Say the name Anne Boleyn, and plenty of people will envisage a scheming temptress, the ‘other woman’ desperate to elevate her social status to queen of England. But many argue that reputation was ill-deserved, and forced upon her by both the patriarchal society she lived in, and the ruthless king who wanted rid of her. For the historians at Hever Castle, the time has come to discover who she really was.
Anne’s childhood home is planning a series of exhibitions that will examine her life in detail, the first of which is currently on display.
Becoming Anne: Connections, Culture, Court looks at her early years, focusing on the people and places that shaped her. It opened on 4 March, a date chosen specifically because it marked the 500th anniversary of Anne’s first recorded appearance at the English court, in 1522.
Castle historian Dr Owen Emmerson explains that the displays around the castle will help visitors to better understand her upbringing:
“We thought the questions of who Anne actually was, and how she became that woman, were ones that needed to be answered in this space, because this was where she spent her formative years. Anne’s life is often told as a rags to riches story, where she is responsible for the rise of the Boleyns, but actually they were already an incredibly respected and wealthy family.”
The reason for this, says Dr Emmerson, is the powerful matriarchs that Anne grew up with:
“The Boleyn men were ambitious and successful courtiers, but their marriages to formidable women from landed, aristocratic families were the root of that success. Anne’s mother, Elizabeth Howard, and her grandmother, Lady Margaret Butler, were responsible for her early education, and that strong female beginning was highly influential on Anne’s life.”
Her father Thomas’ career as a diplomat saw him sent overseas to do business on the king’s behalf, and his skills meant he was able to ingratiate himself with notable European women, securing coveted positions for Anne at the courts of both Margaret of Austria, and France’s Queen Claude. Here, she was exposed to progressive and radical reformist thought, which she was keen to continue to explore on her return to England.
Dr Emmerson concludes:
“The time has come to look at Anne in a different light, at the factors and opportunities that shaped her youth, and moulded her into a witty, eloquent and confident young woman, with the drive to shape her own destiny. I can’t think of a better way of doing it than exploring them in the place she loved.”
The second exhibition will open in 2023, and will focus on the relationship between Anne and Katherine of Aragon.
A book, by Dr Emmerson and Kate McCaffrey, which accompanies Becoming Anne, is available from the shop at Hever Castle or from their online shop.
Becoming Anne closes on 9 November. Book your tickets now.