the castle, it is most likely where he would have slept. The bed dates from 1540c and the ceiling from 1462. The beautiful panelling, which can be seen, dates from 1564 with the exception of over the fireplace, which commemorates Anne and Anne of Cleves who owned the castle after the Boleyn’s. Also, in the castle there is a Book of hours belong to Anne Boleyn and bear her signature.
There are two galleries in the castle – the staircase gallery that link the two floors of the castle and the long gallery. The long gallery is 98ft long which starches the entire width of the building. It was added in 1506 by Thomas Boleyn who used it to entertain guests and to exercise in bad weather in addition to display art. The Panelling is Elizabethan and the ceiling 16th century replica.
During the time of William Waldorf Astor, the Astor wing was added to Hever, which was a 100-room Tudor style village near the castle. It was designed in such a way to still keep the castle itself the most prominent of all the buildings on the estate.
The oldest part of Hever still in existence today is the gatehouse which may have acted as a medieval council chamber form the 13th century. The owners would have slept in this room and entertained. In the gatehouse there is a garderobe along with some defence mechanisms such as a portcullis and murder holes.
The most famous part of Hever’s life was when it belonged to the Boleyn family and became the childhood home of Anne Boleyn who would eventually marry Henry VIII and become queen before her downfall and execution. Anne’s father, Thomas Boleyn inherited it in 1505. Anne would be brought up at Hever until she was sent aboard to live and learn with the Archduchess Margret in the Netherlands in 1513. While under the ownership of the Boleyn’s family Hever would undergo some internal alternations making it a suitable family home.
Along with the many developments to the castle itself by Astor, he would also have an Italian Garden added to display his collection of ornaments. Astor employed the architect Frank Pearson to do a full restoration of the castle in addition to building a Tudor style village in the grounds, which were linked to the castle by a covered bridge. It was also during this time that the Maze was created at Hever. It is one of the few traditional designed in the UK today. It is 600sq meters width hedge and is 2.75 m high. How long will it take you to head around?
The Gardens, which are just as spectacular as the Castle, were also created y Astor and Pearson. Work would begin in 1903 with the employment of the firms Joseph Cheal of Crawley and Thompsons of Peterborough, and it work completed in 1907. The designs consisted of pathways lined with grassy walks and stone steps. The golden stairs, which can be seen today, lead to a viewing platform, which contains a pool.
It would take 748 craftsmen to make all the adjustments, which included an enormous boiler for hot water and caballing to provide light, heat and water around the property. To gain inspiration Astor would visit a number of Tudor and Elizabethan buildings around the country.
During 1958, Hever would suffer some major flooding causing a lot of damage. A month’s worth of rain fell in 12 hours. Some of the staff had to be rescued by boat. Then a few years later, the same happened again and this time the repairs would not be complete until 1970 when Hever was able to reopen to the public once again. It was first open to the public by Astor in 1963. The Guthrie family would buy Hever of the Astor family in 1983 and have opened it as a tourist attraction, which is still, is to this day.
So that is an overview of Hever’s life and what was once there and can be seen today. But what of its owners. I have already briefly mentioned a few of Hever’s owners and their input into the story of Hever. But what of the others?
The first owners of Hever were the ones who would give the Castle its name – the De Hever family. They were descendants from a Norman baron. William De Hever would be sheriff of Kent in 1272 and on his death his estates would be divided between his two daughters who were married to two brothers William and Reginald Cobham. Other owners of Hever include Lord Richard Scrope who was Lord Justice of Ireland, three members of the Fiennes family (distant ancestor of Ranulph and Ralph Fiennes). James Fiennes who owned the castle was beheaded during Cades uprising in 1450. The longest family to own Hever was the Waldergrave; they owned the castle under the reigns of Mary and Elizabeth I. They were a catholic family and were responsible for the installation of a priest hole at Hever so they could still practice mass. Before being sold to Astor Hever would be owned by the Humphrey family who eventually let it out to tenant farmers. During this time, parts of the castle were left to ruin and became in a bad state. One of the tenants attempted to restore Hever to its former glory in the hope to buy it himself but it was sold to Astor before he had a chance.
A lot of the change of ownership in Hever’s history was through inheritance and the selling of the property from one to the next. Each family have left their mark on Hever’s history, both physically and in the atmosphere of the castle. They helped shape it to what it is today.
Hever is managed by Broadland Properties. Entrance to the castle is £17.25 for an adult and that includes access to the main castle and the grounds including the maze. There are other ticket options available. There is also the option of an annual membership, which is £43.15 and includes a discount in the shops and restaurants, free entry to a number of their events with other benefits. There are a small number of exhibitions to see including the recent addition of a replica portrait of Henry VIII which is in the Royal collection by Joos Van Cleeve. Together with a portrait of each of Henrys six wives they form, a great collection of Tudor portraits, which David Starkey states, is ‘one of the best collections of Tudor portraits after the National Portrait Gallery’. There is also an exhibition showing the life of Anne Boleyn in connection to Hever. You can see costumed figures highlighting three key events in Anne’s life while at Hever. It is open all year round with the grounds opening at 10.30 and castle access from midday. However, please check the website for closing times as this can vary depending on the time of year. For more information, please visit their website www.hevercastle.co.uk
Anon Hever Castle and Gardens (2012) Jigsaw design and publishing: Norwich.
Biography.com. 2014. William Waldorf Astor. [ONLINE] Available at:https://www.biography.com/people/william-waldorf-astor-9191240. [Accessed 24 June 2018].
Historic England.com. 2018. Hever Castle. [ONLINE] Available at:https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1000152. [Accessed 24 June 2018].
Hevercastle.co.uk. 2018. Hever Castle History. [ONLINE] Available at:https://www.hevercastle.co.uk/visit/hever-castle/history/. [Accessed 24 June 2018].