Behind the scenes at Blickling Hall, the birthplace of Anne Boleyn

The Parterre Garden at Blickling Estate, Norfolk. Blickling is a turreted red-brick Jacobean mansion, sitting within beautiful gardens and parkland.
The Parterre Garden. Credit: National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Once voted the National Trust’s most haunted property, Blickling Hall in Norfolk is steeped in history. We chart the history of the former home of kings, queens and earls…

Every year on 19 May, Norfolk locals jostle at the gates to Blickling Hall to look out for Anne Boleyn. You would be right in thinking she is long dead. The second wife of King Henry VIII was beheaded for high treason – adultery, incest and plotting
to kill her husband – on that fateful day in 1536.

Not that this stops the curious. Her ghost is rumoured to return to the house at midnight, dressed in white and carrying her severed and bloody head. She is said to arrive by coach, drawn by a headless horseman and four headless horses. She then glides into the Hall and roams the corridors until sunrise.

Anne was born on the 5,000-acre Blickling Estate in about 1501 (the exact date is unknown) to Thomas Boleyn, later the first Earl of Wiltshire, and his wife Elizabeth, and some believe she feels the need to return.

Portrait of Anne Boleyn. Credit: Shawshots/Alamy Stock Photo

The queen is just one of Blickling’s royal connections. The estate’s stately past begins in the 11th century, when Harold Godwinson, the same King Harold who was shot in the eye at the Battle of Hastings, held the land. “It’s always had that prestigious ownership,” Jan Brookes, the house and collections manager, says: “If you had Blickling, you were somebody.”

In the 15th century, Sir John Fastolf of Caister (the model for Shakespeare’s Falstaff) was just that man, before it fell into the hands of the Boleyn family.

Not that the wandering ghost of Anne would recognise the current building. Her childhood home was taken apart on the orders of Sir Henry Hobart, Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas and the first Baronet, who bought the property in 1616, and the property we see today is an evolution of Hobart’s new building, added to by countless titled owners through the years.

For the full feature on Blickling Hall see Volume 86 Issue 1 of BRITAIN