Deal Castle: Anne of Cleves’ first taste of England
Dr Elizabeth Norton shares how Anne of Cleves’ visit to Deal Castle in Kent was a crucial step in her journey to becoming an English queen…
The association of this heritage space with Anne of Cleves might at first glance seem a slightly strange one, because she only spent about five hours there in her entire lifetime. But for me, for Anne of Cleves, you must visit Deal Castle in Kent. This was the very first place that Anne visited when she came to England.
She was a German princess, and she had travelled across Europe to come to England. She landed at Deal in Kent on 27 December 1539, and she was immediately taken to Deal Castle, where she was given refreshments and changed her clothes, and where she met her English escorts, the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk and also the Bishop of Chichester.
Deal is such a fascinating place for her to have been taken. It was brand new. In fact, it cannot have been quite finished. It is one of Henry VIII’s Device Forts, which were a series of castles he built along the south coast and the east coast to defend England against the French threat. And he built them really, really quickly. He'd only begun Deal Castle at the start of 1539. And yet by the time Anne arrived, right at the end of the year, it was practically finished.
Deal Castle is a fascinating place in itself, because it's a flower-shaped fortress. It’s often said to be circular, but if you look from the top, it looks like a flower. This was Anne's first sight of an English castle, something that her future husband has created. And we can imagine Anne, stepping off her ship after a difficult crossing and being taken to Deal.
I think there is nowhere else that really is so evocative of her journey and the arrival of this woman who had not been to England before. She hadn’t met her future husband. She didn’t speak the language. And so it gives you a sense of Anne's future, and the future that she was going to have in England, and her hopes for the journey. So, Deal Castle is an absolute must.
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Dr Elizabeth Norton is a historian specialising in the queens of England and the Tudor period. Her books include Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII’s Discarded Bride (Amberley, 2009)
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