7th April 1538 – Burial of Elizabeth Boleyn, mother of Anne Boleyn, at Lambeth

Posted By on April 7, 2014

The Garden Museum (formerly St Mary's Church)

The Garden Museum (formerly St Mary’s Church)

On this day in 1538, Elizabeth Boleyn, Lady Wiltshire, wife of Thomas Boleyn and mother of the late Queen Anne Boleyn, was buried in the Howard aisle of St Mary’s Church, Lambeth.

John Hussey recorded her funeral procession in a letter to Lady Lisle:

“My lady Wiltshire was buried at Lamehithe on the 7th… She was conveyed from a house beside Baynard’s Castle by barge to Lambeth with torches burning and four baneys (banners?) set out of all quarters of the barge, which was covered with black and a white cross.”1

Sir John Russell, Lord Comptroller, was the chief male mourner and Elizabeth’s half-sister, Katherine Howard, Lady Daubenay, was the chief female mourner. J. Nichols, in “History of the Parish of Lambeth” (1786), stated that there used to be a brass plate at St Mary’s Church, Lambeth, which was inscribed “Here lyeth the Lady Elizabeth Howard, some time Countess of Wiltshire”, but it no longer exists.

It is not known what Elizabeth died of but Thomas Warley had written to Lady Lisle in April 1536 about Elizabeth being “sore diseased with the cough, which grieves her sore”2 and Anne Boleyn commented “O, my mother, [thou wilt die with] sorow” to Sir William Kingston at her arrival at the Tower after her arrest on the 2nd May 1536.3 It is impossible to say whether Anne was simply worried that her mother would be heartbroken at the news of what had happened or whether she was concerned because her mother was already in ill health.

In May 2013 I took the opportunity to go to Lambeth, London, to visit the resting place of Elizabeth Boleyn. St Mary’s Church, Lambeth, is no longer a place of worship, it is now The Garden Museum. It is a bit of a disappointment for Tudor history fans because the Howard Chapel, where Elizabeth and other Howard family members were laid to rest, is now a café. However, we have to thank our lucky stars because if the Garden Museum had not been set up in 1977 to preserve the tomb of John Tradescant (c1570 – 1638 ), the famous botanist and gardener, the church would have been demolished. OK, so the Howard Chapel has a counter and tables, and people are sat there eating salads and drinking coffee, but the tombs have been preserved under the wooden floor. The museum has not messed with the structure of the building and no tombs have been desecrated, that had already been done in the Victorian rebuilding work.

It is frustrating that we can’t see Elizabeth’s tomb but she is there, somewhere under that floor.
Some people wonder if Elizabeth’s burial at Lambeth, rather than at Hever, is evidence of a breakdown in her marriage after the execution of her son and daughter, but I feel that this is reading far too much into it. Elizabeth was a Howard woman and it appears to have been traditional for Howard women to be buried at Lambeth in the Howard Chapel. Norfolk House, the house where Catherine Howard spent part of her upbringing and the London home of the Howard family, was just down the road and Elizabeth died in London. Just what she was doing at the home of the Abbot of Reading is a mystery, but perhaps she was taken ill nearby and then died there. Whatever the truth of the matter, there is no evidence that Elizabeth and Thomas Boleyn had marital problems.4

Here is a slideshow of photos I took at Lambeth showing the exterior of Lambeth Palace (the red brick building) and the exterior and interior of the Garden Museum (formerly St Mary’s Church), where Elizabeth is buried.

[slideshow id=580 w=450 h=300]

Notes and Sources

  1. LP xiii Part 1, 717
  2. LP x. 669
  3. Ibid., 793
  4. The section about my visit to Lambeth is taken from my book The Anne Boleyn Collection II, p251-252

11 thoughts on “7th April 1538 – Burial of Elizabeth Boleyn, mother of Anne Boleyn, at Lambeth”

  1. Hans van Felius says:

    The problem is what to do with a church once it stops being a place of worship. The archive where I work in Haarlem is situated in what is the oldest church in Haarlem still existing. When the Dutch Reformed Church had no need for the building around 1926, they asked permission to demolish the building and build an old peoples home on that spot. And we are talking about a building dating back to at least 1320! In the end the city of Haarlem bought the building and housed the city archives there. They paid the sum of 1 (!) guilder for it. The building still stands today, and all our visitors comment on how beautiful the building is. And they are right. But something is missing. Although we try to take care of it with love and respect, it’s not what the building was meant for…
    What I was wondering? Before they put the wooden floor in the chapel, did they take pictures of what is beneath?

    1. I have been corresponding with a member of the museum staff for some years in connection with my research on Queen Katherine Howard and the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, who is also buried in the church.

