Genealogists, historians and researchers have been discussing Anne Boleyn’s roots for centuries and today there still does not seem to be a complete agreement over the origins of the Boleyns. I am no genealogy expert, but I’ve been researching the Boleyns for years now and this article is a presentation of my findings and a discussion of the various theories. Apologies for the length, it’s all rather complicated.

A Fabricated Family Tree?

In his 19th century biography of Anne Boleyn, Paul Friedmann accused Anne Boleyn of fabricating her family tree in December 1530:

“Anne became daily more overbearing. The latest Anne’s exploit in her honour had been the fabrication of the wonderful pedigree, in which good Sir William Bullen the mercer was represented as the descendant of a Norman knight. Though these pretensions were laughed at, and though Anne’s aunt the duchess freely told her what they were worth, she was nowise abashed.”1

This accusation was based on a letter written by Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial ambassador, in which he reported the Duchess of Norfolk scoffing at Anne Boleyn’s family tree.2 However, no details of the family tree were given and Chapuys is the only source for this claim. We also know that Elizabeth Howard, Duchess of Norfolk, was no friend of her niece at this time so may well have made fun of anything that Anne did. There were plenty of reasons for the Duchess to dislike Anne and her rise at court:

  • Anne’ relationship with Elizabeth (Bess) Holland, the Duke of Norfolk’s mistress. When Anne became Marquis of Pembroke in 1532, two years later, Bess was appointed as one of her ladies.
  • The Duchess was “hypersensitive about her status”3 and Eric Ives writes of how she had previously “clashed with Queen Katherine by claiming she took precedence over the duke’s step-mother, the dowager duchess” and yet “now her niece went ahead of both of them!”.4 The Duchess was the eldest daughter of the late Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, a man who’d been the premier peer in England.
  • Anne Boleyn and the Duchess had clashed over the marriage of the Duchess’s daughter, Mary Howard, and the King and Anne’s idea that Mary should marry Henry Fitzroy, Henry VIII’s illegitimate son.5 An argument between Anne and her aunt nearly led to the Duchess being banished from court.
  • The Duchess supported Catherine of Aragon and even sent Catherine a secret message hidden in an orange.6

It is little wonder that “by Christmas 1530 the duchess’s Stafford blood could not resist some acid comments on the upstart Boleyns.”7

But perhaps we need to take Chapuys’ words with a healthy pinch of salt. Chapuys saw Anne as the King’s “concubine” and did not like her, his loyalty lay with Catherine of Aragon. Also, in his report, Chapuys says “Lon ma dict que la duchesse…”, i.e. “Someone told me that the duchess…”, so it was second hand information at best.

The French Connection

We don’t know exactly what was on this family tree and who was responsible for it, but many believe that the Boleyns did in fact originate in France. Joanna Denny wrote of the Boleyns as “an upwardly mobile family originating from the English-held territories in France”,8 noting that “Baldwin de Bolon came from Boulogne, which in the Chronicles of Calais is spelt ‘Boleyn’.” In the 17th century, Julien Brodeau wrote:

“Si l’on remonte plus haut, on trouuera que la famille des Boulens vient de France, & est bien plus ancienne. L’ay un tiltre du Samedi apres la S. Martin 1344, de Baudonin de Biaunoir, Sire d’Avesnes proebe de Peronne, qui nomme entre ses hommes de fief Vautier de Boulen.”9

Here, Brodeau is saying that the Boleyns were an ancient family from France and that there was a Walter de Boulen who held land in Peronne, in the Picardie region of northern France, in 1344. He went on to say that the family were linked, by marriage, to the family of “Moulin, Seigneurs de Fontenay en Brie”, hence the links with Brie, or Briis-sous-Forges, where a tower called the Tour d’Anne Boleyn still stands today.

Friedmann, however, was sceptical of the Boleyn’s links to France, calling the idea “fantastic” and writing that “all that is really known of Anne’s origin is that her great-grandfather, Geoffrey Boleyn, was a wealthy London merchant. He was elected alderman, and in due time arrived at knighthood and the dignity of Lord Mayor.” But in my reading and research on the Boleyns I have found that most historians and genealogists do believe that the Boleyns had their origins in France, with some believing that they were descended from the Norman Counts of Boulogne and others believing that they came over later as merchants.

