12 March 1539 – Thomas Boleyn made the end of a good Christian man

Posted By on March 12, 2016

Sketch of brass memorial

Sketch of brass memorial

On 12th March 1539, Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire and Ormond, and father of the late Queen Anne Boleyn, died at Hever Castle, Kent.

Thomas was buried at St Peter’s Church, Hever, and his memorial brass, which depicts 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, is considered as one of the finest surviving memorial brasses in England.

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”. The Earl had been a loyal servant to the king, and to his father before him.

You can read more about Thomas Boleyn’s final years and death in my article The Death of Thomas Boleyn.

I know I will see a fair few negative comments about Thomas Boleyn on social media today and I always find it interesting that people are willing to give Anne Boleyn the benefit of the doubt but that this benefit does not extend to her father. This is probably because of how he has been depicted in fiction and on TV. Back in 2012, I wrote the article In Defence of Thomas Boleyn, Father of Anne Boleyn, challenging some of the negative perceptions some people have of Thomas by comparing to them with what historical evidence tells us. I hope you find my article interesting.

26 thoughts on “12 March 1539 – Thomas Boleyn made the end of a good Christian man”

  1. Mrsfiennes says:

    I think Thomas Boleyn did definitely deserve his position with the king and court but I also think he wanted to see his daughters achieve equal or higher positions than himself.I think he probably made sure they were in the king’s sight hoping for advantageous marriages,never thinking it might be possible for Anne herself to be made queen.I support the theory that when this came to light he probably persuaded her in Henry’s direction.Initially,Anne wanted nothing to do with the king and was still in the drama of the Henry Percy engagement so even though there are no facts to support this,I think there was something else at work to make her suddenly take interest in the king.I think perhaps he opened her eyes to possibilities.

    1. Claire says:

      I think Thomas was definitely ambitious for himself and his children, he certainly gave Anne opportunities that girls weren’t normally given.
      I’ve never found any evidence of him pushing Anne at the king in any way at all. We know that Anne retreated to Hever when Henry VIII was pursuing her and that Henry then bombarded her with letters, but we don’t know what her family thought of the situation or how much they knew of it. We have absolutely nothing about Thomas Boleyn’s feelings at that time or what he said to Anne.
      In 1533, Chapuys said “I must add that the said earl of Wiltshire has never declared himself up to this moment; on the contrary, he has hitherto, as the duke of Norfolk has frequently told me, tried to dissuade the King rather than otherwise from the marriage.” So that doesn’t sound like a man who was trying to push or persuade Anne into the relationship.

      1. Mrsfiennes says:

        No,maybe not at that particular moment.I’d like to think he didn’t want to see what happened to Mary happen to Anne,too.So,I’m sure he probably did state something like this to someone of the court.However,I also believe that Thomas most likely thought that it wasn’t even possible for Anne to be raised to such a level as queen.He simply didn’t want Anne to be used and discarded.I think when they realized the king was totally serious about Anne,Thomas changed his mind and helped convince her of the advantages.As,they all knew once an idea had got into Henry’s mind there was no way to take it out again.I know there is no evidence but it seems to me it could be in the realm of possibility.

        1. Claire says:

          Hmmm… It’s impossible to know, but I find it interesting that Chapuys’ comments regarding Thomas Boleyn’s views on the relationship were in 1533, so after the couple had already secretly married.

          Yes, it definitely is in the realm of possibility and the Boleyns obviously did well out of being related to the queen.