      The church was ‘improved’ to such an extent by the Victorians that they knocked all of it down except for the tower and rebuilt it; it was at this stage that any plaques and important early tombstones were lost and the floor repaved.

      From time to time it looks as though proposals for alterations might lead to limited excavation and I put my research on hold to see what might transpire in relation to Duchess Agnes and her step-daughter Elizabeth Boleyn, but as yet no progress has been made in that direction, so in the next few months I plan to get cracking on the Norfolk House book again. If I hear anything new I will let Claire know. Elizabeth Boleyn was buried in the chancel, the Dowager in the Howard Chapel, where the cafe is now.

      Incidentally, another grand tomb in the graveyard is that of William Bligh, Captain of HMS Bounty, who, although cast adrift in 1789 by Fletcher Christian and the mutineers, survived, dying in 1817.

  2. Linda Joyce says:

    Thank you for this astounding piece of information Claire. I have been reading about Anne since I went to grammar school in 1959, and was ALWAYS under the impression that Anne’s mother died when she was young and that she had a stepmother. I don’t know how that came about? Maybe Lady Elizabeth preferred the peaceful life of an anonymous country noblewoman to the vicissitudes of court life (especially in view of the gossip about her and H8) and Sir Thomas had a longstanding mistress at court who, in view of the length of the relationship, was later mistaken for Anne’s stepmother.

    I know Phillippa Gregory wrote a book about Tradescant. Have not read it myself, but was this your original lead?

    Have thoroughly enjoyed your and Clare’s videos.

  3. Mary the Quene says:

    It’s a little discomforting to eat, seated, on top of graves.
    I was always taught to not step upon the actual grave, out of respect for he/she who lay sleeping there.
    Yet – not one to stand upon formality when creature comforts are involved, I happily did just that at the cafe/crypt in St. Martin of the Fields. I’d not had dinner, and a performance intermission found me shoveling in food, grave underfoot, and me, not really concerned!!!

    1. Boleyn says:

      Well I never thought I would find someone who had been taught as I had about stepping on graves. Dinosaur thought it was a very funny thing I was doing, when we went to Rochester Catherdral and I was tiptoeing my way around the graves, and then saying sorry when I stepped on a grave.
      Thing is I am not religious (Ooh our “enry would be chasing me with his axe here) but I do believe that the dead should be given the same respect as the living.
      I don’t view Churches, Catherdrals or other religious buildings in the same way as those who believe in God, I look at them as unique places of architectra (can’t spell).
      These buildings were created by simple men using very simple and rudementary tools, and yet their beauty is something that has lasted thousands of years. The bodies that lie within these structures were people who saw them being built and must have felt as I do, in short “Wow how beautiful” History isn’t just all about the people who have made history, the buildings too are a very rich part of our history. I don’t know if I could sit and eat over the grave of someone though I think I would have to ask the staff to at least move my bit of the table away from the grave.

  4. BanditQueen says:

    It is very frustrating when a church is no longer a church as it is no longer holy ground (it is deconsecrated before secular use) but sometimes the custodian who takes over then does a good job and preserves the tombs; others cannot care less which is very tragic. You would think though with a special place like Lambeth (home of the Howards et al ) and the site I assume has some connection with the Seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury you would think they would preserve the important monuments at least. You cannot move or mark everyone buried, but the historic people used to pay for these tombs: what right has anyone to dismantle them or destroy them? Yes, most people would be there in any event, under the floor in the crypt or in a burial plot, preserved in a shroud or coffin of some sort, but not always. There were people of note who paid for a tomb or a monument and many of these are still seen today; but if the church ceases or the monastic foundation was destroyed what became of the dearly departed?

    In the case of the Howards they brought their local monastic foundations and Kept many of the tombs there, others moved to their houses in Arundal or their castle in Norfolk and Suffolk. St Philip Howard who died in the Tower was finally moved to Arundle Cathedral in the 19th century as a saint tomb. But the others around the country must have found and moved elsewhere. One or two are under the carpark, that used to be the friary: King Richard 111 coming to mind; the local church is sometimes taken over by English Heritage and these preserve the tombs. I recently visited two former churches that are used for other items, no longer a religious building but all the monuments are there in tact. St Chads in York has a marvoullous Elizabethan and Jacobean moniment of seven members of the same clan, very prominant family in the area, lords of various houses and lord mayors for several generations; but the monuement is there, even though it is a cafe. Less well preserved burials are the famous burial of the Duke of Norhumberland beheaded down the road on the Pavement in 1572, but he was put there without any ceremonial. But he is aparrently still there and on the wall is his coat of arms. If they knew were he was we were told he would be placed in a proper tomb and preserved for the family.

