8 July 1503 – An important job for Thomas Boleyn

On this day in history, on 8th July 1503, during the reign of King Henry VII, Thomas Boleyn, father of Anne Boleyn, left Collyweston in Northamptonshire to undertake an important job for the king.

Thomas had been appointed as a member of a large retinue headed by his father-in-law, Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, to escort Henry VII’s daughter, thirteen-year-old Princess Margaret on her journey to Edinburgh, Scotland.

Margaret was travelling to Scotland to prepare for her marriage to thirty-year-old King James IV of Scotland.

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9 thoughts on “8 July 1503 – An important job for Thomas Boleyn”
  1. Certainly an important post for Thomas and one in which he may have been proud to undertake, but three weeks travelling, it makes you realise what a grind it must have been have been in those days before locomotives made their appearance, now it takes just a matter of hours in a fast train bit longer in a car but there was no other way to travel but by horse, the retinue was made up of the bride to be’s parents and members of the royal household, servants along with all the other luggage they took with them, blankets food goblets etc, headed by the premier Earl in the kingdom, the Duke of Norfolk Thomas’s father in law, the countryside as they journeyed steadily north must have been wild and beautiful, for the young Princess Margaret to be married at thirteen to a man seventeen years older must have filled her with trepidation, how did the groom feel himself, James 1V was a man of the world and a womaniser – he had several mistresse’s and bastard children, all running around the Royal nursery at Holyrood, he was marrying an innocent young girl and he knew it, this importance marriage alliance was supposed to bring friendly relations between England and her northern neighbour who had been warring on and off for centuries but it did little to achieve that aim, and James later invaded perishing at Flodden which has gone down in history as a magnificent victory for the English, he left Margaret a bereft widow with a young son to bring up, but being Henry V111’s sister, she did not stay single for long and was to marry another two times, it was said that Henry V111 did not care much for his brother in law, certainly their relationship was frosty there was a long growing dispute about her jewels which Henry refused to send to Scotland, and it extended to his young nephew who ignored a request from the English King to visit the court, he too like his ill fated father launched war on England and like him died in the process, this animosity towards his sisters family caused in part by Flodden and his young nephew who he must have decided was a foolish hot head was no doubt the reason why Henry left them out of the succession, he also tried to get his grand neice the baby queen of Scots affianced to little Edward his son so he could control Scotland no doubt, it just goes to show that Henry V11 and his queen were maybe being a bit overly optimistic at this marriage between their eldest daughter and the King of Scots, but for now as the calvacade with its crowd of richly dressed courtiers and carriages and horses rode wearily north towards the borders stopping at the queen mothers residence first before hurrying on their way, hope must have been the order of the day, for Sir Thomas and the Duke of Norfolk it was just another duty to be performed, albeit a very important and responsible one, that of guarding the important personage of the young Princess of England, in those days vagabonds and criminals abounded in the wild countryside, though if they attempted to lay a hand on any of the retinue the punishment would be dreadful, the ceremony over Thomas and his companions could enjoy the celebrations before returning to the long journey home, Thomas was it just goes to show for those who don’t know much about this man, a very clever skilled diplomat, a master of several languages who had the respect of the King and his queen and other diplomats in the Kings service, he was often sent abroad to negotiate important meetings and his presence in this very important event shows how highly he was thought of by his master, and later by his successor Henry V111, several early historians have accused him of riding on the back of his daughters fame and he has been called self seeking and grasping, all of which is unfair as in that turbulent Tudor world all he in fact was guilty of, was to make a career for himself and to support his family the best he could, he made sure all his children had a good education and the fact he later became knight, though no doubt was due to his daughters influence, no one could ever say about him that he was not worthy of the important posts he held before his youngest daughter became involved with the King, he got where he was on his own merit,

  2. I certainly wouldn’t want to make that trip in the 16th century
    I have a question. Do you think that Henry felt any jealousy towards Katherine after Flodden or was just happy that the English were victorious? I’ve never gotten sense either way. There was no doubt after this that Katherine was her mother’s daughter.

