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.
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.
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.
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.
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?