May 8, 2022. 57°F/14°C
It’s the last official stop on the 2021-2022 Viking World Cruise, and, as was the case at every port, Viking had a few options for us. Since we saw the “must see” places (Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Castle, Windsor, the Tower of London, etc) on our tour in 2017, we didn’t feel the need to take the included 5 hour panoramic tour. We’d also spent a day in Greenwich, and enjoyed it enough that we’ll be living there for a whole month in September, so that tour was also not for us.
But…. castles! and Tudor drama!
This was the perfect tour choice after months of intense experiences. We drove through the glorious Kentish countryside to historic Hever Castle and its 125 acres of lawns and gardens, where we were able to simply explore on our own for almost three hours.
Hever is the manor/castle that was home to Anne Boleyn in her youth. It dates back to 1270, with the Boleyn’s Tudor style manor house added in the 1400s. Hever is where at least some of the protracted courtship between the married King Henry VIII and his eventual second wife took place.
The exterior of the castle gatehouse and the still operational portcullis are original.
What makes this castle so fascinating is that almost none of its interior is original. in the early 20th century, crazily wealthy American philanthropist and hotelier William Waldorf Astor bought the much renovated and nearly decrepit castle and its grounds and spent the equivalent (in today’s currency) of $1 billion USD recreating what he thought it looked like during Anne Boleyn’s time there.
One of the docents told us that inside the castle only 2 staircases, the entry doorway, the wood in the long gallery, and a few “bits and bobs” were original. The rest, he said, is “pastiche, but magnificent pastiche.” Astor was able to hire the best workmen and artisans, and to insist that they used authentic Tudor construction methods when recreating the castle’s interiors.
The castle is filled with glorious artwork, most of it portraits of English and European royalty, in copies of the original portraits by artists like Holbein and Titian. These copies are not new; they were done in the 15th and 16th centuries. They’re “replicas”, albeit 400-500 year old ones!
There are 46 Tudor paintings in all, including 18 original portraits hung in dynastic order starting from Henry VI and ending with Henry VIII. The Guthrie family, owners of the castle since 1983, have continued to add to the collection in the castle.
The gems of the current Anne Boleyn exhibition in the castle are her two “Books of Hours”, prayer books which contain notations in her own handwriting.
Outside, there is an Italian Garden, a walled rose garden, an array of water features, a yew maze, a topiary chess set, a number of Astor’s Greek and Roman sculptures, a lake, and a formal Loggia Fountain inspired by the Trevi Fountain in Rome.
The sun was shining, the temperature was mild, the skies were blue, and we were surrounded by families wandering the grounds, eating ice cream, and picnicking on the grass. It was a perfect day.