The Counts of Bolougne

Those who believe that the Boleyns descended from the Counts of Boulogne say that the Counts came over in the 11th century with the Norman invasion and settled in Martock, Somerset, and parts of Surrey.10 It is alleged that Simon de Boleyne (or de Boulogne), then moved to Norfolk and records show that he held lands in the Salle area in the mid 13th century. Salle is, of course, just a few miles from Blickling, where it is thought that Anne Boleyn was born, and St Peter and St Paul Church, Salle, is the resting place of Geoffrey Boleyn (d.1440) and his wife, Alice, Anne’s great-great grandparents.

In “The Battle Abbey Roll”,11 the Duchess of Cleveland writes of how the lineage of the Counts of Bolougne (Eustace I, II and III) continued in England after the Norman invasion. She writes of how Pharamus de Boulogne “held lands in England of the Honour of Boulogne, which then consisted of 112 knight’s fees” and that “in the Liber Niger we find Herebert de Buliun holding half a knight’s fee of Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk; and William de Bolein holding one fee in York and one in Lincoln”. She goes on to say that the name ‘de Boulogne’ became “Bouleyn or Boleyn”.

“The Norman People and their Existing Descendants in the British Dominions and the United States of America”,12 under “Boleyn – Queen Anna Boleyn”, records how Anne was “lineally descended from John de Boleyne of Sall, living 1283, whose father Simon purchased lands in Norfolk by fine 1252” and also records that “In 1165 Herebert de Buliun held half a knight’s fee from Roger Bigod, E. of Norfolk (Lib. Niger). At the same time William de Bolein held 1 fee in York and 1 in Lincoln; which shows that there were then two branches of the family in England. Accordingly, in the preceding generation, Eustace and Simon de Bologne, brothers of Pharamus de B., are mentioned in a charter of the latter (Mon. Ang. i. 583).” It goes on to say that the Counts of Boulogne were “descended from Angilbert, a Frank noble, who m. Bertha, dau. of the Emperor Charlemagne, and before 790 was created Duke of the maritime territory afterwards styled Ponthieu” and that Eustace I of Boulogne was the ancestor of the Boleyn family.

There are many efforts in ancestry groups and pages online trying to establish the connection between the Boleyns of Salle and the Counts of Bolougne, and the general consensus is that Pharamus de Bolougne was the father of William de Bolein/Boleyne, who, in turn, was the father of the Simon de Boleyne who held lands in Norfolk c1252 and whose son, John de Boleyne of Salle is mentioned in 1283 (see next section – Some Notes on the Boleyn Family).

Some Notes on the Boleyn Family

In 1935, “Some Notes on the Boleyn Family” by the Rev. Canon W. L. E. Parsons, Rector of Salle, was published in the Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society’s journal.13 Parsons used a variety of primary sources, including the Court Rolls of the manors of Salle and Stinton, and contemporary wills, to try and establish the roots of the Boleyn family.

The earliest evidence he could find for Boleyns in the Salle area was regarding John Boleyn and William Boleyn in the 13th century. A John Boleyn was mentioned in 1283 in the Register of Walsingham Abbey and there is a record of the Prior of Walsingham suing William Boleyn of Thurning, and Prior’s Bailiff in Salle, for an account and John Boleyn acting as a surety.

The next Boleyn that Parsons could find was Nicolas Boleyn of Salle who was accused of theft in either 1318 or 1338. A Court of Rolls entry mentions him in 1333: “Nicolas Boleyn for damage done to pastures and trees of the Lord: he is ordered to repair the bank between the Lord and Nicolas.” Another John Boleyn then comes up in the records, firstly in 1333 and then regularly after the Black Death, which he fortunately survived. The mentions include John paying “the Lord” fines and rent, serving on a a jury of a coroner’s inquest in 1363 and being fined for trespass in 1369. It appears that he died sometime shortly after 1369 and his lands were passed to a “Thomas Bulleyn of Salle”, who is thought to be his son. Thomas is mentioned at various time in the records including he and his wife, Agnes, appearing on a list of indulgences granted by Pope Boniface IX and the following record in the Court of Rolls in 1399: “Thomas gave to Geoffrey his son one messuage in Salle without leave.” It is believed that he died around 1411.