  3. I think he was a little bit envious his manly ego could have had a bit of a knock, but he could have been proud of her as well. she handled the situation admirably and she proved she was a capable regent for when Henry was away, so there could have been mixed emotions there, Henry as we know always sought glory and he was inordinately vain, he was proud of his fine calves which he loved to show off, comparing them to the rather spindly legs of the King of France, he loved to display himself as all powerful hence the painting by Holbein showing him in all his glittering glory, for his wife a mere woman to have the victory of Flodden laid entirely at her door possibly irked Henry somewhat, but yes I believe he was proud of her to and relieved that England was safe from danger.

    1. Yes, there appears to have been a bit of friendly rivalry and Katherine reminded Henry to thank God for this victory which was also to his own honour. In other words, this is my victory, but I am your wife and give you the credit. Henry had gained a couple of towns and dressed his victory up while Katherine had saved England from real danger. Flodden was a hard fought battle with heavy losses on both sides but with the upper hand being gained and with the death of James, the usual route followed. Margaret was a widow with two small sons. She ruled as Regent for a time but was ousted and remarried, Archibald Douglas, by whom she had her famous daughter, Margaret Douglas.

      It was Henry Viii own fault that James invaded because it had been coming for years. Henry thought of Scotland as a fiefdom and had an aggressive stance towards the country. The relationship with James was not good and there had been heightened tensions for a long time. In 1480 and 1482 Richard, Duke of Gloucester had been victorious in Scotland and a treaty had followed, lasting until the support for Perkin Warbeck in 1497. Henry Vii knew he needed first of all to establish good alliances and Scotland was one of the important countries on his doorstep and he also needed to secure his border against more Yorkist revivals and escapes. This alliance with James Iv and Princess Margaret secured the peace and his above aims. His son would have no such aims and wanted to be like his ancestors Edward I and Edward iii and Henry V. His wars with France came first but now he was open to attack and James, who had had enough took full advantage and invaded. Henry was out of the country but as you note, Katherine was a warrior and she was well advised with Surrey being at her side. She was a capable ruler and North went one army followed with a second with her at it’s head. The second wasn’t needed, but she wanted to send the body of King James to Henry but his coat sufficed.

  4. Oh-ah, another perceptive Q from Michael. D’y’know, my first thought was that Henry was king and his wife (as Regent) and the Earl of Surrey (as General) were acting for him, under him, at his behest, and so the victory was his and only his … glory to his name. Would it have occurred to him to be ‘jealous’ or even ‘mildly miffed’? Then I paused. Umm?
    Given that Henry’s attack, with the Emperor Maximilian, on Therouanne, was the pretext used for James IV to attack England, and that Henry anticipated it, and had made due preparations in the north to encounter such an invasion, perhaps we can assume Henry quite capable of
    thinking of himself as the mastermind behind James’ defeat. What do you think?

    1. Wow, good observation. Even if Henry were not responsible for Scotland’s defeat with his huge ego he could certainly believe he was. I think Christine can address this much better than I ever could

  5. James waited till Henry was in France which was sneaky but then this was war, attack a country when the Kings away and there’s just a woman at the helm, but he underestimated Katherine, no fainting fits or hysterics, this queen called a council meeting and ordered Surrey to go to the north and attack James’s forces, the flower of Scotland were annihilated as Culloden centuries later and which has been described as nothing less than a massacre, Scotland suffered from the devastating loss of her young blood and her King, yes Henry although no doubt expecting something like this, ( the English always being suspicious of her close neighbour) and an ally of her old enemy France as well, was probably congratulating himself that his country was well defended and yes it was down to him, but Katherine had shown her mettle, and he must have also congratulated himself that he had chosen to marry this fine wife of his, two strong minded individuals, now they worked in accordance with each other which made then stronger, but their strength was to clash years later quite tragically, Katherine was fond of her sister in law Queen Margaret and she must have wept for her, but she did not let sentiment stand in the way of acting like a queen, and she had James bloodstained shirt sent to Henry in France with a note wishing it was his body, but his shirt had to suffice, it was a triumph for Henry as well as for Katherine, and the love the English had for this queen must have increased ten fold, was Henry a bit envious of his queens popularity who knows? We all know he had an ego as big as an elephants, when Charles married the young Lady Diana Spencer he was put out a bit because as he later said, everyone wanted to meet her and groaned when he went to one side of the crowd whilst she was greeted enthusiastically by the other side, he had been used to having the undivided attention from the public for so long, no wonder he felt miffed, Henry knew his queen was popular and it was an advantage after all, however years later it became a very real problem as she later wisely told him, she could find many a door in the land that would open to her if she was turned out into the wilderness, the psychology of Henry V111 is a fascinating subject, at times he acted like a spoilt petulant boy wallowing in adulation, he liked to be the champion at everything but he could discuss and have respect for the learned men of the age, Erasmus Thomas More to name but a few, he wrote music and was fond of penning poetical verses, but he liked to surround himself with the most talented musicians at court, he would give praise where it was due and he was generous to his friends yet ruthless if they incurred his wrath, Suffolk to his credit never lost his head he no doubt knew just how far to go with this most capricious of kings and lifelong friend of his, his generosity and merry nature over the years were lost in the creature which he later became, like a dark fungas growing over the landscape, the young golden King was completely lost like the supple figure he once possessed, lost forever in the huge mounds of surplus fat that in the decline of his years encased his ailing body.

