Q&A with Hever Castle’s Conservationist

Castle

When it comes to the Castle, Hever Castle’s Conservationist Alison is the lady you need to speak to. We asked you on social media if you had any questions for Alison and you didn’t let us down! 

  1. Is there any record of Queen Elizabeth I visiting Hever Castle, the childhood home of her mother?
  2. Is there any evidence that Henry VIII ever visited Anne of Cleves at Hever Castle?
  3. Do you have any information about the Hever family? Their ancestry or extended family going backwards. 
  4. Do you have information about the crest in the Long Gallery?
  5. Do you have any information on Anne Boleyn’s father, Thomas Boleyn? What happened to him after the execution? Did he love his children? 
  6. Do you know what happened to Anne Boleyn’s B necklace? Also, is there anything that has been discovered in the Castle recently?
  7. What is your favourite object in the Castle and why? 
  8. I was just wondering if Hever Castle has any items/documents (not on display) concerning Mary Boleyn? 
  9. Apart from the Book of Hours, is there anything else that was personal to Anne Boleyn that still survives in Hever Castle?
  10. What is your favourite room in the Castle?
  11. Do you ever carry portraits of Katherine Howard?
  12. Why is it thought that the little room upstairs was Anne Boleyn’s bedroom, is it a Victorian myth?
  13. When and where was Anne Boleyn’s bed head found?
  14. My 14th great-grandfather, James Fiennes, once owned the castle. Do you have information there about him?

Q1: Is there any record of Queen Elizabeth I visiting Hever Castle, the childhood home of her mother?

A: As much as we would have loved her to there is no evidence that Elizabeth I visited Hever Castle. There is evidence of her visiting the Sidney’s at Penshurst Place, 3 miles from Hever Castle (Lady Mary Sidney was a particular favourite lady in waiting,she was the sister of the infamous Lord Robert Dudley).

One reason why she wouldn’t have visited Hever Castle may have been because of its owners, the Waldegrave family (though they didn’t live at Hever Castle, they rented it out). During the reign of Mary I, Elizabeth’s sister, the Waldegraves were rising high; a Catholic family, they had supported Mary throughout the reign of her brother Edward and the short lived reign of Queen Jane and as Queen she rewarded them by grants of land and property – one of which being Hever Castle.

Image was everything to Elizabeth, and a visit from the Queen could make or break a noble family and she could not be seen publicly visiting the home of a family, whose head she had imprisoned (Sir Edward Waldegrave was sent to the Tower for allowing mass to be celebrated in his home – possibly their house at Borley, not Hever Castle!)

Q2: Is there any evidence that Henry VIII ever visited Anne of Cleves at Hever Castle?

A: Unfortunately, there is no evidence of Henry VIII visiting Anne of Cleves at Hever Castle.

Q3: Do you have any information about the Hever family? Their ancestry or extended family going backwards. 

The de Hever’s are supposed to have come to England during the time of the conquest, unfortunately we do not know whether they took their name from Hever or whether the village was named after them. The majority of the Weald is not mentioned in Domesday so we do not know what the area was called in 1086 though the church of St. Peter’s is mentioned in the 1124 manuscript ‘Textus Roffensis’.

There were 3 main families in the area that we now know as Hever. Last year we commissioned an eminent architectural historian to research not only the Castle’s structural history, but to also try to unwind these 3 families – the de Hever’s, the de Penchester’s and the de Cobham’s. We are confident that he has succeeded as far as he is able – watch this space for the results of his research!

Q4: Do you have information about the crest in the Long Gallery?

A: The blazon for the de Hever coat of arms is: Gules, a cross argent with a label of five points azure.

The white/silver cross is believed to have derived from the time of the first crusades, where the different principal Christian nations are said to have to have been distinguished by crosses of different colours. The blue label with 3-5 points were originally believed to have only been used by eldest sons during the lifetime of the father, but the difference in number of points and usage is still being debated.

Q5: Do you have any information on Anne Boleyn’s father, Thomas Boleyn? What happened to him after the execution? Did he love his children? 

A: Anne’s father, Thomas, started his career during the reign of Henry VII, with the first mention of him being in 1503 when he escorted Princess Margaret to the north of England for her marriage to James IV of Scotland. Though it was his appointment as ambassador to the Low Countries, during the early years of the reign of Henry VIII, that brought him into contact with Margaret of Austria and he must have made a good impression as she readily agreed to offer his daughter, Anne, a coveted position at her court.

After the execution of Anne and Georges the King, simply, left Thomas alone. Imagining the death of the King was a traitorous offence and most families would have lost everything, but Thomas kept his house and his title earl of Wiltshire, though he lost the coveted title earl of Ormonde and his appointment as Lord Privy Seal. He retired to Hever Castle and died there less than two years later. His wife who pre-deceased him seems to have been living in their London home as she was buried in the Howard vault at St. Mary’s church in Lambeth.