Then, we have the first Geoffrey Boleyn of Salle, son of Thomas. His first mention after 1399 is in 1408, in relation to timber for the building of the church at Salle. It appears that he had some involvement in the building of the church and we know that his father left money for the glazing of a south aisle window. There are a number of mentions of Geoffrey in the records in relation to his landholdings, trespass, fines paid and the selling of barley and oat straw for thatching. According to the Survey of Stinton Manor 1430-40, Geoffrey held twenty-three pieces of land but it appears that he was a tenant farmer, rather than the lord of the manor. He died in 1440 and was laid to rest in Salle Church. His brass has the inscription “Here lie Geoffrey Boleyn, who died 25th March, 1440, and Alice his wife and their children: on whose souls may God have mercy. Amen.” His children included Cecily, who was buried at Blickling; Thomas, a priest and Master of Gonville Hall, Cambridge, from 1454-72, who also served the King by attending the Council of Basle; and Geoffrey, Lord Mayor of London. Interestingly, Parsons found a piece of evidence from the 1463 de Banco Rolls linking Thomas the priest with Nicolas Boleyn and establishing the family tree:

“Thomas Boleyn, clerk, seeks against William Doreward and others, the Manor of Calthorpe, called Hookhall, as his right and inheritance in which William, etc. have no entry, except after the disseisin which Bartholomew Calthorpe, Kt., made to Nicolas Boleyn, kinsman of the said Thomas, who is his heir. Thomas says that Nicolas was seized of the Manor as of fee and right in the reign of Edward III. And took the explees, and from the same Nicolas descended the right to Thomas as son and heir, and from Thomas to Geoffrey as son and heir, and from Geoffrey to this Thomas, who now seeks as son and heir.”

This piece of evidence shows that this line of the Boleyns were descended from Nicholas Boleyn, not the John Boleyn who also appears in the records in the 1330s, and that they weren’t just holders of land under the Lord, they owned the manor of Calthorpe “as of fee and right”. The manor of Calthorpe later belonged to William Boleyn (d.1505) so it appears that the Boleyns did have right to it.

The next Boleyn is the man who is credited as bringing the family to prominence: Sir Geoffrey Boleyn, successful merchant and Lord Mayor of London. Geoffrey was favoured by Sir John Fastolf and travelled with him to London. There, he became a wealthy merchant and important subject of King Henry VI. He married into the nobility, by marrying Anne, daughter of Lord Hoo and Hastings as his second wife (his first was called Dionise); he served as Sheriff of London and also of Middlesex; he bought Blickling manor from Fastolf, although it took him a while to pay for it because he also lent the King £1246 to pay for the expedition to France; and he became Lord Mayor in 1457. He died in 1463 and was buried in the Chapel of St. John, the Church of St. Laurence, Jewry, London. Unfortunately, the church was destroyed in the 1666 Great Fire. His children included Alice, who married Sir John Fortescue; Isabel, who married William Cheyney; Anne, who married Sir Henry Heydon of Baconsthorpe; Thomas, who died in 1471; and William, who married Margaret Butler, daughter of the Earl of Ormond. William was made a Knight of the Bath during Richard III’s coronation celebrations and served as Sheriff of Norfolk from 1500 to 1501. He died in 1505 and was buried in Norwich Cathedral.

According to Parsons, William and Margaret Boleyn had a large family:

  • Anne, who died in 1479 shortly before her fourth birthday.
  • Anthony, who died in 1493.
  • Thomas (born c. 1477), who married Elizabeth Howard, daughter of the Earl of Surrey.
  • William, who became a priest.
  • James, who married Elizabeth Wood.
  • Edward, who married Anne Tempest.
  • Alice, who married Robert Clere.
  • Margaret, who married Sir John Sackville.
  • Anne, who married Sir John Shelton.

Blomefield14 adds a John, who died in 1484, and Jane, who married Sir Phillip Calthorp of Norwich.

