The home of two queens
Hever lays within a secret pocket of Kent, in essence almost a magical valley of peace and tranquillity, inhabited by few, dotted with castles, oast houses and “ye olde worlde pubs”. It has become a favourite place to live for the wealthier London commuters. In fact you could describe Hever as part of a golden triangle with Sevenoaks at the highest point and Edenbridge and Royal Tunbridge Wells at the bottom.
It isn’t only the delightful countryside that has helped ensure the areas popularity with the well heeled, the ease of transport is amazing for such a rural spot; Hever and the Eden Valley are cradled between the M26, M25 and M20, Gatwick is just a short hop as the crow flies and London commuters have a choice of train services within a short drive.
Nestling in the Eden Valley lays the village of Hever not to far from the banks of the valley’s namesake river which quietly meanders on through to Penshurst where it ultimately joins the mighty river Medway. On either side of the river lies tranquil farmland, broken by quiet country lanes, whilst the rolling hills and woodland provide a colourful backdrop almost but not quite as colourful as some of the past inhabitants at the nearby castle. Most people when they hear that name will immediately think of the castle but the village is of equal importance.
The village of Hever is much older than the castle itself and was first mentioned in a document that dates back to 814. The village at this time was known as “Hean yfre” which literarily means “high over” – not sure what but it was obviously a good place for a settlement. The parish was described in the 18th century as typical of the Jutish/Saxon period when the inhabitants lived in scattered farmsteads. This must have been a fairly safe environment for people to have lived in comparative isolation and not grouped together for safety.
Although the present day church of St Peter’s dates back to 1292 there was definitely another Norman church built around 1115 of which nothing remains. I would assume that the Saxon inhabitants had their own wooden church because it is difficult to believe that they had no place of worship until the arrival of the Normans! The villagers would definitely have been Christians as Augustine was sent to these shores way back in 597 AD to convert the heathens! It wasn’t the first time that Christianity was practised here; during the Roman occupation a strange fashionable cult had arrived from the East better known as Christianity this particular cult took its place amongst the Pagan gods of the Earth and the Roman gods of the sky!
The present church of St Peter’s who’s spire graces the village skyline contains the remains of the grandfather of the greatest English queen; Elizabeth I which is quite something for such a rural place!
What is now a world re-known castle which shares the same name as the village from whence it sprung, first started life as a farmhouse and was converted over the years into the fortified manor house that it is today. Although it is indeed charming it rose from obscurity on the skirt tail of Hever’s famous daughter, Anne Boleyn; who was to become the scandal of the western world by unseating a queen and the Catholic Religion. Her meteoric rise to power was eclipsed by her equally swift fall from grace. If Henry VIII was Saturn Anne Boleyn was definitely his titan as the rest of his wives pale into insignificance in comparison.
She was the figure head for the Protestants and the real driving force behind Henry VIII and the formation of the Church of England. She may have only reigned for 1000 days but she managed to help reform the church, wean the country away from the clutches of Rome and provided us with the greatest ever queen, quite an accomplishment for such a short time frame! Anne was neither a Jezebel nor witch; neither was she incestuous or a traitor the trumped up charges that sealed Anne’s fate and provided entertainment for the torturers of the Tower of London were at best pathetic. Henry could quite easily have divorced Anne – most of the French kings had already used this method to rid themselves of wives that they no longer required in fact one cast off – Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry II. It was more than likely because Henry had met his match and knew that it would be quite a battle to get rid of her; after all she kept a monarch on his toes for years refusing to accede to his wishes.
Anne of Cleves was another of Henry’s wives who inherited Hever as a divorce settlement. The wives were the antithesis of one another and yet they were both players in the Tudor dynasty game, it was the quiet one that kept her head and became Henry’s “favourite sister”! Anne of Cleves was responsible for the downfall of the man who orchestrated her namesake’s removal; Cromwell, unintentional as it might have been it was payback for all that Hever had lost!
Surrounded by such stunning scenery one would expect anything contained within the valley to be unique and Hever certainly lives up to ones expectations. For such a small place it has certainly left a mark upon the history of England.
copyright© Wendy Stevenson 2011
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