A few weeks ago, my father and I were able to get away for a morning to visit Hever Castle in Kent. It's somewhere that you may have been to before, and it's a castle that is very close to our hearts - we LOVE the way the grounds are kept and how the castle evokes the history of the Boleyn family, the time Anne of Cleves spent there AND, more recently, how the Astor family lived and renovated the whole area.
For a long time, Hever castle was quite static in its displays - not much changed, which was fine if you'd never visited before, but since we had visited so many times, it was rare to see anything new. That's no longer the case.
Hever castle is the freshest it's been for as long as we remember
We were lucky enough to get in touch with castle historian Dr Owen Emmerson who was full of excitement over the new acquisitions and displays that he'd been involved with organising. We arranged to meet at the castle door and to be taken around the changes that had happened since our last visit (before the pandemic). Owen was there, along with Kate McCaffrey, and they came with a signed copy of the book about the new display "Catherine and Anne: Queens, Mothers, Rivals". What a wonderful illustrated guidebook this was.
Our tour took us to the left from the entrance and immediately we were struck with how open things were now. The castle staff have worked so hard to give you much more chance to actually enjoy the space within the castle. Tapestries have been moved around and there are now mannequins dressed in Tudor clothing to give you a "feel" for how the castle was 500 years ago. The informational displays are minimal, which is a blessing, but if you want more information, the audio guides are excellent and really well made.
As we moved on to the room which used to be called "Anne's Bedroom", we we met with the twin portraits of Anne and Mary Boleyn. These were always too far apart from each other when they were in the great hall, but now they're positioned very close to each other, allowing the viewer to see the stunning details up close.
In a small niche next door there is now a gorgeous portrait of Queen Catherine of Aragon , along with an exquisitely illustrated prayer book. It's nice to see that the castle has expanded its view to more than just the Boleyn family.
As we move on, there are yet more portraits of Anne Boleyn, pages from Books of Hours which we'd never seen before and the detail on these masterpieces is stunning.
Moving into the "books of hours room", we were confronted with yet more exciting items. The old cabinet holding Anne Boleyn's book of hours has gone (thankfully!) and now there are two books of hours held in large open glass cases. This is so much better as you can now see all around the books and wonder at the number of historical figures who have held and used these books. Anne's book is now complemented with a Book of Hours which was owned by Catherine of Aragon. Owen told us that it's fascinating to see that the pages with Latin prayers on are more heavily used in Catherine's book, but the English prayers are more used in Anne's book. This really is history!
As a musician, I found it amazing to see another new acquisition - a Tudor music book linked to Anne Boleyn! The pages show both music and words to songs which would have been known during the Tudor period. And looking back through our photos, we also see that there's a motif of a falcon pecking at a pomegranate - Anne Boleyn's falcon pecking at Catherine of Aragon's symbol.
Owen took us on to yet more rooms which are, again, much more open than they used to be. We love the new aesthetics of the castle. Every wall is adorned with original portraits of all the usual characters, such as Queen Elizabeth I and others from the Tudor court. Another highlight for us was seeing the replica coronation robes of Elizabeth I as worn by Cate Blanchett in the film "Elizabeth".
At this point, Owen had to leave us, and we can't thank him enough for his time spent explaining the changes and, even more exciting, the future plans for the castle. We're thrilled about the direction that the castle is taking.
In our own time, we made our way up to the long gallery which is much as it always has been. It's always nice to see the portraits you know and love hanging in such a stunning setting. As we passed, we said hello to Anne Boleyn (again!) as well as others such as Cardinal Wolsey and Pope Clement VII. It was here that we were blessed with another new exhibit - an Anne of Cleves oak panel which survived from the time of Henry VIII. It was one of around 22 known panels which have survived from a home of Anne of Cleves, possibly even Hever Castle!
We always love looking out of the windows at the top of the castle over the immaculately preserved timber framed castle. It really does take your breath away.
And almost before we knew it, we were out of the castle to take a look back at, what is in our opinion, one of the most beautiful historical buildings in England.
Is it worth a visit to Hever Castle - YES. YES, IT IS! The castle is finally moving forward, embracing a lot more of its history and displaying it in such a way that you can really feel the past. Yes, it's well worth a visit.