A discovery concerning Elizabeth Boleyn, mother of Anne Boleyn

Thank you so much to Natalie Grueninger for sharing some wonderful news from Philip Norman, curator of the Garden Museum at Lambeth which used to be St Mary’s Church and which is home of the Howard Chapel, resting place of many Howard family members, including Elizabeth Boleyn (née Howard), Countess of Wiltshire and mother of Queen Anne Boleyn.

Philip’s news is that he has identified the ledger stone which once marked the resting place of Elizabeth Boleyn in the Howard Chapel, now the museum’s gift shop. It is such good news and you can read more about it in Natalie’s article A Tudor Discovery: The Ledger Stone of Elizabeth Boleyn.

If you are interested in reading more about St Mary’s and its links to the Howards, you can find out more in the following articles:

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23 thoughts on “A discovery concerning Elizabeth Boleyn, mother of Anne Boleyn”
  1. Wow, I love these kinds of things. How many other lost Tudor and Elizabethan treasures are out there waiting to be rediscovered. Very exciting.

    1. You want to come and live in England Michael the whole country is but a graveyard, not meaning to sound morbid of course, when I visited the British Museum once there were a whole load of Roman graves some quite magnificent along with artefacts discovered when the Germans bombed the country, jewellery as well which meant that the skeletons were those of high born Roman women, pots and pans wonderful mosaic tiles etc I often wonder what’s buried beneath my house sometimes it gives me the shivers thinking about it, now as to the subject in hand, Lady Elizabeth – how exciting to find a plaque apertaining to this woman who was the mother of the notorious Anne, over the years many more discoveries have come to light and to think this could be the resting place of this lady who for so many years has proved elusive to historians, it’s a great find and many have pondered why she chose to lie to rest there, many have surmised there was friction between herself and Thomas as married couples do tend to be buried together, but she was residing at a house nearby and quite possibly it was more practical to bury her in Lambeth rather than take her on the long journey to Kent, I cannot remember what month she died but if it was winter time then the journey would have been quite hazardous if there was rain and snow, maybe she herself requested it, after all she was born a scion of that noble house, the Howard’s and although she married a Boleyn quite possibly she regarded herself as a Howard firstly, therefore it was only natural she would choose to lie amongst them for eternity, we no nothing of her looks only that she was regarded as pretty and according to some sources, a bit of a flirt when young, she certainly had an effect at court like her youngest daughter and Anne could well have inherited her flirtatious nature from her, we know also that she was very close to Anne and they enjoyed a special bond she was often at court with her, and she must have been with her when Elizabeth was born and supported her during her miscarriages, we can safely assume she was grief stricken when both Anne and George were executed like any parent, and she was suffering from some illness which could have been quite serious as she later died from it, prior to the fall of her family, she was with friends in the city during the last weeks of her life and possibly this was so she could be attended by physicians who may not have been available in the country, we have to remember how more rural the country was in those days than now, and London herself was surrounded by fields but it had an abundance of shops and inns etc, there would have been apothecary shops she could have sent servants to for medicines, death when it came must have been a happy release as she must have been inconsolable with misery, it’s very easy to feel sympathy for Lady Elizabeth Boleyn nee Howard, she had lost several children during the first few years of her marriage, she had three who had survived and her youngest was Queen of England, her son was a talented poet and she had seen the spectacular rise and fall of both of them, she must have tried to give Anne advice when she saw her hold slipping on the King, she witnessed her sorrow and despair over her miscarriages and when he flaunted Jane Seymour and others in front of her, she alienated her brother the Duke and so she must have been forever trying to keep the peace, caught in the middle between the pair of them she must have been in despair at times, she knew her daughters hot temper and how much she nagged Henry, she must have feared for her, she also had the worry of Mary her eldest child who appears more easy going but was left with two children when her husband died of the plague, she must have pleaded with her husband to help support his daughter but in the end Mary had to ask the King, who then forced Thomas to dip his hand in his pockets, maybe his parsimony at times worried her as really he should have helped Mary first of all, in this episode Thomas does appear quite mean but maybe he was just being careful, Elizabeth 1st had a reputation for being careful with money unlike both her parents who loved to spend spend spend! Maybe Elizabeth inherited this trait from her grandfather? Sir Thomas was at court and back in favour again so his wife had no worries there so maybe she was calm in her mind during her last days, at least Lady Elizabeth was being cared for when she breathed her last, and we can safely assume that when she passed from this world to the next her dearly beloved children were there to welcome her.

