Born in Norfolk and immortalised in history
Blickling Hall is one of the most popular stately homes in Norfolk, but it’s also one of its most important - being the birthplace of Anne Boleyn and arguably the origin of the Reformation...
Exactly 520 years ago in a beautiful corner of Norfolk, the diplomat and politician Thomas Boleyn and his wife Elizabeth celebrated the birth of a daughter they named Anne - who would eventually become one of most important queen consorts in English history.
Although she would only be married to Henry VIII for three years, she left an indelible mark on the country. Had it not been for Anne Boleyn the Church of England may never have existed - and her daughter Elizabeth would go on to transform the country from a European state to a global superpower.
Anne’s birthplace of Blickling Hall has been described as one of the National Trust’s most beautiful buildings and was once voted the most haunted house in Britain - but it looked very different 500 years ago.
In fact it would have been unrecognisable. The current hall was built in the 17th century by Sir Henry Hobart when he acquired the estate from Sir Robert Clere in 1616 after the demise of the Boleyn family.
Regardless (and despite the differing opinions of various historians) a statue and portrait of Anne Boleyn can still be found at Blickling Hall, proclaiming ‘Anna Bolena hic nata 1507’ which for people unfamiliar with Latin says ‘Anne Boleyn was born here in 1507’.
Educated in Holland and France and serving as a maid of honour to Queen Claude of France, the young Anne returned to England with the expectation of marrying her Irish cousin James Butler - but instead she found herself serving as a maid of honour to Henry VIII’s wife Catherine of Aragon.
Rejecting the king’s advances and refusing to become his mistress (unlike her sister Mary) Anne was obviously an extraordinary woman for her time. Henry VIII was so determined to have her by his side that when Pope Clement VII refused to grant him a divorce the king (with a touch of petulance perhaps) began breaking down the influence of the church in England, closing monasteries across the country and declaring himself head of the Church of England.
Anne Boleyn married Henry VIII in secret towards the end of 1532, and was crowned Queen of England six months later. Within three months she gave birth to a daughter (much to the king’s disappointment) and in less than three years her husband was courting Jane Seymour.
She was investigated for high treason in April 1536, although the evidence against her (for adultery, incest and plotting to kill the king) was unconvincing at best. She was found guilty on May 15th and executed four days later. Henry VIII was formally engaged to Jane Seymour within 24 hours and married her before the month was out.
Anne Boleyn wasn’t resigned to history, however. Over 20 years later her daughter Elizabeth was crowned and would become one of the country’s most important and influential monarchs. Anne herself was venerated as a martyr and a heroine of the Reformation, and her birthplace is now one of the best-loved locations in Norfolk.
In the care of the National Trust since 1940, Blickling Hall is an extraordinary treat for the visitor. The 55-acre garden contains formal and informal gardens, listed buildings, specimen trees, Victorian garden ornaments, topiary, 18th century yew hedges, and a kitchen garden that was opened to the public in 2010.
It also houses one of the most significant collections of manuscripts and books in England, containing around 13,000 volumes. Librarian John Gandy has spent the last 11 years cataloguing the collection, and expects it to take another seven years to complete.
It may be one of Norfolk’s most magnificent stately homes, but Blickling Hall is also one of its most poignant as the birthplace of Anne Boleyn.
“The king has been very good to me,” she wrote shortly before her death. “He promoted me from a simple maid to be a marchioness. Then he raised me to be a queen. Now he will raise me to be a martyr.”