12 March 1539 – Thomas Boleyn dies

Mar12,2017 #Thomas Boleyn

“My good lord and master is dead. He made the end of a good Christian man. Hever, 13 March.”1 So wrote Thomas Boleyn’s servant, Robert Cranwell, to Thomas Cromwell in 1539.

Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire and Ormond and father of the late Queen Anne Boleyn, had died at his home, Hever Castle, at the age of about sixty-two. He had fallen from royal favour after the falls of two of his children, Anne and George, losing his office of Lord Privy Seal in June 1536, but had climbed back into favour after helping to squash the rebels of the Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion in Autumn 1536. It had even been rumoured, following the death of his wife, Elizabeth, in 1538, that he would marry Lady Margaret Douglas, the king’s niece!2

Following Thomas’s death, Henry VIII ordered masses to be said for his soul.3 Thomas was laid to rest in the family church, St Peter’s Church at Hever. Visitors to the church today can see his tomb, which is topped by a magnificent brass memorial which shows him dressed as a Knight of the Garter. Above his right shoulder sits his daughter Anne’s falcon crest. At his feet, there is a griffin. One of his sons, Henry Boleyn, is buried nearby, a simple small brass cross on the floor acting as a memorial.

Thomas Boleyn’s tomb has the following inscription:

“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 Tudor times, the new calendar year did not start until Lady Day on 25th March, so Thomas Boleyn’s death was recorded as being in 1538, rather than 1539.

You can read more about Thomas Boleyn in the following articles:

and in our Thomas Boleyn category.

Notes and Sources

Photos: copyright Tim and Claire Ridgway 2010.

  1. Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, XIV Part 1, 511.
  2. LP xiii. Part 1. 1419.
  3. LP xiv. 950.

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15 thoughts on “12 March 1539 – Thomas Boleyn dies”
  1. The last years of Thomas Boleyn’s life were not necessarily happy ones. I don’t think we can appreciate just what it might have been like for a successful and talented nobleman to suddenly be disgraced in a matter of weeks, losing two of his children. Whether he was close to them or not, two of your offspring being beheaded as traitors would have been shameful, humiliating and perhaps emotionally scarring. And then Elizabeth Boleyn died, although we do not know how close she and Thomas actually were.

    Was the real Thomas the predatory, ambitious, cold-hearted Boleyn of “The Tudors”, or was he the weak-willed, ineffectual Boleyn of “The Other Boleyn Girl”? Perhaps a bit of both, perhaps he was neither. He was a man of his time. He had provided splendidly for his children, especially Anne, and had encouraged their educational pursuits with a view to making them excellent marriages. Anne would have become the countess of Ormonde if the match with Butler had not fallen through – a prestigious alliance that provides some evidence that she was the elder daughter – whereas Mary was married to the lesser William Carey, who was nonetheless a wealthy and talented courtier. George was married to Jane Parker and was elevated to the peerage as Viscount Rochford.

    There is some evidence that Thomas’ relations with his daughter Mary were strained. The king had to effectively order him to provide for her when her husband died, and he may have been involved in her banishment from court in 1534. Thomas seems to have had higher hopes for Anne, but there is evidence that suggests that he was apprehensive about her relationship with Henry VIII, perhaps because he did not think they would actually ever manage to get married. There is no evidence, however, that Anne fell out with her father in the same way that she became estranged from her uncle Norfolk. But when she was incarcerated in the Tower, it was her mother that she spoke of, which leads me to think that she might have been closer to Elizabeth rather than Thomas.

    A sad and sorry state of affairs for the Boleyns. Anne and George publicly butchered in 1536, Elizabeth Boleyn dying two years later, and Thomas following her within less than a year. George’s widow went to the scaffold in 1542 and Mary died the following year.

    1. I would love to know how things were between Thomas and Elizabeth after George and Anne were executed.
      Anne I believe was very close to her mother, and said something like “this will kill my mother” when she was taken to the tower. I suppose given that Elizabeth B died a bare 2 years after Anne, it could in a way be said that Anne was right it did kill her
      I also think that Thomas played a walk on part in Edward’s christening he was a candle bearer or something.
      I also wonder if Thomas and Elizabeth B ever saw Elizabeth, and if the rift between them and Mary B was ever healed? Of course they could never be as they once, but perhaps they could have agreed to disagree and at least been civil to each other again. I think Thomas did leave something to Mary but what that was I don’t know.