      1. Hi Christine, believe me I would love to visit sometime. I am quite fascinated with the history of the Romans there
        Elizabeth died April 3. I remember reading somewhere that though spouses would often be interred together it was not uncommon for the wife to be buried in a family plot. Regarding Elizabeth I being careful with money? A little too careful. She didn’t want to pay her troops after the Armada campaign.

        1. Yes she was mean there, they after all were the ones who had saved England and her crown, I also find the Romans fascinating, the Bank of England is built on the site of a Roman villa that once stood there, and she was built in the same style, anyone who has visited the ‘old lady of Threadneedle Street’ or has seen photos of her will see that her facade does indeed resemble a Roman villa, it would be great if you could visit one day Michael, you would enjoy yourself very much.

      2. I think Queen Elizabeth was only careful with money because her father had been so extravagant that he left the country all but broke. Elizabeth’s frugality therefore was probably by necessity rather than being due to character trait inherited from her Boleyn grandfather. Thank heavens she was more responsible than Henry VIII with whom she often (wrongly) compared herself unfavourably.

        1. I completely agree with you. Even with all of the wealth Henry accumulated with the dissolution of the monasteries he left the country in pretty bad shape. I think Elizabeth’s frugality over all was a good thing but one place I will strongly fault her was her reluctance to pay her soldiers and sailors after the Armada campaign

  2. Also meant to say she must have suffered more worrying when Mary ran off with Stafford and knew how outraged both Anne and her husband would be, Thomas more or less disowned her and Mary was rumoured to be pregnant, having both wilful daughters to worry about she must have endured her husband’s animosity towards his eldest but we don’t know how she felt herself, being the typical 16th c noblewoman who was mother to the queen consort she could have been displeased with Mary, one had to adhere to the social class they lived in and Stafford was a poor choice for the husband of the queens sister, but after Anne and George died she would have had no one left but Mary amongst her children and she could well have become more close to her, both sister and mother and father too reunited in their grief, one can only hope they saw each other as much as possible before Elizabeths demise.

  3. Wow what a wonderful discovery. We have always known that Elizabeth Howard was there somewhere, this stone is at last a real link to it and it reads the same as the Book inscription. It was reported earlier this year that coffins of earlier Archbishops of Canterbury in the Undercroft and it is likely that Elizabeth and other Howards are down there as well. It is at least her memorial stone has survived and we can probably restore it at some future point. I really hope her human remains are found and we can give her a good reburial service.

    Elizabeth Howard was a remarkable woman, loyal to her husband and both the King and Queen. She must have herself had a good education and appreciated the benefits of a good education for her daughters and son. Her children caught lucky breaks which enabled them to have even better opportunities than they could get at the English Court or as wives in an English noble family, the opportunity to serve in two sophisticated foreign Courts. At the Courts in France and Flanders Mary and Anne would find that they could receive a sophisticated and classic education and Anne in particular thrived in this environment, remaining with Queen Claude for a few more years than her sister. It isn’t really known if George spent much time in France but he appeared to have been familiar with French reformers and he was a translator so clearly had a good grasp of French and Latin and possibly Greek. He was probably also educated at University in England.

    Why a lucky break? Well Henry sent an embassy to Brussels in 1512 to the Court of the Emperor Maximilian and Archduchess Marguerite to form a new alliance. Due to the many delays and the Emperor’s absence, on an extended hunting trip, the envoys spent a lot of time with the Archduchess. One of those envoys was Thomas Boleyn. The daughter of the Emperor, Margaret was left to entertain and eventually given written leave to negotiate with the English envoys. While there she and Thomas Boleyn had a bet on a horse race and when she lost she offered him her horse. However, Lauren Mackey who has written a new biography on Thomas and George Boleyn in her talk speculated that maybe this was the opportunity to ask for a favour, a place at her Court for Anne, his talented daughter. Whatever the actual circumstances, at some point the subject was raised and the Archduchess was delighted to allow Anne a place which was extremely rare for the daughter of an English Knight. Thomas proved his value as an envoy as part of a three men embassy and he would rise high at Henry’s Court, his next station abroad would also be France. Anne moved to the household of the new Queen of France, Princess Mary, Henry’s sister, in 1514 and then stayed on under Queen Claude until about 1521/2. Mary Boleyn was also named as part of the new Queen’s company but doesn’t seem to have been as studious as her sister. She returned to England some time before her wedding to William Carey in 1520.

