We set out from London on an overcast September day. Our destination: Hever Castle in Kent. More widely known as the childhood home of Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn. From our hotel nestled in the heart of Trafalgar Square, we took the tube to the Victoria station and then boarded the train. Being only mostly familiar with the tube and train lines and how they are designed, we surprisingly made only one small misstep and ended up having to take a tram to get back on track and headed in the right direction.
Upon arrival at the train station in Kent, we noticed that the top of the church in the general direction of Hever Castle was visible over the trees. We decided to head in that direction. On our way we met a fellow traveler who informed us that he had been to Hever Castle only the day before. He pointed us to a footpath that led directly to the castle and cut our walk time in half.
The foot path took us over lush, green English countryside (right out of a Jane Austen novel) and put us in the quaint village of Hever. We passed St. Peter’s church whose turret we had seen in the distance, and then suddenly we were on the Castle grounds. We purchased our tickets and headed up a lovely path dotted with well-manicured topiaries and beautiful vegetation.
Being an avid lover of all things Tudors and more specifically, anything pertaining to Anne Boleyn, this experience was transcendent for me. To be in the place where Anne had lived as a girl, and to which she had retreated several times during her romance with Henry VIII, made her life and legacy seem more real to me than it had ever been through the pages of the books I had read. Walking the grounds she walked isn’t an experience to simply be read about in a book – there is a deeper sense of connection to the past when visiting places such as Hever Castle and my time there gave me a deeper connection to the time period and to Anne Boleyn herself. Passing through her bedroom, seeing pieces of her furniture still intact, I had goosebumps the entire time.
There are many knowledgeable and obliging attendants throughout Hever Castle who are happy to answer questions and discuss the Castle and all its treasures. In my case, one such conversation was a bit more of a friendly debate as to the nature of Anne Boleyn’s intentions towards Henry – were her affections sincere, or was she simply a pawn being used to gain royal favor for her father, Thomas Boleyn, and her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk? Perhaps her intentions were more self-serving? Regardless of the real answer, I found it exciting and refreshing to discuss the topic with others who shared my keen interest in Anne’s story.
As you wander through the lavishly decorated corridors and explore the castle’s history room by room, it is easy to lose your bearings in the maze of rooms and hallways. The attendants are located in many locations so being able to ask for guidance is a plus. A large portion of the castle is explorable, which I appreciated. Some historical landmarks I have visited are extremely limited when it comes to what the general public is allowed to see. Thankfully Hever Castle is the exception to that rule. The Castle is immersive and vast, and one visit alone will not afford you the opportunity to discover everything. At least that’s what I told my husband when he asked later if I had ‘seen everything I wanted to see’.
Anne Boleyn is, of course, well represented. Henry VIII and his other five wives are given nod as well. My initial reaction upon seeing paintings of Henry VIII’s other wives was confusion. Why should these women be represented here? Hever castle did not hold any particularly special meaning for them, nor did it play a role in any of their own stories relating to Henry VIII. However, upon reflection, the displaying of paintings of Henry VIII and each of his wives depicted a more accurate representation of a larger historical drama and was ultimately a welcome reminder to me that Anne Boleyn was, in fact, an important piece of a larger, intricate puzzle surrounding the enigmatic King of England.
Unfortunately we were not able to spend an extended amount of time exploring the Castle gardens. We wandered slowly through the castle and by the time we exited, we only had enough time to hit the gift shop and be on our way before the Castle closed for the evening. We rounded out the day with dinner and a pint at the cozy King Henry VIII pub in Kent before begrudgingly heading to the train station and back to London.