Hever Castle is in the
county of Kent, known as ‘The Garden of England’ and with good reason.
In spring there is always a profusion of apple and cherry blossoms, orchards
and hedgerows are abundant with wild flowers, fruit, berries and singing
bird life. In summer, pretty cottages with pebbled windows, Oast house with
their funny coned ‘hats’, grace the tiny lanes lying tranquil beneath
the warmth of the sun. In autumn, drifting golden red leaves precede the
winter snow falls which carpet these same lanes which many years earlier,
had served as highways for carriages and horses, heading towards the tiny
hamlet of Hever and the romantic Hever Castle.
A few miles from the much hated M25, the arterial motorway which encircles London and its suburbs, and just two miles from Edenbridge, signs for Hever begin to appear on wooden signposts on road corners.
One reaches Hever by taking the sharp angle in the lane by the Boleyn Arms and the picturesque church of St. Peter (where Gloria Hunniford’s daughter, tv presenter Caron Keating, was laid to rest in the pretty churchyard in April 2004, following her courageous battle with breast cancer.)
The Castle waits just along the main road, in the moated hollow, and is approached through ornamental park gates where attendants wait to direct visitors to the car park.
But it was not always like this.
At the beginning of the last century, Hever Castle had fallen into ruin but then in 1903, the American William Waldorf Astor fell in love with the ruin and purchased it and the outbuildings and park. With time, much money and tasteful imagination, he restored the castle, built the ‘Tudor Village’ in the grounds, which today houses the Castle staff and guests, and created the gardens and lake.
These days, Hever Castle is owned by Broadland Properties and open to the public. This exquisite Castle has a truly homely atmosphere although it is crammed with historic 16th century furniture and tapestries, and two very special magnificent Books of Hours – both signed by Anne Boleyn. There are many magnificent paintings including some by Holbein and Titian and one very striking likeness of Elizabeth 1 by Geerarts. In the Henry V111 room is the bed in which Anne slept and visitors can see an ivory flute she used to play and a mirror which once belonged to her daughter, Elizabeth. But perhaps the most romantic corner of the Castle is the Long Gallery, which houses a Costumed Figure Exhibition, evocatively including figures of Anne and Henry surrounded by his other Queens. The final figure in the group is of Anne praying before her Execution.
This beautiful, moated castle welcomed Anne Boleyn home from her sojourn in France where she had spent her early years. Returning perhaps more French than English, the headstrong and beautiful Anne soon caught the eye of the King. It was at Hever Castle, legend claims, that Henry first fell in love with the bewitching, black-eyed Anne, courting her in the gardens which are, today, open to the public.
The Italian Garden was designed to display William Astor’s collection of Italian marble sculptures, which he had collected during his stay in Rome serving as American Minister. 1000 men worked to complete the task and 800 men dug out the 35acre lake at the far end of the Italian Garden and fed by the River Eden. It took 2 years to complete and 4 years for the 30 acres of classical and natural landscapes to be planted. The Rose Garden now contains well over 3000 plants. Although the Garden is not as it would have been in Anne’s day, it is easy to imagine her strolling among the Rhododendrons, nervously anticipating the arrival of Henry ...
Many water features enhance the gardens, including the Cascade Rockery and formal loggia fountain inspired by the famous Trevi Fountain in Rome.
While visitors are invited to stroll through the Tudor Gardens or along Anne Boleyn’s Walk with its impressive collection of trees planted over 100 years ago, or visit the topiary ‘Chess Garden’ cut from golden yew trees, children are not forgotten at Hever Castle. The Yew Maze, a splashing water maze, is now open, as is the Miniature Model House Exhibition. This is an imaginative, fun way of making children aware of the history of country houses through the ages while older children are able to test their Tudor history knowledge by trying to reach Henry’s Tower at the Adventure Playground with the new Henry V111 Tower Maze.
Anne, unlike her sister Mary before her, shrewdly refused to submit to the King’s desire and it was Henry’s passion for Anne that forced him to break with Rome. He founded the Church of England and divorced his first queen, Catherine of Aragon, leaving him free to marry Anne. But Anne failed to give him the son and heir he so desperately desired, suffering several miscarriages, for which Henry blamed her, finally delivering a girl.
Henry may have been disappointed but that girl child would grow up to become England’s greatest Monarch: Elizabeth 1 and there are many momentos of Elizabeth at Hever.
But Henry was tiring of Anne. He wanted rid of her. He was ready to marry Queen No. 3: sweet, demure Jane Seymour. So Anne was charged with four acts of adultery, including one with her own brother! She was judged by 26 of her peers, presided over by her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk. All found her guilty, including her own father, and she was sentenced to death by burning or beheading. In a rare moment of compassion, Henry agreed that an expert swordsman should be called from France and his ‘... own sweetheart’ was beheaded four days later.
Her father Sir Thomas, continued to live at Hever, after his daughter’s execution, in disgrace, until his death in 1538. Two years later, Henry gave it to Anne of Cleves – Queen No.4 – following that divorce. Unlike her namesake, Anne of Cleves remained on friendly terms with her ex-husband.
Almost 500 years have passed since Anne Boleyn’s rise and fall from grace, since her execution at the Tower of London and all these years later, Anne Boleyn’s spirit remains very much a part of Hever Castle. She is Hever Castle.
Some called her ‘Anne of a 1000 days’, ridiculing the length of her reign, and centuries later, this was the title of a film which glorified the love and marriage of Anne and Henry, starring Richard Burton and Genevieve Bujold, and was actually filmed at Hever Castle.
Hever Castle is a visitor’s delight. One can easily spend a day wandering about the gardens and grounds, looking over the Castle rooms, soaking up the atmosphere of times long past, browsing at the Gift Shop, before stopping off at the restaurant for a delicious cream tea with local made jam or some home made cake.
And, not surprisingly, there is even a ghost.
Since Anne Boleyn’s execution in 1536, her ghost has been seen many times, gliding over the bridge spanning the River Eden in the Gardens. She does not appear on the date of her birth, or marriage, or execution, instead she always shows up on Christmas Eve.
Anne Boleyn never did the expected in life; why would she do it in death.
While in the area of Hever, visitors should follow the signs to Penshurst, 2 miles away. The Elizabethan poet and soldier, Sir Philip Sidney, haunts his old home, Penshurst Place, which remains one of the best examples of an Elizabethan manor house. It is possible to walk from Penshurst to the tiny village of Chiddingstone, the Tudor main street having been used on numerous occasions as a film set and where still stands the house which once was the home of Katherine Parr, Henry’s 6th and final queen.
Chiddingstone Castle has an impressive collection of antiquities, including a lock of hair of Mary, Queen of Scots and the famous letter written by Bonnie Prince Charlie to his father before setting out for Scotland and the ’45 Rising. Much older even is a drinking cup used by an Egyptian princess, dating from 1000 bc.
There is a also a ghost. A lady in 18th century riding habit, cantering along the lanes leading to the Castle. She is thought to be the wife of one of the Streatfeild’s who originally lived at Chiddingstone.
Some useful websites:
CD-Rom of the area is available from www.VillageNet.co.uk
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