Mad­den­ing, thrilling and a-maz­ing fun

Lost in the labyrinth of Hever Cas­tle, Chris Lead­beater re­calls the drama of a doomed re­gal love

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Gardens -

You can­not see the Yew Maze at Hever Cas­tle from Anne Bo­leyn’s bed­room. The small space where Henry VIII’s sec­ond wife spent her child­hood is at the north-west cor­ner of the build­ing, out of sight of the box of hedges and leafy path­ways that sets a pleas­ing test for mod­ern vis­i­tors to her fam­ily home. In­stead, this gen­teel puzzle keeps its coun­sel on the other side of the honey-hued struc­ture, by the main door­way and the lit­tle draw­bridge.

It is a fine set­ting. For if an English coun­try gar­den is the ideal con­text for an au­tumn day, a maze is the cream to the in­evitable af­ter­noon tea – as Jeremy Hunt demon­strated re­cently by en­ter­tain­ing fel­low Euro­pean for­eign min­is­ters in the maze at his Chevening coun­try re­treat. A maze is a dose of un­pre­ten­tious fun – that mad­den­ing sen­sa­tion of hitting a dead-end; your wry smile as, on re­trac­ing your steps, you reen­counter fel­low ex­plor­ers and tac­itly ad­mit your er­ror; the thrill of gain­ing the cen­tre. And Hever cap­tures the joy won­der­fully, its maze placed not just next to one of Eng­land’s pret­ti­est cas­tles, but also along­side a lake that shows ru­ral Kent an im­age of it­self in the Oc­to­ber light.

And yet, as I am­ble the gravel cor­ri­dors be­tween the walls of man­i­cured shrub­bery, I find my­self drawn away from the sim­plic­ity of the plea­sure, my mind en­ter­tain­ing the no­tion that one of Bri­tain’s most doomed ro­man­tic fig­ures is watch­ing. Not watch­ing me, per se, but an echo ver­sion of her younger self – breath­ing ex­cit­edly, be­ing chased in wolfish fash­ion by the monarch who would make her his queen at vast po­lit­i­cal and per­sonal cost. It is not so odd a vi­sion. We are al­most at the 500th an­niver­sary of the pas­sion play that saw the King of Eng­land pur­su­ing the ob­ject of his ob­ses­sion so fer­vently that he was pre­pared to sever his coun­try’s re­la­tions with the Pope to marry her – and bring the ire of Spain and France on to his realm in the process. Al­most, but not quite. An ex­act halfmil­len­nium ago, in 1518, Anne Bo­leyn was on the other side of the Chan­nel, en­sconced in the house­hold of the French queen as a maid of hon­our; Henry was still stut­ter­ing through his mar­riage to Cather­ine of Aragon, seek­ing his male heir. It would be an­other seven years be­fore Anne, now one of Cather­ine’s ladies-in­wait­ing, would catch Henry’s gaze, and a duel of flir­ta­tion would be­gin. The king was a reg­u­lar guest at Hever, dash­ing to Kent to woo a shrewd woman who – hav­ing seen how he had se­duced then spurned her older sis­ter Mary – re­fused to be his mis­tress. Rather, she led him through an emo­tional maze of beck and call, re­sist­ing him for a re­puted seven years be­fore fi­nally con­sent­ing. When they mar­ried in Jan­uary 1533 she was preg­nant (with the fu­ture El­iz­a­beth I).

Nei­ther of the love­birds would have en­tered this maze, of course. While Henry stayed at Hever reg­u­larly in the late 1520s (one of the weighty brass locks that his ret­inue car­ried, used to seal his bed-cham­ber against the threat of as­sas­si­na­tion, re­mains at the cas­tle), the labyrinth in its grounds is a 20th-cen­tury cre­ation. Mazes would not have been alien to 16th-cen­tury eyes – they had ex­isted in pharaonic Egypt and an­cient Greece – and they were cer­tainly not out of kil­ter with the pageantry that char­ac­terised the first decade (in par­tic­u­lar) of Henry’s reign. But the Hever ver­sion was not planted un­til 1903, when the prop­erty came un­der the new, in­vig­o­rat­ing own­er­ship of the US businessman Wil­liam Wal­dorf As­tor. It is a piece of Belle Époque whimsy – and as I con­tinue to stroll in and out of cul-de-sacs (in­ves­ti­gat­ing one of them twice), I can also imag­ine the mer­ri­ment of par­ties in the sunny decade be­fore the First World War, para­sols bob­bing be­tween the hedgerows. I am still pic­tur­ing this scene when I re­alise I have stum­bled into the mid­dle – where there is an or­na­men­tal obelisk, and a hand-bell to de­clare your suc­cess to any­body com­ing in your wake. I give it a good shake.

Hever is not the only his­toric site with a maze (see right), but it is rare in hav­ing two. Its sec­ond is a “wa­ter maze”, where concentric cir­cles of paving slabs have been laid in a pond. The idea is to reach a squat tower at its heart, with­out get­ting wet. It looks easy. It proves fiendish. There is but one cor­rect route. Each other way is blocked by false stones that tilt un­der the full pres­sure of a foot, trig­ger­ing hid­den foun­tains that soak the hap­less ad­ven­turer. In truth, it is more Crys­tal Maze than Ed­war­dian frip­pery, let alone Tu­dor relic. But it feels like a metaphor. Again, Anne Bo­leyn slips into my vi­sion – only now in 1536, dead to Henry’s af­fec­tions, hemmed in by charges of adul­tery and trea­son that would drag her to the ex­e­cu­tion block, her ev­ery pos­si­ble move a wrong turn. It is a dark thought; too dark for a crisp au­tumn day. So once I have fi­nally made it to the tower, di­shev­elled and damp, hav­ing been blasted twice, I head back to­wards the cas­tle in search of cake and cof­fee, pad­ding past the yew maze, where laugh­ter still chimes within.

Hemmed in by charges of adul­tery and trea­son, Anne’s ev­ery move was a wrong turn

FLIRT­ING WITH DAN­GER A 1533 por­trait of Anne Bo­leyn

HEDGE YOUR BETS Clock­wise from left: Hever Cas­tle; Lon­gleat; Chevening; Leeds Cas­tle. Be­low right: a Henry VIII re-en­ac­tor

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.