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George Boleyn’s Career by Clare Cherry

Posted By on September 25, 2012

George Boleyn’s signature on a letter to Henry VIII

Today we have a guest post on George Boleyn, brother of Anne Boleyn, by Clare Cherry, who feels, as do I, that George does not get the attention her deserves, or, rather, the wrong type of attention! Over to Clare…

In dramas about the tragic Anne Boleyn her brother is more often than not a bit part player. He is rolled out at the end in order to die. Until then he is usually nowhere to be seen. When he is allowed a more active role he is depicted as a hanger-on who plays up to his position as Henry’s brother-in-law. His career is almost entirely overlooked, save for the suggestion that he got where he was solely due to Anne’s influence. He is either an unpleasantly arrogant individual or rather pathetic. Either way his career is certainly not referred to as anything to celebrate for his own worth. So let’s set the record straight.

George Boleyn had a remarkable court career for a man who was only about 31/32 when he was judicially murdered. He was introduced to Henry VIII at the age of 10 and quickly afterwards became Henry’s page. In other words, George came to Henry’s notice way before the King’s relationship with either Mary or Anne Boleyn began. By the time the Boleyn sisters came to court, George was already well established. He was popular with the King and regularly hunted with him and competed with him at cards, tennis and archery. Henry liked him.

The extent of George’s positions are set out in summary in three paragraphs below, but in reality each is worthy of an article by themselves.

Foreign Diplomat

George was born c.1504, and was therefore only 25 when he was appointed Ambassador to France in October 1529. Was he appointed the role at such a tender age because of his relationship to Anne? Probably. But was he incapable of undertaking the role. No. He was popular and respected at the French court. The intelligence and force of his discourse was praised by Jean Du Bellay in a dispatch, and he seems to have had a good relationship with the French King. Henry had cause to be pleased with him.

George undertook a total of 6 embassies to France between October 1529 and July 1535. His first mission took place from October 1529 until February 1530. His role was to secure positive findings of French academics for Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. He was successful in convincing Francis of the strength of his arguments and in encouraging him to put his support behind Henry’s case in persuading the theologists of the French universities to back the English King.

He was later chosen to inform Francis of Henry’s marriage to Anne, travelling to France in March 1533; a particularly tricky mission bearing in mind Henry had sworn to Francis the previous September that he would not marry Anne without Papal backing.

Later that same year it was George who travelled to France in order to attend a meeting the Pope was due to have with Francis, travelling with his uncle, the Duke of Norfolk in May 1533. When the Pope passed a decree of excommunication on Henry, Norfolk sent George back to England with the news.

In April 1534 George was back in France to urge Francis to take similar measures against the Pope as had been taken in England. It was a step too far by Henry, and Francis rebelled against the English King’s bombastic attitude.
Then in July 1534 George again travelled to France to cancel a meeting Anne and Henry were due to attend with Francis and his sister, the reason being because of Anne’s pregnancy.

Finally, in May 1535, George was sent on the impossible task of attempting to negotiate the marriage of the infant Elizabeth to the son of the then hostile Francis I. A task which Cromwell had excused himself from in the knowledge it would fail.

The state papers have a substantial amount of additional information regarding these embassies, but this is just an overview of George’s role. The point is that Henry would never have appointed George Boleyn as his ambassador to France, and would never have sent him time and again on delicate missions had he not have been completely confident in him, irrespective of Anne.

Politician

George was active in the Reformation Parliament from 1530 until his death. He was chosen by Henry to argue the case for supremacy in front of Convocation on 10th February 1531. Not bad for a 26/27 year old.

His involvement in The Schmalkalden League was another area which is worthy of interest, as was his political support of Cromwell. When George died Cromwell lost his most powerful supporter in the Lords, a fact which was overlooked in Mantel’s recent fiction.

George was formally called to Parliament in February 1533, at which stage he became a peer in his own right, and Lord Rochford was no longer a courtesy title. During his time in Parliament his attendance was prodigious. In fact, in the 1534 sessions his attendance was greater than that of any other Lord.

Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and Governor of Dover Castle

In June 1534 he was appointed Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and Governor of Dover Castle. That was not merely a sinecure, as was his position of Governor of St Bethlehem Hospital (Bedlam), it was a position which he took an active role in.

It’s now merely a ceremonial position (the Queen being the current occupant), but in the sixteenth century the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports was the Crown’s agent in the major English ports along the south coast. He was responsible for the return of all writs to the Crown, along with the collection of taxes and the arrest of criminals. He exercised admiralty jurisdiction along the southeast coast. It was the most powerful appointment in the realm.

