Beginning its life as a country house in the 13th century, Hever Castle is today most famous as the childhood home of Anne Boleyn. For anyone interested in Tudor history and the reign of King Henry VIII, Hever Castle is a must-see destination. The castle is a historical gem set in the beautiful, leafy and peaceful Kent countryside.
History enthusiasts won’t want to miss Hever Castle for its connections to the Tudor era, but the castle and its grounds have widespread appeal. The award-winning gardens are lovingly maintained and a program of events, exhibitions and activities at Hever Castle make it an ideal choice for families.
The castle may not be as grand in scale as nearby Leeds Castle, however, Hever remains a perfect spot for delving into England’s past. (With John England Tours, you can visit both Hever Castle and Leeds Castle on a single trip as part of our Tailor-Made Tours of South East England option.)
A History of Hever Castle
Hever Castle’s storied past began in the 13th century when it was built as a defensive structure by William de Hever. Consisting of a gatehouse, (still extant today), and a bailey, this was the first of three distinct stages in the castle’s evolution as we know it today.
The most significant part of the castle’s story comes in its second stage of development, during the Tudor era. In 1462, Hever Castle came under the ownership of the Bullen (Boleyn) family. Geoffrey de Bullen, Master of Gonville Hall at Cambridge University, immediately began redeveloping the site, adding a Tudor manor and wings to each side of the gatehouse.
In 1505, Geoffrey’s grandson Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire, would inherit the castle. Two years later, his wife, Lady Elizabeth Howard, would give birth to their fifth child, Anne Boleyn. Intelligent and quick-witted from a young age, Anne was destined to make a name for herself in society’s upper echelons.
It was around 1526 that Anne first caught the attention of King Henry VIII. Both skilled in the ways of courtly love, Henry and Anne eventually began an affair that would last until 1533, when Henry would leave his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, to marry Anne Boleyn.
The importance of this event cannot be overestimated. Henry’s wranglings with the church during his courtship of Anne eventually led to Henry’s split from the Roman Catholic Church, the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and the establishment of the Church of England. (We discuss Anne in more detail below concerning Hever Castle’s current Becoming Anne exhibition.)
William Waldorf Astor, (once the richest man in America), purchased Hever Castle in 1903 and began its third development period. Astor left America in 1891, remarking that it was “no longer a fit place for a gentleman to live.” On the other hand, Hever Castle seemed to be the ideal place to spend his days as a real gentleman should!
Astor invested heavily in the castle. Over five years, he had the Tudor village, Italian Garden, and lake added to the castle and its grounds. Hever Castle remained within the Astor family until 1983, when it was sold to the present owner, John Guthrie, who first opened the castle to the public.
Becoming Anne: Hever Castle’s 2022 Anne Boleyn Exhibition
To mark the 500th anniversary of Anne Boleyn’s arrival at the royal court, Hever Castle has put together a fabulous exhibition celebrating her early life. Widespread fascination with the reign of King Henry VIII has undoubtedly led to Anne Boleyn becoming one of England’s most famous historical figures. Yet, it has also meant that her early years have been ignored, her life too often overshadowed by her tragic death.
The Becoming Anne: Connections, Culture, Court exhibition admirably seeks to correct this by shining a light on Anne’s earliest days. In an exhibition that is expertly spread throughout the castle’s interiors, we learn about Anne’s childhood and how she would play. We get an insight into her education in France and the role that faith played in life (Anne’s Book of Hours prayerbooks are particularly evocative objects on display).
The exhibition does a tremendous job of capturing what Anne’s cultural environment would have been like. Through beautifully rendered period interiors and displays, we discover the immense wealth of the Boleyn family, who would have owned over 20 manor houses by the 1520s; making it a must-visit exhibition for fans of the BBC docudrama The Boleyns: A Scandalous Family.
Overall, this is a detailed portrait of a historical figure whose story has too often been clouded by creative licence. Get to know Anne as you never have before with an exhibition that captures her influences, motivations, family background, and the wider society in which she moved.
Learn more about the Becoming Anne exhibition by listening to Dr. Sarah A. Morris’s recent Tudor Talk episode in which she interviews many leading figures in the study of Anne Boleyn, such as Dr Elizabeth Norton, and exhibition curators Dr Owen Emmerson and Kate McCaffrey, who put together a book to coincide with the exhibition.
Spring/Summer Events at Hever Castle
Hever Castle & Gardens organise an eclectic series of events throughout the year. Whether you’re looking to step back in time with a Middle Ages-themed fair or entertain kids with something both fun and educational, there’s much to enjoy at Hever Castle throughout the year.
Here are some of our highlights from forthcoming events in 2022.
- Becoming Anne: An Exhibition Dedicated to the Life of Anne Boleyn (4 March to Early November)
Learn all about Anne in the place of her birth! Using letters, portraits, and other artefacts, this exhibition charts Anne’s life and death and provides background to many of the key players in Anne’s life. The exhibition opened on 4 March to mark 500 years to the exact day that Anne first appeared at court.
Entry to the exhibition is included in your ticket to Hever Castle. Those wishing to learn even more about Anne can pick up the informative guidebook created as a tie-in to the exhibition.
- May Day Weekend (30 March to 2 May)
Explore some traditional English customs this May Day weekend. Watch Morris Dancers and participate in the seasonal tradition of dancing around the May Pole – a great way to welcome in the spring season.
- The Queen’s Jubilee at Hever Castle (2 to 5 June)
Mark the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in style at a beautiful historical location. Celebrating Her Majesty’s 70 years on the English throne, the castle grounds will host a series of activities suitable for all the family and a Jubilee street party. Where better to celebrate the English monarchy than on the grounds of a marvellous English castle like Hever?
For those of you with a particular interest in the history of the English monarch, we recommend our The Crown Private Royal Tour of London. Get to know the colourful history of the English monarchy as we explore the capital city’s most famous and fascinating royal landmarks.
- Jousting Events at Hever Castle (Select Dates Throughout July and August)
The Middle Ages seem to encapsulate all the drama and romance of history. There’s no more enjoyable way to get a feel for the period than by participating in a medieval fair!
A series of stalls and tents manned by actors in full medieval dress will bring history to life. Sample traditional foods and shop for handmade crafts as the castle becomes your very own time machine.
The Knights of Royal England will bring their spectacular jousting displays to the grounds and perform in front of a royal box where none other than King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn will be in attendance!
- Hever in History (27 to 29 August)
The Hever in History event days introduce guests to various periods of the castle’s unique history using activities and performances from actors in period dress. Perfect for young visitors with a love of the past! Details are to be confirmed, so check Hever Castle’s website for the latest information.
- Hever Castle Autumn Craft Fair (8 to 11 September)
Back for another year, the Autumn Craft Fair will welcome over 180 exhibitors to the castle grounds. This contemporary craft event is all about championing British talent, so guests can look forward to original crafts made within Britain.
Visit Hever Castle With John England Tours
Want to visit Hever Castle as part of a private guided tour? We offer Hever Castle day tours that depart from London. John, your local driver-guide, will drive you through idyllic Kent countryside to Hever Castle & Gardens and provide you with insights into this historical treasure.
Our Hever Castle private tour has earned Viator’s Badge of Excellence and may be included as one of our Tailor-Made Tours of South East England.
Please get in touch if you have any questions about Hever Castle or our other tours and services.