      2. bruno says:

        Thank you Claire for this add.
        If Chapuys – not much in favour of Anne Boleyn, as we know – says so (and as soon as in 1533, when Anne was crowned), we must consider that it was just HER will.
        It is just logical for courtiers – this ambition was somewhat frightening (it is not as if this ambition was raised on more political forces, kinsmen and so on).
        The same in the 17th century’s France when Cardinal Mazarin opposed to young king Louis XIV’s desire to make his own niece – Marie Mancini – a queen.
        He was close to the power -some say close to queen Anne of Habsburg, but it is just nonsense – and would not lose his reputation in favouring such a wedding.
        He was very harsh to the unofficial pair, instead.
        Anne Boleyn is so unique – she did it her way, that makes her definitely fascinating

        1. bruno says:

          Not crowned – I meant at the time of her secret wedding…

  2. Nan says:

    This might be an odd question, but do we know who arranged for Thomas Boleyn’s memorial? Did he arrange it before dying? I ask because most of his family pre-deceased him, except for his daughter Mary. Might she have arranged for the grave memorial?

    1. Claire says:

      He and Mary seem to have been estranged at the time of his death. I haven’t got the terms of his will to hand but I’m sure that he arranged it and left provision for it.

  3. Daniela says:

    I always have believed that no matter how fiction has depicted Thomas Boleyn or how one may perceive him to have been. It is certain that as a parent, father he must have experienced a certain amount of grief at the death of his two children. Life in Tudor England, certainly wasn’t easy, but to be a man of such importance at court and to have done so much for the King and his own children. It can’t be overlooked how as an individual he must have felt sadness at how it all ended, especially with the death of his own children. He was after all a father who had brought his children up, nurtured them and loved them too throughout his life.

    1. Claire says:

      Yes. He and Elizabeth must have been devastated.

  4. Anyanka says:

    You’ve made a typo Claire..It should be In Defence of Thomas Boleyn, Father of Anne Boleyn..not Father of Thomas Boleyn..

    I feel sorry for Thomas in less than 3 weeks he lost his son and daughter by dubious legal means by being forced to judge their co-accused.

    Thomas then had to not only live with that, he then had to re-make his life for his surviving daughter and wife since Henry wouldn’t allow his will to be denied.

    That Thomas continued his career isn’t normally seen as a positive, it should show the resilience of the human spirit. I’m sure Thomas, Elizabeth and Mary quietly mourned their losses while putting on the face that Henry demanded to the extent of being active participants in Jane’s success..

    1. Claire says:

      Thank you! I spotted it but couldn’t change it for ages as our internet was down, which is always the way when you really need to change something!

      I feel sorry for him too. He had an amazing career, he was a loyal servant to two kings and yet he lost two of his children in such an awful way. I know that some historians are of the view that he and Elizabeth Boleyn lived separate lives after that and I do wonder what it was like between them after May 1536.

      1. Christine says:

        Yes their not buried together either which could speak of some discord between them.

  5. Jennifer Faith says:

    Thank you for all this information. I went back and read your other article and it really opened my eyes to my own judgmental opinions on Thomas Boleyn, as well as Thomas Howard. These opinions were indeed based upon fictional sources, and I should have known better. I always looked at historical fiction with emphasis on the FICTION part of the phrase. Usually I read or watch something inspired by actual events and think, “How did that really happen?” or “I wonder if that part is true” and then I hit Google or whatever to find out. I admit that in the case of Thomas Boleyn I did not do this. The portrayals of him in fiction have just been so consistent and so convincing it never occurred to me to question it or care enough about it to give him any slack. That’s on me. But that’s why I love this site. It’s such a wonderful resource in uncovering the truth about the Tudor period as much as it can be ascertained. So, here’s me admitting I had judged Thomas Boleyn harshly without all the information and now I know better. Thank you so much for setting the record straight! Blessings

    1. Claire says:

      Thank you, Jennifer! I don’t think some history books have been kind to him either, so please don’t worry. I think in rehabilitating Anne some people have sought to lay the blame at her father’s door – “oh Anne was just a pawn…” etc. They end up making Anne a goodie at the expense of her father, who becomes a baddie.

