Anne Boleyn, second wife of King Henry VIII, the mother of Elizabeth I, was one of the most famous queens of England. Her love affair with Henry Tudor is a primary reason for the establishment of the Church of England, since the king broke with the Catholic church denying him an annulment from his first wife. No one knows for certain when King Henry VIII first noticed the woman that changed the course of history, but in the 1520s and 1530s, the couple spent significant time at the home of the Boleyn family in the beautiful Kent countryside.
The Boleyn family had lived in Hever Castle since 1462. The castle was built in 1270 and, as with many medieval castles, it is surrounded by a moat and has a large gatehouse and wooden drawbridge. However, as the Boleyns were a wealthy and powerful family, they enlarged the castle and made some interior alterations during the Tudor era.
Although Anne Boleyn wasn’t born in the castle, she spent some of her childhood there. Her bedroom still has the original 15th-century ceiling. Also, her prayer book, known as the Book of Hours, signed by Anne Boleyn herself, is stored in one of the rooms of the castle.
King Henry VIII visited the castle often while he courted Anne and he even had a bedroom of his own there. Three years after Anne was crowned Queen of England, she was convicted of treason and adultery and executed. The Boleyn family lost its status and fortune and Hever Castle became the property of King Henry VIII.
Later on, during the divorce from his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII gave the castle to her as part of her settlement. Hever Castle was not a permanent residence of Anne of Cleves, although she certainly spent some time there. The proof is a letter addressed to Mary, the daughter of Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon, signed by Anne of Cleves herself, “from my poor house of Hever.” Today, her bedroom is decorated with the original Tudor panels and is known as the Queen’s chamber. It holds a remarkably large collection of Tudor portraits, including a rare portrait of Henry VIII and portraits of each of his six wives.
After Anne of Cleves’ death, the castle changed owners a few times. First, it was purchased by Sir Edward Waldegrave and remained in his family, until Sir William Humphreys bought it in the beginning of the 18th century, only to sell it to Sir Timothy Waldo in the 1750s. In the 19th century, Hever Castle was neglected, and it would probably have deteriorated to a ruin today if it had not been for one of the wealthiest men in America.
In 1903, William Waldorf Astor bought the castle and began the process of restoration. For this purpose, he commissioned the architect F. L. Pearson. Astor also created the magnificent Hever gardens. They include a beautiful Italian garden with grottos, sculptures, fountains, a number of mazes, and a lovely rose garden. The sculptures in the garden were brought from Italy by Astor himself. He even created a 35-acre lake that today is among the highlights of the garden.
Astor also paid a lot of attention to the interior of the castle. He had the antique furnishings and decorations restored but also made copies that looked like the original ones from the Tudor period.
The impressive castle and gardens were officially opened for visitors in 1963 by the grandson of William Astor, Gavin Astor. The Astor family lived in the castle until 1983, when it was sold to Broadland Properties Limited of Yorkshire.
They maintain the property and keep it open to the public to this day. In honor of the family that saved the castle from abandonment, the owners redecorated an apartment, known as the Astor suite, with pictures and objects that belonged to the Astor family.
The most famous resident of Hever Castle remains Anne Boleyn. The castle pays homage to her with an exhibition in the Long Gallery, where wax figures of Anne Boleyn portray important moments of her life. Although it was occupied by many prominent people throughout history, the remarkable Hever Castle is best remembered as the childhood home of the fascinating Anne Boleyn.