Fascinating Anne Boleyn exhibition opens

Victoria LeggettBlickling Hall is holding an exhibition celebrating 100 years since The Masque of Anne Boleyn - a play recounting the events which lead to her marriage to Henry VIII - was first performed.Victoria Leggett

Since her execution in 1536, she has reportedly made brief yet regular visits in a ghostly coach - severed head on her lap - to the Norfolk estate said to be her birthplace.

But this year when Anne Boleyn visits her childhood home in north Norfolk on the anniversary of her death, she might choose to stay a little longer - and maybe even pop in.

Because, from now until August, Blickling Hall is holding an exhibition celebrating 100 years since The Masque of Anne Boleyn - a play recounting the events which lead to her marriage to Henry VIII - was first performed.

The masque was specially written by theatre director Walter Nugent Monck, founder of Norwich's Maddermarket Theatre, to be staged in the stunning grounds of the Jacobean house at Blickling, near Aylsham.

First performed in 1909, and revived due, to its success in 1925 and 1938, it tells the story of the plots which led to the end of Anne's secret relationship with Lord Henry Percy, duke of Northumberland, and the beginning of her affair with the king.

The pageant was a lavish, public version of the courtly masques performed for the nobility during Tudor and Jacobean times and would have been sung, danced, acted and watched by the local community.

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Now this exhibition, put together by staff at Blickling Hall along with National Trust volunteer Derek Lyons, allows visitors to see the original scripts, pageant programmes and even some of the 100-year-old costumes worn by the actors.

Those costumes were discovered just two months ago by the grandson of local landowner Colonel Tom Purdy, who initiated the pageant in 1938.

Mr Purdy responded to an appeal by the organisers for anyone with links to the pageant to come forward and unveiled the four outfits, which had been hidden in the attic.

But for house manager Jan Brookes, it is a series of black and white photographs capturing the preparations and performances of the very first show, which really brings it to life.

She said: 'It's the photos that are most interesting for me. They show Blickling and the players playing in the courtyard. They are so atmospheric. It must have looked incredible.

'The players even rode their horses into the courtyard.'

One photograph shows a rehearsal at the south front of the house as the actors, many of whom would have lived in Aylsham, mill around the grounds, while another captures a stand-off between guards and villagers during one scene of the play.

And Ms Brookes hopes the sight of those photos, programmes and costumes will resurrect an interesting in the pageant

She said: 'What I'm hoping to do as house manager is try to recreate one of these plays and put it on here. But that's only if the interest and funding is there.'

The house manager believes, just as Monck did, that the house's history makes it the perfect set for a tale about Henry's second wife.

Although the house was largely rebuilt in the 1620s by Henry Hobart, the Tudor building it replaced had belonged to Anne's father, Thomas Boleyn, during the 16th century.

Ms Brookes added: 'It's a 17th-century house on the earlier site here. The manor house belonged to the Boleyn family. Anne would have known the park, she would have walked alongside the lake as a child.'

The exhibition will be on display until the end of August. Blickling Hall is open to visitors Wednesday to Friday, 11am until 5pm, and also on Mondays from July 15.

For more information visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/blickling.