29 June 1536 – Thomas Boleyn is demoted

On this day in history, 29th June 1536, Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire, was stripped of his office of Lord Privy Seal, an office he had held since January 1530.

His demotion came just over a month after the executions of his children, Queen Anne Boleyn and George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, and it was Thomas Cromwell, the king’s right-hand man, who was chosen as his replacement and who was formally appointed on 2nd July 1536.

Read more…

Also on this day in history…

  • 1509 – Lady Margaret Beaufort, grandmother of Henry VIII and the matriarch of the Tudor dynasty, died at Cheyneygates, the Abbot’s house at Westminster. Click here to read more.
  • 1537 – Death of Henry Algernon Percy, 6th Earl of Northumberland, a man who had been romantically linked to Anne Boleyn before her relationship with Henry VIII. Click here to read more.
  • 1540 – A Bill of Attainder was passed against Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex. Click here to read more.

Picture: Photo of Thomas Boleyn’s memorial brass, copyright Tim Ridgway.

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26 thoughts on “29 June 1536 – Thomas Boleyn is demoted”
  1. This move by Henry Viii really angers me. Thomas had served the house of Tudor for many years beginning with Henry’s father. He had been a loyal and true subject for all those years. Now he was being punished for being the father of a woman Henry hated. If this had been a situation like Cromwell a few years later recommending Anne of Cleves as a wife for Henry this would have a tiny bit of justification but I don’t believe that was the case here. I believe that Thomas would rather Anne had not gotten mixed up with the King as he knew what Henry was capable of. I know he finds his way eventually back into favor but this demotion should never have happened.

  2. A demotion is a comparatively mild punishment for. someone with family members that Henry VIII thought were plotting against him. Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, lost her head, not because anyone believed that she herself did anything wrong, but because of alleged wrongdoing by her children — especially son Reginald who dared to attack Henry’s view of himself as G-d.. Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, nearly lost his head, because Henry was convinced that Howard’s son was plotting to take control — Norfolk was saved only because Henry VIII died without signing the warrant. Thomas Boleyn was lucky!

  3. There is no evidence that the Boleyns we’re plotting against him. Henry knew that Anne, her brother George and the other four men were innocent. Anne was executed because Henry had sickened of her and didn’t want to have the same difficulty that he had when trying to divorce Katherine. The other men were executed I believe to try and cover his tracks and make him look the victim. Thomas was demoted because he was the father of whom he considered responsible for all of his problems.

    As for Margaret Pole I don’t think she was any threat to Henry’s throne but she was a Plantagenet and he was very paranoid

    1. That Henry was paranoid is precisely why he thought innocent people (Margaret Pole; the Boleyns) were plotting against him (which he also defined rather loosely)


      1. Where do you get the idea that Henry thought the Boleyns we’re plotting against him? Why would they? Anne was Queen and her family was on top of the world. To plot against the King would jeapardize this. This purge of his queen and the others was primarily because Anne had promised him a son and failed and he needed to get rid of her.

        1. Anne and the five men were actually charged with — and convicted of treason — among other crimes.. Treason was then defined as imagining or “compassing” the king’s death … Anne’s conversation with Norris at the end of April 1536 was a big part of this. . The charged adulteries were part of the motive — but in 1536, adultery, in and of itself was neither a capital crime nor necessarily treason.

  4. Yes they were. Trumped up charges by Thomas Cromwell with the blessing of the King. Katherine Howard’s trial and sentence a few years later was much more open and honest because Henry and the council knew that the public was onto the condemnations of May 1536 as being not very believable. If you look at the dates, places and times that Anne and the five men were supposedly having their trysts they don’t add up. That one comment by Anne about ‘dead men’s shoes’ was seized upon by Cromwell to get rid of her. If she hadn’t said that something would have been made up. In Henry’s mind Anne had to die no matter what.

    1. Katherine Howard didn’t get a trial; it went by bill of attainder. More importantly, you are confusing (a) the actual facts and (b) Henry’s opinions. I am well aware of the actual fact that Anne and the five, in fact, were innocent. The actual facts, however, were irrelevant to Henry’s opinions. The nature of paranoia involves suspecting people of crimes that they, in fact, did not commit; and you yourself admit that Henry was paranoid. Furthermore, Henry did not see himself as a man who executed innocent people (even though he did just that) and therefore he convinced himself that the people he executed must have been guilty.

