with Kate Eaton
Surrounded by a double moat, this historic castle began life as a lowly farmhouse on land awarded to Walter de Hevere by William the Conqueror in 1066. In 1270, Walter de Hevere’s grandson, William, built an impressive stone gatehouse and bailey on the site of the farmhouse. Tall, crenellated twin towers flanked the gatehouse, featuring cross-shaped arrow slits, a portcullis and a drawbridge to defend the castle. St. Peter’s Church at Hever is adjacent to the castle, and dates back more than eight hundred years.
The Boleyn connection to the castle began in 1459, when the property came into the hands of Geoffrey Bullen. Bullen was a wealthy mercer, or dealer in expensive fabrics, who became Lord Mayor of London the same year. His rise in prominence, first as an alderman and then as Lord Mayor, would have required Sir Geoffrey to maintain a home befitting his station. He was responsible for transforming the stone fortification into a comfortable and impressive Tudor dwelling for his family. Geoffrey Bullen’s son, William, inherited the castle from his father, and then in 1505 passed it down to his own son, Sir Thomas Boleyn.
Historians don’t agree on whether or not Anne Boleyn was born at Hever Castle, but it’s certain she lived at least part of her childhood there. It isn’t hard to imagine Anne and her siblings, Mary and George, running through the ancient bailey walls, strolling along the nearby River Eden and exploring the imposing twin towers. Most certainly, the sturdy walls of the castle’s Long Gallery were the site of many leave-takings as both Anne Boleyn and her sister, Mary, traveled back and forth from England to France. An interesting architectural note, common among the great homes of this era—the sisters’ bedrooms were actually quite small and cramped in comparison with Hever Castle’s public rooms.
There were no doubt dozens of servants in a house this size, not only to care for the Boleyns and their home, but also to attend to the large stables and expansive grounds at Hever Castle. The expectation that the Boleyn family would entertain traveling nobility expanded the household regularly. Henry VIII, himself, did eventually come to this castle in the English countryside. Under the bows of an ancient oak, King Henry made known his affection for the fascinating Anne Boleyn. He would visit Hever Castle several times during his pursuit of Anne. This lovely castle with a fascinating history remained in the Boleyn family until the death of Thomas Boleyn in 1539, at which time it reverted to the Crown. Hever was among the properties Henry awarded to his wife Anne of Cleves when he divorced her.