The Boleyn Family
The Boleyn family was one of the most respected and prominent family in English aristocracy. They reached the peak of their influence during Tudor rule when Anne Boleyn, the daughter to Thomas Boleyn and Elizabeth Howard became the second wife, Queen consort to King Henry VIII in 1533. Then in 1536, an incomprehensible tragedy fell upon them. The Boleyn family were almost destroyed! Two members of the family had their lives put to death and three fundamentally damaged.
This is their story.
This article on the Boleyn Family forms part of a series of articles on the History of Britain as an easy read on Sundays
The Boleyn Family
In 1536, on the morning of May 19, a young courageous woman, dressed in a black robe and a white ermine trim was taken to the scaffold in Tower Green that was specially built for her. She was mercilessly executed by a single swipe of a sword by a skilled French swordsman on charges of adultery, incest, treason and witchcraft. She was not even given a coffin. She was wrapped in a white cloth, placed in an old elm chest, and buried at the Tower Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula.
This woman was Anne Boleyn.
Anne Boleyn was one of the three surviving children of Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire, and 1st Earl of Ormonde and Elizabeth Howard, daughter of Thomas Howard, the 2nd Duke of Norfolk. Her siblings were Mary, older to Anne and George, her younger brother. Anne is said to be an intelligent, witty, proud and a principled individual.
Anne Boleyn | Early years and Education
Anne spent her early years at Hever Castle, the Boleyns family home before she went to Netherlands and France. Anne received good education, typical for woman of her status. She spoke French fluently and she dressed well, bringing French fashion to the English court. She also learnt music, dance and singing along with archery, horseback riding and hunting.
Anne Boleyn | Marriage
Anne Boleyn married King Henry VIII officially on June 1 1933 in an elaborate ceremony followed by a banquet and became queen consort. She was pregnant at that time and gave birth to Elizabeth on September 7 1533. Elizabeth would later inherit the throne and become Queen Elizabeth I. However, Henry desperately wanted a male heir, and he soon fell for Jane Seymour, Anne’s cousin.
Anne Boleyn | Charges, Trial and Execution
In May of 1536, Anne was arrested, charged with incest, adultery with four men, treason and witchcraft. She was taken to the Tower of London to await her trial. The charges were instigated by her former friend, Thomas Cromwell. These charges sat well with the King also as he wanted to be rid of Anne as well. Anne was found guilty on all counts at a trial held on May 15 1536.
Read the full story here – Anne Boleyn | The most magnificent of Tudor Queens.
Thomas Boleyn | 1st Earl of Wiltshire, 1st Earl of Ormonde (1477-1539)
Thomas Boleyn was an English nobleman, a diplomat and a politician. He was made Knight of the Garter in 1523, Viscount Rochford in 1525 and Earl of Wiltshire and Earl of Ormond in 1529. Father to Anne Boleyn (r. 1533-1536) and maternal grandfather to Queen Elizabeth I (r. 1558-1603).
Born in 1477 at Blickling Manor in Norfolk, Thomas Boleyn was the son of Sir William Boleyn (1451-1505) of Blickling and Lady Margaret Butler (1454-1539), daughter of Thomas Butler, 7th Earl of Ormond.
Blickling was owned by Sir William’s father, Sir Geoffrey Boleyn a wealthy London merchant who served as Lord Mayor of London. He purchased the manor of Blickling, Norfolk in 1452 from Sir John Fastolf. He also came to own Hever Castle in Kent in 1462.
Thomas Boleyn | Career and Marriage
Thomas was an ambitious man who was a successful diplomat and courtier. He was active in the court of Henry VII and in 1503, he escorted Princess Margaret Tudor to Scotland to marry King James IV.
He married Lady Elizabeth Howard, eldest daughter of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk, and they had three surviving children:
Mary Boleyn (c.1499 – July 19 1543)
Anne Boleyn (c.1501 – May 19 1536)
George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford (c.1504 – 17 May 1536).
Thomas Boleyn was said to be a loving father, who had grand ambitions for his children. He ensured each received excellent education, both languages and skills, while he continued to build his reputation at court. While he was an ambassador to the Netherlands, he secured a position for his daughter, Anne at the court of the Archduchess Margaret of Austria.
