Even in the days before the paparazzi and gossip magazines, tongues would wag about members of the royal family, especially those who were on clandestine romantic assignations. The Shotley Peninsula has a long tradition of royalty visiting this beautiful area. The most well known is perhaps King Henry VIII, who took frequent trips along the River Stour to enjoy secret liaisons with Anne Boleyn, who lost her heart, and eventually her head, to the King.
Anne Boleyn was a regular visitor to her uncle’s home in the small village of Arwarton (or Erwarton as it more commonly known now) on the peninsula. Sir Phillip Calthorpe lived in the magnificent Elizabethan Erwarton Hall and often played host to King Henry VIII as he courted his niece during a time which Anne would later describe as the happiest of her life.
King Henry VIII and Anne’s marriage was a significant event in English history as their union brought about the Church of England and the royal family’s disassociation with the Catholic church, when the portly king’s first marriage to Catherine of Aragon ended in dissolution.
Sadly, the royal romance with Anne did not last, due in the main to her inability to bear him a son. Instead she had a daughter and later a miscarriage, which led to allegations of infidelity and incest circulating in the royal place. Anne was eventually beheaded, leaving the King free to marry Jane Seymour, the third of his six wives.
Anne Boleyn loved her time spent at Erwarton so much, that she asked for her heart to be buried there when she died. Her wish was granted and another of her uncles, Sir Philip Parker, buried it in the parish church. In the 19th century, while renovation work was taking place in the church, builders found a heart-shaped casket filled with dust. This is believed to have been Anne’s heart and it is now buried under the organ in Erwarton church.
Due to its relative proximity to London and its discreet location, the peninsula also proved popular with the Duke of Windsor as he carried on his affair with Mrs Wallace Simpson in the 1930s. The couple regularly stayed in Felixstowe but loved nipping cross the river for a quiet evening in the Butt & Oyster pub in Pin Mill.
The road from Pin Mill leads up to the village of Chelmondiston where the mother of King Abdullah II, the current ruler of Jordan, was born and used to live. Back then, Princess Muna El Hussein was called Antionette Avril Gardiner and was more commonly known as Toni Gardiner. While her relatives in the past have included a shepherd, haymaker and dock worker, her father was a senior military officer. It was while her father, Lieutenant-Colonel Walter Gardiner, was posted in Jordan, the 19-year-old Toni first met King Hussein at a diplomatic reception. Their love grew while she worked as an assistant on the epic film Lawrence of Arabia, which the king was closely associated with.
The king loved her for her unpretentious and plain-speaking manner, and on their marriage in 1961, Toni declined the title of Queen, preferring instead to be called Her Royal Highness Princess Muna al-Hussein. This is the title she kept, even following their divorce after 10 years of marriage and four children.
Going back a lot further, the Plantagenet Kings, Edward II and III and later on the young Black Prince, regularly conducted business along the Suffolk coast and stayed in Shotley.
The presence of the Royal Navy’s training establishment at HMS Ganges meant the royal family were frequent visitors to the area, where they would watch the manning of the mast and Prince Philip is currently the patron of the Royal Harwich Yacht Club, based at Woolverstone Marina.
Lovers of British history and royalty will be delighted to follow in their footsteps and can do so by joining a guided tour with Shotley Peninsula Tours Tel: 07824 167196.
This is a guest post by Derek Davis, owner of Shotley Peninsula Tours, and gives a taste of what visitors will hear on his tours.