  5. I would like to mention Lady Margaret Beaufort on this the anniversary of her death, one time Countess of both Richmond and Derby, Mother of King Henry V11 and grandmother of King Henry V111, her life was not easy and she was forced to undergo an horrendous pregnancy and labour which injured her so badly, she could never have another child, both devious and cunning brave and fiercely protective of her son she dreamed of the day he would wear the crown of England, her own link to the throne was not legitimate but she must have been proud of her lineage from John of Gaunt the great Duke of Lancaster and his great love Lady Katherine Swynford, a young damsel from France whose sister married the medieval poet Geoffrey Chaucer, Katherine the widow of a knight has been described as enchanting by one contemporary and so loyal to his mistress was he, after the death of his second wife he married her and their many children were legitimized, but with no claim to the throne, several generations later after Edward 1V deposed Henry V1 and he was done to death in the Tower, Margaret must have thought her son would never have a chance of becoming king but there was no harm in dreaming, Edwards unexpected death placed his young son on the throne but after he and his brother were declared illegitimate Margaret began to send secret messages to the ex queen now in sanctuary and conspired to marry her son to the young Princess Elizabeth, after Richards defeat at Bosworth engineered by Margaret who told her husband to switch sides and support her son, he was declared King, he married as was both his mother and Elizabeth Woodvilles wishes her daughter and by this Union, he strengthened his own tenuous claim to the throne, dearly loved by her subjects the Yorkist princess was everything a queen should be and she and Henry made a popular couple, or maybe Elizabeth was more popular than him, but the Union of the white Rose of York and the red rose of Lancaster was a triumph for peace and heralded the start of a new dynasty – the Tudors whose name is synonymous with vibrant colourful characters and bloody deaths, of power struggles and one kings quest for a son, we do not know if Elizabeth got on with her formidable mother in law but what I know of Margarets character makes me think she could be a bit of a meddler, however she lived to see her son crowned king of England and there is evidence that she supervised her grandchildrens upbringing and welfare, she saw her grandson Henry V111 become king and this bold young man was said to be rather in awe of his stern faced grandmother, Henrys V11’s death mask and sculpture show him to have inherited his mothers lean narrow face and no doubt her ambition, certainly she must have impressed upon him of how important a personage he was from the minute he could talk, she must have wept at his death but she knew when her time came, she could die happy, she suddenly took sick according to the sources after dining on a cygnet, but it is a mystery maybe the bird was undercooked and she contracted food poisoning, or maybe she was suffering from some illness and the cygnet was not related, but sixty six was a good age for the day and she has a splendid tomb in the chapel royal of Henry V11, at the age of thirteen she nearly died giving birth to her son and she must have been a very frightened little girl, widowed in the same year her future must have seemed uncertain, but she survived and was responsible for giving England the brilliant reign of the Tudors, her Tomb showing her serenely lying with hands closed in prayer is a fitting tribute to this remarkable woman, may she long rest in peace.

  6. My mistake. Katherine was given the opportunity but chose not to. Perhaps to prevent the details of what she had done from becoming public.

  7. Not forgetting the sad death of Lord Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, this young man was only in his teens when he was in Cardinal Wolsleys household, and according to Cavendish would pass the queens apartments and dally with the ladies, according to one historian he was of a gentle nature who showed concern for others, quite unlike his more ambitious contemporaries, he would talk with Anne Boleyn more than the other ladies and it was quite obvious that they were greatly attracted to each other, no doubt they met whenever they could and soon they wished to marry, it is not known if Henry V111 ordered Wolsley to ruin their relationship simply because Henry was engaged to Mary Talbot the daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury, and Anne was supposed to marry her cousin James Butler or because his eye had fallen on her himself, and out of spite and jealousy ruined their love affair, Wolsley castigated Percy in front of his household and made the poor lad cry, he referred to Anne as a foolish girl and he also sent for his father who hurried down from the north and gave his son a telling of to, he called him a waster and threatened to disinherit him, no doubt his anger was caused by the very real fear that his son had offended the King, Percy had no choice but to cave in and Anne was sent home to Hever nursing her wounded heart and cursing the cardinal whom she vowed to be avenged upon if ever she had the opportunity, Anne Boleyn was undoubtedly Henrys first love and in fact she was his only true love, maybe he was Annes only true love also, they both went their separate ways he married Mary Talbot but must have compared her to Anne and found her wanting, the marriage was unhappy they quarrelled constantly and at one time she left him complaining that he did not treat her as a wife, maybe he did not consummate their marriage and it seems he neglected her, Anne after some years arrived back at court in the service of Queen Katherine and it was then history was made, the King maybe had been attracted to her before hence the reason for his anger over her engagement to Percy, but he had soon forgotten her amongst the other ladies at court, but now she had returned and was older more polished and he fell heavily in love, throughout the long years over the divorce Anne made many enemies with her overbearing arrogant manner and Percy looking from afar was heard to say she was a bad woman, he had known her when she was sweet and innocent now she was a power hungry shrew and he disliked what she had become, as a peer of the realm he was obliged to sit on her trial but wether seeing her sitting alone in her chair at the mercy of the kings ‘justice’ as the dreadful lurid charges were read out to her, or wether it was because he remembered another innocent time when they had both pledged themselves to each other, the ordeal was too much for him, already suffering from an unknown disposition he collapsed possibly of nervous exhaustion, and had to be carried from the hall, the tale of Anne Boleyn and Lord Henry Percy is a sad one, forced to part they never found happiness with another soul, although over the years they must have looked back with regret on their doomed love affair they most likely had fallen out of love with each other, Annes feelings for Henry V111 are hard to define as we know they were motivated by ambition, when she was queen she was tormented by fear and jealousy and the stress of bearing the King a son, had she been allowed to marry her first love then history would have been very different, Percy died about a year after Anne at thirty five it was a dreadful waste of a life that had brought him little happiness, Anne herself was roughly the same age when she died, maybe these two lovers cruelly parted when so young are together at last in another life.

