29 June 1536 – Thomas Boleyn loses the office of Lord Privy Seal

Detail from Thomas Boleyn's brass memorial
Detail from Thomas Boleyn’s brass memorial

Following the falls and executions of two of his children, Anne and George Boleyn, on 29th June 1536 Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire, was stripped of his office of Lord Privy Seal. He had held the office since January 1530, after the fall of Cardinal Wolsey. On 2nd July 1536, Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s right hand man, was formally appointed Lord Privy Seal in Thomas’s place. He was also removed from the commission of the peace in Norfolk, although he was kept on the Kent one.

Thomas Boleyn, however, was the ultimate survivor and after helping squash the rebels of the Pilgrimage of Grace in late 1536 he managed to climb his way back into the King’s favour and was present at Prince Edward’s baptism in October 1537. Eric Ives describes how he 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 1538.1 In July 1538, three months after Elizabeth Boleyn’s death, Henry Maunke wrote to Lady Lisle saying that he had “Heard say that my lord of Wolshyre will marry lady Margaret Dowglas”.2 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.

Thomas Boleyn died on the 12th March 1539 at his home, Hever Castle, aged around sixty-two. He was laid to rest in a tomb in the family church of St Peter’s in Hever, Kent. Henry VIII ordered masses to be said for his soul, showing that Thomas was truly back in favour with the King at the time of his death.3

You can read more about Thomas in my articles In Defence of Thomas Boleyn, Father of Anne Boleyn and Sir Thomas Boleyn, Father of Anne Boleyn.

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. See Lady Margaret Beaufort.
  • 1537 – Death of Henry Algernon Percy, 6th Earl of Northumberland. He was buried at Hackney parish church. Percy is known for his romance with Anne Boleyn when he was part of Cardinal Wolsey’s household and she was serving Catherine of Aragon. The romance was broken up by Wolsey and Percy’s father, and he was forced to marry Mary Talbot. See The Early Life of Anne Boleyn Part 7 – The Butler, the Chaplain, the Courtier and Poet for more on Anne and Percy.
  • 1537 – Execution of John Hussey, Baron Hussey and Chief Butler of England, by beheading at Lincoln after he was accused of conspiring with Lord Darcy during the Pilgrimage of Grace.
  • 1540 – Bill of attainder passed against Thomas Cromwell for the crimes of corruption, heresy and treason, stripping him of his honours and condemning him to death.

Notes and Sources

  1. Eric Ives (2004) The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, 353.
  2. LP xiii. Part 1. 1419
  3. LP xiv. 950

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24 thoughts on “29 June 1536 – Thomas Boleyn loses the office of Lord Privy Seal”
  1. Why does Thomas Boleyn’s grave say he died in Match 1538?

    I’ve never understood the difference in the dates.

    1. Because in Tudor times the new year started on Lady Day, 25th March, and Thomas died on 12th March. We now date the New Year from 1st January so to us he died in March 1539, but to the Tudors he died in 1538.

      1. Claire, ever since I first read about the potential for discrepancy with dates due to the two year starts, it has caused me *actual* sleepless nights. Is there a way that historians make reference to compensate for the two New Year dates? And if so, what is it? I feel like this could give license for armchair/telly-face historians to play fast and loose with dates.

        1. Sometimes it’s just a challenge to work it out. In 1572, the then Pope formally updated the calendar, but Protestant countries declined to go along, only gradually (and individually) doing so, with the British world making the change in 1732. Between 1572 and 1732, the dates from January to mid-March are often written 1650/1651, meaning that Old Style daters think it’s still 1650, but New Style (up-to-date) daters think it’s 1651. You may need to read through a document to see how the writer was treating the date — it could vary.

          The Romans brought in January 1, but the Christians abolished that date (which was when new Roman consuls took office) and replaced it with Christian days — December 25 (birth of Jesus), March 1, March 25 (Annunciation), or — eek — Easter itself. Nothing like having a moveable feast to make it easy for a person to know whether a date several years before was in one year or the next.

        2. Ann – thank you very much for that invaluable clarification. When I read the 2nd to the last line, as soon as I hit the word ‘Easter,’ my eyes got wide with horror – I will consider all of this knowledge to be the historical equivalent of a black-belt Sudoku puzzle. Thank you again!