Later, in 1514, he secured a position for both his daughters to accompany Princess Mary, Henry VIII’s sister to France for her marriage to 52 year old King Louis XII.
Thomas Boleyn | What happened after Anne’s Execution
After the execution of his children, Anne and George in 1536, he was stripped of his titles and removed from royal favour. However, it is said that he was soon back in favour in the royal court. He was active in squashing the rebellion of the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536. He was invited to Edward VI’s christening in October 1537. By 1538, he was rumoured to marry Margaret Douglas, niece to Henry VIII. When he died, Henry VIII ordered masses to be said for his soul, clear evidence that Thomas Boleyn was back in favour.
Thomas Boleyn | Final days
Before his death, Thomas Boleyn appears to have taken steps to reconcile with his only surviving daughter, Mary Boleyn. He allowed Mary and her husband to live in Rochford Hall in Essex, and upon his death, he left the Rochford estate to Mary.
Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire died on March 12 1539 at Hever Castle – just under three years after the death of his daughter, Anne and his son, George.
He was laid to rest at St Peter’s Church, Hever. Topped with an elaborate memorial brass depicting Thomas dressed in robe and insignia of a Knight of the Garter, a badge on his left breast and a garter around his left knee. The inscription on his tomb reads:
“Here lieth Sir Thomas Bullen, Knight of the Order of the Garter, Erle of Wilscher and Erle or Ormunde, which deceased the 12th dai of Marche in the iere of our Lorde 1538”
His tomb still survives today.
Note: the date of death is 1538 because the Tudor calendar started on March 25, and not January 1.
If you visit Hever, visit also Hever Castle, home to the Boleyn family, childhood home of Anne Boleyn, and St Peter’s Church.
St Peter’s Church dates back to 12th century and is open daily throughout the year. Worship has been held here for over 875 years with Sunday services said in Traditional Language.
St Peter’s Church is located next to Hever Castle, in the heart of Hever, Kent.
Elizabeth Howard Boleyn, Countess of Wiltshire (1486-1538)
Elizabeth Boleyn, Countess of Wiltshire was an English noblewoman, born in Arundel Castle, Sussex, the eldest daughter to Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk and his first wife, Elizabeth Tilney. She was a direct descendant of King Edward I of England. Mother to Mary, Anne, George and maternal grandmother to Queen Elizabeth I. She is said to be of proud and ambitious in character.
Elizabeth Howard Boleyn | Relationship with her children
Not much is known of Elizabeth Boleyn except that she was a lady-in-waiting to Elizabeth of York, the mother of King Henry VIII. When Henry VIII was crowned King of England, she was again appointed lady-in-waiting to his queen, Catherine of Aragon.
Elizabeth Boleyn’s relationship with her daughter Mary, was a strained one, probably because of Mary’s unchaste behaviour. In contrast, her relationship with daughter Anne, is said to be a positive one. They shared a special bond and Elizabeth took an interest in Anne’s early education when they were at Hever Castle. Anne was taught music, singing, and dancing. Anne also became an expert at embroidery and enjoyed poetry under her mother’s guidance.
Elizabeth was a regular at court and acted as a chaperone to Anne and Henry during their courtship. She was present at her daughter’s coronation ceremony in 1533 and possibly rode in the first carriage with the Dowager Duchess, Anne’s step-grandmother (Ives, p. 177).
When Anne was taken to the Tower of London to await her trial, she was heard to exclaim, “Oh, my mother, thou wilt die with sorrow” (Weir, p. 317-319).
After the execution of her children, Anne and George, on charges of incest and treason, Elizabeth and her husband retired to Hever Castle.
Elizabeth Howard Boleyn | Her final days
Elizabeth died on April 3 1538. She is said to have suffered from a cough and cold, but it is believed she died of a broken heart. After Mary Boleyn’s disgrace and banishment from court, losing her children, Anne and George by execution for treason and incest, her husband striped off of his titles, it is more likely that she may have died of a broken heart. She died in a property near Baynard’s Castle, home to the Abbot of Reading. She was buried in the Howard aisle of St Mary’s Church, Lambeth on April 7 1538.
St Mary’s Church located next to Lambeth Palace, was decommissioned in 1972. It is now called the Garden Museum which re-opened in 2017.
