Byline: Philippa Gregory
THE popularity of the mini-break for harassed people is nothing new -500 years ago the Tudors were great fans of the English countryside and theirbeautiful weekend hideaways survive and can still make a few days in thecountry very special.
I have come to know some of these magical houses while researching my Tudornovels and, when we were filming my book The Other Boleyn Girl, I found somegems that were new to me to use as locations.
Hever Castle, Kent, the home of Anne Boleyn, is a wonderful place to visit. Inthe early 1500s the Bullens (later the Boleyns), an aspiring merchant family,bought the castle and created a Tudor home inside its walls.
Anne's father, Sir Thomas, roofed in the original great hall to create agallery, where there is now a good collection of Tudor costumes.
The Tudor bedrooms are exquisite; that of the doomed George Boleyn, executed byHenry VIII after being convicted on a trumped-up charge of incest with hissister, is a particular favourite of mine, with the pretty chapel beside it(admittedly a later addition).
Another great joy at Hever is its collection of family portraits. It includesone of Mary Boleyn, Anne's less famous sister, the heroine of my novel, playedin the film by Scarlett Johansson.
There are many Tudor artefacts - including a newly authenticated portrait ofCatherine Howard (another doomed wife of King Henry) and two copies of abeautiful Book Of Hours which were owned by Anne Boleyn - you can see hersignature. .
After the execution of Anne and her brother George, and the death shortly afterof their parents, Hever Castle was scooped up by the acquisitive Henry andpassed on by him, as part of his divorce settlement, to the later wife whosurvived, Anne of Cleves. In 1903, William Astor bought the castle and createdthe beautiful gardens and mock-Tudor village there today.
Hever does not appear in the movie at all. The equally beautiful Haddon Hall inDerbyshire - built in the 14th and 15th Centuries - stands in for Anne Boleyn'shome.
It contains a magnificent banqueting hall and an oak-panelled long gallery,especially interesting because the many windows have original diamond panes ofthe then rare and expensive glass, set at different angles to make the most ofdaylight.
The kitchens are perhaps the most fascinating part of Haddon Hall, with theirwell equipped bakery and butchery. They are wonderfully shown in the openingsequences of the film in which a Tudor feast - heavy on meat - is prepared forthe King. There were no windows here and little ventilation, the staff workingby candlelight, and visitors can still experience the conditions today..
The beautiful chambers of Catherine of Aragon in the movie were filmed atLacock Abbey, set in the limestone village of Lacock in Wiltshire.
It was founded as a religious house in 1232 and this is how the Tudors wouldhave known it. Only when Henry VIII broke with Rome in order to marry AnneBoleyn did the monastic life come to an end at Lacock and all over England. Themonks were turned away and the abbey seized by the Crown in 1540, after whichit was converted into a country house.
You can still see today the untouched medieval cloisters, a sacristy andchapter house. The long cloister shots in the movie, one of the mostspectacular closing scenes, owe their beauty to the unchanged structure ofLacock. The abbey was owned in the 19th Century by the Fox Talbot family, whocreated the splendid Victorian woodland grounds and impressive botanic gardens.ENSHURST Place in Kent also appears in the film.
Its beautiful formal gardens represent Hampton Court and the magnificent greathall stands in for the Royal Palace of Whitehall interiors.
The gardens are best visited in spring. The great hall, known as the Baron'sHall, came alive on one day when I visited Penshurst Place during filming witha fire lit in the original octagon fireplace at its centre, flames dancing,while Anne Boleyn (played by Natalie Portman) comes back from France to flirtwith Henry VIII (played by Eric Bana). …