Thinking of moving to Europe? Looking for something with a certain romantic historical flavor? Consider this nine-bedroom property only 27 miles from London with good plumbing, a new roof and new wiring, and decorated, as the agents put it, "with impeccable taste."
Along with the main house comes a complete Tudor village, an important art collection and 3,145 acres of land--and a substantial slice of British heritage. For Hever Castle in Kent, which went on the market this week for about $24,165,000, is one of Britain's most important and best loved historic houses.
The moated manor house, which dates to the 13th century, is the former home of Anne Boleyn. It was here that she first caught the eye of Henry VIII. After Anne was beheaded, Henry acquired the castle for himself, and later installed his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, in it.
The property lay neglected for centuries until the adventurous American connoisseur William Waldorf Astor purchased it in 1903. He restored and redecorated the castle, and added a village of Tudor-style cottages, Italian gardens and fountains and an artificial lake. The castle has remained in the family ever since, housing an art collection assembled by three generations of Astors. It includes a fine collection of ivories, some tapestries and Tudor portraits and one of the most valuable armories in Britain.
The present owner, Lord Astor of Hever, who has struggled for years to keep Hever going, is anxious for the castle and its contents to be sold together. "I don't want to sell the contents separately," he says.
Despite Anne Boleyn's unhappy fate, there are no ghosts at Hever castle. But, says Edward Lee Cave, chairman of Sotheby Parke Bernet International Realty in New York, which together with Savills of London is handling the sale, "We are willing to do absolutely anything to make the new owner comfortable, and if a ghost is imperative to the sale, then Sotheby's will find one."
Lord Astor has tried everything to fight rising costs, including opening the house to the public and selling off various artworks. "You've no idea how much it costs to keep this place up," he said recently.
The decisive moment for Lord Astor came when it became clear that his son and heir, John Jacob Astor, was never going to live at Hever. "I've always tried to arrange things so that Johnny might take over," he says. "But he has lived and worked in Paris for years now, and there is no prospect of his wishing to take on Hever."
The sale has provoked fears among some groups in Britain that it could be "the rumble that precedes the avalanche" of sales of other historic buildings, and that only Arab princes would be able to afford the asking price.
Lord Astor hopes it will go to an Englishman. "If not an Englishman, then an American, and if not an American, then a European," he says.