The Garden Museum dates from the medieval era to present day. The Garden Museum was founded by Rosemary and John Nicholson in 1977 in order to rescue the abandoned church of St Mary’s at Lambeth, which was due for demolition. The church is the burial place of John Tradescant (c1570 – 1638), the first great gardener and plant-hunter in British history. His magnificent and enigmatic tomb is the centre-piece of the Sackler Garden, designed to reflect Tradescant’s life and spirit.Garden Museum
Address: 5 Lambeth Palace Rd, South Bank, London SE1 7LB
Elizabeth’s grave is not visible. It is under the wooden floor of the museum gift shop. The exact location is uncertain also as the memorial brass which marked the spot is now lost.
Mary Boleyn | Lady Mary Boleyn (c.1499-1543)
Mary Boleyn was the older sister to Anne Boleyn, King Henry VIII Queen consort.
Mary Boleyn | Education and Career
She was likely to have been educated alongside her sister, Anne and her brother, George at Hever Castle, Kent and given the education essential for young ladies of her rank and status. She was accomplished in dancing, embroidery, etiquette, household management, music, needlework, and singing along with games of chess, archery, falconry, riding and hunting.
Mary remained in England for most of her childhood. Her first trip abroad was in 1514 when she accompanied Princess Mary to France who was marrying King Louis XII. When King Louis XII died just three days after being married, most of the Queen’s maids were sent away but Mary remained.
Mary is said to have had an affair with King Francis I of France for some period between 1515 and 1519. She returned to England thereafter and was appointed lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon, queen consort to Henry VIII.
She was one of Henry’s mistresses for a period of time before Henry fell in love with her sister, Anne.
Mary Boleyn | Marriage and Children
As a way to concealing Mary’s affair with King Henry VIII, and her shameful banishment from France’s court, she was married off to William Carey, a gentleman of the Privy Chamber. Mary and William had a son, Henry Carey. However, William sadly contracted the ‘sweating disease’ and died, leaving Mary with considerable debt. Henry VIII granted Anne Boleyn ward-ship of her nephew, whom she ensured was educated at a Catholic monastery. Anne also ensured that Mary received an annual pension.
In 1534, Mary secretly married William Stafford, a soldier, a status considered to be far below her own. When her marriage was discovered, her family disowned her and was also banished from the royal court. Her financial circumstances became desperate but is reported she admittedly saying:
“I had rather beg my bread with him than to be the greatest queen in Christendom. And I believe verily…he would not forsake me to be a king”
Anne stepped in to help her with some money but did not reinstate her to the court. This seems to be the closest they came to reconciling after Mary’s exile from the king’s court. There are no records of Mary between 1534 and Anne’s execution in 1536, or any records of visits with her parents or her siblings when they were imprisoned.
Mary and her father, Thomas Boleyn reconciled to some extent before he passed. Mary inherited the Rochford Hall and the Rochford Estate in Essex. .
Mary Boleyn is recorded to have four children, two carrying the name Carey and two by her second marriage, Stafford.
Catherine Carey (1524-1569) was lady-in-waiting to Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard. Married Sir Francis Knollys, Knight of the Garter in 1540. She became lady of bedchamber to her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. Her daughter, Lettice Knollys, was second wife to Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I.
Henry Carey 1st Baron Hunsdon (1526-1596), Knight of the Garter. Married to Anne Morgan and they had sixteen children. Anne Morgan was appointed to the office of Keeper of Somerset House, by Queen Elizabeth I of England.
Edward Stafford (1535-1545)
Anne Stafford (1536-unknown)
It was rumoured that Catherine Carey and Henry Carey were Henry VIII children, but there is no evidence to suggest that the King was the biological father.
Mary Boleyn Stafford | Final days
Mary Boleyn Stafford died of unknown causes on either on July 19 or July 30 1543 – the exact date is unknown. She is known to have spent her last days at Rochford Hall. However, her final resting place is unknown and remains a mystery.
George Boleyn | 2nd Viscount Rochford (c.1503-May 17 1536)
An English nobleman and courtier, he played a prominent role in politics in the early 1530s. He is said to be intelligent, persuasive, proud and arrogant in character. He was accused of incest with his sister, Anne Boleyn, queen consort of Henry VIII. He was beheaded on May 17 1536.
