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Anne Boleyn Travel Guide: Visiting Hever Castle, Hampton Court and the Tower of London

by Lisa Stentvedt
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I am a huge geek when it comes to the War of the Roses and the following Tudor dynasty, and have been pretty obsessed with it all for a while. I’ve seen Tudors, The White Princess, The White Queen and am currently watching the Spanish Princess eagerly. Naturally, I have also read all of Philippa Gregory’s books about the period. Naturally, the wives of Henry VIII stand out to me, and I have held a fascination with them all for a while. Especially Anne Boleyn (and also Katherine Howard and Katherine of Aragon). Luckily, I got to follow in her footsteps on a recent visit to London and Kent, and I thought it was time to share it all with you!

To share a little #Disclaimer at first; I am no historian. I am just a history fan, and love castles and royal life. But, as I have spoken to a couple of people who advised me that I should write all about this trip so they could recreate it, I figured I would share it all.

My friend and I spent a couple of days travelling England in the footsteps of Anne Boleyn. We visited Hever Castle, where she grew up (when she wasn’t at French Court), Hampton Court (where she spent her few years reigning), and the Tower of London (where she spent her final days and was ultimately beheaded). So consider this a little mini guide to those three places!

Read more: don’t miss my 3-day London itinerary or these 7 must-see places to visit in London!

the gardens of Hever castle, Kent, anne boleyn's childhood home

Travelling in Anne Boleyn’s footsteps

Some background information for you before we start? Don’t mind if I do!

Anne Boleyn grew up in the early 1500s, during the reign of King Henry VIII. Yes, he is the king with the six wives, and Anne was the second. She is perhaps the most famous one of them all, as she was the reason Henry decided to break from the Catholic faith and ignore the pope. All to get a divorce from his wife of 24 years; Katherine of Aragon!

In short, Anne and Henry courted for 6 years before they were married, and after that she was queen for only 3 short years. Their daughter, Elizabeth, later ruled the kingdom with a rather unsteady hand, and became known as the Virgin Queen.

Ultimately, Henry grew tired of Anne (and her strong opinions, I presume), and eventually accusations of adultery and treason were made against her. Her life ended in the Tower, where she was also coronated 3 years earlier. She is buried in the chapel in the Tower of London (but more on that below).

Fun fact: you may already know this, but Anne’s sister Mary was actually the mistress of King Henry whilst Anne was still at French court, and had a son by him.

If you want more Tudor history, I strongly recommend reading the Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory, The King’s Curse and Three Sisters, Three Queens by the same author (these are my favourites).

Find more of my favourite books by heading this way (to my “virtual bookshelf”)!

Visiting Hever Castle, Kent

The first place we visited, and the natural place to start if you want to travel in Queen Anne’s footsteps, is Hever Castle and Gardens. This was her childhood home, and where she was sent when she was to get away from court (on several occasions). It seems that Anne didn’t truly enjoy being away from her life in London, but I know I wouldn’t complain if my dad decided to send me to a castle for a summer.

Love castles and palaces too? Read about my visits to Peterhof Palace, St. Petersburg and Versailles, Paris!

Hever Castle as we know it today was built in the 1400s by Geoffrey Boleyn, who was Anne’s great grandfather. Anne and her sister Mary grew up in Hever castle from a young age, as their father inherited it when Anne was around 3 years old. Of course, this can’t be said for sure, as back then they didn’t really bother to write down when women were born. You know, because we didn’t matter and all. Historians date Anne’s birth to approximately 1501, but I have also heard 1507 from some sources. Regardless, she was born in the first decade of the 1500s, and thank God we started taking note of when women were born. Imagine not knowing if you are 28 or 31..

Anne spent 6 years at French court, as one of the attendants of the French Queen Claude. Here, it is believed she learned all the tricks of the trade she would later use to “entrap” the King of England upon her return. In around 1522 she returns to England to join the household of the Queen at the time; Katherine of Aragon. Her age at this point is somewhere between 17 and 21. Also, her sister Mary has now been the mistress of King Henry VIII for about 2 years.

Hever castle, anne boleyn travel guide
Hever Castle is a rather small castle, but impressive nonetheless!

A short while after returning to England, Anne is said to have fallen in love with Henry Percy and planning to marry him. Naturally, this was not accepted by her father, nor Cardinal Wolsey (who practically ran the country by Henry’s side), and Anne was banished to Hever Castle. After a stint at Hever, Anne returns to court and the King starts growing fond of her. She returns to Hever once more in 1528, during her and Henry’s courtship, due to falling ill with (what was believed to be) “the sweating sickness”. Whilst at Hever Castle, Anne receives letters from the King.

Fun fact: These letters were most likely stolen from Anne by emissaries of the Pope himself (or someone else high up in Rome). The letters were never found in England after Anne’s death execution, but randomly appeared in the Vatican in the 1700s. The letters, I believe, are still in the ownership of the Vatican, and can be seen there.

