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The Bullen or Boleyn Family of Hever

The family of Boleyn or Bullen, originally of French extraction, was transplanted to England soon after the Norman Conquest and settled in Norfolk.

At the distance of a tourist's walk from Edenbridge and Penshurst, in a pleasant nook of the county of Kent, stands Hever Castle - of little architectural extent or pretension, but in its associations one of the most popular and interesting of our historical houses. It was anciently the seat of a family of the same name, but is more endeared to memory as the paternal abode of the ill-fated Anne Boleyn. It is a curious specimen of the domestic fortress, and was erected by William de Hever, a Norman baron, who, under Edward III, obtained the King's license to embattle his manor house, and to have liberty of free warren within this demesne. His two daughters and co-heiresses conveyed it in marriage to the families of Cobham and Brocas; the former, who had acquired the whole by purchase, afterwards sold the entire estate to Sir Geoffrey Boleyn, a wealthy mercer of London, Lord Mayor of that city in the thirty-seventh of Henry VI., and great-grandfather to Anne Boleyn, a Queen of Henry VIII., and mother of Queen Elizabeth.

The family of Boleyn, or Bullen, originally of French extraction, was transplanted to England soon after the Norman Conquest, and settled in Norfolk, where they resided for three centuries, maintaining their rank and influence among the provincial gentry, till Sir Geoffrey Boleyn, amidst the conflicts of York and Lancaster, exchanged the pastimes of hawking and hunting for the pursuits of commerce, amassed great wealth, and was invested with the knighthood, whilst his children intermarried with noble families. Sir Geoffrey also purchased the manor of Blickling from Sir John Falstaff. His son, Sir William Boleyn, was equally fortunate with his father, and more aspiring: he proved a successful courtier, and his most sanguine expectations were more than realized by the subsequent union of his son Thomas with Elizabeth, daughter of the Earl of Surrey, a nobleman in whom high rank was exalted by chivalrous valour, munificent liberality, and refined taste. Sir Thomas did not, however, obtain preferment till the end of the reign of Henry VII.; and he appears to have passed that interval at Rochford Hall, in Essex, where, in 1507, his wife gave birth to the celebrated Anne, the scene of whose infancy is still shown to the curious inquirer, and many traditional stories are related. Such is Miss Benger's statement; but Blickling Hall, in Norfolk, also the seat of Sir Thomas Boleyn, is stated to have been the birthplace of Anne. A tradition was related in the neighbourhood, that Sir Thomas Boleyn was believed by the vulgar to be doomed annually, on a certain night in the year, to drive for a period of 1000 years, a coach drawn by four headless horses, over a circuit of twelve bridges in that vicinity. These are Aylsham, Burgh, Oxnead, Buxton, Coltishall, the two Meyton bridges, Wrexham, and four others. Sir Thomas carries his head under his arm, and flames issue from his mouth. Few rustics were hardy enough to be found loitering on or near these bridges on that night; and an informant averred, that he himself was, on one occasion, hailed by this fiendish apparition, and asked to open a gate, but "he wasn't such a fool as to turn his head; and well 'a'didn't' for Sir Thomas passed him full gallop like;" and he heard a voice which told him that he (Sir Thomas) had no power to hurt such as turned a deaf ear to his requests, but that had he stopped he would have carried him off. The informant adds, that he had never found but one person who had ever actually seen the phantom. - Notes and Queries, No. 29.

To return to Hever. On the death of Sir Thomas Boleyn, K.G., Earl of Wiltshire and Ormond, and father of Anne, Henry seized this estate in right of his own wife; and afterwards enlarged it by purchases from others of her family; or, as Miss Benger states, "Henry with matchless cupidity, claimed it in right of a wife, for whom, previous to her wedding, he had been divorced." The next possessor was Lady Anne of Cleves, who, after her divorce, had settled on her this and other manors for life, so long as she should remain in the kingdom. She made Hever Castle her general place of residence, and died here in 1557, 3 and 4 year of the reign of Philip and Mary, at which time the estate was sold by Commissioners authorized by the Crown to Sir Edward Waldegrave, Chamberlain to the Queen's household; who on the accession of Elizabeth was divested of all his employments and committed to the Tower, where he died in 1561. From his family the manors passed to the Humphreys, and finally, to the Malleys, in Sussex.2.

