Hever Castle and Gardens – billed as the childhood home of Anne Boleyn – recently announced that they are taking down their famous wax figures of Henry VIII’s wives to install a new exhibition on Anne Boleyn. I was very excited to hear about this news and can’t wait to see what the show will be.
It’s a good move, and I hope Hever Castle plans for a thoughtful interpretation. We really need to get away from telling the story of these six very different women as “one entity” and as a supporting role in Henry VIII’s life and reign. Enough research has come out in the past two decades to show that each woman was unique enough they deserve their own biography.
Furthermore, I think it’s time to make a break with the wife drama plot that has followed the six women for centuries. It makes for a very tidy story, but not for good history. Let’s start to look at each one of these women independent of each other. We know now because of the benefit of hindsight, what would happen and who would come next. But that was not the case five hundred years ago. With each marriage, the court thought it would be the last. And each marriage addressed a certain political need.
What would be most interesting as an interpretation plan for Hever Castle, is to tell the stories of both Anne Boleyn and Anne of Cleves. Anne Boleyn grew up there and Anne of Cleves retired there. It was also a vast property that the King owned and “gave” to Anne of Cleves. He took it from one family and gave it to another, a fascinating chapter in English monarchial history.
Just some thoughts, but I think it would be a breath of fresh air from the tired and centuries-old “divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived” narrative.
For fun, here are some photographs of my trip to Hever Castle from 2009. It is a beautiful heritage site.