“Heading” to Hever Castle

Before Anne Boleyn got the “Heave Ho” from King Henry VIII, she lived peacefully at Hever Castle.

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On my recent tour of Hever Castle, I learned an interesting little-known fact.  Anne’s original family name was Bullen, and the family crest featured three black bulls.  The socially ambitious family later changed their name to Boleyn because it sounded more posh and refined.

How appropriate and prescient that the notorious Anne was born under the crest of a bull.  She essentially had the effect of a “charging bull” on the court of King Henry VIII, causing widespread upheaval in her wake.  Her “bullish” refusal to succumb to Henry prior to marriage enabled her to manipulate her way to the throne in 1533. (And gave Hilary Mantel lots of fodder for her two Booker Prize-winning novels!)

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Anne was one of the greatest seductresses in history.  Using her bewitching womanly wiles, she compelled Henry to overcome every obstacle in his path to marry her: attaining a dubious divorce, departing the almighty Catholic church, burning a few dissidents at the stake, and creating a new religion along the way…all of which led to the historic English Reformation.

Every school child in England knows this charming ditty summarizing the fate of Henry’s six wives:

Divorced, beheaded, died.  Divorced, beheaded, survived.

Anne has the distinction of being the first to lose her head when she fell out of favor with the King.

Hever Castle has had about as many owners as Henry had wives.  In 1540, Hever Castle passed into the ownership of Henry’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, as part of their divorce settlement. Through the years, several wealthy gentry owned the property.  Finally in 1903, the American scion William Waldorf Astor restored the castle and added the gardens that define its beauty today.  As seems to be the case at many of the  ancestral “stone piles” in England, it is the infusion American money that enables the grandeur to endure.

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Before leaving, I exited through the gift shop (as one does) and found these irresistible stacking dolls.  They are rather symbolic.  All those hapless wives piled up within big fat Henry VIII.  After all, he did proverbially gobble them up and spit them out!

At least they came with heads attached!

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For the curious:  Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, Catherine Parr.

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