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The Lost Boleyns – Update on the Tomb Brasses of Thomas and Henry Boleyn

Posted By on September 2, 2011

Brass on Thomas Boleyn the Younger's Tomb

Further to my investigations into the monumental brass crosses on the tombs of Thomas and Henry Boleyn, brothers of Anne Boleyn, I have just had an answer back from Michael Harris of the Monumental Brass Society. Michael spoke to the Society’s Kentish expert who said:-

“The Bullen crosses are two “one-offs” of the same design. There was a small workshop in Kent around 1500-1530/35 which produced some rather low quality brasses with a very debased script style. Most of them are listed by Mill Stephenson as “local”. The design was never a style, just a bit of Kentish localism. The earlier cross brasses of the fourteenth century in particular were of course high quality, mainly London work for priests. The Bullen examples are almost certainly to children.”

I checked my copy of Mill Stephenson’s “A List of Monumental Brasses in the British Isles” and it does indeed say “local” in its records of the two brasses:-

“Sm. cross (partly restored) and inscr. to Thos., son of Sir Thos. Bwllayen, c.1520, local, S.C [South Chapel]” – Penshurst

“Sm. cross (restored) and inscr. to Hen., son of Sir Thos. Bwllayen, c.1520, local, N.C. [North Chapel]” – Hever

So, the Monumental Brass Society, who are experts on brasses, date these brass crosses to 1500-1535 and believe that they mark the tombs of children. I guess that “c.1520″ was a good date for the Ashmolean and other records to pick as it’s pretty much in the middle of this period, but it certainly does not mean that those two boys died in 1520. In the absence of evidence to back up the 1520 date (and therefore to back up Alison Weir’s theory that Thomas, and possibly Henry, were adults when they died) and in light of the fact that the style of brasses and tomb suggest children’s tombs, I believe that these boys died in infancy or early childhood in the early 1500s. Of course, that is my opinion and I cannot say for certain.

Don’t know what I’m talking about? Then please read “The Lost Boleyns – Thomas and Henry Boleyn”.

Thanks so much to Michael Harris of the Monumental Brass Society for helping me with my rather strange query! I’m now addicted to monumental brasses, they’re really quite interesting!

I have produced a YouTube video on “The Lost Boleyns” in which I share the details of my investigation and photos I took of the churches and tombs – see http://youtu.be/loGyBqxEIN4

Comments on
"The Lost Boleyns – Update on the Tomb Brasses of Thomas and Henry Boleyn"

35 Responses to “The Lost Boleyns – Update on the Tomb Brasses of Thomas and Henry Boleyn”

  1. Isabelle says:

    Thank you for this final bit of information! As it cannot show when the two boys died, and as you say, it was most likely in the early 1500s, it really does back up Sir Thomas Boleyns own words – when he and his wife were first married, she gave him “every year a child”. Taking into account the birthdates of Anne, George and Mary (though these are by no means certain, as we know), there HAD to have been at least two children who “vanished” from the records. Since we have records of the other three Boleyns even before Anne caught Henry’s eye, it doesn’t make sense that two brothers (male heirs being so valued) would have gone entirely unmentioned as adults. Ergo, they must have died young. This is what you have maintained all along, and I think you have proved it with as much certainty as possible after the passage of five centuries. I have loved following this investigation, thank you so much!

    [Reply]

    Claire Reply:

    Thank you, Isabelle. Yes, I believe that what evidence there is points to these boys dying in childhood, as has been traditionally believed. I’ve loved this research, what a journey!

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  2. Esther Sorkin says:

    Nice sleuthing, Sherlock! Could the earliest date for the brasses mean that they may well have been placed on tombs at the time of death, and not be a later addition when the Boleyns got more money?

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  3. Cindy says:

    Thank you for the informtion. At least we do know that the children really did belong to Anne’s family!!!
    I wonder if there are records of baptisms left in those two churches from back that time. Everyone had their children christened shortly after birth so it make me wonder about records on this somewhere. This could also lead to more information on Anne’s birth too. Just been my thoughts for several years now. I just can’t get there to look up the information. :(

    [Reply]

    Claire Reply:

    Unfortunately, the Parish records at Penshurst, Hever and Blickling don’t go that far back, which is very frustrating.

