The story of Anne Boleyn’s life has beguiled audiences for centuries, inspiring countless retellings and interpretations of her character. The ill-fated second wife of Henry VIII, Anne’s rise to power and rapid fall from grace has instilled her as a figure of intrigue within British history – yet very little is actually known about who she was. The closest we can get to the real Anne Boleyn is perhaps through the places she lived and visited, the halls and gardens she walked, and the rare evidence she left behind there.
For this captivating woman we have compiled a list of sites associated with her life in chronological order of when they were most influential. Explore her ancestral home of Hever Castle, the Loire Valley châteaus where she grew into a charming young courtier, the remnants of her presence at Hampton Court Palace, and the Tower of London where she met her untimely end.
Where History Happened: Anne Boleyn
Blickling Hall is a stately home of historic importance in Norfolk, England. The original banqueting hall on the Blickling Estate was built in the 15th century, when the estate was in the possession of Sir John Fastolf. Blickling’s most famous resident however was Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII and Queen of England between 1533 and 1536.
The Boleyn family owned Blickling, and resided here for the first few years of the 16th century. Historians generally believe all three of the surviving Boleyn children – Anne, Mary and George, were born here.
Hever Castle in Kent is a picturesque Tudor mansion famous as Anne Boleyn’s ancestral home. Today it presents a stunning glimpse into the splendour of those close to the Tudor crown, and provides a personal look into the life of one of British history’s most intriguing female figures.
In the 14th century Hever was crenellated during which time the walls, towers, moat, and Great Hall were constructed, before in 1462 it came into the possession of the Boleyn family. The Boleyns transformed it into a stunning Tudor residence and when in 1505 Thomas Boleyn inherited Hever, he further added to its splendour.
Château Royal d’Amboise is a large château situated in France’s Loire Valley, which from the 15th to the 16th centuries was a favourite royal residence of the French monarchy. With a host of famous visitors over its 500-year history, Château d’Amboise hides countless intriguing features – including the resting place of legendary painter Leonardo da Vinci.
In 1515 Anne Boleyn entered the household of Francis I’s wife Queen Claude and spent 7 years as her lady in waiting at Château d’Amboise and Château de Blois. During this time she became well-versed in the courtly game of love, and when she returned to the English court in 1522 she presented herself as a charismatic, fashionable, and charming courtier, quickly catching the eye of Henry VIII.
Château Royal de Blois is a former royal château in the Loire Valley, with a dramatic and fascinating history. Blois was popular with the French royal family throughout the 16th century, and much of the architecture is a hybrid of Renaissance and Gothic.
Francis I and his wife, Queen Claude, undertook a major refurbishment at Blois, including the creation of a huge library: Claude died in 1524, and Francis avoided Blois for much of the rest of his reign, moving their massive library to the Château de Fontainebleau instead.
It was here that Anne Boleyn spent time as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Claude, further enriching her knowledge of literature, art, and fashion.
Penshurst Place in Kent, England, is a medieval fortified manor house which remains one of the best preserved of its kind in the UK.
As a prominent estate within reach of London, Penshurst Place has been the home of a number of significant figures, including Henry IV’s third son John, Duke of Bedford and Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham.
When the latter was executed in 1521 his estates were turned over to Henry VIII, who then appointed Thomas Boleyn as Keeper of Penshurst Place, his ancestral home of Hever Castle being only a few miles away. In later years Penshurst thus provided a convenient place for Henry to stay as he began courting Anne Boleyn, with the family’s ties to the place likely instilling it as a familiar setting for the couple.
Eltham Palace is a spectacular Art Deco palace built in the 1930s alongside a medieval hall that was once a the centre of royal life in England. Today it is a fascinating site run by English Heritage that provides a glimpse into both the medieval and Art Deco periods of Britain’s history.
Eltham Palace was a particular favourite of the Yorkist King Edward IV, who built the Great Hall there in the 1470s, and his grandson Henry VIII spent much of his childhood walking its opulent halls. Whilst king he and Anne Boleyn also visited Eltham many times, including in 1532 as they prepared to journey to Calais to receive Francis I’s support of their marriage and Henry VIII’s break with Rome.
Hampton Court Palace is a Grade I listed royal palace, built over 500 years ago in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, 12 miles south-west of central London on the River Thames.
Cardinal Thomas Wolsey built Hampton Court Palace in 1515 as a luxurious private residence, but in 1529 – as Wolsey fell from favour – the palace was relinquished to King Henry VIII.
Hampton Court went on to become one of Henry’s most favoured residences, and was enlarged to accommodate his courtiers and soon-to-be wife Anne Boleyn, for whom new apartments were constructed above what is now known as Anne Boleyn’s Gate.
Boleyn’s influence in the architecture of Hampton Court may also be seen in the carved H&A initials found on a wooden panel in the Great Hall, with this symbolic feature surviving Henry’s attempts to erase all traces of her following her execution in 1536.
Westminster Abbey is an iconic medieval structure and the site of many historic royal and national events, from coronations and royal weddings to burials and even deaths. Centrally located in London, Westminster Abbey was first constructed in the 11th century by King Edward the Confessor, a Saxon king who dedicated this new church to St Peter.
The 16th century finds the Tudor monarchs influencing the history of the Abbey: Henry VII started to build the Lady Chapel, Henry VIII dissolved the monastery (but spared the Abbey) and Elizabeth I established the Abbey as the foremost cathedral in England (a position it only held briefly).
Following one of the period’s most significant events – Henry VIII’s break with Rome – Westminster Abbey also witnessed the lavish coronation of Anne Boleyn as the new Queen of England, in a symbolic display of the Tudor throne’s growing wealth and power.
Hatfield House is a Jacobean country house built on the site of what was Hatfield Palace, where Elizabeth I spent much of her life.
Born on 7 September 1533, Princess Elizabeth was sent to live at Hatfield when she was around 3 months old, and was given a small household of nurses, courtiers, and tutors to help raise her. Included in this team of staff was her half-sister Mary, who had that year been branded illegitimate through Henry VIII’s divorce with her mother Catherine of Aragon, and had been given the humiliating task of waiting on her infant sister.
Elizabeth’s mother Anne Boleyn often visited her at Hatfield, and on one occasion clashed with the 17-year-old Mary there following a period of conflict between the ex-Princess and her father. Boleyn attempted a peace offering, should Mary accept her as queen, to which the headstrong girl replied that the only queen she recognised was her mother.
The Tower of London is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames in central London that has played a prominent role in English history. The Tower of London was used as a residence for monarchs of England, and traditionally in the run up to their coronation. However the Tower is most famous for its use as a prison.
It was here that Anne Boleyn was imprisoned following charges of adultery, incest, and high treason – now largely believed to be false. On 19 May 1536 she was executed within its walls and hastily buried in St Peter ad Vincula, the small chapel at the site.
Anne Boleyn’s daughter, Elizabeth I was later also imprisoned here by her half-sister Mary I. She allegedly sat on the steps by the watergate (known now as Traitor’s gate) and wept, but was later forgiven and released.