On his father’s death, Thomas Boleyn inherited the manors of Blickling, Calthorpe, Wikmere, Mekylberton, Fylby, West Lexham, Possewick, Stiffkey and, of course, Hever Castle. Thomas Boleyn was the father of Anne Boleyn, so we finally arrive at Anne in the family tree.

Parsons concluded that the Boleyns, like the famous Pastons, were “of somewhat humble origin” and that it was the second Geoffrey, a “Dick Whittington”, who “established the position of the family financially by successful trade, and socially by marriage with the nobility.” This view is disputed by other, though:

“The family of Boleyn was of Norman extraction. They were possessed of manors and lands at Salle and the adjacent villages in the 12th century. Among the Blickling evidences there is a deed, 1280, with the Boleyn seal attached, retaining enough to show that they bore then the same arms as were afterwards used by this family.
I presume that this will settle the question as to the ‘gentility’ of the Boleyns.”15

In “Annals & Antiquities of the Counties & County Families of Wales”, Thomas Nicholas, in writing of the lineage of Williams of Abercamlais, records:

“Among the companion knights of Bernard [Norman knight Bernard de Neuf Marché] was one who had probably come from the neighbourhood of Boulogne, for he went by the name de Boulogne, or Bullen, but it is uncertain whether his Christian name was Richard or Thomas. Opinion seems to be in favour of the latter.
Sir Thomas de Boulogne, or Bullen (from one branch of whose descendants Anne Boleyn, mother of Queen Elizabeth, derived), was rewarded for his services with a lordship in Talgarth.”16

Whereas Frederick Lewis Weis et al.17 believe that Anne’s name “came into England much later with merchants from the Boullonnais.”

Ralph Boleyn

Some genealogists add a Ralph Boleyn to the Boleyn family tree and Sylwia Thrupp writes “The records of the skinners’ company fraternity of Corpus Christi show the entrance of a Raulyn (Ralph) Boleyn in 1402 and of a Bennid de Boleyn, Lombard, in 1436”.18 It is hard to see how he fits in to Anne’s family tree, though, so perhaps he was from one of the other branches.

A Provisional Boleyn Family Tree

Here is a provisional family tree based on the sources already mentioned, but simplified so that it shows the direct line from Anne Boleyn back to the Counts of Boulogne. There is no way that we can prove that this tree is accurate at the moment as evidence is lacking.

Eustace I, Count of Boulogne (d.1049)
Eustace II, Count of Boulogne (c.1015/20 - c.1087)
Geoffrey de Boulogne (c.1060 - )
William de Boulogne (c.1085/88 - c.1129)
Pharamus de Boulogne, Seigneur de Tingrie (b. c.1103 - c.1183)
William de Boulogne (c.1151 - )
Simon de Boleyne, mentioned in 1253
John de Boleyne of Salle, mentioned in 1283
Nicholas Boleyne, active in 1330s (a John Boleyne also alive at this time)
Thomas Boleyn (d.1411) m. Agnes
Geoffrey (d.1440) m. Alice
Geoffrey (d.1463) m. Anne Hoo
William Boleyn (d.1505) m. Margaret Butler
Thomas Boleyn (c.1477 - 1539) m. Elizabeth Howard
Queen Anne Boleyn (c.1501-1536)

Boleyn – The Name

Anne Boleyn has, on various occasions, been accused of ‘frenchifying’ her name and changing it from ‘Bullen’ to ‘Boleyn’ to make it less common. This is a myth. In his research of records going back to the 13th century, Parsons found it “spelt variously – Boleyn, Buleyn, Bolen, Bulleyne, Boleyne, Bolleyne, Boyleyn, Bowleyne, Bulloigne, and the modern form Bullen” and concluded that “Boleyn was the most common of the mediaeval forms.” We also know that Boulogne in France was written as ‘Boleyn’ in the Chronicles of Calais, suggesting that the family name may well have had its origins there. There does not seem to be any record of any variations of the name before the Norman conquest.

