Hever Castle Unveils Newly Refurbished Boleyn Apartment

Hever Castle unveiled the newly refurbished Boleyn Apartment on Wednesday 26th June. They are the only surviving suite of rooms lived in by the Boleyn family and incredibly they’re largely structurally unaltered.

As well as the chance for visitors to walk in this famous family’s footsteps, they will be able to find out more about the part Hever Castle played in the tempestuous love affair between Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII which changed the course of English history.

Hever Castle has long been known as “The Childhood Home of Anne Boleyn”. But recent research has revealed she spent much more time at Hever than previously thought and that the double-moated castle played a major part in her romance with Henry VIII.

It was to Hever she retreated when the King’s attentions became too much. There she finally decided to accept them. And there she read Henry‘s letter effectively promising marriage: “aut illic, aut nullibi”: “either there [marriage] or nowhere”. The team can even make a shrewd guess at the actual room it happened in.

Tudor historian Dr David Starkey, who has been advising the Castle team on the project, said: “It’s Hever Castle where the royal love affair that shook the world reached its turning point; it’s the place, literally, where the English Reformation began. And, most astonishing of all, it still looks the same—outside and, where it matters, inside as well. Anne Boleyn would recognise it; she would even be able to find her way to the room where she slept.”

The discoveries started when Dr Simon Thurley, architectural historian of Tudor and Stuart England, was commissioned to write a scholarly architectural history of Hever Castle. The result has transformed the understanding of the building’s history and use throughout its 600-year existence.

The living space at Hever Castle, paradoxically one of the smallest houses the Boleyns owned, has survived essentially intact from when they lived there whereas all their other houses have been altered beyond recognition. At Hever alone visitors can glimpse the reality of their everyday life.

Hever’s location deep in the Kentish countryside and yet only 20 miles – or one day’s riding – from London made it ideal as a safe place to bring up the children of an ambitious courtier family. Or as a convenient refuge for Anne from the prying eyes and wagging tongues of her rivals and enemies at Henry VIII’s court.

The rooms of the Boleyn Apartment have been entirely refurnished, redecorated and rehung with textiles to suggest their appearance when Anne Boleyn used them. The display also tells the story of the social climbing of Anne’s ruthlessly ambitious family; her French education in the arts of courtly love; her winning the heart of Henry and the crown of England and her brush with death along the way when she caught the dreaded Sweating Sickness but recovered—also at Hever.

There are no surviving contemporary inventories of Hever Castle. But the curatorial team has made a detailed study of comparable inventories which, together with Holbein’s paintings, provide a scholarly foundation for the refurbishment. There are surprises here too: the general lack of furniture, especially chairs; that carpets go on tables and not on the floor; that (thanks to Holbein) the team discovered how curtains were hung and drawn; that tapestry isn’t universal but comes in forms sharply differentiated by cost, appearance and use; that cheap, painted imitations of tapestry and rich cloths like damask were common.

The new visitor experience tells the story of Anne’s journey to become Queen in Waiting. The refurbishment—with its use of tapestries, fabrics, rush-matting, friezes, and 16th-century furniture— helps visitors feel as though they are walking in the shoes of the woman whose influence would change the course of England’s history, monarchy and religion. Similarly, the rooms become increasingly more opulent as you move through them as Anne’s status increased over time.

The Parlour (previously the Morning Room) sets the scene for the rooms ahead. Then the visitor climbs the spiral staircase to the Nursery (formerly Anne Boleyn’s Bedroom), which shows what life was like for Anne Boleyn and her siblings as children at Hever Castle.

Next comes the Great Chamber (formerly the Book of Hours Room), which represents Anne’s return to Hever after her crucial years at the French court. Artefacts such as lutes and other musical instruments, writing materials and books (including religious works) suggest both the multi-functional use of this room and the cultural influences Anne absorbed in France. The ceiling, painted in deep blue and gold, is striking and a hand-painted frieze takes inspiration from painted decorations at other Tudor properties.

The Best Bedchamber (formerly the Queens’ Chamber) is dressed with rich figurative tapestries—the most precious form of wall covering. This is the location where Anne probably read most of Henry’s love letters (which survive in the Vatican Library) and wrote her now vanished replies as she sure-footedly negotiated her perilous rise to “Queen in Waiting”.

The re-interpretation of these rooms was a major undertaking and has been planned and researched for over a year by the team at Hever Castle, with advice from Dr Starkey.

The project has also seen items from Hever Castle’s permanent collection relocated, in particular the Books of Hours (prayer books) signed by Anne Boleyn. These, among the Castle’s greatest treasures, are now displayed in another, dedicated room.  This enables the visitor to encounter them (as Anne would have done) directly and intimately.

Castle Historian and Assistant Curator Kate McCaffrey said: “We are thrilled to unveil the Boleyn Apartment. We wanted to create a series of rooms that lets the visitor step back in time to the world of Anne Boleyn and her family – Hever’s most famous inhabitants. We’ve had an incredibly rare opportunity to display these rooms as they would have been used and present them sympathetically.”