So, we know for sure that Anne spent a few of her younger years at Hever Castle, in addition to being banished there twice under different circumstances. So who wouldn’t want to start here when exploring England in Anne Boleyn’s footsteps?

Another fun fact: Henry’s 5th wife, Anne of Cleves, was given Hever Castle as a settlement gift after their divorce. So two of his queens (both named Anne) have actually had a connection to Hever!

Hever Castle Visitor Information & tips

Visiting Hever Castle isn’t the easiest of tasks unless you have a car. On their website you can find directions if you are driving, but if you are arriving by train (like I did), there are a few things you need to know.

The train ride from London to Hever Station takes about 45 minutes, with most of the trains departing from London Bridge Station. Trains depart quite often, and you can plan your journey and book tickets in advance here.

Now for the fun part. Hever is a rather small village, and the train station is unmanned. There aren’t taxis waiting at the station, and it is about a mile from Hever Castle. So, from the train station to the castle you can expect about a 10-minute rural walk. It is absolutely lovely, and I couldn’t stop thinking about Mary Boleyn and how she loved the area around Hever. If you have read The Other Boleyn Girl, you’ll know that Mary was also banned to Hever at a point, and she spent her time riding out and visiting the farmers and enjoying her surroundings.

Anyway, to get to Hever Castle from the train station, walk to the end of the road (there is one road leading to the train station), and start looking for red and white trail markers. These will take you along a field, and guide you to Hever. You’ll cross fields, have to open gates, and all-in-all it was quite an adventure! Just make sure you wear shoes for walking on pathways that may be muddy, and that you aren’t afraid of sheep.

A great tip I want to share, that a follower on Instagram sent me before my trip: after your visit to Hever Castle, head to the church at the end of the drive, in the little village. Inside, by the altar, is the tomb of Thomas Boleyn, Anne’s father! It is quite strange to think that the Boleyn family would attend their services there.

sheep on the way to Hever Castle
Seriously, this was taken on the way to Hever, we literally had to cross the field.

Hever Castle is open all year round, but do check the opening hours on their website before visiting. There is plenty to do for both kids and history-fans like me, and the gift shop is really extensive. Naturally, I bought the Boleyn pearl necklace for myself, with an S for my last name (#basic).

If you are visiting with kids, you’ll find that you can rent a boat and head out on the lake, visit the playground, play in the maze, and much more. Hever Castle is definitely a place you can spend all day!

In the castle itself, you will see paintings of the Boleyn girls, learn about the castle and the families that owned it, and see the bedroom where it is believed Henry VIII stayed during a visit (renamed “Henry VIII’s room”). The long gallery has been redone into an art display, with old paintings of all the important characters from the era. We had a great time following Tudor history as we walked through the gallery.

Now, for the next destination!

Visiting Hampton Court

This is probably one of the most famous palaces in Europe, along with Versailles. And that’s with good reason! It was originally built by and for Thomas Wolsey, who was Henry’s closest advisor at the time. But, we all know what happened to him (he died from illness on his way to be beheaded), and so his estate went to the Crown.

Visiting Hampton Court is an incredible experience, especially for fans of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. We know Henry brought all his six wives to the palace to stay, and that Anne would have visited on several occasions. However, she doesn’t win the contest for best story at Hampton Court when it comes to his wives.

(Not so) fun fact: Henry’s 3rd wife (you know, Jane Seymor who was Anne’s lady in waiting, who he married just 11 days after Anne’s execution!) actually gave birth to their son at Hampton Court. He later became King of England, and she died at the palace, just 2 weeks after the birth.

Another (not so) fun fact: Catherine Howard, Henry’s 4th wife, was arrested in Hampton Court and brought to the Tower (where she was executed, just like Anne).

I could write a separate blog post about visiting Hampton Court, as it is such a vast palace, and the gardens are even bigger. There are several exhibitions available, and if you are short on time I recommend Young Henry VIII’s Story, which takes you through Henry’s early years as the younger brother of the heir (his brother Arthur was the actual heir to the throne, but died as a teenager), through his 24-year long marriage with Katherine of Aragon.

Hampton Court is, in my opinion, also a great day out for families in London!

Hampton Court palace, the clock courtyard
The Clock Court in Hampton Court. I can’t imagine how many lives that have passed through here!

Another great exhibition takes you through the Great Hall, and covers Henry VIII’s Apartments. Here, you can walk the halls that Henry himself (and his queens) would have walked. This is also where you can get information about all of his wives, and their endings..

Top tip: get to Hampton Court in time for opening, and check the leaflet for the re-enactment schedule throughout the day! This is such a fun way to learn more about the history of Hampton Court and the Tudor rule. We got to witness the questioning of Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour, and were able to ask them questions ourselves!

