Travelogue: Hever Castle

In no particular order, our next stop on our England travelogue after Sissinghurst Castle is Hever Castle –pronounced “Heever”–in Edenbridge, Kent. Did you know Hever Castle was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn? Although Boleyn’s life ended badly because she married King Henry VIII, her former home is a fairy-tale castle complete with a drawbridge, walled bailey and moat. The original castle was constructed in 1270, but it played a powerful role in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Hever Castle framed by a blue sky.
Hever Castle framed by a blue sky.

Later owners made amendments to the castle like a secret place to celebrate mass. Things were turbulent during the Tudor years, and it shows inside the castle walls.

Inside the keep at Hever Castle. This was as far as I could go inside to take photos.
Inside the keep at Hever Castle. This was as far as I could go inside to take photos.

Unfortunately, they don’t allow photographs inside, but Catholic, Protestant, Catholic, Protestant, the castle followed England’s history pretty closely. Here are some photos of the interior from the website. I’ve read so many books about England, and I’ve always found Anne Boleyn’s story rather sad. It seems to me after visiting the Tower of London and Hever Castle that the English are a bit sad about it too. I think Anne and her sister, Mary, were both manipulated by their powerful and ambitious families, the Boleyns and the Howards, but what do I, an American know? An odd and eerie note to this history are two prayer books on display in the castle that belonged to Anne and have her notations in them. The castle’s information stated they were books she had with her while she was held in the tower, and historians don’t know why she chose these two books which were Catholic. I’m guessing because her other known book of hours has notes from the king himself during their courtship. That would be a terrible reminder while waiting for your trial on treason. There are three of her devotional books in existence, and two are at the castle. The oldest prayer book has the inscription, “Remember me when you do pray, That hope doth lead from day to day.–Anne Boleyn” Not quite the wanton woman portrayed in so many movies and novels. Most historians now believe that the charges against Anne were false, but she only bore Henry a daughter and had two or three subsequent miscarriages. Pure and simple, the king thought he needed a son, and he would do anything to accomplish this end. History is fascinating, isn’t it? If you’d like to learn more about Anne’s private devotionals, here is a podcast from the British Library. After listening to it, I dislike Henry VIII even more. I can’t help it.

Hever Castle's moat was built for the castle's protection.
The moat was built for the castle’s protection.

Okay, let’s move along. After Henry VIII seized Hever Castle from the Boleyn’s, he later gave it to another one of his wives, Anne of Cleves. She was pretty smart, and avoided the axe. After she died, it was passed around and eventually went into decline. An American, William Waldorf Astor, moved to England and restored the castle to its former glory and created an amazing landscape including Italian gardens to display his collection of priceless statuary. Click on the photos to see them larger and in gallery form.

Although I loved the Italian gardens, they seemed out-of-place in cloudy and rainy England. Don’t gardeners always want to grow in a style not in keeping with their natural environment? I can’t tell you how many Italian gardens I’ve seen in Dallas, TX, and there’s my little English cottage-style garden in Oklahoma. Humans, especially gardeners, seem to like doing what’s hard. The Astors took swampland and made a lake that the Italian gardens look out upon. Amazing what $100 million in 1903 can do.

Astor's lake at Hever Castle. The lake was started in December 1904 and was finished in July 1906.
Astor’s lake at Hever Castle. The lake was started in December 1904 and was finished in July 1906.

From Hever Castle’s website:

One of the most magnificent areas of the gardens is the Italian garden, which was designed to display William Waldorf Astor’s collection of Italian sculptures. Over 1,000 men worked on the grand design, with around 800 men taking two years to dig out the 38-acre (14.2 ha) lake at the far end of the Italian Garden. Within four years the 125 acres (50 ha) of classical and natural landscapes were constructed and planted. The garden is only now reaching its full maturity and includes the colourful walled Rose Garden which contains over 4,000 bushes.

After visiting England, there are three plants I will forever associate with the gardens there: American wisteria, ceanothus and rhododendrons. Of course, there’s roses too, but I expected roses. I didn’t really expect so many examples of these other plants, but they were in every garden. Rhodies especially were the norm in huge sizes like the rhododendron walk shown below. In the other gardens I’ll profile, I’ll show you more of these three plants. American wisteria was growing at gardens large and small throughout the country. Of course, I noticed it because I grow two varieties in my own garden where climbing roses once reigned.

Below are more beautiful photos from Hever Castle. I loved our day there, and I hope to visit it again. What do you think of Anne and Mary Boleyn’s ancestral home?

12 Replies to “Travelogue: Hever Castle”

  1. Beautiful, beautiful! My garden might look a little more impressive if I had $100 million and 1,000 workers, too:) Right now I’d settle for a couple of teenagers to help me weed:) I’ve always been fascinated by this time period in history and would be as excited by the history of the castle as the gardens. Henry VIII is not one of my favorites, either.

  2. I love all the history! The gardens are breathtaking but thinking about the people who may have walked among them makes them magical. Thanks for sharing. Someday, someday!

  3. Beautiful spot, the open spaces and meticulous design are really something, but the history is a little chilling. Still, after a couple hundred years you’ll have to expect a few down notes in a castle.
    I’m still thinking about Sissinghurst though…. now that’s a garden!

  4. How beautiful! That looks like a wonderful garden. Interesting to see the ceanothus trellised. Maybe their climate required it to hug that stone wall?

  5. Stunning photos, Dee. I’m so happy you visited England. Sorry to say I’ve never been to Hever or Sissinghurst. Your enjoyment is infectious — now I have to go to them. P. x

  6. Hever Castle has a classic, simple, elegant charm and I enjoyed seeing it through your eyes. Poor Anne. Marriage was more of a contract than a love arrangement in days of yore. The Italian garden is beautiful if seemingly misplaced but at least WWA restored the castle and grounds.

    1. Carol, I hope so. I don’t want to bore people, but I felt the overwhelming presence of history while I was there, and I don’t think you can understand the gardens without it. I think I loved the palaces and castles as much as the gardens which surprised me.

  7. I loved seeing Hever Castle through your eyes. I have enjoyed reading a lot of historical novels about these people and their times. Seeing this brings a lot of the history to life. You have some fantastic photos. I love the photo that says ‘outside the Tudor garden’. What is that growing on or above the huge boulders? It looks beautiful trimmed up like it is. 4000 roses. Can’t imagine such a sight. I have read about our Rhodies being so popular over there. I guess in some areas they are problematic they have become invasive. That might be more in Ireland. Can you imagine thinking a Rhodie is invasive?? I have never been able to establish any in my garden. Love all the links you have added too. It really brings this all alive. Thanks for all your hard work.

    1. Hi Lisa! I’ve read so many historical novels about the time period. It was crazy cool to actually be there. Thank you for the kind words about the photos. About the shrubs outside the Tudor garden, I think those were actually boxwoods. Most of the sculpted shrubs are yews, but these weren’t, and I seem to remember they were boxwoods, but my word, how huge! Yes, I also read that Rhodies were invasive in some places within the UK, but no, I can hardly believe it. I’ve never been able to get one to grow here.

Comments are closed.