      1. Elizabeth was suffering from something which did eventually kill her when Anne fell from grace, today if something happens to us we immediately think of our families, this is only natural and she was rightly concerned that the news of her arrest and imprisonment would worsen her mothers already frail condition, grief can cause people to just give up and die, and losing one child is bad enough but let alone two, after burying several offspring in the early days of their marriage it must have been absolutely devastating to watch two such promising children survive to adulthood only to see them did in such awful circumstances as convicted traitors, especially when they must have believed in their innocence and suspected were murdured just to make way for Jane Seymour.

    2. How did he manage to pull off a marriage to Elisabeth Howard the eldest daughter of one of the oldest Dukedoms in the country ?

  2. So ended the life of one of the Tudor courts most remarkable men, he was highly gifted and passed his talents onto his children Anne and George who both inherited his cunning and ambition as well as his intelligent mind, it is a fitting memorial for a man who worked his way up at the court of Henry V11 where he was one of those entrusted to escort the princess Margaret to Scotland for her wedding, and later a highly respected diplomat and linguist at the court of his son Henry V111, one of the myths about this man is that he was a cold hearted opportunist who pimped out his daughters to gain his high office and whilst he did become Lord Privy Seal no doubt due to his daughter Anne he did fundamentally get where he was because he ws good at his job, films and old historical fiction books did portray him as rubbing his hands with glee when Mary his eldest lay on her back for the King yet it is only speculation and later there is evidence that he was not happy when he showed interest in Anne, he did not want his daughters to be known as damaged goods as it would be very hard for them to make a good marriage in the future, he appears to have had high moral standards and only wanted the best for his family so he must have been very pleased when his eldest was married to William Carey, a noble born courtier who was also a cousin of the King, her bridegroom was possibly chosen as he was close to the King and discreet and discretion was paramount of his wife was expecting King Henrys child, but that is something we will never know, so Mary was settled and he could carry on his duties at court then his youngest Anne caught the eye of the King and it was the same with Mary, yet his youngest daughter was a chip of the old block and wasn’t about to let herself get used and then deserted, like her father she had a shrewd brain and did not let sentiment get in the way of ambition, but even Sir Thomas must have been astonished when she said she would not be his mistress and continued to give the King the run around, turning up at Hever several times with a flustered Henry in tow pleading with her to return to court, he perhaps tried to advise Anne and I can imagine many awkward meal times with the atmosphere one of stony silence as both her parents pleaded with her to treat the King with more respect, yet I think although Thomas was deeply perturbed over the behaviour of his youngest daughter he also admired her ambition and steely eyed perseverance, as noted before their characters were very similar, the portrait which for many years a sketch drafted early in his career was presumed to be that of Thomas but now it is known to be that of his kinsman, the etching on his brass plaque shows a man with a long narrow face and large eyes, although this may not be a good likeness there is a resemblance to the portraits said to be of Anne who also had a long narrow face with a high forehead and large expressive eyes, both Sir Thomas and his daughter were remarkable people and his son George also who was a gifted poet and musician as well as being very handsome, they dominated the court for about ten years by their dazzling presence then it was if a light had gone out and they all fell from grace, whatever Thomas felt about his children and the dreadful accusations against them, one being of the most horrendous and perverse of all, he kept silent and decided it was best to distance himself from them, he sat on the trial of his son and we can only imagine how he felt as he saw him across the room, the only one who had survived to adulthood and who he had had such bright hopes for, but he would not let sentiment get in the way of his position at court, he carried on the same way he had always done as self preservation was all important to this man who even now with his children in the dock, one to be sentenced later, he would not let anything endanger his own situation, this distancing himself from Anne and George and sitting on their trials has been condemned by some who think he threw them to the wolves and left them to their fates, yet he knew their deaths were a foregone conclusion and nothing he or his fellow peers could do to alter that fact, it was survive or die at Henrys court and if his children had to die so be it, he was not an emotional man which is not a crime and in fact can help the person to overcome traumatic experience, this does not mean he did not suffer with grief when they were condemned, it does not mean he did not mourn them but he had an instinct for survival that made him now had to put Anne and George aside and concentrate on his remaining family, his wife and daughter Mary and her children and his own position, he had lost the office of Lord Privy Seal yet after Jane Seymour’s son was born he was back at court at his christening, which shows the regard Henry had for this man who had once been his father in law, the rumours about him marrying his niece Lady Margaret are interesting but he died a year later having outlived his wife, what I find strange is he was not buried with her who was laid to rest in the Howard family crypt at Lambeth, maybe Elizabeth had had enough of Boleyn ambition and chose to lie with her ancestors instead, it was a sad ending for a family who had risen high and who had given England one of her most enigmatic queens.

