Peter Morrell pays a visit and sees the newly acquired portrait of Elizabeth Woodville on public display for first time
Visitors to Hever Castle will from 4 October 2018 be able to experience what a typical Long Gallery would have looked like during the reign of Henry VIII and trace the turbulent history of the Tudors.
Curated by Tudor history expert and broadcaster, Dr David Starkey, eighteen original portraits will form a new exhibition that not only chronologically depicts the dynastic saga – from the Wars of the Roses to the Reformation – but also reveals how such a gallery was intended as a teaching aid for young Prince Edward (later King Edward VI).
The reign of King Henry VIII (who ruled England from 1509 to 1547, right) and the Tudor period (1485 to 1603) remain one of the most universally fascinating eras in English History. Using his unrivalled insight and knowledge of this era, David Starkey has organised a series of Hever’s treasured Tudor portraits into successional order, beginning with Henry VI and concluding with Henry VIII himself.
Also included is a newly acquired portrait of Elizabeth Woodville (left), the grandmother of Henry VIII, on public display for the first time ever. Woodville was a hugely influential figure in ending the Wars of the Roses and the start of the Tudor dynasty. The painting is thought to have been owned by the same family for 400 years, so it has never been seen in public, and is a brand-new addition to the list of known portraits of Elizabeth Woodville.
The oil of Elizabeth Woodville, attributed to the English School, depicts her in a widow’s veil. It will be displayed next to her husband Edward IV in the Long Gallery, while pictures of Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI will also be part of the exhibition.
“Elizabeth’s portrait reveals the cold, hard beauty of the woman,” Starkey observes. “One of my favourites is that of Prince Arthur, Henry VIII’s older brother and heir to the throne, who died in 1502. It is positively jewel-like and the only portrait of Arthur painted in his lifetime.”
The Long Gallery, was created in 1506 by Thomas Boleyn, Anne’s father and has been faithfully restored by a team of experts using innovative lighting, redecoration and the paintings themselves in order for it to resemble how it would have looked during the 16th century.
Starkey’s attention to detail and demand for historical accuracy has seen the ornate plasterwork adorning the Long Gallery’s ceiling painted a softer off-white to give the effect of lime wash and full-length drapes have been reinstalled at the large stained-glass windows situated at each end of the 98ft (30m) room. As he points out: “The curtains that have been put back over the windows at either end of the gallery are part of Astor’s decorative scheme.
But we have gone further, and followed the Tudors in fitting curtains for each picture. This is the real radical innovation and the thing that will set the display apart. These curtains were originally not only decorative, but also designed to protect the paintings from harsh sunlight.”
“The new approach offers a chance to concentrate on the Tudor history of the Castle and the story of the sequence of tumultuous events that changed the course of Britain’s history, monarchy and religion,” says Hever’s CEO Duncan Leslie.
Dr Starkey explains that the Castle’s present owners, the Guthrie family, have made an almost unique contribution to British art history: “Hever Castle now has one of the finest collections of Tudor portraits in the country. Since the Guthries took over Hever, they have bought historic portraits of the Tudors with the advice of Philip Mould. Their collection is an enormous achievement at a time when most country houses are diminishing theirs.”
Dr Starkey adds that the idea for the project was borne out of many visits to the Castle and working with Mould, the star of the BBC’s hit art show, Fake or Fortune?
“The paintings were displayed hither and thither around the Castle but through my work as the editor of Henry VIII’s Inventory of Works, I was able to access records of how royal portraits were displayed and after talking with Philip, I decided to give visitors a flavour of what the Long Gallery would have looked like at the time of Henry VIII.”
Peter Morrell, Editor comments “This is a unique and engaging exhibition that I would urge everyone to go and see. Dr Starkey’s clever curation will help the visitor get the best from this fine collection of Tudor portraits.
“When you visit the exhibition you will also get the opportunity to see the rest of the rooms in the castle. It is a very atmospheric building which really gives you a feel of what life was like when Anne Bolelyn lived there as a child”
Also, on show in the exhibition will be a 17th century Venetian doge’s hat. The hat, which will be in a glass cabinet, belonged to the Castle’s former owner, William Waldorf Astor, and has not been on display for over a decade. It will form part of a display of religious vestments which include a 16th century ceremonial gauntlet and a 15th century bishop’s mitre.
Dr Starkey will also be voicing a new multimedia device, which will deliver an essential guide to understanding the impact that the Tudor family made on English history.
Hever Castle in Kent has a wealth of history; most recognisably it was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn. The original medieval defensive castle with its gatehouse and walled bailey was built in 1270. In the 15th and 16th centuries the Boleyn family added the Tudor dwelling within the walls. The Castle was then owned by a number of families before William Waldorf Astor invested time, money and imagination in restoring the Castle, building the ‘Tudor Village’ and creating the gardens, lake and a golf course. The ‘Tudor Village’ is now an acclaimed 5-star luxury bed and breakfast. Yorkshire family, the Guthries, are the current owners of the Hever Castle Estate. Their mission is to conserve and improve the Hever Castle Estate whilst maintaining its integrity, and making its important history available to inform and educate visitors.
Southern run a train service from London Bridge to Hever Station, pre-booked cabs are available for the short ride to the castle.
To book your train ticket got to https://www.southernrailway.com/