Correspondence and dispatches passing between England and Calais frequently refer to George in his capacity as Lord Warden.

Summary

George Boleyn was far from the man depicted in fiction. He was his own man; a force to be reckoned with in his own right. He was proud, forceful and intelligent. He would be spinning in his grave at the way he is depicted nowadays. His career and his reputation have been forgotten, and only a shell of the man he was remains. But with sites like this, and Claire’s determination for justice, hopefully the rot can be stopped, and the truth will come out rather than reliance on the fiction.

Comments on
"George Boleyn’s Career by Clare Cherry"

25 Responses to “George Boleyn’s Career by Clare Cherry”

  1. Sarah Morris says:

    Quick question that came up today and is not one I have researched yet. How much time did george spend in france as a child, if any? He was clearly fluent in french, knew french tastes and was influenced by the french reformers. I am assuming like Anne, he had some contact with the frnch court before he was an adult and went on embassy. I have never read anything about his though? Do we have any information on this? Thanks! Sarah

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    Claire Reply:

    Hi Sarah,
    Here is a section from my research notes for the book Clare and I are working on on George:
    “There is no record of George being sent abroad for educational purposes or serving at any of the continental courts during his formative years but Edmond Bapst, George Boleyn’s nineteenth century biographer, suggests that his fluency in French, which enabled him to undertake embassies to France at a relatively young age, was a result of him having spent time in France, perhaps accompanying his father there on embassies. George wasn’t just good at French, he had what Bapst described as a “connaissance parfaite”, a perfect knowledge, which would have been difficult to pick up without visiting the country. There’s no evidence to back this theory up but then George’s childhood is not recorded in any detail. Time in France would also explain his close relationship with Anne, who was in France from late 1514 until 1522, and his interest in French humanism, literature and reform. Both Anne and George were francophiles, just like their father, there’s no doubt about that.”
    Hope that helps!

    [Reply]

    JFL Reply:

    Do you and Clare have a contract with a publisher for your book about George Boleyn? If so, let us know when it’s available for pre-order.

    [Reply]

    Claire Reply:

    Hi Judith,
    No, we’ve decided to do it ourselves. I’ve been offered contracts from publishers for various other projects but I haven’t been happy with the terms. We’re still in the research period so I can’t give a date for release, but thank you for your interest.

  2. Thommy says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I am almost as fascinated with George as I am with Anne. I really appreciate all of your research and sharing it with us all.

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  3. Daniela says:

    A very interesting read on George Boleyn, a lot of these facts I didn’t know. I think he must have been as fascinating to have known like his sister Anne. The Boleyn children were clearly intelligent individuals. Are there any books available to read which describe his relationship with his wife, Jane. In the Tudors, their relationship is portrayed in a very negative way, however I wondered how much of this was true? Are their any books which describe George Boleyn’s marital relationship and how Anne Boleyn got on with her sister in law? Do we know why George Boleyn never had any children?

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  4. Anne Barnhill says:

    Great article! I wonder if George’s friendship with the king drew the king’s eye to Mary at first…it’s possible. As in, Oh, that’s just my sister…etc. I, too, believe George a very capable and bright man, especially his views on religion. Again, thanks!

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  5. Janet says:

    Bravo! Awesome article!

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  6. maritzaLozano says:

    Can you send me more articles or links of the tudor dynasty thx Maritza

    [Reply]

    Claire Reply:

    Hi Marita,
    There are many hundreds of articles on this site and you can search for particular subjects using the search box. You can also subscribe to receive articles by email by filling in your details in the box in the side menu bar. Thanks!

    [Reply]

  7. Thx I hope you can help me

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  8. Valerie says:

    Great article! I’ve been thinking about George a lot in the past month, and the way he is depicted in TOBG, The Tudors etc really makes me quite cross. The sources we have about George shows that he was an intelligent man and his influence is evident from the positions he held – I don’t think anyone would have held these positions if they weren’t capable of doing so. Even something like his scaffold speech, which I’ve been re-reading recently shows what kind of man he was. He was someone who had a really strong faith and it makes me quite sad to think that people only see the George of fiction instead of the real man he was.

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  9. Deborah says:

    Great article! I have always believed that there was much more to George than we have been shown. I wish that there was a portrait of him, it would be so nice to be able to link a face to the name.

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  10. Esther says:

    Great article … it would be nice if there could be a separate article for each “category” (diplomat, politician, etc.) Thanks to both Claires — one for writing this and the other for posting it. I am curious about one thing, though … if, in fact, George was a big supporter of Cromwell, such that “[w]hen George died Cromwell lost his most powerful supporter in the Lords, a fact which was overlooked in Mantel’s recent fiction”, why did Cromwell include George in the “sweep” of Anne’s supporters? It seems to me that Cromwell must have thought that George would be easily replaced by someone who would be an equally strong supporter.

