Friday, October 29, 2010

The One With the Girl Who Would be Queen

After leaving Arundel we headed north to Hever Castle. Turns out this was easier said than done. It seems Hever is a teeny, tiny little village kind of in the middle of nowhere and since we were not coming from the highway to the north, but rather from the south, there were very few signs to help point the way and supplement my directions from mapquest. So it ended up taking us a little longer to get there than expected (this will become a common theme...).

By the time we arrived at mid-afternoon, the sun had decided to disappear and there was a bit of a chill in the air. I’m sure the house and gardens would have looked much better with a pretty blue sky, but at least it wasn’t raining! Pictures of the inside of the house were not allowed so I’ve scanned some from the guidebook (all pictures of the outside and the gardens are ones we took).

Hever owes its status as a place to visit largely due to it being the home of Anne Boleyn before her marriage to Henry VIII. While a pretty enough house from the outside, in the grand scheme of things, it is neither grand nor much of a castle but appears to be a modest sized country house. However, much of what exists today is due to the American William Waldorf Astor who restored the property in the early 1900s and furnished it with many antiques from the 17th and 18th centuries as well as a number of paintings and tapestries.

The original defensive castle was built on the site in 1270 by William de Hever. In 1505 it passed into the possession of Thomas Bullen who had married Elizabeth Howard, eldest daughter of the Duke of Norfolk (who owned Arundel from our visit that morning) and a section in the Tudor architectural style was added (above). In 1540 the house was given to Henry VIII’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves as part of their divorce settlement. In the years following her death in 1557, Hever passed through a number of different owners and gradually fell into disrepair. In 1903, Astor invested a great deal of money and time to restore the castle as well as adding the “Astor” wing and creating a magnificent garden.

The Gatehouse is the oldest part of the castle and the front portcullis is reputed to be one of the oldest working ones in the country. The drawbridge was restored by Astor and can still be raised.

The Inner Hall was originally the house’s kitchen and included a large fireplace and well. Today, it is largely covered in Italian walnut and on the walls are portraits of Henry VII, Henry VIII and Edward VI as well as ones of Anne and her sister Mary. The mantle includes a replica of a clock that was Henry VIII’s wedding gift to Anne Boleyn.

During the designing and construction of the rooms, Astor insisted that his workmen use, to the extent possible, the same materials and tools that Tudor craftsmen would have used in the 1500s. They were not even allowed to use straight edges and so the work, including the very elaborate ceilings, was done by eye. Truly impressive!!

The Dining Hall is still used today for private and corporate events. At the top edge of the fireplace is the Bullen coat of arms and along the back wall are paintings of Henry V and the Black Prince (both from the early 19th century). The room also contains a large tapestry (not in the picture) that dates from 1540. When you leave the room there is a marker on the door that shows the level of floodwater from a huge storm in 1968. Much of the ground floor was either severely damaged or destroyed  when 5 inches of rain fell in 16 hours and the nearby river flooded causing water to rise to more than 4 feet in the house and village. It took four years for the walls and floors to dry out enough for renovations work to begin! 

The Entrance Hall was added by Thomas Bullen and some of the original timbers remain over the doorway. The hall includes a 15th century suit of amour and a large walnut choir stall from 1480s Italy.

On the upper floor, the first room is a small bedroom that is thought to be that of Anne as a child. I did manage to snap this shot through the open window of the room. The room includes a portrait of Anne.

In an adjacent room is a number of tapestries (including one depicting the marriage of Henry’s sister Mary Rose to Louis XII of France in 1514 (along the left wall) and two illuminated prayer books that belonged to Anne (which include her signature and are kept in the wooden display cases).

(detail of prayer books)

(detail of tapestry - many of the tapestries we saw during our trip are very large and must have taken hundreds of hours to make if not more!)

The largest bedchamber in the house was restored by the Astor family to be fit for a king (and is called King Henry VIII’s Bedchamber although it's not known for sure if he slept there are not). The beautiful bed is from 1540. The ceiling is the oldest in the castle (1462) and the paneling is from 1565 with the exception of a piece over the fireplace (below) which commemorates Henry’s two wives who lived at Hever.

Also upstairs is the Long Gallery which is more than 93 feet long. The gallery contains an impressive collection of Tudor portraits.

During the restoration of the castle, Astor also had built a 100 room wing in the style of a Tudor village and added elaborate gardens and a lake. Today the wing can be rented for corporate events, conferences, weddings etc and includes 21 bedrooms. The work was carried out by a force of over 1500 people!


By the time we came out of the castle it was really starting to cool off and we almost decided to skip the gardens – we were glad we didn’t! Laid out between 1904 and 1908, the gardens comprise 125 acres  (with more than 4,000 plants) along with a 38 acre lake. The garden includes classical and natural landscapes and a number of ponds and waterfalls.   Additional pictures of the gardens are below:

Loggia and Piazza that front the lake

fountain on the back side of the piazza inspired by the Trevi fountain in Rome

view of the lake from inside Piazza

By the time we finished up in the gardens it was almost closing time and we headed back to our hotel for a nice long soak in the hot tub!  After all the walking and climbing up and down at Arundel, my legs were killing me!!

*All information is from the Guidebook


  1. Your picture of the lake is now my wallpaper! What a great shot.

    I have never seen Hever either. I always heard it was very heavily restored with not much original and as you know it is not all that easy to get to. But I definitely want to see it based on these pictures!

  2. I'm so glad you liked the picture of the lake - my husband took it and when he gets great shots like this, it makes his camera obsession worth it!!

    Although it has been heavily restored, it is quite beautiful inside and the number of Tudor related pieces and some nice antiques make it a nice place to visit. And if you like gardens, these really are impressive.

    I think if you come from the north on the highway it will be easier to find (there are signs from there) and the drive through the country is nice.

  3. Awesome, thanks again for sharing. If you ever have a chance take the time to tour The Hearst Castle in California. Ole' W.R. *looted* quite a lot of treasures out of Europe and installed all over his house and guest houses. Ceilings, tapestries, furniture you name it. It's quite something to see.



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