The Castle, as we now see it, is a mass of buildings, with buttresses, square towers, embrasures, square-headed windows, and a watered moat, the latter being supplied by the river Eden. The principal front consists of an entrance flanked by towers: it is embattled and strongly machicolated, and defended by a portcullis and two thick oaken doors, immediately behind which are two guard-rooms. A broad avenue of solid masonry leads straight to a second portcullis, and this again to a third, occupying altogether the whole depth of the Castle. These gates lead into a spacious courtyard formed of three sides of the house built in the early Tudor style, and on the fourth by the Castle. The great dining-room, now used as a kitchen, contains a portion of the original Boleyn furniture; but the room visited with the greatest curiosity is that known as Anne Boleyn's bedchamber, beautifully panelled, and containing the original furniture, as chairs, tables, muniment chest, and Anne's bed. Here, too, is a pair of elegant and-irons, bearing the royal initial H.A., and surmounted with a royal crown. A door in one of the corners of the room opens into a strong dark cell. The great staircase communicates with various chambers, wainscoted with small oaken panelling, and a gallery the whole length of the building, with three recesses: in one of them it is said Henry, on one of his visits, received the congratulations of his gentry; and he is said to have used it as a council-chamber. This gallery has a curiously ornamented ceiling in stucco. The windows of the staircase display several heraldic sheilds in painted glass, collected from different parts of the Castle, charged with the arms and alliances of the Boleyns, etc.. At the upper end of the gallery, part of the floor lifts up and discovers a narrow, gloomy descent, leading as far as the moat, and called the dungeon.

Presuming the reader to be familiar with the outline of the tragic story of Anne Boleyn, we may proceed to detail that period of her life which she passed at Hever. Her father, Sir Thomas Boleyn, was the representative of an ancient line in Norfolk, which had in three descents been allied to the noblest families in England; he was afterwards created Viscount Rochford and Earl of Wiltshire. Anne's mother was Lady Elizabeth Howard, daughter of the Duke of Norfolk. Anne was born in the year 1507, and in her childhood accompanied Mary, the sister of Henry VIII., to France, where she remained in the court of that Queen and of her successor, the wife of Francis I., for many years. She was afterwards attached to the household of the Duchess of Alenzon. Anne, to English beauty added the lively charms of foreign manner. Viscount Chateaubriand describes her as "rivalling Venus". It is most probable that she was present at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, where Henry might have been smitten by her charms. The time of her return from France is doubtful, but is placed in 1527, when her father was sent in an embassy to France. At that time she became a maid of honour to Queen Katherine, the wife of Henry VIII., and was receiving the addresses of Lord Percy, the eldest son of the Duke of Northumberland. If the assertion of Henry VIII. is to be credited, he had long entertained scruples concerning the lawfulness of his marriage with his brother's widow; and had attributed to the violation of God's law the premature death of all his children by Katherine, excepting the Princess Mary. The most charitable and credulous, however, cannot abstain from remarking that the moment of his proceeding openly to annul the marriage was identical with the commencement of his addresses to Anne Boleyn, and that a similar coincidence marks the catastrophe of this unhappy woman. A letter from the King to her in 1528 alludes to his having been one whole year struck with the dart of love, and her engagement with Lord Percy was at this time broken off by the intervention of Wolsey, in whose household that nobleman was brought up. After this malicious interference Anne retired to Hever, but she kept up a correspondence with Henry by letters; some of the King's letters to her are still extant in the library of the Vatican. Although not consistent with the delicacy of expression usual in these days, they show unquestionably that Anne Boleyn was the beloved, not the mistress of the King. The crafty Cardinal having first prevailed on the Earl of Northumberland to forbid his son's marriage with Anne, succeeded in persuading Sir Thomas Boleyn to withdraw her from the Court. Anne was little aware of the real source of her disappointment, which was, in truth, the unholy passion of Henry. She, on the other hand, attributed it exclusively to Wolsey's malice; and she protested, with an impetuosity which fatally for herself she never learnt to control, that she would some day find the means to requite the injury.

