Queen Anne Boleyn remains at the very top of the Tudor A-list. She exerts a fascination for millions across the world, even at a distance of five hundred years since her entrée into the Tudor royal court. She was, according to the late great Eric Ives, ‘the most influential and important queen consort England has ever had’. It seemed only natural therefore, that Simply Tudor Tours‘ flagship tour experience places the story of this most iconic of queens as its central theme.
Where It All Began…
Earlier this year, Sarah Morris, Natalie Grueninger and I sat around Sarah’s dining room table in the sleepy English Cotswolds. It was early March, and so we thought we had come out of winter, but no, for we were blessed, or perhaps cursed (depending on your taste) with a full-on snow blizzard, which certainly made my drive from London a touch more interesting!
This meeting was crucial though, for it was the start of what would become The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn tour. We had been workshopping different tour ideas and knew that we wanted to start with Anne Boleyn, because, well, it’s Anne Boleyn, nuff said, but equally we wanted to do something that was fresh, something new.
Anne Boleyn’s story is so rich in detail, yet we all are guilty of invariably focusing heavily on how her life came to its tragic end. The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn, as the name suggests, will of course explore the horrors of May 1536, but that is far from the whole story!
We wanted to look at more than just this most infamous period of Anne Boleyn’s life and to explore the woman and the myth in greater detail. We wanted to unpick the layers of her remarkable rise. We decided it would be fascinating to bring Natalie’s most recent book, The Final Year of Anne Boleyn, to life while also travelling back further to explore the last four years of Anne Boleyn’s time on earth in detail.
Anne Boleyn: Windsor Castle – 1 September 1532
We start Anne’s story and the tour, therefore, in September 1532. On 1 September of that year, Anne Boleyn went from being the second daughter of a relatively humble member of the English gentry into the very upper echelons of the nobility.
In a dazzling ceremony at Windsor Castle, Anne was made Marquess of Pembroke in her own right. This latter point is particularly poignant, for traditionally, the noble title a woman carried was by virtue of her marriage. Very, very rarely, the mould would be broken, and a woman would inherit a title which was entirely hers. This was a privilege Anne Boleyn now enjoyed.
For reference, only two other women during the entire reign of Henry VIII became peeresses in their own right: Margaret Pole, who became Countess of Salisbury in 1513, and Catherine Willoughby, who was made Baroness Willoughby in 1526. As a Marquess outranks both a Countess and a Baroness, Anne Boleyn’s new title was the grandest of all.
The decision to make Anne Boleyn a peeress in her own right was one of both practicality and necessity. It gave her great riches, which, as the intended wife of the King, would be necessary to uphold her position. It also made her a more palatable choice for a queen consort in waiting – for shortly thereafter, Henry and Anne were to leave England and journey to France to meet with and convince, King Francis I to support their union.
At the ceremony, held in Windsor Castle, the King placed the ermine mantel of Anne’s new position around her shooulders. She was also presented with her coronet and the deeds which outlined the extent of her new estate.
Portrait of Anne Boleyn at Hever Castle, c. 1550.
The Rise & Fall of Anne Boleyn Tour: Day 1
On day one of The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn tour, Sarah Morris, co-director of Simply Tudor Tours, will give a talk which lifts the baroque veil that now adorns the walls of Windsor Castle. Sarah will bring to life how the castle operated during the reign of King Henry VIII, detailing where and when Anne Boleyn’s investiture took place.
With a private tour purely for the Simply Tudor Tours group, this will be the best way to view the incredible state apartments of one of the most famous castles in the world. We will also explore the stunning St George’s Chapel inside the walls of Windsor Castle. The chapel is the final resting place of many of England’s most iconic figures, including King Edward IV, Queen Elizabeth Woodville, King Henry VIII and most recently of all, Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
King George IV Gate in the South Wing of Windsor Castle. Ввласенко, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
Anne, The Queen: Day 2
No tour focusing on the life of Anne Boleyn would be complete without a trip to one of the most extraordinary Tudor buildings in the world: Hampton Court Palace. Accompanied by Dan Jackson, Head of Historic Buildings for Historic Royal Palaces, we will explore the stunning Tudor apartments of this most iconic royal palace.
We will see spaces normally closed off to the public and explore some of the hidden-in-plain-sight features that highlight Anne and Henry’s once-loving relationship. We will view some of the most famous Tudor portraits ever painted, wander around the baroque quarters and enjoy the phenomenal grounds and gardens. In the evening, we return to Windsor, where I will be giving a talk about the Boleyn family before we tuck into a three-course meal in a private room at The Windsor Grill.
Hampton Court Palace by DiscoA340, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons;
Anne Boleyn’s Tower in Clock Court.
