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12 March 1539 – Death of Thomas Boleyn

Posted By on March 12, 2015

Thomas Boleyn brass

Details from Thomas Boleyn’s brass

On this day in history, 12 March 1539, Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire and Ormond, died at Hever Castle, Kent, the Boleyn family home. He was in his early sixties.

Wiltshire’s servant, Robert Cranwell, wrote to Thomas Cromwell the next day to give him news of Wiltshire’s death:

“My good lord and master is dead. He made the end of a good Christian man.”1

Although two of his children, George and Anne, had been executed as traitors to the crown in May 1536 and he had been stripped of his office of Lord Privy Seal in June 1536, Wiltshire had done his duty to his remaining family and to his monarch, and had climbed his way back into royal favour just as families like the Staffords and Howards had done before him. He had helped squash the rebels of the Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion in late 1536 was present at Prince Edward’s baptism in October 1537. Historian Eric Ives describes how Wiltshire diligently went to Order of the Garter functions, even lending Thomas Cromwell his chain and best Garter badge at one point, and how he was back at court by January 1538.2 In July 1538, three months after his wife’s death, there were rumours that “my lord of Wolshyre will marry lady Margaret Dowglas”.3 Obviously, the marriage never took place, but Thomas Boleyn must have been high in favour for it to be rumoured that he was going to marry the King’s niece.

In April 1539, Henry VIII paid 16l. 13s. 4d. to his chaplain, William Franklyn, Dean of Windsor, “for certain oraisons, suffrages and masses to be said for the soul’s health of th’erle of Wilts, late deceased”, which is hard evidence that Thomas was back in favour at his death.4

Wiltshire was laid to rest in St Peter’s Church, Hever, the church on the green just outside Hever Castle. Visitors to the church can pay their respects at his tomb, which is topped with a beautiful memorial brass showing him dressed in the full robes and insignia of a Knight of the Garter, including the badge on his left breast and garter around his left knee. Wiltshire’s head is depicted resting on a helmet surmounted by his daughter Anne Boleyn’s falcon badge and his feet rest on a griffin. 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 decessed the 12th dai of Marche in the iere of our Lorde 1538.”

In those days the new calendar year didn’t start until 25 March, Lady Day or the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin, so that’s why the brass inscription gives his date of death as 1538 and we say 1539.

The Thomas Boleyn of fiction is often a manipulative, greedy man, or even a ‘pimp’, but that’s not the man I’ve got to known through my research into the Boleyn family. You can read more about him in my article In Defence of Thomas Boleyn, father of Anne Boleyn.

Thomas Boleyn Brass Sketch

Sketch of Thomas Boleyn’s brass memorial

 

Notes and Soures

  1. LP (Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII) xiv. Part 1, 511
  2. Eric Ives (2004) The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, 353.
  3. LP xiii. Part 1. 1419
  4. LP xiv. Part 2, p309

6 thoughts on “12 March 1539 – Death of Thomas Boleyn”

  1. The Thomas Boleyn-Margaret Douglas union seems to be an odd sort of rumour, bearing in mind she and Lord Thomas Howard had been put in the Tower because of their love-affair, where Thomas took ill and died in 1537. Margaret was in trouble again in 1540 for having a relationship with Lord Thomas’s half-nephew, Charles Howard. On the other hand, maybe Henry VIII thought marrying her off to the tame Thomas Boleyn would see off the threat he saw in her other would-be suitors?

  2. Roland H. says:

    One wonders how Margaret Douglas felt if she had to marry a man some 38 years older than she was!

    1. Gail Marion says:

      Not unusual in the 16th century where marriages among the nobility were planned like moves on a chessboard. In any case, the older the husband the more likely she was to survive him and live comfortably thereafter.

  3. Jenny says:

    It’s quite remarkable about how Thomas managed to win back the King’s favour after all that happened in 1536. He must have been a remarkably charming man!

    Perhaps this is where Anne, Mary and George all got their great charm from.

    You do have to wonder though, what Thomas thought when he returned back to court to serve a man who had killed two of his children. It’s quite admirably really.

    I kind of believe that Thomas wasn’t quite the pimp and ruthless social climber that The Tudors and other media outlets portray him as being. He must have been very thick skinned and ambitious though.

  4. Jenny says:

    It’s quite remarkable about how Thomas managed to win back the King’s favour after all that happened in 1536. He must have been a remarkably charming man!

    Perhaps this is where Anne, Mary and George all got their great charm from.

    You do have to wonder though, what Thomas thought when he returned back to court to serve a man who had killed two of his children. It’s quite admirably really.

    I kind of believe that Thomas wasn’t quite the pimp and ruthless social climber that The Tudors and other media outlets portray him as being. He must have been very thick skinned and ambitious though.

  5. Banditqueen says:

    Margaret Douglas was far too valuable a royal asset to be married to upstart families like the Howards and Boleyns, she was the daughter of Henry’s sister, Margaret Tudor, and a child of the Roy line, she was meant for a more important match. Henry used her to gain access to the Scottish government, her husband, Lennox was chosen as someone who could further Henry’s cause for control over the young queen of Scotland, Mary. Unfortunately, Margaret Douglass children married the wrong people as far as the jealous Elizabeth I was concerned, placing the poor women in the Tower again. Her son Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, married Mary Queen of Scots, strengthening both hers and their children’s claim to both the English and Scottish thrones. Legally the Scottish line had been passed over by Henry Viii, but the authority of the King ends with him. Parliament had backed the Will of Henry Viii, so the line was excluded unless a new law or agreement was made. This did not apply to Margaret Douglas, who is included in the will and relevant acts of Parliament, partly because she was raised in England and a daughter of
    Margaret by her second none royal husband. Elizabeth I felt aggrieved by the marriage choices of Margarets sons and others, such as the Grey sisters and even her ladies in waiting. Although she technically speaking could rightly object, they should have had her leave first, Elizabeth went to extremes and could be vengeful in the way she denied her women and relatives the happiness she chose to deny herself.

    Thomas Boleyn may well have been thinking about a marriage to enhance his own fortunes acter the death of his wife, Elizabeth, but I doubt it was a serious prospect. He had clearly come back into favour, being present at the baptism of Prince Edward, and his pasing was marked by the King as well as his servants. His brass is of the finest quality, his wealth still allowed him a reasonable living, he was however sued and forced to allow his daughter, Mary Boleyn, to inherit her share of his money and property, by Cromwell, after his death. Mary had to ask for this as Boleyn had essentially cut her off when she married William Stafford against his will in 1534. Mary had to seek help at the time and when her father died. He was not a cruel man or a man who pimped out his daughters, but he was a typical Tudor father, strict, demanded obedience, controlled the destiny of his children, maintaining certain moral, social and behavioural standards, and when Mary married a man with no money, little social status, without her parents and sister’s permission, she shamed him. This seems to have been something that Tudor fathers, especially one whose other daughter was queen at the time, found very hard to accept and forgive. Daughters were meant to marry in order to further the dynastic prospects and further political or economic ties, men all of the above, but more importantly to marry a woman who brought power, land and wealth, so a merchants son may seek a rich heiress in a class above him, for example. An heiress may be married to a merchant, as this was were the new wealth resided. Thomas Boleyn was ambitious but no more so than any other rising, talented head of a wealthy and growing family who saw the advantages of a career in the English court and took them with both hands.

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