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  4. Dawn says:

    Well done in the investigation Claire, I think we all agreed with you on the fact that the crosses marked childrens graves, no way would a Boleyn child reach adulthood without being mentioned, they were too high a profile family to say the least.
    The other part concerning the date is going to be one of those unsolved historical mysteries that will keep us guessing, unless of cause, something turns up in the future..fingers crossed. Great work.

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  5. miladyblue says:

    Jeez, it’s a pity Anne didn’t have you on her side as lead investigator when all those patently false accusations were levelled against her, Claire. Anne’s enemies would have lost their minds. “Watch out for Duchess Claire, she is MERCILESS in pursuit of the truth!”

    [Reply]

    Claire Reply:

    Thank you! When I woke Tim up after my dream about Anne Boleyn’s execution and told him to design a website for me called The Anne Boleyn Files, I actually said that it would be all about the “real truth” about Anne Boleyn and that I’d be a bit like Mulder and Scully from the X Files, you know, “the truth is out there”! Where the Boleyn family is concerned, I am in pursuit of the truth and I’m loving every minute of it! Thanks for the support and encouragement xx

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  6. Sheena says:

    I wonder if their baptisms are recorded at the Vatican somewhere, since they were once a Catholic family. Surely the names and records of baptisms had to be sent to the center of the Catholic Church for accounting purposes. The Vatican is a whole treasure trove of information, and I am sure that they have many documents that could answer a lot of questions locked up in their archives- it’s just a matter of knowing who to ask, and where to look. They do, after all, have Henry VIII’s love letters to Anne.

    [Reply]

    Claire Reply:

    Hi Sheena,
    I don’t know what was required in the early 1500s so do not know whether the Vatican have any records. I suspect that even if records were sent to the Vatican that the church concerned would keep a copy. I’ll have to do some digging! I have read an article online about how the Vatican does have records that they have not shared with the Church of the Latter Day Saints whose records are used on a daily basis by genealogists from all over the world. I

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  7. lisaannejane says:

    I think Dawn is right and you solved this mystery. I just think that the family was too prominent to not show up in some record if the boys died as adults.

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  8. Linda Saether says:

    If the brasses were produced in 1520 and 1529, wouldn’t it make sense that the boys died in those years? But, Anne was already a force to be recognized in the late 1520s… wouldn’t anyone have mentioned that she lost a brother?

    [Reply]

    Claire Reply:

    But these brasses were not produced in 1520 (or 1529, that was a typo from me, sorry!). The records of brasses gave them both a date of c.1520, ‘around 1520′, and this, according to the Kentish expert from the Monumental Brass Society, seems to have been based on the fact that they were made by a local Kent workshop which made brasses between 1500 and 1535. These boys, therefore, could have died anytime between 1500 and 1535. The Boleyns moved to Kent in 1505 so after 1505 would make sense and my fellow investigator, Clare Cherry, wonders if Thomas was buried at Penshurst due to the family staying there while work was being carried out on Hever. Who knows?!

    [Reply]

  9. NR Tomasheski says:

    It has been so fun tagging along with you in this little investigation!

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  10. Cindy says:

    Claire
    Were those churches ones that were not touched during the sacking of the churches/reformation?
    I am just wondering why they didn’t have records from the early 1500s. (puzzled)
    Still what you have uncovered is very interesting

    [Reply]

    Claire Reply:

    When I was looking for Parish records for Hever and Penshurst I noticed that Parish Records in Kent as a whole did not seem to cover the early 1500s. Hever’s records of christenings, marriages and burials do not start until 1558. Blickling’s records of christenings and marriages don’t start until 1560. I’m not sure why the records don’t go back that far, perhaps they were not required to keep them??

