Last updated on March 27th, 2023
I do enjoy a jaunt outside of London. Throw in a castle, anything about Henry VIII and a historical pub, and I’m there quicker than you can throw a jousting stick. And Hever Castle in Kent isn’t just any old castle. It was the Boleyn family seat and Anne Boleyn’s childhood home. Fast forward to the 20th century, and it was William Waldorf Astor’s turn to move in and weave his magic on the old place. You’ll be ooing and wowing as you tread in Anne and William’s footsteps, and the gardens also reign supreme. Here are 13 reasons why you need to visit Hever Castle – a perfect excuse for a day trip outside of London.
It’s over 700 years old
The medieval castle was originally built in 1270 and was the seat of the Boleyn (originally known as Bullen) family from 1462 to 1539. Thomas Boleyn was a favourite of Henry VIII’s and one of his most gifted diplomats. He moved into Hever Caste in 1505, giving it all of its Tudor flourishes.
The Inner Hall was the kitchen in Thomas Boleyn’s time. Above the fireplace is a replica of a clock which Henry VIII gave to Anne Boleyn as a wedding present.
The Dining Hall was once the Great Hall. The fireplace hood has Tudor rose detailing.
It was Anne Boleyn’s childhood home
Anne spent several of her childhood years in Hever Castle with her siblings Mary and George. Thanks to a close diplomatic relationship between Thomas Boleyn and Margaret of Austria, a twelve-year-old Anne Boleyn was sent abroad to join Margaret’s royal court. It would kick-start a brilliant international education for the future queen, completed in France during her stint in the Queen’s household there.
Walk in Anne Boleyn’s footsteps as you walk around her childhood home.
It has the oldest working portcullis in the country
Entrance to the courtyard is via a drawbridge which was reinstated by Astor in 1905. The two portcullises are some of the oldest ones in England, one of which can still be operated.
Anne of Cleves lived in it too
When Thomas Boleyn died, the castle came into Henry VIII’s possession. He gifted Anne of Cleves as part of their divorce settlement. She retained ownership of Hever for 17 years.
The Anne of Cleves Panel (left) is one of the few surviving artefacts belonging to Anne of Cleves. The design on these panels was reproduced for her tomb in Westminster Abbey.
It has one of Henry VIII’s working locks
Henry VIII travelled across the country with his own door locks, and Astor purchased one believed to have belonged to the Tudor king. It’s still in working condition, and you can have a tinkle with it in the Dining Hall.
You’ll see two of Anne Boleyn’s Prayer Books
Two prayer books belonging to Anne Boleyn are on display, both of which bear her signature. Anne wrote Le Temps Viendra, je Anne Boleyn (“The Time will Come, I Anne Boleyn”), on the opening page one of the Book of Hours. On the other, she wrote: “remember me when you do pray/that hope doth lead from day to day.” Anne took one of these Book of Hours, as they are called, to her execution at the Tower of London.
It has one of the best Tudor portrait collections in the country
The Long Gallery, installed by Thomas Boleyn in 1506, was used for entertaining, exercise and for displaying art. It was recently re-curated by historian David Starkey and is thought to have one of the best collections of Tudor portraits after the National Portrait Gallery. All of Henry’s wives are in the same room together. If only walls and all that.
The Long Gallery Tudor-style ceiling was made in London and brought to Hever on a steam train.
The interiors are to die-for
Hever Castle fell into disrepair, and as happy fate would have it, in stepped American tycoon William Waldorf Astor (you may be familiar with his jaw-dropping interiors at Two Temple Place in London). Between 1903 and 1908 William Waldorf Astor and his architect Frank Loughborough Pearson would transform the run-down Tudor mansion into the spectacular castle you see today, drawing inspiration from Tudor and Elizabethan architecture. 748 men worked on the castle whilst a further 800 excavated the man-made lake.
The Drawing Room would have originally contained the Tudor domestic offices. The oak panelling was inspired by the Elizabethan Chamber at Sizergh Castle in Cumbria.
The Library originally contained the administrative offices. Astor would make this his library in 1905. The bookcases are copies of those once owned by diarist Samuel Pepys.
It’s hosting an exhibition dedicated to Anne Boleyn
A new exhibition, Becoming Anne, tells the story of Anne’s childhood, her education at home alongside her sister, Mary, her year at the court of Margaret of Austria, her time spent at the French court and her debut at the English court through portraits and letters on display throughout the Castle. It’s the first in a series of exhibitions that will be coming to Hever Castle in the coming years.
Anne Boleyn made her debut in the Tudor court during the famed Chateau Vert pageant, a reproduction of which is one of the items on show for the exhibition. The set included a temporary fort covered in hundreds of pieces of green foil. Eight ladies of the court were cast in the show with Anne taking on the role of Perseverance. Henry was also in the show – in the lead of course.
It has a spectacular garden
A workforce of over 1,000 worked on Astor’s 125-acre gardens. The result is a Rose Garden with 4000 bushes, a 38-acre lake, an English Yew Maze, a Japanese Tea House and a Tudor Garden. Don’t miss the Chess Garden with its giant set.
You can sleep here
Yes, you read that right, there is a Hever Castle hotel of sorts. The Tudor Village was built by Astor as an accommodation wing. It’s now known as the Astor Wing and is where you’ll stay if you decide to bunk in for a night or two. You could also take over Medley Court, a holiday cottage within the castle grounds.
Enjoy events all-year round
Hever Castle is a beehive of activity all year round with some fantastic events. Book yourself into one of 40 shows in the open-air venue set in the beautiful grounds. Twelfth Night, Peter Pan and A Midsummer Night’s Dream make an appearance on the Hever stage. The annual Festival will take place in The Loggia with its magnificent lake setting, the woodland glade of Anne Boley’s Walk and the two-tiered seated theatre on Two Sisters lawn. For classical music enthusiasts, there are also some noteworthy performances and there’s even opera and jazz too. And let’s not forget the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee: Hever Castle will have plenty of events celebrating Her Majesty the Queen’s 70 years on the throne.
Check the Hever Castle Events page for more information.
Have lunch in a pub fit for a king
When I visited Hever Castle, most of the dining outlets were closed and it was too cold for a picnic. I love my historical pubs, so I headed into Hever and to the Henry VIII pub instead. It’s a gem of a pub and has been serving locals since 1597. It has a great menu, caters for gluten and dairy-free fusspots like me, and you’ll enjoy soaking up the historical atmosphere. Make sure you book, mind, as it was very busy when we went.
About Hever Castle
Becoming Anne is on until 6 November 2022. Admission is included with entry to the castle.
Hever Castle | Hever, Edenbridge, Kent TN8 7NG | Adult: £19.80 (gardens only £16.35) Book tickets.
Feature image: Ollie Dixon