Final Thoughts

We can’t know for certain where the Boleyns came from, so it is impossible to accuse Anne of fabricating a family tree. As for the idea that Anne fabricated her family tree because she was ashamed of the Boleyns and their merchant roots, there is no evidence that Anne was ashamed of the Boleyns. It is thought that she wore a B necklace – B for Boleyn – and why should she be ashamed of a family who had risen to such wealth and favour? Her family may not have been ancient nobles (we just don’t know), but they weren’t alone in that; the de la Pole family (the Earls and Dukes of Suffolk) descended from a merchant from Hull.

This article may have raised more questions than it has answered but that’s what history and genealogy is like. The more you dig, the more questions you have to answer! As I said, I am no expert on genealogy but I consulted many sources on the subject.

If you have any thoughts or information you want to share on Anne Boleyn’s family tree then please do share as a comment below.

Thanks go to Beth Shannon for allowing me to bounce ideas off her and for recommending books.


  1. Anne Boleyn, A Chapter of English history, 1527-1536, Paul Friedmann, London, Macmillan, 1884, p128
  2. EJ. Chapuis to Charles V., December 31, 1530, Vienna Archires, P.C. 226, i. fol. 109 , quoted in Friedmann
  3. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Eric Ives, p141, Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 4 Part 1: Henry VIII, 1529-1530 (1879), p368
  4. Ives, p141
  5. Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 4 Part 1: Henry VIII, 1529-1530 (1879), p762
  6. Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 4 Part 1: Henry VIII, 1529-1530 (1879), p819
  7. Ives, p141
  8. Anne Boleyn: A New Life of England’s Tragic Queen, Joanna Denny, 2005, p26
  9. LaVie de Maistre Charles du Moulin, Julien Brodeau, p6
  10. Frank Bullen at
  11. The Battle Abbey Roll with Some Account of the Norman Lineages in Three Volumes, Vol I, Duchess of Cleveland, 1889, p27-29
  12. The Norman People and their Existing Descendants in the British Dominions and the United States of America, H.S. King & Co. 1874, p 164
  13. Some Notes on the Boleyn Family, communicated by The Rev. Canon W. L. E. Parsons, Rector of Salle, in Norfolk Archaeology or Miscellaneous Tracts relating to the Antiquities of the County of Norfolk, Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society, Vol. XXV, 1935, p386-407
  14. An Essay towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk, Volume 3, Francis Blomefield, p626, and An Essay Towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk Volume 6, Francis Blomefield and Charles Parkin, London, 1805, p386
  15. The Family of Boleyn, Sylvanus Urban, The Gentleman’s Magazine, XXXII, N.S. (August, 1849), p155
  16. Annals & Antiquities of the Counties & County Families of Wales, Volume 2, Thomas Nicholas, 1872 p121
  17. Ancestral Roots of Certain American Colonists Who Came To America Before 1700, Frederick Lewis Weis, Walter Lee Sheppard, William Ryland Beall, Kaleen E. Beall, 2004
  18. The Merchant Class of Medieval London (1300-1500), Sylvia Thrupp, 1989, p325

Additional Sources Used

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73 thoughts on “Anne Boleyn’s Family Tree”
  1. Thank you, Claire, for a thorough yet very readable article! Very interesting. It does not make sense to me either that Anne would have been ashamed of her Boleyn roots, for If the King of England was not, why would she be? (If her lineage was ‘good enough’ for the King, that should have been the end of it as far as the Duchess of Norfolk was concerned).

      1. Claire,I so agree with you she had know reason to be ashamed of her or her family! I love the word fenchifrying her name,I really don’t think she changed her name ither,great read keep the info comming. THX Baroness

    1. Does anyone think it’s possible that Elizabeth Stafford, Duchess of Norfolk, could have been hypersensitive about her status and nasty to her niece over her status precisely because her family had lost so much of its status? As in the usual business of people slamming others for being of inferior or humble stock because they’re insecure about their own pedigree. Her father had been attainted for treason, which meant that the dukedom of Buckingham was finished and Elizabeth’s own status as a duke’s daughter was a tad tarnished. Meanwhile the Boleyns were on an apparently unstoppable social ascent.

