Anne Boleyn – a visit to her childhood home
By Nils Bjørnæs
The home of Anne Boleyn
Hever Castle is not the largest, but as the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, the most famous of Henry VIII's wives, who ended her days on the scaffold, there is a historical ambience to the castle that is both romantic and sinister. With moat, Drawbridge and knight castle facade, it's as if it is taken out of a Robin Hood movie.
The oldest part of Hever was built around 1270, and consisted at the time of a solid stone building with port and drawbridge, and a courtyard surrounded by high walls. Two hundred years later the Bullen family moved in and built a comfortable Tudor style house inside the walls.
Bullen was the original family name of Anne Boleyn, and it was her great-grandfather, Geoffrey Bullen from Norfolk, who bought Hever after being Mayor of London and earning himself a fortune.
Because of the lack of church records from this period, there is a degree of uncertainty about when Anne Boleyn was born, but it's thought she was born at Hever Castle in 1501. The family, with parents Thomas and Elizabeth, at the head, were at that time regarded as one of the most respectable families in the English aristocracy.
Everyday life, parties and feast
We know very little of Anne's early childhood, but in such an idyllic place as Hever Castle, with its surrounding parks and forests, there would have been much to do for a little noble lady and her two older siblings, George and Mary. There was plenty of activity, both in and around the family home, for even in a comparatively modest household as Hever, they needed a small host of servants, cooks, domestic workers and the land laborers to keep the domestic wheels turning.
Much of the time went on in cooking and preparation of raw materials, not at least when preparing for a celebratory dinner which was often a very noisy affair. The guests often brought their own servants, and the most prominent even had their own tasters, whose job was to check whether the food was poisoned.
During the meal servants would be running around with wine and large trays with new dishes, dogs would be fighting over bones and leftovers that were thrown on the floor, and musicians, jugglers and acrobats performing to turn the whole thing into a noisy and colorful assembly.
Manners and customs
As the customary way to help yourself to food was to use your fingers, it was important to have clean hands. Therefore, it was good practice to wash hands outside where everyone could see. Keeping hands clean during the meal was a different matter. For even though they had a knife and a spoon, most of the time they ate with their fingers. Forks were not common in Europe until the 1700s.
A Code of table manners existed also at the time, and things you should not do during the meal were, among other things:
- Do not stick your fingers in your ear
- Do not scratch your head
- Do not blow your nose in your hands
- And the men were advised not to scratch their crotch
Other bad manners were to blow your nose in, or wipe the sweat of your face with the napkin, and to put the bones back on the plate. Bones belonged on the floor. To break wind at the table was also not advised.
From Bullen to Boleyn
Anne's father, Sir Thomas, was a respected diplomat with a talent for languages, who was often sent on diplomatic missions abroad. When Anne was 13, he took her to France, where she became lady in waiting to the French Queen. Over the next years Anne learned perfect French, and often acted as translator when English visitors came to the French court. It was here she was known as Anne Boleyn, a name she later preferred.
In 1522, after four years as ambassador in Paris, Sir Thomas went back to England and took Anne with him. Anne was now a sophisticated young woman who had spent several years at the most brilliant and exciting court in Europe, so it was perhaps not surprising that she found life at Hever Castle unbearably boring. Therefore, it was not long before she was back at court, as lady in waiting to Queen Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII's first wife.
Anne was popular, and within a short time, she was known as the ablest and most fashionable woman at the English court. But then she made the big mistake of falling in love with a young lord named Henry Percy, which displeased the king. He had in fact other plans for both. Thus, Anne once again was sent back to Hever Castle.
King of the suitor's feet
Lovesick and furious with the king, Anne locked in her room to prevent her from communicating with Lord Percy. To help her get over the disappointment, her father sent her to the Netherlands, where she had lived for a time as a young girl.
When she came back to England in 1525, King Henry was more desperate than ever to make her his as the queen was unable to give him a male heir, moreover, he had tired of his mistress, Mary, who was actually Anne Boleyn's older sister. He directed his attention to the now 25-year-old Anne, and began to go on unannounced visits to Hever Castle.
Brake with Rome
In 1527 the King proposed marriage to Anne for the first time, she replied: "Your wife I cannot be both because I am not worthy, and because You already have a queen. Your mistress I will not be ".
The brave answer made the king even more interested, and he put all his effort into getting his marriage to Catherine annulled. However, this was not accepted by the pope, and it all ended with the king in a dramatic decision removing England from the Pope's legal influence and creating the Church of England with himself as head. Thus, he also set the Reformation in England in motion. All this because he wanted to marry Anne Boleyn of Hever Castle.
In January 1533, Anne and Henry were married. At the time Anne was already pregnant. On the 1st of June the same year she was crowned Queen of England, and in September the child was born. But instead of the son the king and the country expected, it was a girl. She would later become Queen Elizabeth I.
Arrest and imprisonment
Tragedies continued. The following year, Anne had a miscarriage, later a stillborn son, and so another miscarriage. To King Henry's dismay. All he wanted was a son, and he had pledged both his and England's soul to get one.
The disappointment was soon turned to rage, and the 2 May 1536, Anne was arrested and taken to the Tower of London.
The false accusation sounded on treason, based on adultery with four unnamed males, and incest with her own brother George. She was found guilty two weeks later, and on the morning of May 19, she was executed on the lawn inside the walls of the Tower. Two days earlier her brother had been executed.
Anne's father and mother were crushed, and died in the course of the next two years.
Rescued by billionaire
Henry confiscated Hever Castle and later gave it to Anne of Cleves to whom he was married briefly. Since then, Hever has been owned by different families, and would today probably have been a ruin, if not the American billionaire William Waldorf Astor had fallen in love with the place and bought it in 1903.
Astor spent large sums to restore the castle, and although there were some alterations made, it's thanks to him we today can visit the childhood home of Anne Boleyn.
Like most castles and stately homes in England, Hever has a beautiful garden and park where people can picnic. Many of these historical sites also have special events for children and adults, with knightly tournaments, archery competitions and more.
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