  3. Rest in peace Thomas, your heart ache is over. I hope you are now with your children in the Summerland and reconciled with Mary.

  4. One could say Sir Thomas Boleyn was a survivor. His family had risen remarkably because he was talented and knew his butter was buttered on the royal side of the right family. He had made a good match to the daughter of the Second Duke of Norfolk, Lady Elizabeth Howard and the couple were fertile and one assumes on reasonable terms. Thomas himself was of merchant stock. He was clever and a linguist. He was entrusted with a number of important duties, including one of the gentleman chosen to escort Princess Margaret, daughter of Henry Vii to her husband in Scotland. He was our man in Paris as the foreign diplomat under Henry Viii at the French court. Both of his daughters served in France, as companions to Mary Rose Tudor, the King’s sister as Queen to Louis Xii of France. Anne stayed on for several years. Thomas was a judge and privy councillor as well as holding several titles and honours during his daughters rise to power. Yes I believe he was ambitious…he was in favour and royal service….ambition is a prerequisite. Did he thrust Anne into Henry’s bed? No, but I don’t think he minded that Henry fancied her and the family took advantage of the subsequent blossoming romance. Thomas Boleyn was a dangerous and powerful man but he knew having your daughter on the throne was a dangerous game.

    When Anne fell from grace and her brother with her, both being executed on trumped up charges, inevitably Thomas fell with them, the entire family were in disgrace and his personal grief must have been devastating. However, Thomas was not father of the year and did treat his daughter, Mary harshly as you can expect since she disobeyed him in her marriage to William Stafford. Thomas disowned her and Mary needed the King’s help and that of Cromwell to get her fortune, dower lands and later her inheritance. I would not judge Thomas too harshly as his behaviour is not unusual for this period. A father was the head of the family and it was the place of his children, even adults, especially daughters to obey him. At the time Mary Boleyn married William Stafford in 1534 she was the sister of the Queen and her marriage should have been one of status. She also got married without telling anyone. As a result Mary was banished from court and out of favour. It was begging letter time. Mary did receive most of her inheritance but it almost came too late.

    Thomas was not out of favour for long. He sent a gift and attended the baptism of Prince Edward and as above his skills were used against the rebels in the North. Sadly, his wife died soon afterwards and Thomas a year later. He was a good age being in his 60s and did well dying in his bed, a courtier and a survivor.

    1. I don’t think Mary Boleyn ever served at the French court. The record refers to “M. Boleyn” and to “Mademoiselle Boleyn”, but the M could have stood for Madame or Mistress, rather than Mary. The only piece of evidence that Mary resided in France comes from the French king, when he allegedly commented that he knew her to be a great wh*re. Historians have latched onto this as proof that Mary was the king’s mistress, but there is no evidence that she was. I tend to think Francois was aware of the dubious rumours that were circulating about the Boleyns during the 1530s, and probably assumed that, as the sister of a woman perceived by many in Europe to be immoral and unscrupulous, Mary had a suspect reputation.

      More likely she received an entirely traditional education in England during her childhood and adolescence, before marrying William Carey. Whether she actually ever served Katherine of Aragon is open to question, but she was at court during Anne’s rise to power and subsequent queenship.

      1. Yes, there is a question mark over Mary going to France, but it seems more likely than not that she and Anne went in 1514_at least, although Mary seems to have returned and Anne remained to be educated under the eyes of the pius Queen Claude. King Francis I was a philanderer…a boaster and he is not the most reliable source for Mary’s past. There is no evidence whatsoever that she was his mistress, although there is evidence that she was Henry’s mistress. Men tend to boast about their alleged conquests, even when it’s a figment of their imagination.

        Mary was possibly the kinder of the two sisters, but she was definitely badly done to reputation wise. While Anne was the one who got the fancy education, Mary made an excellent match in 1520 to Sir William Carey, who for all he had to accept Mary as the King’s mistress for a time, appears to have been a decent husband. Both sisters spent a good deal of time at the court and were in service to Catherine of Aragon. However, I think Mary did prefer the quiet life of a country wife and mother and although she served Anne as Queen, she was definitely happy with William Stafford.