  2. Thomas Boleyn must have been one of the few to came full circle under the unforgiving temperament of Henry VIII, a tribute to his stamina and diplomatic prowess.

  3. Was Henry Percy buried in Hackney, London? If so, what is classed as Hackney Church? Thankyou

  4. “Thomas Boleyn – Crown-sniffer Extraordinaire.” What a kiss-up. Did he feel he had no worth unless he was attached to the Courts and stood in the King’s shadow? Makes me feel sorry for him; seriously, who would work to get back into the graces of the person responsible for beheading your own children (and one of them an only son?) Yes, yes, I know we live in different times now, and I’m truly not imposing 21st century standards on 16th century society – because a sycophant then is the same as a sycophant now.

    1. You are indeed imposing 21st century mores of the day on a 16th century royal courtier to Henry VIII. Thomas was no “sycophant” (a rather ugly term, if I may say so) as you state, he performed a duty to King and country admirably and would not put at risk the security of his wife and surviving daughter for some foolish thought of taking revenge on Henry.

      1. If we are going to call people out because they showed loyalty to the crown after their families had been executed or defeated or simply banished we have to point the finger at every family in royal service in Tudor England. Why? Because the majority of them had supported the Yorkist Kings and a number had even fought against Henry Tudor or at least done nothing at or before Bosworth. Yet they didn’t seem too uncomfortable giving service to the new King, even after a couple of years in the Tower for almost dying with Richard iii. (Thomas Howard guilty as charged)…The young Henry Viii quickly made friends with old diehard Yorkist families, much to the disappointment of his father. The Neville family, Courtney, Pole and Howard families all thrived before 1539 under Henry Viii. Things went wrong with Henry’s divorce and his religious changes, but even then they tried to adapt for a few years. I don’t think there was one family at court who didn’t do what was right for their own fortunes and survival.

    2. MtQ:

      i agree with you!

      to grow and preserve his fortunes the earl of wiltshire, knowing the risks, made the choice to attach himself to the power center as a very young man. the most worldly and ambitious persons do that sort of thing whether they are from the 1st,16th, or 21st century. i too am somewhat sorry for him as i believe he cared about, and never wished for or imagined that such destruction would befall his very own children; but i feel that in spite of the heights that his abilities and talent took him, he was largely a moral weakling and a failure – being too slavish in his desire to please the crown in order to retain his status.

      1. I completely disagree. It was his duty to his family to provide. His ancestors (Butlers) had all served the king and his language skills made him the perfect diplomat. He had a duty to provide and a duty to his king, and there’s no evidence that he was “a moral weakling and a failure” or that he was “slavish in is desire to please the crown”, he simply did what everyone did and had to do, dusted himself off and continued in his duty to his crown and surviving family. The Howards, Dudleys, Staffords etc. all had to cope with members of their family being attainted and executed, but they just had to move on to live. With our 21st century eyes we see it as uncaring, but they had little choice in the matter. The King was God’s anointed sovereign and you had to do your duty to him otherwise you and your family would suffer the consequences.

        1. Dang, Claire, I keep forgetting about that little ‘God’s annointed sovereign’ part. (Hangs her head, scuttles away sideways.)

        2. You don’t need to hang your head or scuttle away, don’t worry! It was such a strong belief in those days though, such a different way of life and a different way of thinking to how we see monarchs and leaders today.

    3. We really don’t know any of that, though. And his continuing to do business with the king (so to speak) was hardly unusual. Anne and George were far, far from the only courtiers who died because of the king and almost every victim’s family stayed in court circles afterwards. Jane Boleyn’s father sent the king New Year’s gifts after her execution, the Duke of Norfolk disavowed both Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard, the children of attainted and executed courtiers would work their way back into favour as they grew up. If Thomas Boleyn was a sycophant by our standards, then so were 99% of the people around him. Serving the king was what you did to stay alive, roughly on the level of breathing, and when Martin Luther said that Henry VIII “will be God and do what he lusts” he probably wasn’t too far off in his description of the power that Henry held. Having a family member killed by Henry must have been almost like having one killed by the sweat — painful, sudden, and you just had to pick up the pieces afterwards and keep on, because what other option was there?

      1. Sonetka – I think you’ve nailed it with your last sentence. You’re absolutely right, of course.

        One of my friends (Londoner) told me once after a long, wine-filled evening, “Mary, you won’t ever internalize this (society in England) because you’re a wide-open American who believes she can walk up to just anybody and talk to them.”