    Elizabeth would certainly have encouraged her daughters rise in France and had some input to their lives at Court. We do know that she was a favoured Lady in Waiting to Queen Katherine and to Elizabeth of York as well so like her husband she was experienced of the Court. When Anne came to Court to serve Katherine she is recorded as sharing apartments with her and later she acted as Anne’s chaperone. I believe Anne and her mother were close and she expressed concern about her mother while under arrest in the Tower of London. I don’t believe there was any rift between Elizabeth and her husband after Anne’s death and that he had both her and others in mind when he found a way back into the Kings service in 1537. Elizabeth was buried in her family plot as was often traditional in the noble families when she was higher born than her husband. She died of a mysterious illness which she appears to have had for about three years, and I believe the shock of her son and daughter being executed on trumped up charges caused a sharp decline in her health. I do hope we find her remains soon and can honour her further. Elizabeth Howard, Countess of Wiltshire, Rest in Peace. Amen.

  4. Hi again Christine. I looked up pics of The Bank of England. I’d seen it many times but never thought about how Romanesque the architecture is. Beautiful structure.

    1. I must admit I had never seen her in real life but one day I was on a haunted ghost walk and we had to meet at Bank tube station, the building was just opposite and I then realised I was really in the middle of the financial part of London, it was quite exciting.

  5. This discovery is just plain fascinating! To live in a place where anyone might find history right under their feet is something I just can’t imagine!

  6. I have always wondered whether Elizabeth and Anne Boleyn both loved their children. I think Elizabeth loved her youngest daughter at least because, when inprisonef in the Tower, Anne is recorded as saying that, if she was executed then her mother would die, probably of guilt, though Eizabeth probably was ailing by this time. Some think that Anne did or did not love her daughter, Princess Elizabeth – I would love to hear what others think. Do we know how long Anne was in labour for (Elizabeth was born between three o’clock and half past three in the afternoon)? Thanks!

    1. Anne and her mother were said to have a enjoyed a close relationship and she is supposed to have had very strong maternal feelings for her daughter the future Queen Elizabeth, there is a story that she wished to breastfeed her but of course that was not allowed, she certainly enjoyed dressing her in lovely clothes and there are records of the materials she purchased to be made into gowns and smocks and bonnets etc, she loved having her with her and would have her seated on a cushion next to her whenever possible, I think Anne was quite besotted with her baby she was her first born and said by Chapuys to be a ‘pretty child’, certainly Henry V111 was very proud of her to even though both parents wished she had been a prince initially, but I believe Henry fell in love with his little chubby flame haired tot and must have thought to himself at times he wouldn’t have her any other way, I don’t think there’s a record of how long Anne was in labour for but there were no complications and she recovered well and Elizabeth was fine, she must have begun to cherish Elizabeth even more after she tragically lost her other babies.

      1. I believe another indication of Anne’s devotion to her daughter was in entrusting the care of Elizabeth to Mathew Parker before her execution. A man, who reluctantly became Archbishop of Canterbury after Elizabeth ascended the throne.

        1. Yes Michael good point she was concerned about her daughters spiritual welfare, as well as being consumed with a very real fear that she may not be around to see her grow up, at that moment in time she had a heightened fear of dread that something awful was going to happen to her, Parker vowed to that most wretched queen that he would watch over her and years later he fulfilled that vow by becoming Elizabeths archbishop, a role he did not relish as he himself said if he were not bound so much to the mother.. Parker was indeed a man of his word, Anne by nature a flirt sensed in this man loyalty and sincerity and he did not let her down, it was only natural Anne would worry about her daughter that is sound proof of a mothers love.

        2. Yes, I don’t see anything to contradict any consensus that Elizabeth loved all of her children, but like all parents, despite their claims to the contrary, she had her favourite, the clever and witty Anne. She was probably just as proud of George and disappointed in Mary when she did her own thing. Elizabeth was very close to Anne from their time at Court and her father seems to have been just as keen for his daughter Anne to succeed but was more detached as sixteenth century could be with their children. Thomas disowned Mary when she defied his plans for her and married for love to a man of lower status, William Stafford and cut her off, but he was being a strict father from that time. However, he was persuaded to help her in time. It doesn’t mean he didn’t love his children, just that there was a proper way to do things and disobedient children had to learn their place. Anne wanted to impress her father with her French as her surviving letter home attests to and both parents encouraged them at Court. They wanted the best for them and they didn’t hold them back.

