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A Walk Through History at Hever Castle

Exterior of Hever Castle and moat on sunny day

When my wonderful blogging pal Cassie from Cassie the Hag asked if I’d like to publish a guest post she wrote up about Hever Castle in Kent, UK I jumped at the chance. Not only was I excited to read all about this historical site which I’m ashamed to say I knew NOTHING about, but as one of my all time favourite bloggers to read it was a huge honour to be asked! So without further ado, over to Cassie to tell us all about her overnight trip to Hever Castle.

Here is a blog post detailing what happens when you mix your lifelong Tudor fantasies with two bottles of prosecco. This is all thanks to the folk at Hever Castle, most well known as the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, which has opened its bed chambers for those who are willing to spend a night steeped in history. The five stars B&B is in a modern wing of the castle, thankfully divided from the ghost stories of the main castle. Rest assured, everything from the lavish bedspreads to the breakfast menu will make you feel every bit the Tudor Queen. Best of all? You’ll very much get to keep your head.

Why Visit Hever Castle

Families might drop by for the jousting tournaments or couples for a walk around the pristine gardens and lake, but the majority of visitors will go to Hever Castle for the two little words which are emblazoned on all the tourist information: ‘Anne Boleyn’, a name which is predictably interchangeable with ‘Tourist Trap’ in British tourism. For many she epitomises the scandalous Tudor period.

woman smiles at camera in front of Hever Castle lake

Having been the second of six wives to Henry VIII, she was eventually beheaded for alleged crimes including adultery and, ahem, sleeping with her uncle. Others laud her as a feminist heroine of sorts, describing her as a woman who was aware of her sexuality, who cleverly exploited a man’s lust to achieve fortune in a time period where women were overlooked politically and unfairly paid the price. Historians have good reason to believe that Anne’s crimes were exaggerated. For instance, it’s fairly unlikely that Anne had actually been practising witchcraft – another reason for her beheading.

Her true crime was something far simpler; she didn’t provide the male heir that would have been integral to her survival. The British public has long been fascinated by Henry VIII and his liberal attitude to killing wives. But, there is a practical reason for visiting Hever Castle too — it’s just a 20-minute train journey from London Waterloo. From here, a short signposted walk through the sort of non-threatening and pleasantly green fields promised only by rural Kentish countryside will lead you to the castle gates.

tourists walk across drawbridge over hever bridge moat

Hever’s original design as a defensive castle certainly captured the imagination although the stronghold was never attacked. Still, it’s home to its fair share of history. Here, at Anne Boleyn’s childhood home from 1504, visitors are offered the opportunity to walk the corridors of where an innocent girl grew up and simultaneously be witness to the place where she was courted by a king. It was hard to imagine that the perfectly manicured gardens of Hever could have been the setting for scandal, yet the grand decorations of the halls and detailed timelines of Anne’s life provided a portal into the past. The nearest place to eat was even a cosy country pub appropriately named “Henry VIII”.

Far from being an old ruin, the castle has been immaculately preserved following a restoration led by the ‘richest man in America’ William Astor in the early 20th century. Despite making additions to the structure, Astor was very particular about wanting as much of the original building left as possible and the refurbishment focused on designs authentic to the Tudor period. There was still magic to entering the sandstone castle over the moat.

Celebrating an Underdog of the British Royal Court

I visited Hever Castle with an Anne Boleyn devotee but have personally always been drawn to Henry’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. This is the Anne who Henry divorced for — according to the most official of historical records — being a bit ugly and smelling bad. That’s right, to quote Henry himself: “She is nothing fair, and have very evil smells about her.” Ouch. Where Anne B is remembered as alluring, Anne of C is dismissed as plain.

As my friend admired the smallish childhood bedroom which Boleyn once shared with her sister and its distinctive half-domed roof, I tried to imagine what Anne B’s younger self would make of the many adaptations of her life. (Although I’d probably avoid showing her Natalie Dormer’s sexualised performance of her in Showtimes’ ‘The Tudors’ — not really appropriate for a young woman of the time.) Given her legacy, I found it even harder to imagine how so many women can relate to her more than the Other Anne. My forgotten Anne. The one who Henry couldn’t bring himself to consummate the marriage with. But then, I’ve always been one to favour an underdog.

daffodils in a large green field outside Hever Castle in March

The halls of the castle were brimming with stories, and the footsteps and excited murmurs of tourists were not distracting but rather reminiscent of the many people who had walked there before us. For history buffs, Anne Boleyn’s intricate prayer books will delight, whilst the more recent history of the castle holds its own secrets.

From sprawling spiral staircases to a sumptuously designed Long Gallery spanning the entire width of the castle — once used for exercise and entertaining guests and still used to display art — the attraction is brought to life with information boards and a guided tour. I was most impressed by the instance in which mannequins in Tudor dress were used to depict the courtship between Boleyn and Henry and somehow didn’t come across as creepy or tacky.

The paintings of members of the Tudor Court gave more insights and served as a reminder that Boleyn has a larger role to play in history than having her head chopped off; she was the reason Henry set up the Church of England — a huge Up Yours to the pope who wouldn’t permit him to divorce his horrified first wife — as well as being the mother to a little-remembered royal called Elizabeth I.