On day three, we will make our way to a corner of the UK known as ‘the garden of England’: the county of Kent, which is home to several major Tudor buildings including Hever Castle and Penshurst Place. We will start our day by having a fully private tour of Penshurst Place, the one time home of Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. Penshurst Place is one of the most well known filming locations in England for both films and television shows set in the Tudor era, with Anne of the Thousand Days, The Other Boleyn Girl and Wolf Hall all having shot crucial scenes inside the main house and stunning gardens. Following our private tour, we will have our first Tudor activity – a class in Tudor dancing! This will be followed up by a mini tasting banquet of authentic Tudor dishes made by Brigitte Webster of tudorexperience.com. Brigitte will walk us through the process of creating these dishes and provide insight into how the Tudors dined each day. We will then leave Penshurst and make our way to perhaps the most significant Tudor building closely associated with Anne Boleyn, her childhood home: Hever Castle. Hever is a stunning little castle nestled amongst some of the most beautifully manicured gardens to be found in England. We will be spending two nights on site at Hever Castle in the sumptuous Astor Wing. On the first evening of our stay we will enjoy a relaxed BBQ on the lawns outside of the Astor Wing, followed by drinks.
Penshurst Place across the Italian Garden by DimiTalen, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons.
Day four, it’s all about the main event: Hever Castle itself! Hever started out as a country house built some time in the thirteenth century. By the mid 1460s it had come into ownership of the Boleyn family and it is where Anne Boleyn and her two siblings, Mary and George, would spend much of their childhood. The castle is utterly charming, and packed full of some of the most fascinating Tudor artefacts and an enviously rich array of major Tudor portraits. Following breakfast, we will explore the beautiful gardens which wrap around the whole castle before making our way across to St Peter’s Chapel, the church opposite Hever Castle and final resting place of Sir Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire, father of Anne Boleyn. A splendid lunch will be held for our party in The Tudor Suite, which will be followed up with a talk from a true barber surgeon, Dickon. Barber surgeons were Tudor medical practitioners, and we’ll be hearing about some of the grizzly activities such an office entailed.
In the evening, we have prepared a truly spectacular night of exploration, learning and celebration. We start with a talk given by Kate McCaffrey, Castle Historian for Hever Castle. She will tell us all about the incredible discoveries she has made over the last few years, particularly with regard to Tudor books of hours, followed by a ‘Hidden Hever’ tour. This tour will explore the whole castle, including rooms usually closed off to the public. We will then sit down for a fabulous three course banquet in Hever Castle’s very own Great Hall, in the company of King Henry VIII himself and a band of Tudor minstrels. What a night!
Hever Castle. Image © The Tudor Travel Guide.
The following morning, we will leave Hever Castle and make our way into the heart of the capital. The Tower of London is one of the most infamous and imposing buildings in English history, and would of course be the site of Anne Boleyn’s final moments. Just three years prior, Anne’s biggest triumph, her coronation, had began in the very same place. We will be met at The Tower of London by Alfred Hawkins, Assistant Curator for Historic Royal Palaces, who will escort us on a private tour of the entire site, plus some locations usually closed off to the public. We will explore the iconic White Tower, the Waterloo Barracks with the Crown Jewels, and of course, the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, the final resting place of Anne Boleyn plus many other notable figures from Tudor England. In the evening, our historian in residence, Natalie Grueninger, will give a talk on the final moments of Anne Boleyn’s life, exploring what happened in those hours that led up to her truly shocking end.
The White Tower. Image © The Tudor Travel Guide.
On our final day of the tour, we will be celebrating the phenomenal legacy that Anne Boleyn left behind, despite her ignominious end, in the shape of her daughter, Elizabeth. Following breakfast, we will make our way along river to Westminster Abbey. One of Britain’s most enduring symbols of history, it was the location of major royal weddings, state funerals and of course, most importantly, as the home of the coronation. The abbey is packed full of some of the most illustrious figures from world history, with countless tombs including the likes of Henry VII, Mary, Queen of Scots and of course, Queen Elizabeth I herself. We will have a tour of the building, looking at the many tombs and the catacombs below. After leaving the abbey, we will have lunch and some time to explore the many other sights of London, before coming together again, for one final time for a very special dinner! More to follow in due course…
Westminster Abbey by Hammersfan, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons;
The chancel looking towards the high altar. Image © The Tudor Travel Guide.
The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn is a tour that we at Simply Tudor Tours have been working on for some time now. We are so thrilled with how it has come together, and we cannot wait to share this ‘once in a lifetime’ experience with our tour attendees. More blogs will be released in due course, as will podcast episodes and accompanying short videos to get everyone prepped for the tour itself. In Spring 2024, we will also be announcing our planned tours for 2025 – watch this space!
We are already approaching capacity for The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn, and so, if you wish to secure your space then please feel free to head over to the booking page, and we look forward to welcoming you on the tour.
Thank you for reading.