History Files
 
 

 

Castles of the British Isles

Photo Focus: Hever Castle

by Linda Weeks, 17 May 2019. Updated 30 October 2021

 

Hever Castle, Hever in Kent
Photo © P L Kessler

Hever Castle is in Kent, very close to the Surrey and Sussex borders. The original medieval defensive castle with its gatehouse and walled bailey was built in 1270.

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries it was the home of one of the most powerful families in the country, the Boleyns, who added the Tudor dwelling within the walls. Anne Boleyn, queen for a thousand days, met Henry Tudor here while he was still married to his first wife.

The castle later passed into the ownership of another of Henry's wives, Anne of Cleves, but her death in 1557 meant that it was subsequently owned by a number of families, including the Waldegraves, the Humphreys, and the Meade Waldos.

Hever Castle, Hever in Kent
Photo © P L Kessler

Gradually the castle fell into decline before William Waldorf Astor invested time, money, and imagination into restoring it. He commissioned the 'Tudor Village' which lies behind it, now called the 'Astor Wing', and construction of the magnificent gardens and lake.

The original medieval defensive castle at Hever, its gatehouse and walled bailey, was built in 1270. The present gatehouse is built of sandstone and would have been the only stone building on the site. It contained a hall, replacing the original timber hall of the motte and bailey castle.

Hever Castle, Hever in Kent
Photo © P L Kessler

The exterior walls of the castle would have been whitewashed with a mixture of powdered chalk and water, which gave the structure a more dramatic appearance, as well as providing some weatherproofing. The front of the castle would have been decorated in strong colours.

Hever Castle, Hever in Kent
Photo © P L Kessler

In 1462, Anne Boleyn’s great-grandfather, Geoffrey Boleyn (Bullen), bought the castle and extended it by adding a Tudor building inside the walls. The castle became the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, King Henry VIII's second wife, who was queen for just a thousand days.

Hever Castle, Hever in Kent
Photo © P L Kessler

Hever Castle later passed into the ownership of Henry VIII's fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, in 1540 as part of a very generous settlement when their marriage was annulled after only six months, and it became her principal residence. The window in the Long Gallery contains her coat of arms.

Hever Castle, Hever in Kent
Photo © P L Kessler

The castle belonged to Charles Waldegrave in 1557, and in 1567 he built a tower containing a stone stairway between the Morning Room and Anne Boleyn's bedroom, extending it up to the Long Gallery in 1584. He also built a small oratory next to his bedroom, where he could hear mass in private.

Hever Castle, Hever in Kent
Photo © P L Kessler

In the nineteenth century the north-east corner of the castle collapsed under the weight of a large fifteenth century chimney which had been built on top of the kitchen flue. In 1838 the kitchen was moved into the Great Hall; possibly because the tower itself was showing signs of cracking.

Hever Castle, Hever in Kent
Photo © P L Kessler

The oldest plans of the lake show the original Japanese Teahouse in a prominent position on the peninsula of Sixteen-Acre-Island, but it was demolished to make way for a pill box, one of three which were built during the Second World War to defend a key crossing point on the River Eden.

Hever Castle, Hever in Kent
Photo © P L Kessler

The castle gradually fell into decline in the nineteenth century until William Waldorf Astor bought it in 1902 and restored it. He commissioned the construction of the gardens and lake, and the Tudor Village.

Coats of arms in the stained glass windows of the Long Gallery commemorate various residents of the castle since 1270.

 

All photos by P L Kessler, taken in June 2010.

Main Sources

Channel 4's The Six Wives of Henry VIII series, by Doctor David Starkey

Other Sources

Hever Castle official site

History Extra

On the Tudor Trail

 

Images and text copyright © P L Kessler & Linda Weeks except where stated. An original feature for the History Files.