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Article by Vicky Hales-Dutton | 6th November 2018

The Tudors at Hever Castle

The Tudor story – tumultuous, colourful, often bloody and endlessly fascinating – can be seen as never before by visitors to Hever Castle, thanks to a new and permanent exhibition of paintings and other artefacts guest-curated by renowned historian Dr David Starkey.

Hever Castle’s associations with the Boleyn family, particularly Anne, Henry VIII’s determined but short-lived second wife, are well known. From childhood Hever was the backdrop for key moments of her life. In 1524 she languished there in disgrace, torn from her secret love, nobleman Henry Percy. It became her haven when the pressure of King Henry’s attentions became too great and where she lay dangerously ill in 1528.

It was Anne’s father, Sir Thomas, who created the Long Gallery in 1506, using it for entertaining, exercising and displaying art. Having undergone sympathetic renovation, complete with authentic drapes and innovative lighting, 500 years later the gallery is home to 18 chronologically arranged portraits featuring key players from the Wars of the Roses to the Reformation. In bringing together pictures that were previously scattered across the castle, Dr Starkey aimed to give visitors a taste of how they were shown at the time of the Tudors, a project requiring huge attention to detail and historical accuracy.

Step back in time

So, in 16th century fashion, each painting is surrounded by short curtains of ‘distressed’ green fabric, with red, white or red and white borders, depending on the subject’s Yorkist, Lancastrian or Tudor heritage. Dr Starkey says: “We have followed the Tudors in fitting curtains for each picture. This is the real radical innovation and will set the display apart.”

Their production was overseen by fabric expert Vivienne Swatridge from The Renaissance Collection Fabrics Historical Textile Consultancy. “The curtains originally protected the pictures from sunlight,” she explains. “They were carefully researched – woven in wool, hand sewn and ‘distressed’ to make them look authentic.”

One picture – of Elizabeth Woodville, Henry VIII’s grandmother – is on public display for the first time ever. Her risky intrigue with Lady Margaret Beaufort (mother to Henry VII, the first Tudor) helped end the Wars of the Roses and establish the Tudor dynasty. There is also a rare portrait of her other grandson Arthur, Henry VIII’s older brother who died aged 15.

Different direction Historians have speculated endlessly on what might have been had Arthur lived. As it was, it was brother Henry who took on the mighty Catholic Church and other European powers during his seven-year divorce from Spanish first wife, Katherine of Aragon, so he could marry Anne.

Dr David Starkey believes that this bitter battle helped turn the pious, multi-talented Renaissance prince into a cruel and paranoid tyrant, explaining:“What changes Henry is Anne. He tears his life, family and realm apart to marry her. She helps to create a new Henry who would change England forever.”

Dr Starkey goes on to describe Henry’s break with Rome as the first Brexit. “Who could decide on the king’s marriage? A court in Rome!” In an ironic twist, he credits France with helping Henry achieve Brexit I. “In 1532, Francis I of France recognises Anne as queen, paving the way for the divorce.”

• For more information, including opening times and admission prices, visit hevercastle.co.uk or call 01732 865224. Hever Castle & Gardens, Hever Road, Hever, Edenbridge, Kent TN8 7NG.

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