Only son of Thomas Boleyn and his wife, Elizabeth Howard Boleyn, George Boleyn was born in Blickling Hall circa 1503. His first couple of years was spent at Blickling estate, but the Boleyn family moved to Hever Castle, Kent in 1505 when Thomas Boleyn inherited the castle from his father, Sir William Boleyn.
George Boleyn | Education, Career Marriage
George received excellent education. Along with his sisters, he spoke French fluently. He also mastered Italian and Latin. George is thought to have stayed in England for most of his early years.
George’s diplomatic career took off in late 1529 when he was knighted. He undertook the courtesy title of Viscount Rochford. At the young age of 25, he undertook his first ambassadorial mission to France. In total, he undertook six missions, with the final being in May 1935 where he negotiated a marriage contract between the King of France’s third son, Charles II of Orleans and his niece, baby Princess Elizabeth. In addition to his diplomatic skills, George was much admired for his linguistic and poetic talent.
George married Jane Parker in 1524. There are not much information on Jane or if they had any children but it is thought that Jane may have played a role in the judgments against George.
George Boleyn | Charges, Trial and Execution
On May 2 1536, George was arrested on charges of incest and treason and stood trial on May 15 1536. Anne was tried a few hours before George and was found guilty. As Anne was found guilty of incest, amongst other charges, before George, he could hardly be acquitted. According to trial papers, George is said to have put forward an incredible defence and many thought that he would be acquitted. There was no evidence of incest and George was convicted on a presumption.
On the morning of May 17, 1536, George along with the other four who were accused to have adulterous affairs with Anne Boleyn, were led to Tower Hill scaffold to be beheaded. George Boleyn was the first to be beheaded.
George Boleyn | Final speech
On the scaffold, George delivered a lengthy speech. Several versions of this speech exist and the following is appended from Chronicles of Calais, taken from Weir, p243.
Christian men, I am born under the law and judged under the law, and die under the law, and the law has condemned me. Masters all, I am not come hither for to preach, but for to die, for I have deserved to die if I had twenty lives, more shamefully than can be devised, for I am a wretched sinner, and I have sinned shamefully. I have known no man so evil, and to rehearse my sins openly, it were no pleasure to you to hear them, nor yet for me to rehearse them, for God knoweth all. Therefore, masters all, I pray you take heed by me, and especially my lords and gentlemen of the court, the which I have been among, take heed by me and beware of such a fall, and I pray to God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, three persons and one God, that my death may be an example unto you all. And beware, trust not in the vanity of the world, and especially in the flattering of the court. And I cry God mercy, and ask all the world forgiveness of God. And if I have offended any man that is not here now, either in thought, word or deed, and if ye hear any such, I pray you heartily in my behalf, pray them to forgive me for God’s sake. And yet, my masters all, I have one thing for to say to you: men do common and say that I have been a setter forth of the Word of God, and one that have favoured the Gospel of Christ; and because I would not that God’s word should be slandered by me, I say unto you all, that if I had followed God’s word in deed as I did read it and set it forth to my power, I had not come to this. If I had, I had been a liv[ing] man among you. Therefore I pray you, masters all, for God’s sake stick to the truth and follow it, for one good follower is worth three readers, as God knoweth.Weir, p243
George Boleyn endured three strokes of the axe before his head was completely severed. He is buried in the Tower Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula.
As brave as he might have been on that scaffold, it is difficult to imagine what George would have gone through – a young, successful, happy, proud and arrogant English nobleman reduced a criminal in a matter of days for crimes he did not commit. Much worse were what the other four ordinary men went through watching George being beheaded while awaiting their turn. Their mutilated bodies, striped off their clothes, loaded onto a cart and taken to their graves.
May George Boleyn along with Norris, Weston, Brereton and Smeaton are now rest in peace, far away from the earthly injustice bestowed upon them.
In less than eight years since Anne Boleyn became Queen of England and Ireland, bringing with it the influence, the success, wealth and the ennoblement that Thomas Boleyn sought and enjoyed, the Boleyn family were virtually destroyed. None of the immediate family exist. The gruesome beheading, the lost of Anne Boleyn and George Boleyn must have broken Elizabeth who died less than two years later. As for Thomas Boleyn, who although returned to court, he too would have been a broken man having lost his entire family except for Mary who was estranged, and herself passed about four years later.