        Guilty as charged. But the flip side of that is the belief that I can walk away from anybody as well – that’s where I run into trouble with forming opinions about those within Henry VIII’s Court where walking away was not an option.

        Imagine, though, after the execution of George and Queen Anne, the moments when, at Court, Thomas Boleyn happened to catch the King’s eye; was there a tacit exchange of any kind?

        1. I have such admiration fo the families who carried on after loved ones had been executed, particularly when they had done nothing to deserve it really. All these families who were descended from traitors or who were related to them. It always strikes me when I think about the Dudleys and Ambrose and Robert who carried on being close to the crown even though they had lost their father and brother to the executioner.

      2. They were a talented up and coming family who wanted to do well and where did you go to do well? You went to court with a letter of introduction from a sponsor or you found a patron and you were brought to the King’s attention who saw your family had talents and or useful connections and you enter royal service. The Boleyns are not old money or old nobility but they were merchant class at first and then earned knighthoods and property through service and wealth and marriage. They had family connections to an old Earldom in Ireland and were clientele of the Duke of Norfolk. They then were lucky and as rewards for military and other services gained the trust of both the Yorkist Kings and the new King Henry Tudor.

        Thomas and James Boleyn made advantageous marriages, Thomas to Elizabeth Howard, the daughter of the then Earl of Surrey, later Second Howard Duke of Norfolk and was in royal service to Henry Tudor for several years. He was one of the gentlemen chosen to escort Princess Margaret Tudor to her marriage to the King of Scotland in 1503. Yes, he was an ambitious young man and wanted to do well, but he had the talent to go with it. This is how the gentry and people with special skills got on. Ambition wasn’t a dirty word and actually I have no problem with people being ambitious. It was what you did with that ambition and the court led to faction and infighting in order to survive, which the Boleyns may have thrived on, but so did many families of a similar nature.

        Thomas Boleyn was recognised as a man of language and excellent administration skills. He was the King’s agent and ambassador for many years because of those skills. He was in royal service for three decades at least before Henry took a fancy to either of his daughters. There is very little evidence that Thomas or Norfolk put either Mary or Anne in the King’s bed and Henry fancied them both for very different reasons. He found Mary attractive and fun loving and kind and enjoyed her company, falling for her as his mistress for an undetermined length of time as he had Bessie Blount.

        Anne was very different. When she came to court having been in France for several years she offered Henry an intellectual as well as a physical relationship. Anne was sophisticated, she spoke a couple of languages, she was book educated, she was fashionable, she stood out and she was very witty. Henry was enthralled but Anne said no. Now Thomas and Elizabeth may have encouraged their daughter but it was Henry himself who wooed and won Anne. Yes, the Boleyn parents took advantage and George was promoted at Court but was also rewarded as his own man for his own talented way of speech and debate for example. He was a translator and he spoke for the King at Convocation. But it was also dangerous to promote Anne as Queen as the entire family found out tragically to their cost.

        Of course Boleyn helped to bring down Wolsey and here we do see some ruthless ambition, but the King wanted the Cardinal investigated for keeping money owed to the royal treasury. Boleyn showed signs of rising and dangerous ambition, but he was not the only one. The Seymours and Cromwell showed that same ambitious streak which goes with advancement in royal favour and service. However, as we see in Thomas Boleyn and his fate, he fell hard and his children were framed by other ambitious people and the King who wanted a new Queen.

        Just as Thomas Boleyn benefited from the fall of Cardinal Wolsey and his daughter Anne being Queen so he too fell and handed over the role of Lord Privy Seal to the man who was behind and now reaped the rewards from, his daughters fall and execution, Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell, himself, ironically would also fall from grace and his office go to another. Unlike Cromwell, however, Boleyn would find a way back into royal favour and attended the baptism of Prince Edward. He would never regain his family fortune but he was a pragmatic person and life had to go on. Sadly Thomas Boleyn then lost his wife and he was dead less than three years after Anne and George were snatched away on trumped up charges of adultery and incest made by the man who took the title Lord Privy Seal from him, having acted on Henry’s orders.

