A History of Hever Castle... and Hever Castle's Place in History

The first phase of building at Hever was in about 1270, and the design of the castle reflects the defensive architecture of that time. The oldest part of the castle is the outer fortified wall and the massive gatehouse, which is seen in the photograph below. To get into the castle, you had to cross the moat by a wooden drawbridge and then pass through the gatehouse with the large wooden doors and portcullis.

The Gatehouse

In the latter half of the 15th century, the castle was bought, along with Blickling Hall (Norfolk) by Geoffrey Bullen. Bullen came from Norfolk and began his career as an apprentice mercer. Eventually, he had acquired a large personal fortune, became Lord Mayor of London and was knighted. The Bullen family added the castle, building the apartments inside the fortified walls. Since castles weren't used much for defense by the 16th century, their additions are comfortable living spaces.

Sir Geoffrey's grandson, Thomas, was born in 1477 and in 1498, he married the Daughter of the Duke of Norfolk, Elizabeth Howard. Thomas and Elizabeth had three children which survived childhood: George, Anne and Mary. Some believe that Anne was born at Hever, perhaps in 1501, although the evidence for this is sketchy at best.

The ivy covered walls of Hever Castle

After spending time at the court of France and Anne returned to England and lived at Hever until she became a Lady in Waiting to Queen Catherine, the wife of Henry VIII. After Anne's "affair" with Henry Percy, she was sent from Court to once again take up residence at Hever. By this time, King Henry had had an affair with Mary Bullen, Anne's sister. At one point the King noticed Anne herself, and began to visit her at Hever.

Since Anne refused to become the King's mistress, he began searching for a way to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon, so he could marry Anne. After several years of attempting to obtain a divorce (or technically, an annulment), Henry broke from the Church of Rome and founded of the Church of England. In January 1533, the already pregnant Anne Boleyn (apparently she adopted this alternative spelling at about this time), became the second wife of Henry VIII and in June, was crowned Queen of England in Westminster Abbey.

Of course, the child that Anne gave birth to on Sept. 7, 1533 was not the long hoped-for son, but rather a princess, named Elizabeth after her grandmothers. Anne had at least one other miscarriage, and then gave birth to a still-born son. Anne fell from favor because of her inability to give Henry a son and on May 19, 1536, she was executed on the Tower Green on false charges of adultery. Her brother George was also executed in connection with these charges. Anne's mother died the next year, and her father the year after that.

Upon Sir Thomas' death, Hever Castle went to the Crown and in 1540, it was given to Anne of Cleves in her divorce from Henry VIII. Anne owned the Castle until her death in 1557.

The moat surrounding Hever
The Astor Tudor- style village is in the distance

After the death of Anne of Cleves, the castle was purchased by the Waldegraves who owned and cared for it for another 160 years. When the castle became too for them, it was sold. Eventually it was bought by the Meade-Waldos family who owned it from 1749-1903. During this time, the castle began to fall into ruin, until it was purchased by the Astor family.

William Waldorf Astor bought Hever Castle in 1903. He wanted to extend the living space of the castle, which was impracticle, so he built a Tudor-style village (there was a village in Tudor times at the castle, but it had long since vanished) which connected to the rear of the castle. The village is visible in the photograph above and the aerial photo below. Astor also put great care into restoring the castle itself.

An aerial view of Hever Castle
© Unichrome (Bath) Ltd.

In 1981, the Astor family put the castle up for sale and it was purchased in 1983 by Broadland Properties Limited, who continue to allow the castle to be opened for visitors.

The gardens around Hever Castle are beautiful and well maintained. Above is an armillary sphere near the hedge maze. Below is a mound of flowers and bushes that were in full bloom.


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Photographs © Lara E. Eakins except where noted

England and Wales 1998
Photography and Travel