From the diary of Margaret, Sir Thomas More's eldest daughter, we gain a glimpse of Henry, as he was to be seen in 1524. Margaret More says her mother "calls him a fine man: he is, indeed, big enough, and like to become too big, with long slits of eyes that gaze freelie on all, as who should say, 'Who dare let or hinder us' His brow betokens sense and frankness, his eyebrows are superciliuos, and his cheeks puffy; a rolling, straddling gait, and abrupt speech." And, in 1528, "Mistress Anne is not there (at Court) at present; indeed, she is now always hanging about Court, and followeth somewhat too literalie the Scripture injunction to Solomon's spouse - to forget her father's house. The King likes well enow to be compared with Solomon; but Mistress Anne is not his spouse yet, nor ever will be, I hope. Flattery and Frenchified habits have spoilt her, I trow."

Mistress Anne, however, drew the King deeper into danger by judicious encouragement, and keeping him in suspense.

Anne's seclusion at Hever Castle is touchingly referred to by Miss Benger: "The long gallery she so often traversed with impatience, still seems to re-echo her steps: and after the vicissitudes of three centuries, the impression of her youth, her beauty, and singular destiny, is still fresh and vivid to the imagination."

While Anne Boleyn was repining in exile, Henry contrived the marriage of her lover, Lord Percy, to the daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury. At this moment there is no reason to believe her aware of the true source of her disappointment; even her father's sagacity appears not to have penetrated the mystery; and he probably attributed the royal interposition solely to that spirit of domination which he had long remarked in his sovereign, of whom it was too justly predicted that he would not scruple to strike off even a favourite's head if it obstructed his view of advantage.

According to tradition, however, the mist vanished from his eyes when he suddenly saw the King arrive by stealth at Hever on some frivolous pretext, which ill disguised his real errand, that he came but to steal a glimpse of the lovely Anne Boleyn. Alarmed by his delicate attention, Sir Thomas is aid to have sedulously withdrawn his daughter from the King's view, and during his visit, on the plea of indisposition, to have kept her confined to her chamber. Whatever credit be attached to this story, it is certain that a considerable time intervened before Anne received her place at Court; and that during her absence her father, created Lord Viscount Rochford, was advanced to the office of Treasurer of the Royal household.

In the meantime the King's divorce from Katherine was retarded by various delays; and at the beginning of the year 1533 Henry married Anne Boleyn secretly, in the presence of her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, and of her father and mother - first secretly, in a garret of Whitehall Palace, and then publicly. A handsome little clock of brass (by mistake sometimes described as silver-gilt) was presented by Henry to Anne upon the day of the marriage. This clock fell into the possession of Lady Elizabeth Germaine, who gave it to Horace Walpole. At the Strawberry Hill sale, this famous clock was purchased for Queen Victoria for 110l.5s., and it is now in Windsor Castle, and in going order. It is richly chased and engraved, and ornamented with fleurs-de-lis, etc., and surmounted with the arms of England. The weights are chased with the initials of Henry and Anne within true lovers' knots. One bears the inscription "The most happye", the other the Royal motto. Queen Anne was crowned at Whitehall with great pomp, on the 1st of June, and on the 13th of the following September the Princess Elizabeth was born. Poor unhappy Katherine, after having served Henry faithfully eighteen years, he willingly turned adrift, "and all," says Margaret More, "for love a brown girl with a wen, or perthroat, and an extra finger." Henry was more concerned about the wen than any scruples of conscience, and in 1556 was pleased to prefer Lady Jane Seymour to either, upon which there followed a base accusation, a mockery of a trial, and the gleam of a bright axe.