  5. I think it’s in our nature to want to look at things in black and white. It’s easy to say that Thomas was a bad father rather than try to figure out how he actally faced each day working and caring for the man who killed two of his children. It’s the same for all those descended from families of traitors. Only Kings could ‘hold a grudge”, otherwise get over it. You had to find and keep your own place in society. We can not imagine how we would act given the the limitations of the past. I try not to judge by my own standards and that’s why it’s so great to read more about each person. I always find something I like or respect even in the ‘bad’ people!

  6. Thomas Boleyn seems to me a bit like the old soldier, gets wounded time and again, has seen his fair share of suffering, had battles aplenty, seen better days but still comes back for more. He is a battler and the ultimate survivor. He has been around forever.

    A recent article saw him as escort to Princess Margaret in 1503, he had roles in the early reign of Henry and became his ambassador to France for several years. Sir Thomas Boleyn had many talents and years in royal service. He survived the Boleyn marriage and the fall of Anne and George. Henry clearly found him honest, useful and loyal enough to show him favour and Thomas was savvy enough to pay COURT and continue to sustain the family fortunes. Even if he had to appear to distance himself from Anne Boleyn he still had grandchildren to provide for and he was a courtier, he could not truly function away from the court.

    RUMOURS ABOUT HIM MARRYING MARGARET DOUGLAS I FIND FASCINATING. She had a few alarming marriage adventures, being promised to a Howard cousin who was put in the Tower and died there for aiming at a royal without permission. Was the idea of his marriage to Margaret that realistic or would it have put him in peril? Even if he was in favour Henry really would have needed some persuasion to consent to a union with his niece. As Claire says the marriage did not take place but even the rumours show that he may have been enough in favour for it to at least be considered.

    1. I have to disagree with you, although I understand the sentiment. There is no evidence that either Thomas or George Boleyn were vile or did anything to push Anne into the King’s way or that they behaved any differently from anyone else at Court. What exactly do you mean he was a vile little man? Thomas Boleyn was ambitious but had been in Royal Service long before Anne was born. He was a talented man and had many skills which made him a valuable courtier. Due to the fact his family had risen so high and he had received a lot of rewards he felt Anne’s fall keenly both emotionally and in his pocket. The survival of his family was the most important thing he had left and he considered himself a loyal servant. Thomas and Elizabeth lost estates, property and the future of their House when George and Anne were executed. He depended on service to the King in order to make money and live and it was his duty to prove himself against his better judgement to The King. No matter how Thomas Boleyn felt, there was very little else he could do but find employment again at the Royal Court. He was a courtier and administrator, a politician and his life revolved around the King and his world. Yes, I agree your sentiment is well for a twenty first century man, but Thomas and Elizabeth Boleyn lived in the sixteenth century world were people carried on even after an execution of a family member, because they had to restore the family and because the next generation inherited the mark of treason and that was something it was his duty as a father and gentleman to avoid.

      Elizabeth Boleyn felt the fall by her two children most keenly and it affected her already delicate health severely and she died in 1539. Elizabeth was particularly close to Anne and had shared rooms with her at Court. Anne recalled her mother while in the Tower. Thomas had to restore everything in order for his family to survive.

  7. Thomas Boleyn had worked his way through the reign of Richard iii and early reign of Henry Vii to serve with distinction under Henry Viii. He had helped the Tudor cause, proving himself a pragmatic and worthy servant by helping defeat the Cornish rebels in 1497 and then making a prestigious marriage to Elizabeth Howard, daughter of Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey and Norfolk (he was demoted as his father and he fought for Richard) in 1499 and went on to forge out a long career in royal service.

    The Howards too were bargaining and slowly earning their own way back into favour and remember they were not a powerhouse at this time, so marriage with a retainer and gentleman from the merchant classes, were the money was, made sense for both families. Thomas Howard had been injured at Bosworth, his father, John killed fighting for Richard and he declared he had just been faithful to his King. Henry Tudor, naturally suspicious of everything and everyone, ironically admired the Howard loyalty but he still housed TH in the Tower and seized many of his lands. He proved his loyalty, however, when he was given the opportunity to escape and remained put. Henry released him and sent him to deal with trouble in Northumberland. Afterwards TH was rewarded, some of his lands restored and he was a man of influence again. Thomas B was his retainer and it was not too shabby for him to wed his daughter, Elizabeth to him as a reward for services. This tied him to the Howards and the two families now had combined destinies.