  8. The fact is it didn’t actually matter who in the family had been found guilty of treason, it was standard practice for the family to lose property, especially if they were attained. The family usually found ways to come back or to prove their loyalty and another monarch might restore everything, but the law allowed for seizure of land and goods and valuable items by the Crown once a conviction had been achieved. Other people might be demoted because the King no longer trusted a family who had been infected by treason. The whole clan may not be tried but they were punished in what seems now a very unjust manner that could affect the entire generation. Henry may or may not have suspected Thomas of a plot or knowledge of one but he wanted to give the office to a loyal servant. In Henry’s mind that was Cromwell for obvious services rendered.

    I do feel it was a poor deal after years of service but if your daughter was found guilty of treason and adultery five times over and once with your son, I don’t think the King would think you particularly trustworthy at that moment. Thomas had to prove himself again and it didn’t take him long to return to favour and to court.

  9. It was normal for the family of a convicted traitor to suffer some kind of punishment and had Thomas not been demoted it would have looked rather odd, but yes to us it does appear petty and vindictive, but it was as Bq mentions standard practice of the day, but as mentions Thomas was an invaluable servant he had long been at court and had held important posts, Henry V111 knew his worth and it was not long before he was in such high favour there were rumours he was to make a splendid match with Lady Margaret Douglas the Kings own neice, tha act of attainder had been in place several centuries and when a convicted traitor was punished his family lost along with their title, their lands some of which were plenty, it really was a warning to those who thought of transgressing the law, but it did not deter most traitors, but when a new monarch ascended the throne it could be reversed and the tainted family could have their lands and homes and titles restored to them, so they could always live in hope, and they could even have their loved ones bodies taken home and buried with them, as in the case of the Despencer family his widow Eleanor De Clare was allowed to have his bones re interred in the family’s estate at Gloucestershire, but she was allowed only a few bones to take home with her, the taint against the family of a convicted traitor did not last for ever and in Sir Thomas Boleyns case he had been a well established member of the court long before his ill fated daughter made her debut, he had served the Kings father Henry V11 also, Thomas always ambitious must have known he would soon be able to claw his way back up, he was first and foremost a survivor.

    1. I saw the magnificent triple tombs and chantry chapel of the Dispensers in Tewkesbury yesterday, and they certainly loved themselves. The tomb of Hugh the Elder and his wife is so high that you can barely see their effigies although you can get a postcard. There were 26 statues, all gold and silver and colourful and bejewelled, but they were stolen during the English Civil Wars and there are only fragments of the boss reliefs on the tomb of Hugh Despenser the Younger who was in pieces when he was brought to the Abbey as Isabella ordered a form of hanging, drawing and quartering and his poor widow could only keep pieces. He was put in a tomb but he was removed 30 years later and some Abbott put in there instead. There is also a tomb for Eleanor and Edward Despenser who fought with the Black Prince in France and was killed in 1356. The tombs are very tall and take up three corners. They were fantastic and you can see some colour on their tomb and inside their chapel.

      You really did have to be a survivor in the past or you got nowhere. Thomas Boleyn took part in the baptism of Edward and gave a magnificent gift. He rose back into favour and he did his best to keep his family going. There was nothing else for him to do.

  10. Thank you Christina and BQ for the clarification. I don’t remember reading about the fates of the families of the other condemned. Do we know anything?

  11. I’d like to know whether Thomas had a choice; could he have simply retired to Hever and survived on a reduced income, or was it rather ‘the done thing’ to show one’s loyalty to the crown by accepting your demotion and serving in a lesser capacity?