Are there any survivors of the Boleyn family around today?
The short answer is, I do not know but there probably are under a different surname, inherited through marriages etc. Below is what I found out, with a look at how it all began with the Boleyns and how they may be around today.
The Boleyns are said to be the direct descendants of Charles the Great (Charles I) who was the King of the Franks in 768 AD and King of the Lombards in 774. He was also King of the Romans in 800.
For the Boleyns, it all began with Sir Geoffrey Boleyn (1406-1453) who was a successful merchant in London. He became the Lord Mayor of London and purchased the Blickling Estate in Norfolk in 1452 and Hever Castle in 1462.
Sir Geoffrey’s son, William Boleyn followed in his father’s footsteps. He was a successful merchant and Lord Mayor of London. Sir William Boleyn (1451-1505) married Lady Margaret Butler and they had three children – Anne, Thomas and James.
Thomas Boleyn, son to Sir William and Lady Margaret, 1st Earl of Wiltshire, 1st Earl of Ormonde married Elizabeth Howard and they had three surviving children, Mary, Anne and George, whose fate, we already know.
George Boleyn married Jane Parker and there are no evidence that they had any children.
Anne Boleyn married King Henry VIII and they had one child, Elizabeth. Elizabeth went on to inherit the throne in 1533 to become Queen Elizabeth I, Queen of England and Ireland. She did not marry and did not have any children. She was queen until her death, in 1603.
Mary Boleyn married twice, and had two children with each of her marriage.
Mary’s first marriage was to William Carey in 1520 and they had two children, Catherine Carey, Lady Knollys and Henry Carey, 1st Baron of Hunsdon. Mary’s second marriage was to William Stafford in 1534 and they had two children, Anne Stafford and Edward Stafford. Unfortunately, both of the Stafford children passed at a very young age. This means, the only surviving children were the Careys.
Catherine Carey, married Sir Francis Knollys in 1540 and they had fourteen children. Henry Carey married Anne Morgan and they had sixteen children.
So, there you have it! It is likely that the Boleyn lineage is still out there through the Careys or some other surnames through marriage. Just so you know, on the anniversary of Anne Boleyn’s death each year, the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula Royal Chapel in the Tower of London where Anne Boleyn was finally laid to rest receives a bouquet of flowers sent anonymously. This tradition has been carried on for a century. Make of it what you will – is it from a Boleyn out there or could it be just a kind soul paying tribute to a queen who was so wronged by the society she lived in.
History of Britain
If you love to know more on the history of Britain, you may also enjoy reading the following:
As you may already know, the history of Britain is fascinating, intriguing and there is still so much we would love to know. These historical information adds value to our visits to some of the castles and historic buildings that still stands. As well, there are numerous authors who have written on the many aspects of our history which gives us a number of versions to ponder upon. The dates and some events may lack precise accuracy due to lack of documentary evidence. One such example, as we have seen with Anne Boleyn, where all her portraits and memorabilia were destroyed. It was illegal to own any during the reign of King Henry VIII.
In writing this article on the Boleyn family, as well as all related articles to Anne Boleyn, I have used the resources listed below in my research to ensure the information contained herein is as accurate as it can possibly be.
Articles in the History of Britain which you may like to read also
I sincerely hope that this article has been valuable to you in knowing more on the history of Britain and enhance your visits to Tower of London, Hever Castle, Blickling Estate in Norfolk, Hampton Court Palace and more. Subscribe now, so you are the first to know of the latest on Timeless Travel Steps.
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Bruce, M. L. Anne Boleyn, 1982.
Fraser, A. The Six Wives of Henry VIII, 1992.
Ives, E. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, 2004.
Starkey, D. Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII, 2003.
Warnicke, R. The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn, 1989.
Weir, A. The Six Wives of Henry VIII, 2007.
Wilkinson, J. Mary Boleyn: The True Story of Henry VIII’s Favourite Mistress, 2009.Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings by Alison Weir (2011)
The Mistresses of Henry VIII by Kelly Hart (2009)
Mary Boleyn: The True Story of Henry VIII’s Mistress by Josephine Wilkinson (2010