Review: Catherine and Anne exhibition at Hever Castle

Following on from last year’s “Becoming Anne” exhibition, this year the Hever castle curatorial team have put together a new exhibition – “Catherine and Anne: Queens, Rivals, Mothers”. It is promoted as an exploration of the similarities between two women (Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn) who are usually viewed through the lense of their rivalry. At the centre of this exploration are two printed (and illuminated) Books of Hours – one owned by Catherine and one by Anne – which Kate McCaffrey has identified as coming from the same small print run in 1527. The exhibition also covers some aspects of their lives that are less widely known – in particular their childhoods and Anne’s sweating sickness in 1528 – and brings in costumes from film and television (Anne of a Thousand Days, Elizabeth, and Becoming Elizabeth).

Despite the ambitious scope of the exhibition, which takes us from the two women’s childhoods through to Elizabeth I’s coronation, it is relatively small. Like the Becoming Anne exhibition last year it is constrained by the need to fit around the permanent displays and the visitor route around the castle which, in places, is very narrow. This necessarily limits how many items and interpretation boards can be displayed.

Visitors who are already familiar with Catherine and Anne are unlikely to learn many new facts from the interpretation boards. However, the Books of Hours are well worth seeing in person, as are the costumes. I also thought the exhibition did a good job of evoking the Tudor world through the use of music, the creation of Catherine’s prie-dieu, and a sick room with the sounds of a fire and smell of herbs (visitors are encouraged to use a pestle and mortar to grind a herbal mixture). This multisensory experience could have been done with even more ambition, and hopefully the curatorial team will be able to expand this approach in the future.

I highly recommend purchasing the accompanying book, Catherine and Anne: Queens, Rivals, Mothers (£10, available at the entrance to the castle and from the gift shop). Here, the curatorial team – Owen Emerson, Kate McCaffrey and Alison Palmer – have the space to explore the themes of the exhibition in far greater details than is possible on interpretation boards. Particularly intriguing is the chapter on McCaffrey’s research into the printed Books of Hours which identified previously unknown inscriptions and discusses the personalisation of the illuminations.

What do you need to know about the exhibition?

Catherine of Aragon’s Book of Hours: Catherine’s Book of Hours is on loan from the Morgan Library in the USA. Whilst the exhibition runs until November 2023, this book will only be on display until 4th June. It will be replaced by another display but, if you are interested in seeing this book in particular, make sure to visit before June.

Cost: The exhibition is included within the price of entry to the castle and gardens – full price list here. Pre-booking is not required but there is a small discount for booking online.

Opening times: The gardens open at 10.30am but the castle does not open until midday. Last entrance time varies through the year. During peak season, the castle is very busy immediately after it opens; if you want to explore the exhibition in a more leisurely fashion, it is worth waiting a couple of hours.

Accessibility: Unfortunately, the castle is not widely accessible and the majority of the exhibition is on the first floor.

Audio guide: There is a free audio guide for the castle but it does not include the exhibition. It also does not yet include recent research by Simon Thurley which has revised the construction date for the gatehouse, and attributes the galleries to Anne of Cleves not Thomas Boleyn as was previously thought.

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