The picturesque moated Tudor mansion seen today became famous in the early 16th century as the family home of the Bullens. But Hever Castle's history actually began over 200 years earlier, when a massive gatehouse and walled bailey were erected within the confines of a large moat, much of which survive today. On two occasions during the 14th century licences were granted to crenellate and fortify the manor house, but uncertainty remains as to who the original builder could have been.
Following a succession of ownerships, Geoffrey Bullen arrived at Hever Castle in 1462, after making his fortune in London. By the end of the 15th century, the family had greatly modified the old castle to provide them with a comfortable Tudor dwelling house surrounded by beautiful grounds. And it was in this truly enchanting setting that Anne Bullen (Boleyn) spent her childhood, and was later courted by Henry VIII. Following Anne's execution, and the death of her father shortly afterwards, Hever Castle was given to Anne of Cleves. Despite owning it for the rest of her life, it is doubtful whether she lived there at any time during that 17-year period. It was then purchased by the wealthy Waldegrave family, and remained in their ownership until the early years of the 18th century. After that, Hever Castle fell into the hands of successive owners who neglected to maintain and restore the old building on a regular basis.
Consequently, when William Waldorf Astor (the first Viscount Astor of Hever) bought Hever Castle in 1903, the structure had deteriorated drastically. He immediately set about restoring the external façade of the castle to its former 15th century glory, created the Tudor-style village to provide extra accommodation, and returned the lake and gardens to the splendid vision they present today. Internally, the manor house retains some of its original décor, albeit mostly of the Tudor-style renovation work, but Mr Astor achieved his aim 'to live in 20th century style and comfort' without severely impacting the historic origins of the castle's architecture. Several rooms in the house, including the Drawing Room, Inner Hall, Dining Hall, Library and Morning Room display elaborate 20th century decoration, but also contain paintings, coats of arms and various artefacts from the Boleyn era.
Hever Castle presents a pleasing and successful combination of three distinct building periods, spanning more than 600 years. Set in extensive grounds, which include the stunning Italian Gardens, some formal gardens, a maze, and an enormous lake, this simple square structure became the venue for a courtship that would change England for ever.