I think the problem a lot of people have had with him is that he let it happen. He ‘pushed’ his daughter at the King, who one could really not say no to, and then less than 10 years later he allowed the same King to kill his son and daughter, whilst not making a peep to try to save them.

But what could he have done? This was the King of England, an absolute monarch, who would probably, have executed Thomas as well if he had objected; others had been executed for less. Thomas was lucky to have escaped with what he had.

Unfortunately, we can never know how close Thomas Boleyn was to his children and regrettably Thomas has been the object of a ‘smear campaign’ that has lasted for centuries. What we must remember is that most historical documents were written by so called historians after the fact and many were working from 2nd or 3rd hand information. Others were openly hostile to Anne and all she represented, with Thomas and all of the Boleyn’s getting tarred along the way. The winners write the history.

Q6: Do you know what happened to Anne Boleyn’s B necklace? Also, is there anything that has been discovered in the Castle recently?

A: Whoever knows the answer to that question would be the most popular person ever! We don’t know what happened in the direct aftermath of May 1536 but it is possible that the pearls from the necklace were reused in other jewellery; it is said that the 4 pearls that currently hang below the monde of the Imperial State Crown once belonged to Elizabeth I and that 3 of the pearls came from Anne Boleyn’s B pendant. This cannot be proved, mind you, it is only hearsay.

We have found something, but research is ongoing so I can’t say any more, sorry.

Q7: What is your favourite object in the Castle and why? 

A: My favourite object always takes people by surprise because it isn’t Tudor, hasn’t got great value and is generally overlooked by everyone. It is a Chinese Ginger Jar that dates to c.1850, it is beautifully painted with peonies and chrysanthemums on a bright pink ground with 2 large cartouches of a flower laden cart and smaller cartouches of a Phoenix and more chrysanthemums. Unfortunately, we don’t really know much about it other than it was purchased by the Astor’s, we do know that is was created during a time when it was incredibly fashionable in the west to use Ginger Jars as a decorative, instead of a functional, item.

Porcelain Chinese ginger jars were originally used to store food supplies like salt, herbs, oil and ginger (rare spices at that time), other ginger jars were allocated to be used as gifts. The jars acquired the name “ginger jars” because they often contained ginger when they were exported to the West.

Chinese ginger jars come in many colours but the colour is usually very specific when given as a gift. White was given as a wedding gift many were decorated with a 3 clawed Dragon & Phoenix on either side, the Dragon representing the groom and the Phoenix representing the bride.

The Emperor is the only person who could gift a yellow coloured jar, yellow being the colour of ginger and the Emperor’s colour, the gift was meant to last a lifetime and it is not considered appropriate for the receiver to give away a yellow ginger jar received as a gift.

Q8: I was just wondering if Hever Castle has any items/documents (not on display) concerning Mary Boleyn? 

A: Very little is known of the Boleyn’s time at Hever Castle and when it comes to Mary, it is even less. Because the Castle has had so many owners we no longer have any original documents that relate directly to the Boleyn’s and what we do have i.e. the Books of Hours have been purchased back by the Astor’s or the current owners, the Guthrie family. I would love to know more about Mary and I would be overjoyed if a secret stash of papers were found someday that detailed their daily lives here.

Q9: Apart from the Book of Hours, is there anything else that was personal to Anne Boleyn that still survives in Hever Castle?

A: Really it is just the books, though we like to think that the Castle itself meant something to her.

Q10: What is your favourite room in the Castle?

A: My favourite room is the Library, its such a homely room. I know it is different in size and appearance to how it was before 1830-1897 but I love the atmosphere and all the books! They give the room an absolutely amazing smell.

Q11: Do you ever carry portraits of Katherine Howard?

A: Portraits of Katherine Howard are extremely rare, even the ones purported to show her are disputed. In 2007 Hever Castle purchased a portrait, that at the time, was considered to be Katherine and a while ago, due to the controversy surrounding our use of this portrait, Hever Castle’s Supervisor Dr Owen Emmerson wrote this. I think his amazing response deserves an airing:

Although there are many portraits that purport to depict Catherine Howard, there is very little consensus amongst historians as to which portrait can be definitively identified as her. Indeed, owing to the brevity of her tenure as Henry’s fifth Queen Consort and her young age at the point of her tragic downfall, it is entirely possible that Catherine never sat for a portrait, or that any portraits of her that were painted were subsequently destroyed. We certainly have no contemporary documentation that a portrait of Catherine was commissioned.