    Thomas Boleyn also rose through his own merits as a very talented man and he would become invaluable to Henry Viii. He was a knight of the bath and then a special envoy to the Netherlands and Brussels and eventually an Ambassador in France. He was the Controller of the King’s Household and although he and Elizabeth did of course benefit from Henry’s relationship with their daughter Anne, they certainly didn’t push her into his bed or way and may even have had reservations about her becoming Queen. Neither Anne or Mary were the family meal tickets, they were not pimped out and they were not molested by the King or some kind of innocent victims. Both made their own destiny and both had advantages in one way or another. Anne was sent away to the two most sophisticated Courts in Europe and educated in the classical system and Mary was given a good marriage to a cousin of the King, William Carey. On the return to Court of Anne nine years later in 1522 she joined her sister as a lady to Queen Katherine. We all know what happened next. Henry began to fancy Anne sometime between 1525 and New Year 1526 but she wasn’t interested in being his mistress. Henry sent her gifts and letters, he was obviously falling deeply for her and eventually she accepted his love, returning his affection and by the following Summer they had a committed relationship. Anne and Henry fell in love and knowing Anne was promising him sons and would accept nothing less than marriage, Henry offered the crown. He was already seeking an annulment from Katherine and he wanted to marry the woman he passionately loved and hopefully have sons. Anne and Henry were a good partnership and had a lot in common, she understood the theological arguments around his annulment and some of her connections helped him achieve it. Her father and brother were indeed rewarded because of Anne’s rise, but so were the family of Jane Seymour. They received a peerage. Anne herself would be made a peer in her own right before her wedding and it was only right that the King’s future father and brother by law received lands and titles accordingly. However, Thomas as I have said was being rewarded for his talents and skills and services long before Henry Viii fancied either of his daughters or even met either of them.

    Elizabeth and Thomas Boleyn both served the King and Queen for many years. Henry would probably have rewarded Thomas with a peerage at some point anyway. He was loyal and a man of honour and he should not be criticised for returning to royal service after Anne and George were taken from him. After the cruel and needless execution of Anne and George in May 1536, Thomas and Elizabeth did retire to Hever to grieve and out of favour. However, that didn’t stop Cromwell writing for money on behalf of Jane Boleyn and being given short shrift. Thomas agreed what monies she should have as George’s widow but basically told Cromwell to get lost and leave him in peace. Then we have the incident which was to mark his personal reversal of fortune.

    Thomas Cromwell was made a knight of the garter and now he was to replace TB as the Lord Privy Seal on this date and was forced to hand over his regalia of office. He also had to lend Cromwell his spare garter cloak and chain, again while still in mourning. It was, however, his duty later that year to raise troops for the King in the rebellion from Lincolnshire and the North as the Magistrate in his county and he did so very swiftly. However, they were not used in action. He was also obliged to return to service at Court and was summoned to attend the baptism of Prince Edward and he presented a rich gift as expected. He was in favour over the next year or two and he returned to serve Henry because that is what the gentry did. They needed to survive, they had other family members to think off and it was all they knew as well as being their duty. Yes, it might seem odd going back to serve the King who had executed their beloved children, but the King was the representative of God and you had to show loyalty, to fulfil the oath you had taken, regardless of your personal feelings. There are signs Thomas was still highly regarded by the King, the family were not stripped hook line and sinker off their wealth and lands as traitors normally were. Rumours that Thomas Boleyn was thinking of marriage to Margaret Douglas, the King’s niece were nonsense according to Lauren Mackay and certainly don’t show he was in favour. In fact to me such ambitious hopes would be treasonous. However, that rumours went around and nobody blinked an eyelid does show Henry wasn’t concerned and it is possible that had he sought permission may have granted it. The rumours don’t appear to have had any substance and Thomas may have just being wondering about a companion in his last months. Elizabeth Boleyn died in 1538 and was buried in the family vault in Lambeth as a Howard and of higher status and Thomas died in March 1539 and is buried in Hever Church. Elizabeth died near Lambeth, which was another reason to be buried there and it doesn’t show a breach between them as some people suggest today. I personally think they were deeply affected by the loss of two adult children in such public and dreadful circumstances and this contributed to the death of Elizabeth, although both Thomas and his wife died in their 60s, which was pretty good for those times.

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