There is a mysterious uncertainty about Anne's burial-place. There is a tradition at Salle, in Norfolk, that her remains were removed from the Tower and interred at midnight, with the rites of Christian burial, in Salle Church; and a plain black stone, without any inscription was long supposed to indicate the spot where she was buried. The stone has been raised, but no remains were found underneath it. Holinshed, Stow, and Speed say that the body, with the head, was buried in the choir of the Chapel in the Tower; and Sandford that she was buried in the Chapel of St. Peter, in the Tower. Burnet, who is followed by Hum, Henry, and Lingard, says that Anne's body was thrown into an elm chest to put arrows in, and was buried in the Chapel in the Tower before twelve o'clock. In Crispin's description of the execution, written fourteen days after, is the following passage, cited by Mr. Sharon Turner: - "Her ladies immediately took up her head and the body. They seemed to be without souls, they were to languid and extremely weak; but fearing that their mistress might be handled unworthily by inhuman men, they forced themselves to do this duty, and though almost dead, at last carried off her dead body wrapt in a white covering."

A Correspondent of the Gentlemen's Magazine, Oct. 1815, described "the headless remains of the departed queen as deposited in the arrow-chest, and buried in the Tower chapel, before the High Altar. Where that stood, the most sagacious antiquary, after a lapse of more than three hundred years, cannot now determine; nor is the circumstance, though related by eminent writers, clearly ascertained. In a cellar, the body of a person of short stature, without a head, not many years since was found, and supposed to be the reliques of poor Anne; but soon after reinterred in the same place, and covered with earth.

The fall of the Boleyns must have been signally sudden; for Lambard, in his Perambulations in Kent, published about the middle of the seventeenth century, does not refer to the family. To the Boleyns no motto could have been so appropriate as that assumed by the House of Courteney: Ubi lapsus? Quid feci? (Where have I fallen? What have I done?) Their rise had been slow and gradual - their fall was rapid and irretrievable; and after the death of Anne, they never recovered dignity and importance. The Earl of Wiltshire survived his ill-fated daughter but two years, and died in 1538, at Hever, in whose parochial church his tomb is pointed out. For the Countess, contrary to her daughter's predictions, was reserved a longer term of existence; and eventually she lived to witness the death or disgrace of those peers who sat in judgment on her daughter. The Earl of Northumberland had soon followed the object of his juvenile affection to the grave, overwhelmed with shame and sorrow by the execution of his brother, Sir Thomas Percy, who had been involved in Aske's rebellion. Cromwell and Surrey perished on the scaffold, and the Duke of Norfolk was immured in the Tower where the remains of Anne's mother were consigned to the tomb of her ancestors in the chapel at Lambeth, with this brief monumental inscription: "Elizabeth Howard, sometime Countess of Wiltshire." Mary Boleyn, her younger daughter died at 1546 at Rochford Hall, Essex, leaving two children, a daughter, afterwards married to Sir Franics Knollys; and a son, Henry Carey, created Baron Hunsdon by Queen Elizabeth, in whose brilliant circle he was distinguished as the honest courtier. His son enjoyed favour and consideration by James I, but the fortunes of their House declined, and the collateral branches of the Boleyns in Kent and Norfolk sank into quiet obscurity.

2. Much of the property left by Alderman Boleyne (the Queen's grandfather), was situated in Kent, in the neighbourhood of which estates a worthy innkeeper, indignant at the treatment of his old master's relative, altered his sign from "The Boelyne Arms" to "The Boleyne Butchered." Queen Elizabeth, they say, who took every means to hush up her mother's sorrows and end, induced the host to amend it into the "Bull and Butcher," which henceforth became a popular sign throughout all England. - Historical Reminiscences of the City of London and its Livery Companies. By Thomas Arundell, B.D. 1869.

Owner of originalSusan D. Young

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