  6. It was a great honour for Thomas Boleyn who was among many appointed by the Earl of Surrey to escort Princess Margaret as eldest daughter of King Henry Vii and Elizabeth of York to her new husband, James iv of Scotland. It would have been an honour and it showed he was accepted and one of those trusted by the new regime, into which the Howards have now obviously integrated fully. It is interesting that he is listed well down the list however because he was a commoner and perhaps a gentleman, but he is not called a knight so he still had a way to go in order to rise up the ranks. However, his talents had been recognised years earlier when he married the Earls sister, Elizabeth, by whom he now had probably two daughters and a son, who died in infancy, and he was a retainer to and he already had positions in Court and was active in Royal Service. However, he is here noted with people who are not knights and after more important people, so he obviously is not as important as is often claimed. He is one of six gentlemen in the escort. Lists like this give a good overview of the late feudal world and the pecking order in that world. The nobles and ladies are all given the most important jobs first in ceremonies and escorting the Princess is an official duty which requires strict protocol and ceremony and those chosen are always listed according to rank. Even today we have ranks which the Queen relies upon that kick in on special occasions but which meant much more historically, such as Lord High Chamberlain, Lord High Steward, Earl Marshall, High Constable and historically it was the job of the noble families to hold these ranks. Thomas Boleyn would hold one of the other important ranks and have significant influence because of it later on in his career, Controller of the King’s Household and most importantly, Lord Privy Seal, the holder of the King’s lawful seal of authority. He would be both knighted and rise to the lower nobility and then to an Earldom before he received these ranks.

    The Tudors extended a policy which had begun during the later Plantagenets and promoted men who had talents and gifts rather than the old nobility holding everything as per their privileged rights as they saw it. Henry Viii caused complete consternation when he raised Sir Charles Brandon to a Duke, a title originally meant for the brothers and sons of a King and their descendants. Edward ii had the habit of appointments for his boyfriends above the nobility and that caused no end of trouble. By 1509, however, only one Duke remained, Howard having been demoted, partly because most nobles had died during the Wars of the Roses, titles had been left open or families had lost their ancient rights. There were of course a long list of Earls, Ladies and Lords and knights, the more traditional nobility. The most important people going with Princess Margaret would be her Great Ladies and Ladies in Waiting and Maids of Honour, all from the best families and no doubt veted by the King’s Mother, Lady Stanley (Margaret Beaufort) with a fine tooth comb.

    Margaret was lucky, actually, to have such a grandmother, who being a bride herself at twelve and a mother at thirteen, having had a difficult birth, was unable to have more children, but who used her own traumatic experience to try and protect her granddaughters from early childbirth. In Tudor England it was lawful for a girl to marry at twelve and a boy at fourteen, but it was normal to wait a couple of years for consummation so as the young people could mature. Contrary to popular belief, however, it was the norm to marry for most people in their early to mid twenties as ordinary people served an apprenticeship for several years and would have the means only by then. It was only the top nobles and international Royal Dynasties who married so young for the immediate continuation of the line. Childbirth was the single biggest killer of women at this time so the sooner you started the more likely you were to live and produce an heir. Margaret, however, insisted that Henry and James concluded a date which would delay the marriage until her eldest granddaughter was at least fifteen. James was thirty but the difference in ages was not unusual in the upper ranks of society.

    I love the comment at the end of the article that because the celebrations went on for a time that Thomas Boleyn and the other guests could enjoy the party and have a good time for five days.

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