3rd April 1538 – Death of Elizabeth Boleyn, Countess of Wiltshire and mother of Anne Boleyn

St Mary’s Church, Lambeth
On this day in history, 3rd April 1538, Elizabeth Boleyn, Countess of Wiltshire and Ormond, wife of Thomas Boleyn and mother of the late Queen Anne Boleyn, died at the Abbot of Reading’s home near Baynard’s Castle in London.

We can date her death from a letter that Thomas Warley wrote to Lady Lisle on 7th April 1538, in which he reported that “My lady of Wiltshire died on Wednesday last beside Baynard’s castle.”1 On 7th April, her remains were taken by barge to Lambeth, where she was buried in the chancel of St Mary’s Church.2

The details of her death are unknown, but she was recorded as being ill two years earlier. Thomas Warley wrote to Lady Lisle in April 1536, just before the fall of Anne Boleyn, reporting that Elizabeth was “sore diseased with the cough, which grieves her sore.”3 Anne Boleyn was concerned about her mother hearing news of her arrest in May 1536, saying “O, my mother, [thou wilt die with] sorrow”3, which may not have meant anything, but could suggest that Elizabeth’s health was fragile. It is impossible to know whether the cough of April 1536 is linked to her death in 1538.

Elizabeth Boleyn was about sixty-two years of age when she died, so not a bad age for Tudor times. Her husband, Thomas, died in March 1539.

As I’ve mentioned before, whenever I write about Elizabeth Boleyn’s death and burial in 1538 I always receive at least one question about the claim that Elizabeth actually died in 1512 and that Anne Boleyn had a stepmother. This myth has its roots in the Victorian history book Lives of the Queens of England by Agnes Strickland. You can read more about this in my article Did Anne Boleyn have a stepmother?

Click here to read more about the life of Elizabeth Boleyn.

Notes and Sources

Photo: St Mary’s Church, now the Garden Museum, at Lambeth, copyright Tim Ridgway 2013.

  1. Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, XIII, Part 1, 696.
  2. Ibid., 793.
  3. LP X. 669.

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4 thoughts on “3rd April 1538 – Death of Elizabeth Boleyn, Countess of Wiltshire and mother of Anne Boleyn”
  1. Novelists have generally ignored or downplayed Elizabeth Boleyn, and I would love to read a novel that portrays Elizabeth’s close relationship with her daughter Anne. By all accounts, Anne was close to her mother and during her imprisonment in 1536, voiced concerns for her mother’s health.

    We do not know if Elizabeth was close to Mary in the same way that she was to Anne, but while it has become fashionable to emphasise the female influences on Anne from childhood – including the Archduchess Margaret, Claude of France and Marguerite of Valois – Elizabeth’s influence has been given little attention, and yet perhaps she also helped to shape Anne into the woman that she became.

  2. RIP Elizabeth Boleyn, Countess of Wiltshire. It’s a pity that more has not been written about Anne’s mother. From what I have read she seems like a loyal wife and mother and had genuine concern for her daughters. I would love to read a biography of her some time in the near future and I do hope her tomb is found.

  3. Poor Elizabeth had lost several children in the early years of her marriage then she was fortunate enough to see three children grow to adulthood and enjoy undreamed of power, only to witness the deaths of two of them and when she passed away she must have thought life had dealt her a cruel hand, she had lost two sons Thomas and Henry in infancy, she could well have lost more we do not know, she could even have suffered a miscarriage but she had been lucky in having her last three youngest survive to adulthood only to see their lives cruelly ended in such a horrible way and their reputations tarnished forever, only Mary survived her parents and that would have surely added to Elizabeth and her husbands anguish, I would love to see a portrait of her just to see what she really looked like, was she dark like her famous daughter or fair or auburn, did she have those wonderful dark eyes which Anne possessed and which she herself passed onto her daughter Elizabeth 1st, she was a member of the noble House of Howard who could trace their lineage back to the Barons Mowbary and had served the Monarchs for several centuries, it was well known that Anne and her uncle the Duke of Norfolk disliked one another, how did Elizabeth feel knowing that her brother and child were in open conflict with each other, it can make for a very stressful situation as she must have felt in the middle, Norfolk had said Anne had used words to him that he wouldn’t use to a dog, he then called her a great whore! Charming – it could well have seemed comical to those at court but it must have been awful for Elizabeth trying to placate both of them, his wife also fell out with Anne as his mistress Bess Holland the family’s washerwoman was one of Annes ladies, and she became a supporter of Katherine, smuggling notes to her and so with most of her family against Anne poor Elizabeth couldn’t have had it easy, in her youth she was one of Katherine of Aragons ladies along with Margery Wentworth, a close relation and Jane Seymour’s mother, the poet Skelton praised their beauty and they were both his muse, attractive women are more prone to rumours as people think it’s easier for them to fall from virtue and there were some about Elizabeth Howard, one was concerning a tryst she is said to have indulged in with the young King Henry, Henry himself when questioned years later about his involvement with her and her two daughters replied ‘never with the mother’, so she must have been quite attractive for the rumours to persist in the first place, her marriage with Thomas Boleyn appears to have been happy and he was a rising star at court, she had two lovely homes to live in Blickling and Hever and it is believed both her daughters were born and raised in Blickling, in the heart of the Norfolk countryside, indeed she must have enjoyed a peaceful life then her two daughters went to court and both caught the eye of the King, that was the end of her peaceful existence and all the Boleyns and the Howard’s were swept along in the heady maelstrom of Ann’s turbulent love affair and subsequent marriage to the King, it would be great if her tomb is discovered she was a very important lady if only because she was the mother of Anne Boleyn and grandmother to Elizabeth 1st.

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