Make sure to set aside some time to walk around the beautiful gardens, and don’t forget to try the maze! It took us exactly 11 minutes to get out, do share in the comments how long you took! The maze has been there since around 1700.

Hampton Court Visitor Tip

As mentioned, Hampton Court is one of the most popular palaces to visit in and around London (get there easily by train from Waterloo in 40 minutes). This means the ticket queues are very long, even if you get there in time for the opening (we did, and the queue was already forming).

My best tip for visiting Hampton Court is to get your ticket in advance! We actually didn’t do this, but when we arrived and saw the queue, we quickly booked the tickets on our phone (#sneaky). That way, we could go straight in without spending 15 minutes waiting to buy our tickets.

Also, you save some $$$ by booking online too! Alternatively, if you want to splurge a little, you can book a private guided tour (also in advance), to get the inside scoop on everything there is to know about Hampton Court. This is on my list for my next visit!

The King's Staircase at Hampton Court
The beautiful King’s Staircase at Hampton Court

Visiting Tower of London

And last, but not least, we visited Tower of London. This is a beautiful place to go, even if you aren’t that into Tudor travel or Anne Boleyn, as there is so much history to be found there. The Crown Jewels are even on display at the Tower, amongst other fun exhibitions (get a full overview on their website).

When it comes to Anne Boleyn, the reason we had for visited Tower was obvious. It was where she was imprisoned and beheaded. She is likely to have been brought in through what is known as Traitor’s Gate, where two other queens of England have been brought to meet their untimely death; Katherine Howard and Jane Grey. It is also believed that Queen Elizabeth I was brought into the Tower through the gate when she was imprisoned by her sister Mary (kindly named Bloody Mary in later years), but she was lucky enough to be let out again eventually.

The history runs deep in this place, and you’ll find that there are many reasons to visit. I recommend you join one of the Yeoman Warder Tours, which runs every hour and is included with your ticket. These tours are a great way to learn about the history of the place, and these uniformed men and women are a true staple of England. Each Yeoman Warder has a unique twist to their tour, and so you can spend all day joining these tours and learn something new every time!

Please note that as a general rule, you can only be admitted to the Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula if you have joined a Yeoman Warder Tour (with some exceptions). And there are a few reasons you will want to go in there.

tower of london, anne boleyn tudor travel

Why would you want to enter the chapel, you ask? Well, because that’s where Anne Boleyn is buried!

As mentioned, the only way to access the chapel is whilst on one of the tours, with the exceptions of a short period (of like 45 minutes) every day. Check the website for the exact times when the chapel is available for the public. Either way, I advice joining one of the Yeoman Warder Tours, and getting to visit the chapel is a great plus! I know I was very curious as to where Anne Boleyn was buried (and many more famous Tudors), so I couldn’t wait to go inside. However, she proved to be a little tricky to find, so I had to ask one of the guards for help).

Where is Anne Boleyn buried?

As we know, Anne Boleyn is buried in the Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula, which is one of the chapels in the Tower of London. But where exactly is she buried?

When you enter the chapel, and head towards the altar. Anne Boleyn is buried on the right side of the altar. It is not possible to pass the rope and walk all the way up, but you’ll see a white stone indicating her final resting place. When we visited, there was a large (beautiful) candle on top of her stone.

Other interesting people buried in the chapel is Catherine Howard (she was ultimately buried without her head, as Henry VIII didn’t want her to have an after-life. Rude.), Margaret Pope (one of my favourite Tudor women, she is buried on the left side of the altar), George Boleyn (Anne’s brother), and Lady Jane Grey (also known as the Nine Day Queen).

Please note that the Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula is a working chapel, and that they still host services today. The chapel may be closed when you visit, and I ask that you respect the rules and boundaries set by the signs and guards in the chapel. It is a beautiful place to visit, and I am sure you will enjoy it!

Tips for visiting Tower of London

I’ve already given you my biggest tip for visiting, which is to join one (or two) of the Yeoman Warder Tours. Not everyone knows that this is the main way to get access to the chapel, and Anne’s resting place, and so they end up missing out.

Also, more of a fun fact than a tip, but as you walk around Tower, you’ll notice that there are blue doors scattered around. That’s where the Yeoman Warders live! I had no idea they lived in the Tower, until one of them told me. The two blue doors next to the Chapel Royal belongs to the Tower doctor and the Tower undertaker/mortician, and our Yeoman Warder joked that when “it is time to go we know we have a short walk”!

My final tip for visiting the Tower of London is similar to Hampton Court; book your ticket in advance! The ticket queues can get really long, but if you already have one you’ll just rock up and stroll in (after the mandatory bag check, of course).

I hope you have enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed writing it (and experiencing everything for it). If you made it to the end, well done! I didn’t think this would end up being that long, haha. Any questions or comments? Leave them below! And don’t forget to share, it’ll make me so happy.

Planning a trip to the UK? Here’s a 7 day Scotland itinerary if you are planning on renting a car!

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