        There is hardly any information about Elizabeth Boleyn and her children. However, I think it is fair to say that the violent death of two precious children, even as adults would pierce the heart of any mother. Elizabeth Boleyn is mentioned by her husband as giving him a child every year and it’s believed that Elizabeth and Thomas were at Anne’s wedding in January 1533. There was of course a nasty rumour that Elizabeth Boleyn slept with Henry Viii, something he outrightly denied. We don’t know either why Elizabeth Boleyn died, perhaps she had been ill, perhaps she had cancer and the strain of these years killed her or perhaps she just died of any number of Tudor bugs. If she was a similar age to her husband, then for the time she lived a normal life span.

        There does seem to have been a reconciliation between Mary B and her father close to the end of her life, although she had to ask Cromwell to help with her inheritance. She was better off with William Stafford and her letters show devotion to life with him. Henry did get Thomas to make some concessions and financial help towards his last daughter. As I said, Thomas B wasn’t unusual in not being father of the year over her disobedience. There was the Earl of Northumberland and his anger over his son and Anne Boleyn. The Duke of Suffolk also took a firm hand with his daughter from his first marriage. She ran away from her no good gambling husband and also spent a lot of money. The Duke got Cromwell involved, ordered his daughter back to her husband, forcing the husband to provide for his wife and Cromwell cleared their debts. His daughter had no choice as she was his property. So Thomas B was only acting as any outraged father would. He wanted what was best for his children and it must have broken the hearts of himself and his wife to lose Anne and George in such terrible and harrowing circumstances.

      2. Mary was at the French court but the info is sketchy, she was in Queen Mary Tudors train and possibly was with her sister a lot but Anne stayed and served under Queen Claude after Mary returned to England following the death of Louis, what happened to Mary Boleyn however is not clear, she could have returned with Mary Tudor and entered service under Katherine Of Aragon or returned to Hever and lived quietly with her mother, she was at court at some time though as she became Henry’s mistress. Sadly Marys life is not well documented and we can only speculate as to what really happened to her, we do not know where she is buried either yet this rather insignificant member of the Boleyn family left her legacy in her many thousands of descendants such as Charles Darwin and Admiral Nelson, Prince William and Harry and the great man himself, Sir Winston Churchill, this was her triumph and ultimately her fathers.

      3. It has always amazed me that anyone gave any credence to any of the derogatory remarks made by Francois I. The man was Henry’s enemy, and I am sure he enjoyed any opportunity to make Henry look bad, especially by insulting his women. He probably found Henry’s marital contretemps highly amusing, having married only ladies of the highest royal birth himself. Insults about Mary Boleyn make it appear Henry was enjoying his discards-huge insult. Same goes for his remarks about Anne, although he never actually claims she was his mistress. The implication is even worse because it means Henry married the leftovers of his(Francois’) inferiors-huge insult……Mary must have gone to France, or this claim would have been known to be nonsense, and so, rather pointless, but as to having been the mistress of the French King, who knows?

    2. Yes he was quite unkind towards Mary and I get the feeling he treated her with a kind of contemptous affection, she was his eldest to survive but was not ambitious or gifted like her siblings, that is not to say she was not clever just her charms lay in her looks and possibly sweet nature, he was furious after she married Stafford in secret and Anne and the King had no choice but to banish her, though she did relent and sent her a bag of gold coins, something which dad didn’t do, I agree we have to judge these people by the standards in which they lived, the Earl of Northumberland was angry when he realised his son and heir had become engaged to Anne years earlier, he was a peer of the realm and his marriage was of the utmost importance, Anne was not considered suitable and the engagement was called of, in fact he was pre contracted to the Earl of Shrewsburys daughter, high born people had to make advantageous marriages which would benefit the family, sadly it meant rarely did they love their spouses although in time after the arrival of children and being together long enough they development a deep friendship for the other, some may even have fallen in love with their spouses who knows? Mary was the queens sister and Anne hoped to make a good match for her and possibly bring an important alley to the Boleyns as it was all about politics, Mary had to plead her case with Cromwell and her letter was extremely poignant in the line she wrote, ‘I would rather beg my bread with him and though I could have had a greater man’….. it shows Mary put human kindness and love above ambition which most of us can resonate with today, I’m glad Mary found happiness with her second husband as she needed a protector and the love of a good man when the dreadful events unfolded in 1536.

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