      It must have been hard for someone of Elizabeth Stafford’s pride to watch this. Maybe she couldn’t bear to see the Boleyns going up (Viscount Rochford, Earl of Wiltshire and Ormonde) while her family was going down, and no longer had a title or a seat in the House of Lords. The Staffords never really regained their status, did they? Maybe they sank into the gentry. I’m currently reading Adam Nicolson’s The Gentry: Stories of the English, and much of it is about the battles that English families waged to stop themselves from sinking into the yeomanry, and preferably to work their way up into the aristocracy. According to the Wikipedia entry for Elizabeth’s brother Henry Stafford he was created Baron Stafford by Edward VI, but that may have been poor compensation for a lost dukedom. It also states the barony died out in 1639, “the title being resigned due to poverty”. It looks as if the Stafford family never really recovered from the downfall of the third Duke of Buckingham.

      In short, Elizabeth Stafford’s alleged comments may have said far more about herself and her own family than they did about her niece and the Boleyns.

      1. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit, human nature being what it is. Anyone from a grand family brought low would probably be tempted to similar behavior, and Elizabeth Stafford’s status had suffered a real blow not that many years earlier — even though Chapuys is the only source for her remarks I find it highly believable that she made them. And I do think we should beware of projecting our own ideals onto Anne too much — while Anne may not have been “ashamed” of her roots, I doubt she went out of her way to emphasize them. People wanted to become aristocrats, not exalted commoners.

    2. this was a very interesting article im still trying to search for more on there family history but it seems to be very hard finding for sure if she had a french cionnection since it goes way back from 1300 and beyond but i will keep on searching until i find some answers

  2. Wonderful article, Claire! Wow, it’s very complicated but you make sense of it all! I’m so happy to have this information–I don’t know much about the Boleyn background beyond Geoffrey so this was quite good. And, it may explain the ease with which Thomas and Anne, Elizabeth for that matter, spoke French. I sort of believe in cellular memory–I don’t even know exactly what I mean by that–but that somehow, we can have some memory from our DNA…I know it souns a bit crazy but…there it is. Thanks so much!

  3. Eustace Chapuys would have been right at home, writing for some modern gossip rag, wouldn’t he? And it was even better for him, after Anne’s fall, because there were a LOT of people who felt they had grievances with her, who would have been more than happy to help blacken her name.

    A pity we could not have a good movie about the whole situation back in the days of Hollywood’s Golden Age – I can think of no one better to play Chapuys than Peter Lorre.

    1. miladyblue,Good old Chapuys the man who loved to hate Anne,a pity he did’nt run into Elizabeth 1 when she took the throne,his head most likely would have ended up on a spike! Kind Regards Baroness

      1. I don’t think so somehow! Anne might have wanted his head on a spike but her daughter would not have been so stupid.
        A very interesting article which for obvious reasons, tends to bias towards Anne Boleyn and woe betide anybody who didn’t like her or spoke against her. I love reading this site but do feel that many contributions are more than a little blinkered and apply modern morals to a different era.
        FYI, Henry Carey, Anne’s nephew, has the Boleyn coat of arms on his elaborate tomb at Westminster Abbey with the name ‘Bullen’ underneath and alongside many other coats of arms indicating considerable family connections. Considering his rise during his cousin’s reign, would this not imply that it was not a name to be sniffed at no matter how it was spelt?
        I also believe most names were usually spelt phonetically which is why there are so many variations (Shakespeare had the same problem – many different versions). Readers might also like to know that his tomb is the largest and most elaborate in the whole of the Abbey, which considering he was a mere ‘subject’, in such illustrious company, is saying something. Many people still argue that this is proof that he is Henry’s son by Mary Boleyn, but the vast majority of historians no longer accept this. He is no more than 20 yards from his cousin Elizabeth. His sister is also buried at the Abbey, very close to Lady Jane Grey’s mother. Sorry to rant on and on!

  4. Thak you, Claire, for a good, dedicated piece of research and hard work.

    Considering that Henry himself could trace his lineage back to the illegitimate Beauforts and the possibly illegitimate Valois-Tudor line (and the latter were hardly an aristocratic tribe), his family tree wasn’t altogether royal. I wonder if Anne had pondered all this? I like to think so.

  5. I have done research for my family tree using Royalist Online. This website using various souces for their facts. All of its facts agree with this article.

