To mark the 485th anniversary of the execution of Queen Anne Boleyn, we celebrate her life through a remarkable man who keeps her legacy alive. Meet Dr. Owen Emmerson, Supervisor of Content and Engagement at Queen Anne Boleyn’s childhood home, Hever Castle. Learn about Dr. Emmerson’s research, job responsibilities, interests, and also some very exciting news!
Coming soon in August! Look for The Boleyns of Hever Castle, the first of two books co-authored by Dr. Emmerson and historian Claire Ridgway.
- Dr. Emmerson, I understand you hold a Ph.D. in History at the University of Sussex. What inspired you to become a historian? Did your doctoral studies focus on Tudor Era History?
My journey to finding history and becoming an historian is a long one, but I can date its beginning to September 1988 when my mum and I left a Sunday party early to snuggle up together and watch the 1969 film “Anne of the Thousand Days” when it was broadcast on the TV. It had been a firm favourite of my mums as a child, and she introduced it to me when I was four years old. It is a film, for all its faults, that I still find as comfortable and inviting as a warming blanket by the fire. I was absolutely transfixed by it and remember wanting to visit Hever Castle, where a third of that film was shot. That was the beginning of my love of Anne Boleyn and her childhood home of Hever Castle. My parents patiently took me on
many birthday visits to Hever and the Tower of London. I cannot really remember not being besotted with the many stories about Anne’s life and I think this almost obsessive attention allowed me to get a good understand of the mechanics of history and to see the layers of Anne that had built up over time. I quite quickly became fascinated by the variations in Anne’s story, and found conflicting narratives. It gave me also an enduring love of the cultural images of Anne. She really has shaped my life.
I came to university later in my life and that was, in part, because I had to leave college before I could complete my history A level. I worked in hotels for a few years before chancing university. The University of Sussex very generously took a punt on me and gave me a place to study based on an entrance essay, rather than grades. It was a life changing moment for me.
I went to university to study the early modern period, with a focus on the Henrician reformation, and loved every minute of doing so. Sadly, having almost finished my thesis on Anne’s religion, our early modern department became a casualty of the changes made to University funding in 2010. Instead, I completed another dissertation with the marvellous Professor Claire Langhamer who, alongside Professor Lucy Robinson, gave me the support I needed to focus on another area historical study that beguiles me: social and cultural history. What I was able to do was re-focus my studies on the aftermath of some of the events which interested me most about the Henrician Court and Early modern society. I followed the legacy of the sodomy laws, interviewing Lord Montagu of Beaulieu about his role in the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality. For my doctoral thesis, I followed the journey began in the early modern period of children protesting about and petitioning against the use of corporal punishment, and I studied the path to the abolition of the public use of corporal punishment. I explored these topics through the lens of the history of emotions to better understand how feelings became central to political discourse and why.
- If you can point to a mentor in your historical studies whom would that be and why?
I owe so much to the many people who have mentored me. First and foremost, Professors Claire Langhamer and Lucy Robinson have done a huge amount for me in terms of shaping the kind of historian I am. I could not have asked for a better grounding than the one they both gave me, and they enabled me to transfer the skills I had attained in my early modern studies to those required for my later studies with them. Their research is also some of the most inspirational work that I have ever encountered, so it was the privilege of my life to be supervised by them throughout my doctoral studies. Professors Carol Dyhouse and Andy Medhurst have always a constant support throughout my time at Sussex, as were many more incredible academics. I also volunteered at and was then employed by the Mass-Observation Archive throughout my BA and MA, and that experience as an archive assistant was foundational to my knowledge of and love for archives and artefacts. I have been enormously blessed in the support I have received.
I also owe a huge amount to historians like Claire Ridgway, Gareth Russell, Lauren Mackay, who I was privileged to get to know before my university education. Tracy Borman has also been incredibly generous to me and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to so many members of staff at Hever Castle, where I have been working for the last four years.
Dr. Owen Emmerson on Dr. Tracy Borman’s ‘Henry VIII and the King’s Men’
- Dr. Emmerson, as the Supervisor of the Boleyn family home Hever Castle and gardens, what exactly is your job role? How long and in what capacities have you built your career at Hever?
I am incredibly blessed to be positioned at Hever Castle. It is such a privilege to be able to spend so much of my time in the Boleyn’s former home and to have been able to get to know every inch of Hever so intimately. My position is Hever Castle’s Content and Engagement supervisor and I get to look after the day to day running of the castle, as well as give assistance to our incredible curator, Alison Palmer. I also work alongside our brilliant Marketing team. A particular shout out goes to Lisa Allen who saves me from making myself look incredibly daft in the brilliant feature videos she films with me and edits. It is a huge joy to be able to work alongside some supremely talented people.
I have not always held this position, however, and my first job at Hever Castle four years ago was working in the operations team when I completed my doctoral studies. It was the perfect job for that incredibly busy time of my life, and it was also a joyful one, being able to spend many hours in the incomparable award-winning gardens of Hever. I owe many thanks to Nicola Smith, our wonderful Visitor Services Manager, for giving me the job.