          Anne was a hands on mum, as much as a Queen can be when children are removed to their own household. She wanted to breastfeed her daughter herself, apparently but Henry refused as it was normal to give noble and royal children to a wet nurse for feeding. The woman, who may have her own child had to be clean, of good character and have good habits and recommendations. Breastfeeding might go on for two years and women didn’t have children during this period, normally, so this wasn’t convenient for the King who needed a basketfull of heirs. It was essential that Anne get back to childbearing as soon as possible after her confinement was over as she still needed to give Henry a son.

          Anne annoyed the nobles and visitors because she had Elizabeth next to her on a cushion when she had an audience. Pretty and as cute as Elizabeth must have been as a baby, babies cry and that must have appeared disruptive and disrespectful to them. Anne tried to see her daughter as much as possible and saw her on progress as did Henry, who also adored his little daughter. Henry showed his pride in Elizabeth in 1536 when she was brought to Court and paraded around and taken in procession to Mass after Katherine died. Her baptism was elaborate and she had everything a Princess of England would, luxurious clothes, warm robes, rockers, her own household and the usual servants and officials to attend her and she was waited on hand and foot. Anne and Henry even put Mary into her household to help, but Mary kept to her rooms instead. She was concerned for her daughters marriage and future and suggested that Henry form a French alliance for her. When Anne feared her end was coming at the end of April 1536 she sent for Elizabeth and she committed her wellbeing to her trusted almoner, Matthew Parker. She also held Elizabeth in her arms as she pleaded with Henry for common sense as any desperate wife and mother would do, appealing to him as a father. Elizabeth had a beautiful locket in later life which contained the picture of herself and a younger woman, which many believe it was her mother. Elizabeth must have had fleeting memories of Anne or others remembered her to her, for she held a place in her heart as Queen.

        3. Just an interesting point that Princess Elizabeth was named for both of her grandmothers, Elizabeth Howard and Elizabeth of York, Henry’s mother. Henry missed his own mother when she died in 1503 and naming his second daughter for her probably indicated his affection still. Anne may have thought of the name also to show her affection and respect for her own mother.

  7. Although 16th century parents were very strict and chastised their offspring in ways in which we would call rather brutal today, I refer to Lady Jane Grey who complained to her tutor that she is forever being nipped and slapped if she doesn’t stand right or sit properly, hold her goblet the correct way etc, in noble households they did have a very rigid disciplined upbringing and quite possibly spent more time with nanny than their own parents, their mother would have been overseeing the running of her own household and father if he was at court would have been taken up with his own duties, Royal households were similar and yes the children left to join their own households which must have been a wrench to the mother, Anne was known to have visited her daughter from time to time, it couldn’t have been easy to be seperated so soon after the birth, there is that bonding which is so important to mother and child, but a queen was meant to bear princes and bonding that all important word that means so much today did not exist then, in all the Tudor parent does sound distant and remote but that was just the standards of the day, it does not mean they did not love and adore their children any less than the parents of today, Henry V111 was particurlaly traumatised by the death of his own mother the serenely beautiful Elizabeth of York, losing her at such a young age may have had a phsycological effect upon him from which he never really recovered, I believe he carried her image with him all his life as the ideal queen, gracious noble chaste and dignified and someone to whom he compared his own succession of queens with, rather unfortunatly for them..

    1. Hi Christine, yes, I believe Henry measured every woman by his mother and his first wife. The woman had virtually sacrificed herself in order to attempt to provide her husband with a replacement son, but died, followed by the infant, Catherine. However, her long progress that year, longer than usual was through difficult country, including most of Wales, the South of England and back again, during the heat of the Summer, may have contributed to her difficult delivery. Henry was very close to his mother and spent a lot of time with her, may even have been taught to read and write by her. There is a book, his Book of Hours, I believe, in which Henry wrote his name and date born and his mother has her name as does his paternal grandmother. He wrote it when he was about six years old. Henry was raised away from Court in female company and when his mother died he was griefstricken as was his father. When he lost his pen friend, Philip of Burgundy, whom he admired, he expressed his feelings at his loss in terms of the greatest loss since the death of his mother. She must have been to him the image of Queenship he cherished most of all.