    [Reply]

    Clare Reply:

    It all depends whether you believe the plot against Anne was purely a political coup orchestrated solely by Cromwell. I personally don’t, but those who do point to the fact that George Boleyn and Henry Norris were powerful courtiers who were a thorn in the side of Cromwell’s political ambitions.If so, then whilst he was surrounded mainly by enemies, he failed to recognise that George Boleyn was an ally. That certainly backfired on him in 1540.

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  11. Baroness Von Reis says:

    Claire,Excellent read as always!! I don’t think Cromwell was as smart as he thought he was,as I have said in the past he got his just deserts.

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  12. Denise Hansen says:

    Great article – I just wanted to point out to that Alison Weir’s book on Jane Boleyn (Jane Rochford) does have some information about their marriage etc.

    Also – I always enjoyed the depiction of Anne”s relationship with George in the classical historical fiction by Margaret Campbell Barnes called “Brief Gaudy Hour”. Check it out. Especially the scene where George deliberately reads aloud about Henry’s impotence when he is on trial.

    [Reply]

    Clare Reply:

    Hello Denise,
    It was Julia Fox who wrote the book on Lady Rochford, not Weir.
    Fox’s book is excellent in dismissing the myth that Jane gave evidence against Anne and George. Unfortunately there isn’t a lot of documentation from extant sources regarding Jane and George as a married couple.
    I did write an article on this site about the marriage, but original source material about the state of it is sadly lacking.
    I wouldn’t accept anything Weir says in relation to either Jane or George!

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  13. I cannot imagine Henry, being as close to George as history represents, having him executed along with Anne and all of the others. Apparently George was held in high regard BY Henry, so possibly by others in command, as well. They put George in the same category as Mark Smeaton, then? What a rapid, long fall from grace. Henry clearly had to be out of his mind. Or bored…or something.

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  14. Laura Cunningham says:

    what a very interesting article. I did NOT know that George was such an accomplished person in his own right. What a pity he was subsequently eclipsed and obscured by his sisters. Clearly he did not climb up on his sister’s backs, as I had thought. If anything the opposite may be true. Thank you for an enlightening article.

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  15. CARRIE says:

    Yes I quite agree that George has been overlooked. It also irritates me when they say that Thomas Boleyn got ahead only because of Anne. Thomas Boleyn was an intelligent man who served King Henry long before Anne came to Henry’s notice. George accompanied his father on several occasions to France, he inherited his father’s brilliance with languages and diplomacy and would have had a brilliant career if things had gone differently. Good article by the way!

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  16. Baroness Von Reis says:

    Clare,I wanted to go back and read this article from you,I find it very touching and sad at the same time.George was such a asset to the king ,has were many others from the family Boleyn.I have always thought of George as smart,kind a good son,brother and so loyal to Henry.What a great service he was to the King,what a trajic ending for a good man. A very great read Clare Cherry thank you. Kind Regards Baroness

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  17. Helen H says:

    I have always believed the Boleyn family was not as useless and naive as some writers have tried to portray. One thing about Henry he would not tolerate stupidity. Anne was not so why would her brother be portrayed as such. There is no record about George and Jane’s marriage, but for some reason they like to portray it as miserable. Some how some “historical writers” love to portray Anne as grasping or vicious. She was a woman trying to make her way in an untenable position. George just tried to help her, but had also achieved his own success. But some will not give them their due. I think the family seemed close for the most part and worked together as most families would. Some people just cannot accept that.

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  18. HollyDolly says:

    I’m surprised that over the years no one has written a biography of George, Anne’s brother. I always thought he was educated, and served in various positions for Henry.He certainly had dealings with Thomas Cromwell and others at the court,political and otherwise. Unless some papers come to light, i guess we won’t really know what his marriage to Jane was like. Maybe the reason they didn’t have children was because either he or Jane couldn’t have any.

    There has to be some reason that George got dragged into that whole mess with Anne at the end. Maybe he was becoming to powerful,and some one or some group really thought him a threat.They certainly had plenty of time to eliminate the Bolyens earlier on.

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  19. Joyce Haynes says:

    Hi, Clare

    I love your website. I love history especially the Tudors. Anne Boleyn always interest
    me. When I checked out your website I was excited. After reading your piece about George Boleyn I have a more understanding about him and his life. Keep up the good
    work. Will you write more about Anne and her relationship with her sister Mary.

    [Reply]

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