- What is the difference between a Castle Supervisor and a Curator? Can you share with browsers who Hever’s curator is and where her expertise lies?
That is a great question and while I do work closely with our incredible Curator, Alison Palmer, we do have different jobs. Alison very much takes care of the conservation of not only the castle collections, but of the castle itself and the many stunning statues that feature in our gardens. She also curates that collection and I have the privilege of learning from and assisting her. One of the most exciting parts of my job is supporting her in curating exhibitions, such as the “Hever Castle on Stage and Screen” exhibition in 2019. It explored the cultural history of Hever as a film set for the 50th anniversary of Anne of the Thousand Days being filmed there. That was a real treat and pleasure to help develop.
- Owen, Queenanneboleyn.com is very excited about your new initiative “Inside Hever Castle”. The website’s founder has a VIP Membership and is quite delighted with it. Can you share with QAB browsers about the founding of “Inside Hever Castle”?
I am so very thrilled to hear that you are delighted with your VIP membership to “Inside Hever Castle”! It has been a wonderful project to work on with some fabulous contributors and I am overly excited for its future. “Inside Hever Castle” is a Patreon online subscription that invites people behind the ropes of Hever via exclusive videos, podcasts and articles. We can show our subscribers parts of the castle that have never been open to the public and explore treasures of our archive which have never been on display. Hever has a rich and long history, but of course Anne Boleyn is a frequent star of the show. So far, we have spoken to historians Claire Ridgway, Dr. Tracy Borman, Dr. Lauren Mackay, Gareth Russell, James Peacock, Natalie Gruninger and Lucy Churchill. We have so many exciting treats coming up and it is so much fun for us to produce.
Lisa Allen and I worked out the initial concept for the project, but it has been expanded and enriched by a dedicated team (Alison Palmer, Sarah Cole, Faye Kelly, Jonathan Higgs, Harriet Waldron and many more) who made it all happen. It really is the dream team.
Inside Hever Castle
- What are the benefits of “Inside Hever Castle”, and what are the varying membership tiers?
There are currently three tiers of membership that give varying degrees of benefits, and there is a back catalogue of five months’ worth of material to enjoy now, which will keep growing. You can choose to have two items a month, or upgrade to four items plus bonus material, and our VIP patreons also get a discount in our brilliant gift shop. You can view a list of our archive of goodies at our website, here: Inside Hever Castle
- What feedback have you received to date about the unveiling of “Inside Hever Castle”?
I have been so overwhelmed by the wonderful feedback that “Inside Hever Castle” has received thus far. When a project is so very enjoyable it makes it especially so when those who subscribe enjoy it too. It has also been a pleasure to get to know so many of our subscribers over the last few months, and it is lovely to be able to tailor the content to their interests. I simply adore researching, so each request given to me by a subscriber is like an easter egg to devour. It truly is a lovely and enriching facet to my work at Hever Castle.
- Are there any upcoming initiatives and/or events at Hever Castle and Gardens that you would like to share?
Our events team, headed by Jess Cutts, always puts on incredible events throughout the year, so I would urge you to visit the “what’s on” page on our website. I adore our “Hever in Bloom” week and many of our events are themed around historical events, such as our “Hever Home Front” wartime event and of course Hever’s famous jousting. The highlight of my year is always our spectacular Christmas event, which I am already looking forward to. It is very telling that some of our absolute best historians are also devoted to a Hever Christmas, so it is becoming something of a treat to have a Christmas catch-up and chat about Anne in front of a log fire.
Christmas at Hever Castle
When I lock up the castle at Christmas and watch the light in the chamber fade as the embers slowly die, I often think of Anne Boleyn being in this very castle during the Christmas of 1526 when Anne made the decision to marry Henry VIII. If I could go back to any time in history, I would choose to spend some time with the Boleyns during those exceptional festivities at Hever, which must have been amongst the happiest of their lives.
9. Dr. Emmerson, what about you? Do you have any exciting new projects?
I have just finished writing my first of two books about Hever Castle with historian Claire Ridgway, and it will be released on 1st August 2021 at a book launch at Hever Castle. It is called The Boleyns of Hever Castle and I can’t wait to share it! Hever Castle is a picture-postcard fortified manor house nestled in the Kent countryside. It is, of course, famous for its links with the Boleyns, an East Anglian gentry family who rose and fell dramatically at the court of King Henry VIII.
In The Boleyns of Hever Castle, historian Claire Ridgway and I invite you into the home of this notorious family. Travel back in time to those 77 years of Boleyn ownership. Tour each room just as it was when Anne Boleyn retreated from court to escape the advances of Henry VIII or when she fought off the dreaded ‘sweat’. See the 16th century Hever Castle come to life with room reconstructions and read the story of the Boleyns, who, in just five generations, rose from petty crime to a castle, from Hever to the throne of England.