      The story of Lady Jane Grey is written long afterwards by her tutor, recalling his visit there when Jane was about fourteen and has to be treated with caution. However, it was quite normal for children to be corrected with corporal punishment, because of the strict moral code of the day and strict rules that they all followed. As you say this intelligent young woman was a member of one of the highest noble and part Royal families in England and was being raised to run a prestigious household and make a good marriage. If she was a wilful child, as she probably was, taking possibly after her grandmother, Princess Mary Tudor, Henry’s sister, her tutors probably did feel the need to curb her behaviour and get her to pay attention. Jane loved learning, but it doesn’t mean she didn’t slouch over her books. Deportment was required from a young lady, correct posture was demanded and manners very important. I can well imagine she moaned to anyone who would listen. The story of her being alone when everyone else had gone out hunting doesn’t ring true. No noble woman was alone in the sixteenth century in the house or garden, especially if everyone else was out. It was expected of her to attend the hunt, if she enjoyed it or loathed it and her mother or father are more likely to have hit her for not going than giving in to her whims even to further her education. No, the visitor may well have come across Jane at her studies, not left alone and spoken with her about them. The sad thing is, however, is that stories like this are used by historians like Davey to later write mythology rather than a balanced biography of Jane which makes out her parents were cruel and even beat her red raw until she submitted to their choice of husband for her when she was sixteen. Jane would have been expected to marry well and been trained to accept her parents choice as an obedient child. It would make her marriage illegal if she was forced in any way and the tale has no contemporary support. Poor Lady Frances Brandon was even given an ugly portrait of a much older woman, who was someone else, just because the other Lady looks stern and cruel, which she probably wasn’t. Jane had a normal productive and affectionate relationship with both of her parents and even got on reasonably well with her husband, not that they were in love, but made the best of it, was well educated, beyond that of most young women, naturally loved learning, had an ability for ancient languages and the classical philosophy and was educated from the manual of the day, which encouraged children, but didn’t monicoddle them.

      1. I agree about Frances Brandon because like Lady Rochford she has been painted quite different to what she was probably like, she is often shown as vile tempered and berating her husband, in truth a bit of a scold and what we would call today ill treatment of her daughter, but we don’t know what Jane was like to live with she could have been a difficult child, and we have not heard her parents side either, I should imagine her parents were very proud of her as she was highly intelligent and was said to had the edge on her cousin the Lady Elizabeth, I cannot really visualise Frances as being ugly either as her mother the Princess Mary was
        stunningly beautiful, however in looks she could have resembled her father, it is not fair to believe she was cruel to her children because as you say, high born children were brought up in a very strict fashion and behaviour and deportment was all important, imagine their horror at the kids today slouching in front of the tv, and the elders too, with a tray on their knees tucking into a pizza, it’s a world away from the age of the Tudors.

  8. A few years ago her portrait was properly identified as she had been confused with someone else. The fact that she remarried again shortly afterwards has also left an unfair on the reputation of Frances Brandon, especially as some modern historians now believe she actually married her final husband, Adrian Stokes over a year after the execution of Henry Grey. Too many legends attached themselves to Lady Jane Grey who had to be shown as an innocent holy martyr, which is one of the reasons her parents are shown in a poor light. They got her good tutors so obviously they wanted her and their other daughters to be educated as well. It was a privilege to have well educated daughters, rare, but becoming more common among the higher classes and even the gentry, as the daughters of Thomas More and Anne Boleyn and even Katherine Parr show. Her parents would have been proud of Jane and they certainly had great ambitions for their children. It’s a great pity that Jane was caught up in taking the crown and that her father’s later decision to join another rebellion in favour of Thomas Wyatt to remove Queen Mary cost her her life. It was a waste of a potentially scholarly life.

    1. I agree it was a tragic waste of a brilliant mind like the awful death of Edward V1 who is said to have been a child prodigy, and yes Jane was far from being the meek heroine that the Victorians portrayed her as, in fact some of her biographers have shown her to be not as servile as they believed, but whatever the truth she was sacrificed at a very young age and was the third queen to die on Tower green, for a young life to be cut off in its prime I find totally shocking especially when in theory, she had done no wrong merely accepted the crown that her cousin, Englands crowned and anointed King had left her, but it wasn’t as simple as that and Edwards ill choice for his successor condemned her before the ink was dry on his will.

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