Hever’s portrait of Catherine – which dates from the mid-16th-century, and which was once hung at Trentham Hall, the seat of the Dukes of Sutherland – is one of three versions of the same painting. The original, painted by the famous court painter Hans Holbein the Younger, is housed at the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio. Another late 17th-century version is held in the National Portrait Gallery.

The portraits were originally identified as Queen Catherine Howard by British art historian Lionel Cust in 1909, who published his findings in the Burlington Magazine in 1910. His attribution was disputed by the famous art historian Sir Roy Strong who, in 1967, concluded that the sitter was the sister of Queen Jane Seymour: Elizabeth Seymour, Lady Cromwell (c.1518 – 1568). As all three extant portraits have links to the Cromwell family and considering that Elizabeth was married to Gregory Cromwell, this identification carried considerable weight. It also posited the question as to why the Cromwell family would retain multiple portraits of a disgraced Queen who had been married to the King on the same day that Thomas Cromwell – Gregory’s father – had been publicly beheaded. As the portrait is inscribed that the sitter was in her 21st year – an age that historians largely agree that Catherine never reached – it also seemed to match Elizabeth Seymour’s age.

More recently, however, Strong’s reappraisal of the portrait was questioned by historians Dr David Starkey, Dr Alasdair Hawkyard and art historian Bendor Grosvenor in their 2007 “Lost Faces” exhibition catalogue. They argued that the jewel hanging at the sitter’s breast was the “ooche of gold with a table diamond, ruby and pendant pearl” that was detailed in an inventory of the Queen’s jewels in 1540, during Catherine’s reign. Indeed, the Jewel can be clearly identified as the “Medallion with Lot’s Wife”, designed by Hans Holbein the Younger. Holbein’s original sketch of this very jewel still exists in the British Museum [SL,5308.25]. Starkey, Hawkyard and Grosvenor concluded that the painting could reasonably be identified as Catherine Howard owing to the sitter wearing a prominent piece of the Queen’s jewellery.

More recently still, historian Susan James has disputed that Holbein’s portrait depicts either Catherine Howard or Elizabeth Seymour, proffering Lady Margaret Douglas – Henry VIII’s niece – as the sitter. With such disagreement amongst historians, and with such little evidence to go by, we may never know who the sitter in Holbein’s captivating portrait is. One of the many tragic consequences that befell those who were unfortunate enough to face the axe during Henry VIII’s reign was the propensity for their families to erase paintings of them from their collections. While we can definitively say that we have contemporary portraits of four of Henry’s wives, it is not a coincidence that it is the two who were executed – Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard – whose portraiture remains opaque. Catherine tragically lost her head, and consequently, we may never be sure what that head truly looked like.

Q12: Why is it thought that the little room upstairs was Anne Boleyn’s bedroom, is it a Victorian myth?

The small room has, historically, always been called Anne Boleyn’s bedroom and the name has stuck. I conducted research into this claim and the oldest periodical that called it her bedroom dated from the late 18th century, so this one can’t be blamed on the Victorians for once!

During the Victorian period Anne’s popularity experienced a little resurgence, mainly due to Victoria, who, when she visited Hever in 1838, called it ‘a curious old place’. As the Victorian period progressed items started to appear that, purportedly, belonged to the Boleyn’s, and other famous historical figures.

Q13: When and where was Anne Boleyn’s bed head found?

The bed was purchased by William Waldorf Astor in the early 1900’s as once belonging to Anne Boleyn when she lived at Hever. Unfortunately it is now known to be a Victorian made-up piece; it is made up of late 16th – 17th chests and coffers with the odd bit of actual bed thrown in. The real part that gives it away is the heraldic crest in the centre of the headboard, which has the Royal coat of arms supported by a Lion and a Unicorn. The unicorn was a part of the Scottish coat of arms and so belongs to James I of England and VI of Scotland. It’s an amazing piece and is a perfect example of Victorian ingenuity.

Q14: My 14th great-grandfather, James Fiennes, once owned the castle. Do you have information there about him?

A: In 1423 the Scrope family sold the Castle to Roger, and his brother, James Fiennes. In 1441 Roger started to build Herstmonceux Castle in East Sussex, but he died just 4 years later, leaving his estates to James, who was by this time 1st Baron Saye and Sele and Lord High Treasurer. In 1450 Kentish peasants, led by Jack Cade, protesting against what they saw as Henry VI’s weak leadership, the unfair taxes and the injustices in government rose against London. James Fiennes was captured by the mob and was executed along with other Government officials and favourites of the King. His head was put on a pike alongside the heads of other officials where they were made to appear to kiss.

The Fiennes family were one of the more interesting of the families that owned Hever, unfortunately at the moment we do not have much up about them but as we continue to re-curate the castle with David Starkey we are hoping to make more of the earlier owners.

 

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