    But another church we went to recently, or should I say I went to in Chester: Saint Mary’s on the Hill or Centre as it is now, all of the monumnts, window and tombs are as they were; there is just no stalls in and it is used for other purposes. Varied groups use the church including film festivals but the monuments are still as they were 200 years ago when it was last used as a place of worship. It is a great pity more around the country are not preserved. It is just good that the good and the wealthy and not so good were preserved in other ways, their writing, records of their demise and names and the families that they left behind. And perhaps that is the best memorial of all; the legacy of a person and not being recalled in stone. After all most of us will not be preserved in stone and our graves in 500 years time will be layered below many others on top of us. That is the way for most people.

    However what most people leave is someone to recall or remember them to speak their name and to love them. Most people will be recalled by a flower or someone walking by and speaking their name. We are recalled in the wind and the smiles of our children and grandchildren and some stranger who looks for us in years to come. We are recalled in some register somewhere, in a photo or a letter or in the heart of a loved one. That I think is the best memorial of all.

  5. Shoshana says:

    I am saddened so many churches and other historical places have been turned into something other than their intended purpose. I understand the churches have to be run somewhat business like as well as spiritually but in selling there could be a clause that states any tombs or relics must be preserved somehow, even if only placed in storage in a museum. Even those this little church was “remodeled” in Victorian times, I think it should have been turned into a little museum. I am sure there are many items in museum storage areas that the public has not seen that could have been put on display. Here in my state of Washington, it is now law that if an ancient Native American burial place is found, it can be excavated and studied but then it must be put back into it’s original condition and left alone. There are not several areas where this has been done and the locations are never revealed to the public to protect them from grave robbers. The academics learn much, we have photos to see and the deceased are still rest in peace where their families laid them. So should it be for all resting places. We do not necessarily have to tear them down and destroy anything to learn from them nor do we have to forego progress. We just have to get smarter about how to deal with them because each site is different; there can be no one way to do it.

    1. Claire says:

      But the Garden Museum saved this church from demolition. If they hadn’t bought it then it would be gone, along with all the tombs. They have preserved all of the tombs, they are under the wooden floor which could be easily removed. They had not done anything at all to permanently alter the structure of the building or cause damage, so they have dealt with it brilliantly. They respect the building and the tombs and the reason they bought it was to save the tomb of the Elizabethan gardener John Tradescant (c1570 – 1638).

      1. Lambeth Palace and the church was on the opposite side of the road to where I was born and lived for many years.I went into the church a few times and recal how elegant and lovely it was.There was no cafe there then.It was still being used as a church.I was very fortunate as w here I lived I was either in walking distance of the tourist places ie Buckingham Palace,the houses of parliment,Westminster abbey,and my favorite getting a boat ftom the River Thames and down the Thames to Hampton Court.It just cost 1Shilling to get in and I saw all the rooms and the treasures they kept there.The Kings chamber and th e seperate Queens chamber were magnificent.Also the Kings tennis court where Henry V111played a form of tennis and the fantastic grape vine.It wad huge.The gallery where Kathetin e Howard ran along screaming for Henry.They had glass cases in 1of the rooms with little thingd such as a small brooch and a glovr that belonged to Elizabeth 1st.So much history in my old London.The Tower of London.I went inside and up mouldy staircases and into rooms where Elizabeth was kept,annd George,and many others.On the walls in each cell there were words scratched and words for God to hear.Even when our children were old enough to appreciate our history I took them to all the places I had been to and they grew up loving history as I do.I am getting on in years now but those places still live on in my mind.What a beautiful treasure our London was in those days.Now the Shard and Whell and other very tall buildings darken the skyline

  6. Jean Setering says:

    I agree with Claire that it is fortunate that this building even exists anymore period!

    The loss of a child much less two is very hard on a marriage. Thomas and Elizabeth probably badly needed sometime apart. I believe that Elizabeth probably lost the will to live and passed away escaping all the excruiating pain she was feeling.

    On another note. Claire, I was just in England ( mostly London ) and I noticed a significant lack of any of your books being offered. I just ordered your new one on Geo. Bullen.

    1. Boleyn says:

      I do feel that Anne and George’s death did affect Elizabeth quite badly. I also think that Thomas’s walk on part in Edward’s christening was perhaps the ultimate betrayal for Elizabeth too. Thomas had no choice in that anyway, it was a case of “do it or die” and it was more important for our “enry that he did his candle holding duties well, in the sense of that Thomas was saying to the people present that our “enry was right to utterly destroy my family, and that Elizabeth (grand-daughter) was no longer the heir.
      I would love to know how Thomas actually felt about this whole thing?
      I also believe that Elizabeth and Thomas’s relationship after Anne’s fall may well have been very sour, and that they largely stayed away from one another.

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