The Boleyn Family: Who Were They and What Happened to Them After Anne’s Death
The Boleyn Family | Who were they and What happened to them after Anne’s death was last updated on February 13, 2023.
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.
May 19, 1536
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. The scaffold was specially built for her.
She was mercilessly executed by a single swipe of a sword by a skilled French swordsman.
Her charges: 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.
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THE BOLEYN FAMILY & 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’s Early years and Education
Anne spent her early years at Hever Castle, the Boleyns family home. Later, she went to the 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 and Her Marriage to Henry VIII
Anne Boleyn married King Henry VIII officially on June 1 1933. Her wedding was an elaborate ceremony followed by a banquet and she 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.
ABOUT THE BOLEYN FAMILY
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.
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.
What happened to Thomas Boleyn 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.
The final days of Thomas Boleyn
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. 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.
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.
EIZABETH 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.
Elizabeth (Howard) Boleyn 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 Boleyn and Her 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.
The Final Days of Elizabeth Howard Boleyn
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.
LADY MARY BOLEYN (c.1499-1543)
Mary Boleyn was the older sister to Anne Boleyn, King Henry VIII Queen consort.
Mary Boleyn’s Education and Career
Mary was likely to have been educated alongside her sister, Anne and her brother, George at Hever Castle, Kent.She was given the education essential for young ladies of her rank and status.
Mary Boleyn was accomplished in dancing, embroidery, etiquette, household management, music, needlework, and singing along with games of chess, archery, falconry, riding and hunting.
She 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 conceal Mary’s affair with King Henry VIII, and her shameful banishment from France’s court, she married William Carey, a gentleman of the Privy Chamber.
Mary and William had two children: Catherine Carey and 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’s Children
Mary Boleyn is recorded to have four children, two carrying the name Carey and two by her second marriage, Stafford.
Catherine Carey (1524-1569):
Catherine Carey was a lady-in-waiting to Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard.
She 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:
Henry Carey married 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.
The Final Days of Mary Boleyn Stafford
Mary Boleyn Stafford died of unknown causes either on July 19 or July 30 1543. The exact date of her passing is unknown. She is known to have spent her last days at Rochford Hall. However, her final resting place is also unknown and remains a mystery.
learn more about the Boleyns on the next page >> George Boleyn