  6. I think the Boleyn’s & the Howard’s lines were pretty well cemented. They had nothing to be ashamed of, at least that I have read (I might have missed something, I’m sure), & they seem to have descended from hard-working, rational-thinking people.
    In all of the books I have read about Anne (even the fictionalized ones), there was never ANY indication that she was ashamed of her heritage. Nor did her brother or sister seem to be.

  7. Interesting theory interesting article!

    I would agree with all of this though it is plausible and most very probable hence her and her own brothers upbringing and where they were sent away to by their father for their learning as well as part of their upbringing also.

  8. Back then daughters and sons were sent to the country of orgin of the family to the nobility to learn about the family and the language. Most of the family history was oral not written as most could not read and write…till after the norman conquest…then education became more of a priority, till then only clerks or monks did any writing and recording of family history and only when they were paid enormous sums…a patents of nobility was very expensive and sometimes prohibitive. So it is hard to trace anyone family history as it is spotty at best.

  9. Phew!! I need a lay down now after just reading that Claire, ha, no wonder you were ‘Frazzled’ after researching it…great stuff.

    Personally, I think the Howard connection would be suffice as decent enough background without having to concoct a family tree. But then in those times lineage was very important and those that had a very noble heritage would possibly see the Boleyns as ‘New Men’, and speak out of spite, especially if their titles and fortunes had been lost.

    I don’t believe Anne, or her family were ashamed of their heritage, and it didn’t seem to bother Henry much either…I think it’s a case of sour grapes and spiteful gossip from those who resented the Boleyns.

    At the end of the day if we all go back far enough I bet we all could find a ‘noble’ connection somewhere considering how many illegitamate children where born to Kings in the past, Henry I is thought to have had over 20!!

    I have looked up some of the places Thomas inherited from his Father, some of the spellings must have changed over time so not much to be found, all Norfolk area though, which seems to consist of many small villages rather that large places, so hubby says, he was a long distance lorry driver and been around there often in the past.
    The place of Stiffkey is pronounced as ‘Stewkey’, it is mentioned in the Doomsday Book, and means The Island of Stumps…

    Great article Claire, thank you….

  10. Thank you Claire, really well researched article. As a direct descendant of Edward Boleyn (youngest brother of Anne’s father Thomas) I am particularly impressed at how far back you have managed to go, I had not got further back than the first Geoffrey. I knew of Edward’s marriage to Anne Tempest, I descend from their daughter Elizabeth, (b.1520) who was 16 years old when her cousin was executed. I know Elizabeth went on to marry Sir Thomas Payne at Itteringham, Norfolk, in 1548, and I have her line documented to the present day, but would love to know what happened to Edward, as I have no death, burial or will details for him. If you ever come across any further mention of him I would be forever grateful. I have read that Margaret Butler was very proud of her royal heritage and no doubt impressed this upon all her grandchildren, so another reason for Anne to be proud of her family history. As another matter of interest, I worked out this week that Richard 111 and Edward Boleyn were 7th cousins.

    1. wow it could go way back as i had said before back then it was mixed with family as cousins married cousins so it is very possible im sure its fun knowing that yopu belong to a family of profound history that is written in history

    2. Hello,

      I know it has been seven years since this post, but I appear to descend from this PAYNE family. There are many bits of evidence, the most glaring evidence being intermarriage’s with the SMALPECE and JERMYN families, the close relationship between the PAYNE’s of WORLINGHAM and the PLAYTER’s of SOTTERLEY, as well as several other relationships with notable families in the area- who appear to have formed a very tight network or social group. In this case, the Itteringham Paynes were cousins of the PAYNE’s of SWAFFHAM, CASTLE ACRE, HELHOUGHTON, etc. Their history in Norfolk goes way back, but they appear to have come to Suffolk by 1410 when Edmund Winter and Robert Payn, son of John Payn (II) (d. 1402) of Wymondham, by Sibil de Hethersett, purchased the Manor of HENGRAVE. It was soon sold off, but William Payne was serving as Bailiff of the Manor until the lord of the Manor, Edward, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, lost his head. William Payne’s son, Henry (d. 1568), succeeded his father as Bailiff at Hengrave to Sir Thomas Kytson. This line of the family were lords of the Manor of NOWTON, home of Henry Payne above, who died 1568. Henry left his “Chaucer” manuscript to the Drury family, but it of course traces its way back to Geoffrey Chaucer and to John Payn (d. 1402), who was Chief Butler of England and favorite of John of Gaunt and his son, Henry IV. Very interesting history here.

