Feature Image Photo Credit: Beth von Staats
by Beth von Staats
The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned. – Maya Angelou –
Most several centuries-old, thousands of castles are scattered throughout Great Britain’s coastline and countryside. Witness to foreign invasions, wars, and conquests, most of these castles were designed to defend borders and provide fortresses for English armies during times of war. Known to house royalty, aristocrats, soldiers, servants, and prisoners — while also hosting jousts, festivals, banquets, trials, murders, torture, and executions, the castles of Great Britain, whether intact or in ruins, serve as tangible reminders of an often violent and bloodthirsty history.
And then there is Hever…
Unique among the castles of Great Britain, Hever Castle is a treasured monument to the joys of home and family — a shelter not from war and conquest, but instead from the storms of life. Through the centuries — generation after generation — from the de Hevers to the Boleyns, from the Astors to the Gunthries, Hever Castle was witness to countless births, weddings, and holiday celebrations — along with the love, joy, and heartache common to all of us. Today, if the castle staff are not vigilant — like Mary, Anne, and George Boleyn before them — children still skip along the hallways on their way to staircases worn through the centuries of life’s ups and downs.
Dr. Owen Emmerson, Castle Historian and Assistant Curator of Hever Castle and Gardens, is joined by Anne Boleyn expert and historian Claire Ridgway in telling the rich history of Hever Castle through the life stories of its most famous family in their masterclass history book The Boleyns of Hever Castle. Exquisitely illustrated and expertly researched, The Boleyns of Hever Castle is as much a family story as it is an accounting of the castle’s history. Readers learn not only what Hever Castle looked like throughout the generations and most interestingly in the times of Anne Boleyn, but also why her childhood home was so cherished by the Boleyn family, a true haven in both joyous times and tragedy.
Permeating this outstanding historical accounting is an acute knowledge of the castle itself. Engagingly written, readers are treated to the rich history of the castle’s original architecture, along with renovations made through the centuries. Of great interest is learning the castle’s layout during the times the Boleyns resided. Where did Anne Boleyn and her siblings play as children? Where did she sleep? Where did Thomas Boleyn complete his work? Was it the same room Anne composed her letters to King Henry VIII? Also intriguing is a highly comprehensive look at the castle’s collection of Tudor Era artifacts, inclusive of portraiture, furnishings, assorted priceless bibs and bobs, and of course Anne Boleyn’s illuminated manuscripts — most cherished, her Book of Hours.
Make no mistake about it, however, The Boleyns of Hever Castle is not simply a historical accounting of the castle itself. Readers are treated to the life stories of all members of the Boleyn Family who lived in the home, teaching us how the castle was acquired long before the meteoric rise of Thomas Boleyn and the later rise of his daughter from commoner to queen. The Afterlife of Hever Castle is also explored, inclusive of its occupancy by Anne of Cleves, the Waldegraves, the Humphreys, the Meade Waldos, and the Astors — as well as visitors and others touched by the castle’s history, most notably Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria.
The Boleyns of Hever Castle is an exemplary history book. Expertly researched and crafted, Dr. Owen Emmerson and Claire Ridgway not only teach us the construction and history of one of England’s most cherished castles, but they also remind us that the aches for home and family — our cherished joys and painful heartbreaks — are shared throughout the centuries of humanity.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
OWEN EMMERSON is a social and cultural historian who gained his doctorate from the University of Sussex. His doctoral thesis examined the abolition of corporal punishment. He has contributed to several documentaries about the Tudor court and is the co-founder of the “Inside Hever Castle” online subscription service. He works at Hever as Castle Historian and Assistant Curator.
CLAIRE RIDGWAY is a full-time historian specializing in Tudor history. She is the author of several Tudor history books, including The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown, On This Day in Tudor History, and George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier & Diplomat, which she co-authored with Clare Cherry. Claire is the founder of The Anne Boleyn Files blog and Tudor Society and runs the popular Anne Boleyn Files & Tudor Society YouTube channel.