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  11. Tudorrose says:

    I think as well as agree that they were both children when they both died and not young adults like Weir suggested but Claire whether you like it or not that is her theory and a theory is just a theory a guess. Whether she is right or wrong, wrong or right that and this is just what she thinks as I am sure we all have our own perceptions as well as theories to what happened not just you or just her but all of us all that go on as well as frequent on this blogg board. We all have a chance to say what we will, what we wish whether right or wrong whether someone likes it does not like it but I on the other hand think that they were born, Thomas and Henry that is in the early 15th century sometime during around and about when Mary Anne and George were born and like their father said Thomas his wife the mother Elizabeth was with child every year so it must be right what he said that these boys were either born before in the middle or after the three surviving children who did get to live until adulthood. More than likely they were probably the first and second born hence the names, one named in honour of himself and the other in the honour of the King it is just which first was it Thomas and then Henry or Henry and then Thomas? That and this is the question. Just come to think of it had they survived, that would of been interesting. Like you said Claire I agree there when you said had they of both been adults or on the verge of coming up to adulthood their names would of been somewhere mentioned and they are not so that as well as this backs up that theory does it not?! I think so.

    Again interesting article! :-)

    [Reply]

    Claire Reply:

    Tudorrose,
    I believe that everyone is entitled to their opinions and totally agree with you that Alison Weir should be able to put a theory forward, BUT she actually wrote about it as being fact:-
    “Only four of the Boleyn children survived infancy: “Thomas Bullayne,”whose grave in Penshurst Church, Kent, is marked by a cross and the date 1520, Mary, Anne, and George.” then later “Thomas Boleyn’s heir and namesake lived until 1520″.
    Those are quotations from her book. The grave of Thomas Boleyn is not marked with the date 1520, the 1520 date comes from records of brasses that gave it a date of c.1520 because of its style and the fact that it came from a workshop that made brasses between 1500 and 1535. To present a theory as fact is wrong, in my opinion, it should always be made clear that it is your theory. My theory is that these boys died after 1505, when the Boleyns moved to Hever, but well before 1520. I believe that they were young children when they died as that fits in with the style of brass and the size of the tombs. I believe that they were born between 1498/1499 and 1505 because of the fact that Thomas Boleyn wrote to Cromwell of the early years of his marriage when Elizabeth Boleyn gave him a child each year. As we don’t even know the birthdates of Mary, Anne and George, it is hard to say when these boys were born but I suspect that Thomas was the eldest son, being born perhaps between Mary and Anne, and that Henry fitted in between Anne and George. Nobody can say for certain.

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  12. Louise says:

    I’m so proud of you! Your tenacity is enviable. You’re like a dog with a bone, Ridgway. In the nicest possible way. xx

    [Reply]

    Claire Reply:

    Woof!

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  13. RxPhan says:

    Claire,

    Great detective work-worthy of Christie herself. As you said, the truth is out there and new documents are always being discovered. Maybe you’ve even inspired another movie a la “National Treasure” where someone breaks into the Vatican and finds the “lost” documents.

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  14. Shoshana says:

    Great Job, Claire!!! How I envy you being able to travel to so many of the places that call to me and to be able to track down information from it’s source rather than rely on books and the internet. Where I live I suppose I could track down some information on Western outlaws or famous Western brothels! Nah. Not the same!

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  15. Ceri C says:

    Claire, you have admirable resourcefulness! Well done for tracking down the expertise on memorial brasses. It does indeed sound as though these children were born and died in the first decade of the 16th century.

    [Reply]

  16. Suzanne says:

    Very very nice detective work Claire! I have enjoyed reading your journey into this mystery with you. Thank you!

    [Reply]

  17. Anne Barnhill says:

    What fun it has been to be part of this discovery! Excellent work, Claire. I agree these were children never reaching puberty and probably dying quite young. I love the fact that you tenaciously kept after it until you got it! I’ll be your Dr. Watson any day :)

    [Reply]

  18. Lisa says:

    What amazing painstaking research. Thank You.

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  19. miladyblue says:

    I just thought of a way that this question could be answered as to what age of person is in those graves, but without disturbing the sanctity of their resting places – has anyone thought of using ground penetrating radar to check something like this out? I know it sounds like science fiction, but this could settle the argument once and for all.