    1. None of the gentry or nobility could and they took every opportunity to gain back the reputation of the family, their lost income, to prove their loyalty and they were survivors and very adaptable. Whether Henry Viii recognised it or not, he couldn’t rule without the gentry at least. The same gentry who had supported the rising in Lincolnshire were armed to put it down and the Howards survived everything, including three generations of execution for alleged treason. On the other hand they had adapted and kept the Tudors on the throne when others had hoped for a Plantagenet revival. Thomas Howard, the Second Duke had seen his father killed at Bosworth and almost been kicked himself, then imprisoned for three years in the Tower and had much of his land confiscated by Henry Tudor. He had been accidentally given the opportunity to escape when his cell door was left open in a crisis but remained put to show his worth to the new King. Henry had needed his military skills and called on him to put down a rebellion over taxation. The family proved themselves at Flodden and Howard was made Duke again. His son, the next Thomas Howard, our third Duke served Henry well even when the old goat didn’t appreciate it. Unfortunately, two of his nieces became Queen and fell from grace, but Norfolk survived and just outlived Henry. He was arrested after his son, Henry Howard was falsely changed with treason and he was unfortunate to be executed. Norfolk lived because Henry died in the morning that he was due to die. He went on to serve Mary who freed him.

      The Throgmortons have lived at Coughton Hall for seven hundred years, the longest of any family in one house, especially one Catholic family. They were caught up in various intrigues because of their faith and even had a Protestant branch, from which Bess Thogmorton sprang, yet they survived and served monarch after monarch because as local gentry they knew how to control the population and keep order. It was not the nobility who ran everything locally, it was the gentleman and yoeman class. Henry might boss people about at Court but in the countryside were people moved at their own pace, he couldn’t do anything to enforce his new laws without the rural old English and Welsh families.

      The Boleyn family came from that middle gentry who served first the local noble, i.e Norfolk and then the King as a chief retainer. This was how they first rose, by being knighted and pledged to provide military service when called upon. They were from merchant stock and rose by marriage to the right women, including Thomas marrying Anne’s mother, Norfolk’s sister, Lady Elizabeth Howard. Like so many families who had found themselves divided and forced to make choices during the so called Wars of the Roses, the Boleyns were Yorkists at least nominally. They adapted and found favour under the new King Henry Vii and Thomas swept up the ranks quickly, were rewarded for loyal service and went on to become a favourite of the Tudors. Thomas Boleyn helped to escort Princess Margaret to Scotland and Elizabeth was a Lady to Elizabeth of York and Katherine of Aragon. Thomas had served Henry Viii for years before he met Anne Boleyn but of course he benefited when she was the King’s mistress and his wife. The family suffered terrible loss with the shame of the execution of Anne and George and estrangement from Mary. Thomas knew nothing else but how to be a courtier and his skills were turned towards life at Court. He had been in Royal Service for several decades. What else could he do but find a way back into Henry’s service and ensure his surviving family had some legacy left.

  12. Oh that’s fascinating BQ and many thanks for taking the time to respond.
    I probably would do well to read up on English feudalism and the relationships between king and courtiers.

    1. Thanks Globerose, that is very kind of you. Everything depended on patronism and affinity, the relationship between a noble, the families loyal or in his domain and their retainers. Families like the Pastons or Boleyns owed alliance to a noble like Norfolk as well as the King and he promoted them or helped them advance in return. Marriage was a good way to build up a network of relationships and help your career and finding yourself with a good job at Court was the best thing for any family, but also it was dangerous. With Henry from 1534 onwards it was practically like living on the edge. The local gentry were responsible for local justice as well as law and order, for administration and for granting just about everything. Tenants built up a working two way relationship with the local gentry so moving them from their estates caused local disquiet. No ruler can do everything himself and local customs often took precedence over national law. Every county had its own ways of doing things and the religious changes of Henry and even Edward vi took far longer to implement in the remote countryside than in the capital or main cities. It is fascinating how they did things and affinity and local loyalty is also partly the reason why it was easy to find a jury large enough to rig the trials against Anne Boleyn and the five men. Henry knew whom to call on at Court to carry out his orders and they knew who they could recommend as trustworthy to do the right thing. Many were related by marriage to Suffolk or Fitzwilliam or owed them a favour or were connected to them somehow. Others were clients of Thomas Cromwell or owed him a favour and all of them owed loyalty directly to Henry as well as certain nobles who hated the Boleyn family. It was a step on from the feudal system but it used the same basic mutually beneficial relationships. It was certainly still active in the eighteenth century. Thanks again for your kind words.

  13. Thanks you to Globerose for asking the question and thank you BQ for such a concise and clear explanation of how all this worked. I learned more from your few paragraphs than all the reading I have done. 🙂

  14. I think the fact that I asked the Q shows that I didn’t really get BQ’s ‘Patronism and Affinity’ and how these relationships permeated society, though changing through time, and now that she has kindly explained, I better grasp why people like Thomas acted as he did.
    BQ – you really are steeped in history and a lovely mentor to have!

    1. Thanks, both of you. There is an old book on Sixteenth Century Patronage (rather than Patronism which I think I put) which is what I meant of course, which is well worth a read but I have no idea if is available. I think I read mine years ago at University and got it from Oxfam for buttons. I am quite overcome with your kind comments. Thank you.

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