Friends smile at camera standing in Hever Castle gardens and moat in springtime

Two Annes, One Castle

Despite all this, there was still more to Hever Castle than met the eye. And no, I’m not talking about the spirits which allegedly still haunt the grounds. (British newspapers shared a photo of a ‘ghostly’ hand belonging to Boleyn as late as 2015. Looked like a blurred light to me, but who am I to argue with the occult?) It turned out that the castle had had another famous resident, but only the keen-eyed will spot it.

Henry VIII gave Hever to the woman he divorced for being too plain. That’s right, this place was owned by Anne of Cleves for 17 years! A place where my favourite Tudor almost-queen-consort is barely mentioned on the tour and is only a blink and you’ll miss it side note on the information boards.

Friends hug while standing in front of Hever Castle

So how did Cleves end up with such a grand premise from a man who was notorious for his dodgy treatment of his exes? Whilst I am not always one for favouring those who get by sitting quietly, I don’t doubt there is some victory in the fact that Anne of C was shrewd enough to negotiate generous terms after embarrassing the kingdom by, according to Henry, essentially being too unattractive to sleep with. Although it’s equally possible he was just overweight and impotent. Even more extraordinary is that Cleves managed to maintain a friendly relationship with the king and continued to have an active social life, including further appearances in court.

Whilst there is differing evidence on how much time Cleves spent at the castle, some reports suggest Hever was actually visited by Elizabeth I herself. It is a little known fact that Cleves had very close relationship with Henry’s two daughters, as well as being widely regarded for her kindness and good nature, so much so that she was the only one of Henry’s wives who was buried at Westminster Abbey. Not bad at all for a discarded divorcee back in the 16th century. Whilst Boleyn’s strength may have rubbed off on her daughter Elizabeth (if not all her attributes — Virgin Queen, anyone?) one could argue that Liz I’s pragmatism was learnt from her step-mother.

Sleeping at Hever Castle

Hever had one last enchanting trick up its sleeve; visitors can actually sleep at the castle by booking an overnight stay in the Astor Wing, an opportunity which is hard for any Tudor enthusiast to resist. The accommodation is just the right amount of authentic: peering at a castle through stain-glass bedroom windows is great, but doing so with the comfort of plush bedding and central heating is even better. My friend and I shared a bottle of fizz to celebrate the decline in arranged marriages (the £4 kind I grabbed from Tesco on the way there — don’t tell the royal ghosts) and my friend proposed we make a toast.

woman sits in luxurious hotel room chair at Hever Castle

I could guess who my mate wanted to raise one too. And I get it; Boleyn is considered the most influential queen-consort that England has ever had, whether remembered as a martyr, heroine, a glamorous seductress or the woman who was responsible for the reformation of the Church. Personally, I always admired the grace in which Boleyn allegedly approached her untimely death. The half-domed ceiling in her childhood bedroom was once designed to give space and light, and in turn, her last days were spent locked up in a confined tower world’s away from this castle in rural Kent.

Tudor-style hotel accommodation surrounded by moat at Hever Castle

Yet I still can’t help but have a special respect for the woman who outlived both Henry and his five other wives. Anne of Cleves doesn’t provide an obviously dramatic plotline – if only in comparison to the other royal scandals – yet she did something even more outrageous for a Tudor woman who got dumped. She went on living, and in this beautiful castle too! And gosh, when historical women are concerned, who can argue that living a long happy life is an easy feat?

Advice & Tips for Visiting Hever Castle

Time from London: 1 – 2 hours by car, or 1 hour by train from London Waterloo
Example train ticket cost: Around £12.50 each way.

Who will love it? History enthusiasts and shrewd queen-consorts.

Tell me more! Anne Boleyn’s childhood home is bursting at the seams with history. You enter the castle via a drawbridge over the moat and enthuse at the immaculately preserved interior. The grounds and lake are beautifully maintained, Feeling hungry? Head to the Henry VIII pub, about a 10-minute walk away, and enjoy a hearty dinner.

Make it a weekend stay? Fancy spending a night in a real-life castle? Yep, here’s the place to do it. Who doesn’t want to see Anne Boleyn’s ghost from their bedroom window..? Starting from £110, here you can expect 5* luxury. The price includes a gorgeous breakfast menu plus entry to the castle and grounds. Depending on the night, a private tour of the castle is also included.

Highs: staying in a castle is 2nd. Debating which Anne is best is 1st.

Lows: It took me many weeks to save for this trip and Henry VIII still hasn’t considered me to be one of his wives. I better get some tips in flirtation from the French court stat (it worked for Anne, you know, until the whole beheading debacle).

Tips for vegetarians: You’ll be well catered for by both the on-site cafes and nearby pub. And should you stay the night, the breakfast menu will do nicely.

About Cassie

woman lies on large hotel bed in hever castle hotel room

Thank you Cassie for sharing your experience here! If you want to read more posts by Cassie, I highly recommend her posts on Australia from her time living in Victoria and New South Wales, her Japan destination blogs (I want to visit so badly!!), and plenty more including The Balkans, Western Europe, and South East Asian countries. As well as her travel articles, my favourite posts by Cassie are her commentary and advice on mental health, particularly whilst travelling. A valuable read for everyone – both those experiencing these issues and those wishing to support others in their lives.

I also urge everyone to follow Cassie on Instagram, her gorgeous photos and thought-provoking captions are what initially drew me to her unique style of writing and storytelling. Now I stay because, well, she’s just a wonderful human. Cassie is currently based in Auckland, New Zealand and I have no doubts she’ll have plenty of experiences to share about her time there very soon!

Note: All photos credited to Cassie

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