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  20. Laurie says:

    Great research and very well done video! So interesting and informative! It is sad the boys likely died young, but also possibly just as well, as you make mention of, to spare them having to experience those awful days in May 1536…

    [Reply]

  21. Cindy says:

    Claire,

    WONDERful sleuthing!! Very good job with reasoning, amazing research and explanation.
    I LOVED your video. Such beautiful pictures and images of that beautiful place. For those of us fascinated with everything ‘Boelyn’ (and all it’s spellings) who will probably never be able to stand in those places. see what people saw, touch what they touched… through your description and images we can almost imagine being there. thank you SO much for that. I must compliment your pleasant voice, charming accent and crisp diction which are the perfect narration aqccompaniment

    [Reply]

  22. Cindy says:

    2 things that didn’t appear in the comment above…

    * IS there any kind of list of EVERY student? or is it more not ever finding any mention of either name in history??

    * Really think MARY was the oldest??? Not Anne??

    Thank you for your dedication to this wonderful website. I always smile when I see the titles in email.

    Cindy

    [Reply]

    Claire Reply:

    George Boleyn is recorded as attending Oxford University in “Alumni oronienses, the members of the University of Oxford, 1500-1714: their parentage, birthplace, and year of birth, with a record of their degrees” compiled by Joseph Foster and published in 1891. This says:-
    “Boleyn, George, Viscount Rochford 1529. See Ath., i.98″
    Ath., i.98 refers to “Athenae Oxonienses, an exact history of all the writers and bishops who have had their education in the University of Oxford : to which are added the Fasti, or Annals of the said University” by Anthony A Wood 1813. In this record it gives a bio of George Boleyn which includes the sentence “was educated in all kind of polite learning among the Oxonians” but does not cite any sources for this.

    The idea that Mary Boleyn was the eldest of the Boleyn girls is based on letter from George Carey, 2nd Baron Hunsdon and Mary Boleyn’s grandson, to Lord Burghley in 1597, in which he asks for advice regarding petitioning Elizabeth I about claiming the earldom of Ormonde. This earldom had once been held by his great-grandfather, Thomas Boleyn, and Hunsdon’s claim to it was based on the belief that the title “should have passed to his father and then on to himself by virtue of their descent from Sir Thomas Boleyn’s eldest daughter, Mary.” Baron Hunsdon surely would have known who was the eldest of the Boleyn sisters and, as Josephine Wilkinson (Mary’s biographer) explains, if Baron Hunsdon had been mistaken in thinking that his grandmother was the eldest of the Boleyn girls then Elizabeth I, daughter of Anne Boleyn, would have corrected him and claimed the title herself.

    I’m so glad that you like the site, it makes me smile when I hear how people love using it.

    [Reply]

  23. Cindy says:

    My S.O. and I have been working on a web site. We wanted to use the Field of Cloth of Gold pinting. Looking at the Wikipedia page it has several link so I went to Elizabeth Boleyn’s page
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Boleyn,_Countess_of_Wiltshire

    It has 7 children listed there.
    Comments?

    [Reply]

    Claire Reply:

    Hi Cindy,
    I never take Wikipedia very seriously as so much of it is inaccurate. We know for definite that the Boleyns had five children – Mary, Anne, George, Thomas (who isn’t even listed in that list) and Henry – but Elizabeth could well have had other children who died in infancy, however, we do not know that for certain and we do not have their names.

    [Reply]

    Cindy Reply:

    Claire
    I know many of the online information is questionable. I was mostly wondering about the children. We know that Elizabeth Boleyn had 5 ,children we are fairly sure, Mary, George, Anne, henry, and Thomas. There are graves for them, but if there were more children would they not have graves in much the same places as the ones who died young? (either Blikling or Heaver) Or if they died at birth were they not given a monument as those who lived longer?
    Even more mysteries………

    [Reply]

  24. Dianne says:

    jedna od top 3 stranice za smještaj u Hrvatskoj sa puno korisnih ideja.

    [Reply]

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