The Misplaced Ghost

If you buy a souvenir from the Hever Castle shop, you will get a paper bag with a banner saying, “Hever Castle and Gardens, Childhood Home of Anne Boleyn”. The presence of Henry VIII’s second wife dominates many of the rooms in this castle, and there are rumours that say she is still present in some form. But as far as I ‘know’, the ghost of a dead peason is supposed to haunt the place where they died, in Anne Boleyn’s case this should be the Tower of London and not her childhood home…

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Anne is probably the most famous wife of Henry VIII. It may be related to the fact that she has been the focus of numerous films and books, or to the fact that she had an epic role in one of the biggest revolutions England ever faced. But Hever Castle is much more than the childhood home of Anne. It played a significant role in English history for hundreds of years with a surprising twist in the 20th century.

The castle was built in the 13th century by William de Hever. (So now you know why it is called Hever Castle). Not much is left from that part of the castle, only the gatehouse. Much of the changes were made during the days when the Boleyn family owned Hever.
When King Henry VIII started his very long wooing process, he visited the castle many times and even had his own “office” there. Unfortunately, climbing the social ladder always has its dangers, and in 1536, ten years after the king first tried to seduce Anne and only three years after their marriage, she became the first queen to be executed along with her brother, George Boleyn.

What many people don’t know, is that later the castle became the home of another of Henry’s wives, Anne of Cleves, the fourth wife whom the king divorced and as part of the settlement, he gave her Hever Castle. She outlived him and the rest of his wives, and died only when his daughter Mary came to the throne.

The next family to live at Hever was the Waldegrave family, who were able to hold on to it for over 150 years. The family were staunch Catholics, so the ftheir fortune changed rapidly with the changes England was facing. During the days of Elizabeth I, the family hid priests in two priest halls to maintain their Catholic rituals. The family continued to protect priests and help the Catholic cause for almost 100 years, until finally one of the family members, James Waldegrave converted to the Anglican church.

The castle changed hands several times, but it started to fall into decline. When visiting the castle, there is a bay window on the ground floor, looking out at the lovely moat. On the wall opposite, you can see a picture of the castle showing how it looked at the end of the 19th century. During these years, the castle was owned by Meade Waldo, who was born there, but did not really like it; he actually preferred travelling round the world and collecting rare birds. He let the castle to a local farmer who used it as a home for his farm animals. The upper floors were in danger of collapse. The picture in the great hall reflected that gloomy state.

Hever was in a state of decay, like numerous castles and stately homes around the country, whose owners had lost interest or lost their financial ability. Hever needed a champion to save it, and one arrived.  In 1903 William Waldorf Astor, who was the wealthiest man in America, bought the castle. He invested over 10 million dollars (over 250 million dollars in today’s currency) not only by renovating the castle, but also in the creation of the gardens, the lake and even the Tudor style village at the back of the castle. This village was built to accommodate the many guests he was planning to entertain (today the village is a luxurious hotel). Thanks to the efforts of Astor, Hever today looks like it appears out of a fairy tale story.

The castle is held by a family trust and opens to the public. Hever Castle is associated with the HHA. For more information: Hever Castle official website

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One of the top castles to visit in the country (and it’s near London…)

Chasing Castles Review

We visited Hever Castle during a Christmas break. This meant that there were a few added attractions for the kids, but the flip side of this was that the castle did not offer any guided tours. It also meant that the castle gardens were obviously not at their peak. Before we talk about Hever castle, however, let’s talk about its location… It is located in Kent, about 20 miles (32 kilometres) from London, and that makes it really easy destination for a day trip, for Londoners and tourists alike. It is such an exciting place, everyone should visit.

 

The combination of this historic castle and the various family-friendly attractions it offers makes it the perfect destination. It can quickly fill your day. My kids loved the castle playground named the “Tudor Towers”. It has one of the best climbing frames I have seen anywhere. In addition to this there is the little military museum at the entrance of the castle and of course the must-visit unavoidable maze next to the castle. When they got tired and thirsty they were excited to find a slushy in the coffee shop. In other words, this castle is really child-friendly.

However, without a knowledgeable guide, exploring the history of this castle wasn’t at all easy. But there were plenty of volunteers in the various rooms, and they had many interesting stories to share (obviously you had to ask them the right questions…). It wasn’t only the knowledge and the stories they shared with me, it was also the passion they felt as they talked about Hever, and I can only hope that during my next visit, one of these excellent guides will be available to do a full tour of the castle, because I feel there is so much more to reveal about its history and the characters who filled its halls.

We spent some time in the gardens, not for long because it was too cold, but if you visit Hever during other periods of the year, you should not neglect its formal gardens as I did. Visiting Hever is not the cheapest day out with children, but with the cost of maintaining a castle and with attractions like the ones on offer there, this is perhap inevitable. If you are a member of the HHA, however, entrance is free. To sum up: Hever Castle is one of the best castles in the country. It is child-friendly and has interesting and informative room-guides. If you are comparing castles to restaurants, Hever should have a big, central place in the Michelin guide earning 2 stars.

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