Hever Castle rediscovered: New research reveals information about the previous owners and history of the childhood home of Anne Boleyn

Research commissioned by Hever Castle reveals new information about the origins of the 14th century landmark and two of its owners including the Boleyns and Anne of Cleves.

Architectural Historian and former Chief Executive of English Heritage, Simon Thurley revealed the outcome of his research at a press view at Hever Castle today (Thursday 12 January).

He discovered that Hever Castle was actually built in 1383 for John de Cobham, not in 1270 for William de Hever as previously thought. The licence to crenellate was granted to de Cobham just two years after the Peasant’s Revolt in 1381, showing that de Cobham built Hever for defensive purposes in a time of significant social unrest.

Thurley uncovered more about what Thomas and Elizabeth Boleyn’s Hever looked like and how they as a family used the castle. Information such as the layout of the medieval fortified house, whose location may have appealed to the Boleyns due to its proximity to woods for hunting, shows how the family used their home.  Moreover, the house was strictly divided into two wings: servants and family.

The family’s main living quarters were on the first floor of the west wing. Remarkably, Thurley uncovered the original timbers still supporting this unique space. It is believed to be one of the only surviving suite of family rooms used by the Boleyns that is still intact today. It may have been in these very rooms, but was certainly at Hever Castle, where Anne Boleyn made her fateful decision to marry King Henry VIII over a family Christmas in 1526. It was also in these rooms where Anne resided during much of the ‘Great Matter’ and during the ‘Sweating Sickness’ of 1528.

The research also reveals Anne of Cleves’ significant contribution to the Castle after the lease was given to her as part of her divorce from Henry VIII. Previously it was believed that Thomas Boleyn added the Long Gallery but Simon Thurley’s work brought to light that it was actually Anne of Cleves’ vision. Cleves also added the Staircase Gallery on the floor below, connecting the two wings of the house, and remodelled the ceiling in the Great Hall. These significant additions demonstrate that Anne of Cleves clearly spent a lot more time at Hever Castle than has previously been accounted for. In fact, it became one of her beloved and primary residences after the death of King Henry VIII in 1547.

Thurley’s work also highlights how well preserved Hever Castle is. The gatehouse and battlements are original to the 14th century as well as the portcullis mechanism.

Thurley goes as far as to suggest that the gatehouse is a “remarkable, not to say unique, sequence of defensive features” and there is “probably no other sequence of medieval defensive timberwork to survive like this anywhere in Europe”.

The Great Hall (currently known as the Dining Hall) also contains an original window but was the first area of the Castle to be modernised.

The Castle was almost continuously occupied between 1557 and 1903.

Curator Alison Palmer also revealed at the press view a newly acquired deed dated 1558, for the sale of the Hever Castle Estate from Queen Mary I and King Philip to the Waldegrave family.

As a result of this research there will be a number of developments over the coming season.

Visitors will start to see changes in the configuration and displays in the building to reflect the research findings, starting with the ground floor this year and then moving to the upper floors in subsequent years.

Changes will begin behind closed doors during January and will continue when the Castle reopens for the 2023 season on the 8th February. All alterations to the ground floor will be in situ by the 26th March.

Visitors will also observe some small changes to the Hever Castle branding, these will reflect the research findings and what are now the four most significant historical owners of the Castle in terms of their impact on its development. The four families represented in the updated logo will be: de Cobham, Boleyn, Cleves and Astor. This change will also be reflected in the flag that flies over the Castle. The two owners that have been replaced are de Hever, who did not crenellate the house as was previously believed, and Waldegrave who were landlords of the estate but who let the Castle for the entire period of their ownership.

The Hever Castle website will be transformed with updated content that echoes the research and a new look to implement the revised branding and improve the user experience.

  • Hever Castle reopens to the public on Wednesday 8 February with the exhibition: Catherine and Anne: Queens, Rivals, Mothers. A 1527 prayer book belonging to Catherine of Aragon on loan from the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York will be available for visitors to see alongside the 1527 Book of Hours which belonged to Anne Boleyn, already on display in the Castle. This is likely the first time in 500 years that the two prayerbooks of Henry VIII’s first two wives will be reunited. The exhibition showcases the similarities between Catherine and Anne and through new research by Hever Castle’s Assistant Curator Kate McCaffrey which shows that Catherine owned the very same copy of the prayer book that Anne had.

Visitors can also see a previously unexhibited panel portrait of Catherine of Aragon and replicas of the coronation robes and crown of Elizabeth I and Mary I which may also have been used by Anne and Catherine at their coronations.