Not far from modern London is a castle that 500 years ago was to be the scene of a political crisis that shook Europe, and still affects us to this day. This is Hever Castle, home to Anne Boleyn and where King Henry plotted the divorce from Katherine of Aragon and the split from Rome.
Hever (pronounced Heever) Castle ticks a lot of the boxes you’d expect, with moat, lake, ornamental gardens, a maze, Tudor cottages and right in the middle, a grand castle. But not all is what it seems.
The castle dates from the 13th century, and although heavily modified in the 20th century, it’s still full of all the castly things you’d expect, and a heck of a lot of King Henry and Anne Boleyn as the castle trades off its link to that tumultuous period of English history.
The Boleyn family acquire the castle in 1462, and lived there until 1539 when King Henry VIII took it, and he bestowed it upon Anne of Cleves in 1540 as part of the settlement following the annulment of that marriage. It passed through a number of owners until 1903, when it was bought by the American millionaire William Astor, who made most of the changes to the castle, including a cluster of Tudor style cottages to one side and redirecting the local river to form a new decorative lake. The castle was sold again in 1983, to the current owners, the Guthrie family.
These days, the castle is a mix of a hotel, with guests staying in the Tudor cottages, and a tourist venue that trades heavily on its Henry and Anne connections, but fortunately, not to excess.
To go in is to pass through England’s oldest working original portcullis, and into a wonderfully atmospheric actual Tudor courtyard, created by the Boleyn family within the castle walls.
Inside the castle, it’s very much what you expect to see – large richly decorated rooms, lots of corridors and a magnificent long gallery. And you’ll only know this if you read the signs, the grand reception room is actually the old kitchen, and was redecorated by the Astors, in a very suitable style.
Although most of the furniture and decorations were brought long after the Boleyns had vacated the castle, they’re what you would expect a castle to have — so plenty of armour in one room, loads of paintings, mostly of the Tudor court, and lots of heavy wooden furniture.
Normally, the castle is worth visiting on its own merits, but until 4th June 2023, they’ve also brought together two very special books to go on display in the same room.
Recent research into old Books of Hours has discovered that both Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn owned a copy of the very same Book of Hours, printed by the same French publisher.
For two famous rivals to have owned the same book at a time when book ownership wasn’t that commonplace, even for the nobility, is quite a remarkable find. The books are on display in the same room, likely for the first time in 500 years, along with an exhibition about the two Queen Consorts.
Along with the Book of Hours visitors can see a previously unexhibited panel portrait of Catherine of Aragon and replicas of the coronation robes and crown of Elizabeth I and Mary I which may also have been used by Anne and Catherine at their coronations. There are also some costumes from more modern times, in the film, Becoming Elizabeth.
The exhibition is the icing on the castellated cake, and a visit includes the grounds, with the yew tree maze, the long Italian garden and the lake. And do take time to look at the engineering drawings on the upper level, showing how William Astor redirected the river to create his own lake.
Tickets to visit the Castle and ground are currently available up until 1st May 2023 from here. All other tickets for 2023 will be available shortly.
- Adult: £20.80
- Concession (Senior/Student): £18.25
- Child (5 to 17 yrs): £11.80
- Child (0 to 4 yrs): Free
- Family (2 adults + 2 children or 1 adult + 3 children): £55
How to get to Hever Castle
Most visitors tend to drive or arrive in coach parties, as it’s that sort of destination, but it’s pretty accessible by public transport if you don’t mind a modest countryside walk as well.
The nearest railway station is at Hever, which is then about a 20-30 minute walk to the Castle estate entrance, which is next to the main church in Hever village. Trains from London Bridge to Hever take about 45 minutes, via East Croydon.
Note that trains to Hever station are hourly, so time how long it takes to walk from the station to the castle, to ensure you know how much time to give to walk back and not miss your train.