Who hasn’t learned about Henry VIII and the fates of his poor wives in school? Hever Castle offers a glimpse into the life of the infamous families, like the Boleyns and Tudors, that once owned this historic castle.
Built, expanded, and renovated, each successive owner of the castle has left their mark on this historic landmark in one way or another. Today, surrounded by beautiful gardens, Hever Castle makes a wonderful day trip from London.
We are not sponsored by Hever Castle. We just enjoyed our visit and thought you would too.
History on Hever Castle & Anne Boleyn
The Beginnings of Hever Castle
Today, Hever Castle looks very different from its original timber frame build of the 12th century.
By 1271, stone walls strengthened the Gatehouse. However, the moat, towers, Great Hall, and stone walls were not built until the 14th century.
Arguably, the most interesting period of the castle’s history is in the 16th century. This was when Hever Castle belonged to Thomas Boleyn, father of Anne Boleyn.
The Woman Who Changed the Course of History, and Regretted it
Born c1501, Anne Boleyn lived at Hever Castle from 1504 to 1513, when she left to serve Margaret of Austria. Anne then served Queen Claude of France before returning to England in 1522. From then, she served Catherine of Aragon, King Henry VIII’s first wife.
A year later, Henry banished Anne to Hever Castle as he was jealous of her engagement to one of Cardinal Wolsey’s advisors.
Madly in love with Anne, Henry continued to pursue her. Historians believe he visited Hever Castle several times during his courtship. Though, she refused to be a mistress and insisted on marriage.
As the Catholic Church would not allow Henry to divorce Catherine, Henry broke ties with Rome. He affirmed that only the English monarchy had power over the English Church. This action led to the formation of the Church of England.
In 1533, Henry married Anne Boleyn. However, like Catherine, Anne only gave birth to a female child, Elizabeth I. Desperate to have a male heir, Henry needed to get rid of Anne.
In 1536, Anne was tried and convicted of adultery, incest, treason, and sorcery. Her punishment was beheading in the Tower of London.
Henry VIII then married Jane Seymour eleven days later.
If you are interested in learning more about Anne Boleyn and her family, you may enjoy these books.
Refurbishment of Hever Castle
Through the centuries, Hever Castle had 37 owners, including Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII’s fourth wife.
Somewhere around the 18th and 19th centuries, the castle fell into disrepair. Luckily, in 1903, the American millionaire William Waldorf Astor bought the property and did some major refurbishment.
Astor added the Italian Gardens, Power Station, Stables, Home Farm, Kitchen Gardens, and Estate Cottages. He also added the Tudor Village. Today, these period rooms are part of the hotel at Hever Castle. Read about our stay at Hever Castle Hotel.
Basic Information on Visiting Hever Castle
- Located in the Kent countryside, Hever Castle is only 30 minutes from Gatwick Airport and 1 hour from London Heathrow by car.
- Getting to the castle by car is easiest. However, taking a train is possible, but you’ll need to use a taxi for the last three miles. Trains leave from London Victoria and London Bridge. It takes around forty minutes for a direct to Edenbridge Town Station.
- Parking at Hever Castle is free and there is plenty of it.
- Hever Castle has an extensive garden surrounding the castle. Tickets are available for just the gardens, but of course it’s worth adding on the castle for a few extra pounds.
- All admissions include access to the Kent & Sharpshooters Yeomanry Museum onsite.
- Throughout the year the castle holds several events including outdoor theater and jousting.
Exploring Inside of Hever Castle
A wonderfully narrated audio guide comes with admission to Hever Castle. Signs in each of the rooms gave a brief overview. However, as the rooms were decorated for different periods of ownership, the audio guide gave a much deeper understanding of the time periods.
As we moved from room to room, the audio guide pointed out interesting details we almost missed. For instance, we didn’t notice the small marker in the hallway noting the flood level of 1968.
In the Dining Hall, take note of the impressive locks on the doors. One of which is the original lock used for Henry VIII’s security while staying at Hever Castle.
The tour continued up a narrow 13-step stone staircase. The staircase was the only way to reach the upper two floors. Those with mobility challenges may not find the castle accessible.
Upstairs were several bedchambers, including the one Henry VIII most likely used.
In the Waldegrave Room, hidden behind paneling, the Catholic Waldegrave family added an Oratory in 1584 so Sir Edward could practice his faith in secret.
Probably the most exciting find for those interested in Anne Boleyn’s story is her Book of Hours (prayer book), which she wrote in and signed.
My favorite room was the Long Gallery. Here 18 original portraits depict the characters from the Wars of the Roses to the Reformation.
To hear the story of the Tudors, from portrait to portrait, be sure to press the audio guide for additional information.
Before leaving the castle, don’t miss the full suit of armor and the exhibit on Medieval torture devices.
As we listened to the full audio guide, it took us between 1 – 1.5 hours to explore Hever Castle.
Exploring the Gardens at Hever Castle
Though we had a drizzling cold winter’s day in mid-February, we still enjoyed wandering the massive 125-acre gardens.
Even in winter there was surprisingly a lot to see. The trees were bare, but the elaborate statues, carved hedges, and stunning stone Loggia pavilion on the lake made for interesting sites.
Even though it wasn’t quite spring yet, tens of thousands of white snowdrops decorated the pathways. We even had white roses lining the walls of the Italian Gardens.
Though the water maze and boat rental for the lake were not available in winter, the small hedge maze near the castle was open.
Where to Stay for Hever Castle
We stayed at the onsite Hever Castle Hotel and loved it. Attached to the castle, in the old Tudor Village, the hotel is romantic and surprisingly good value. A stay includes tickets to the castle and gardens. Guests can even enjoy the gardens after hours. Plus, you get a cooked breakfast.
If Hever Castle Hotel is not available, The Greyhound Inn is just over a mile down the road and offers comfortable rooms.
Alternatively, if you prefer to stay near the city, try the Mount Edgcumbe in Royal Tunbridge Wells. With clean, comfortable, well-decorated rooms, and free parking it makes for good value.
Where to Eat
If you’d like to eat on the castle grounds there are several options which include two cafes, a pizza van, a restaurant, ice cream carts, and a bar at the lake. Note that not everything is open year-round. Many of the facilities close between the end of October through late March for the winter and early spring.
You can also do a picnic in the gardens, there are many lawns and picnic areas to choose from.
Also, around the gardens you’ll find several spots to refill water bottles.
As we were there in the off-season, we grabbed dinner at the King Henry VIII Inn next door. It’s a small place and you will likely need reservations if you are there for dinner.
We hope you enjoy your visit to Hever Castle as much as we did.
We’ll be posting more on the area shortly, so stay tuned. Until then, check out a few of our favorite posts from around England.