  6. Christine says:

    Thomas Boleyn was a survivor and we have to admire him for that, only he and his wife and daughter knew to what extant he suffered yet he survived his children’s fall from grace and was soon back at court, it was proof of Henrys trust in him as being a man of good sense and loyalty having been in his service for many years and shows that he himself could also be loyal to his old friends even though one of them was the father of his allegedly adulterous wife, he has been described by various writers down the years as being an opportunist, a greedy man who ruthlessly used his daughters to gain the Kings favour and the advantages it bought, but it’s really just speculation, in The Tudors he was portrayed as cold and unfeeling and persuaded Anne to try to catch the Kings eye but the reality was probably very different, for one thing Anne certainly didn’t try to snare the King and there’s no evidence her father was pleased when she did, I believe Thomas has had a bad press and there’s a lot of things about him we will never know, like his wife who remains such a shadowy figure he’s something of an enigma.

    1. bruno says:

      Christine, I saw that character in the Tudors too, greedy, cold and unpleasant.
      Ironically enough, a very innocent duke of Suffolk being so upset by the death of two young persons (Anne and her brother George) shouted at the father’s blaming his dark and vain projects for it !
      What a pity that such a film with beautiful pictures, fascinating actors/tresses shows us unbelievable events and words …
      I don’t know about Anne Boleyn being her father’s puppet …
      What we know of her temper, makes that not sound right …
      You are right Christine, Elizabeth née Howard is so very unknown.
      In one book (don’t remember which, as if I preferred forget about it), I read that she died young – however, before her husband (which is not true as we know).

      1. Anyanka says:

        The book which springs to mind re Elizabeth Howard dying young for me is Margaret Campbell Barnes Brief Gaudy Hour.

        Though in Cynthia Harrod Eagles Morland dynasty series, the second book The Dark Rose mentions Elizabeth dying young in passing.

        1. Christine says:

          In Norah Lofts ‘The Concubine’ Anne had a stepmother who she called Lady Bo, her mother having died years before, but yes it’s only a myth, Lofts knew this as she quoted it in her later biography of Anne, Elizabeth chaperoned her daughter at court and could well have been with her when she was in labour with Elizabeth, from evidence we know that Anne was close to her mother, Alison Weir said that The Tudors was good drama but historically inaccurate, even the costumes she said wasn’t right. If anyone hasn’t read The Concubine I highly recommend it as lofts had such a way of telling a story it’s very entertaining and at the top of each chapter there’s a quote from an historian from what actually happened, she also writes that her body was taken to the churchyard at Salle in Norfolk by night to be buried next to her grandparents but here she was just using the historical novelists right to embroil things, incidentally you never saw Anne’s mother only her father in The Tudors, it was very entertaining but it annoyed me the way it was so inaccurate even having Henrys sister Margaret as marrying the King Of Portugal instead in reality she married James V of Scotland, it was Mary who married Louis Of France then Charles Brandon Duke Of Suffolk, if tv does an historical drama then they really should stick to the facts.

        2. bruno says:

          Thank you Anyanka, I guess you are right – quoting Margaret Campbell Barnes.
          But the book I am referring of was written by a french author (if I remember well) .
          Your comments are interesting however

    2. Claire says:

      I wish we knew more about Elizabeth Boleyn. She is a shadowy figure yet she played chaperone to Anne and Henry so must have had an amazing insight into their relationship. The tales she could tell!

  7. Hazel Kayes says:

    A fascinating piece of writing and research by Claire, thank you. I love it when writers debunk previously recorded histories and to exonerate someone for their worth, when their history as been a case of victimisation.

  8. Denise Hansen says:

    The misconception that Anne Boleyn had a stepmother dates back to Agnes Strickland’s late 19th century “Lives of the Queens of England”. Margaret Campbell Barnes used the information in “Brief Gaudy Hour” before there was an awareness of the error. I believe it was due to a misreading of an original document.

    1. bruno says:

      Hello Denise Hansen and thanks for “sourcing” this mistake – not uncommon just a few years back

      1. bruno says:

        I guess “tracing” is a better word

        1. Claire says:

          Hi Bruno,
          I wrote an article on the myth a few years ago, which you might find interesting – see https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/did-anne-boleyn-have-a-stepmother/

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