  11. Fascinating! Thanks Claire.

    The Welsh source is particularly intriguing, as genealogy was always highly important in Welsh culture.

  12. Does anyone know of the relation of a Thomas de Brotherton (or Brotherton, Brotherston, Brotherstaines) to the Boleyn Family?

      1. exactly where were they from and were they already royal? and is there any living relatives of either side ? going back on a family tree is hard ive been trying to trace mine and my husbands which hes was ancestry from spain from hes father side and german from hes mothers side and i try to go back and im stuck where else can i search ive tried them all but its just so hard without the names or dates its even harder

  13. im loving all the articles and information Claire is putting out there it is very interesting and enjoyable maybe i can find out more of the tudor history and the boleyn kind regards Maritza

  14. To Carolyn re-comments feb 10th 2013
    I would be interested to see your research, as I am also possibly descended from Edward Boleyn through his daughter Elizabeth who married Thomas Payne then through their daughter Elizabeth who married Matthew Wilde.

  15. I am a descendant of Elizabeth Anne Boleyn who married Sir Henry Heydon of Baconsthorpe. So I guess I am a cousin of Anne, many times removed. I am also descended from the Planagenets Henry III (daughter Joan married de Mowbray and Thomas Brotherton), the de Mowbreys, de Greys, de Nevilles, the Bigods, the de Beauchamps, the de Chaworths, Fulk V ( Count of Anjou and The king of Jerusalem), William Marshal, Edgar Athling, Malcolm III and St. Margaret of Scotland and a lot of other European royalty and upper class. And here I am a simple average middle class American. LOL

    1. My cousin sent me some information on the Haydon family which my
      grandfather was married to a Lillian Haydon stating they were related
      ann Boleyn

      do to her aunt being married to Henry Haydon. Died in1503. Im a American too. Deb

    2. I am also descended from the Norman Knight , William Marshall and his wife Isabel de Clare as was Anne Boleyn.

      1. William Marshall was the first Earl of Pembroke and built MOST of Pembroke Castle in Wales. His wife’s father, Richard “Stongbow” de Clare had held the title but he died without a male heir and this title passed to his only daughter’s husband , William Marshall.

        Interesting that ANNE was given the Pembroke title…it had been “dormant” for quite a few years as the last Earl died without an heir.

        1. I’m also descended from William Marshall and Isabel De Clare he has been called the greatest knight that ever lived and was the subject of a tv documentary some time back, I’m hoping to visit his tomb one day

  16. Fantastic reading! We have definitive research that indicates our family are direct descendants of the Boleyn family. Edward (bother of Thomas) is my great grandfather…x approx 18! so this has been a real eye opener for me and my family….thank you so much for such an amazing site!

  17. whilst researching in the guildhall library on a 17th century grandfather captain john west, who was the son of Sir Thomas West baron de la warre and Ann Knollys and then searching the boleyns found that Mary Boleyn was the eldest and not ann as stated in one of the publications. it appeared the boleyns ie Sir Thomas and Elizabeth were not very adventurous over their childrens names calling them all mary and ann. it is believed that their youngest child another mary aged 11 years was the one who married Siir William Stafford. letters and papers stated it was not known what happened to my mary the eldest. her daughter Catherine Carey by HVIII was a favourite of Elizabeth I, basically half sisters and cousins with Elizabeth paying for her funeral.

  18. Hello. I found this all quite interesting. My 12 th. Great-grandfather was Thomas Payne born in 1475 in Boxted, Suffolk, England. His son was Thomas, born in 1498 also in Boxted. His eldest son, Thomas, was born in 1516 in Blickling and he married Elizabeth Boleyn b. 1520 in Blickling in, according to our family records, 1545, not 1548.

    I am not able tyo purchase your book, but I did enjoy reading the account baout it on line..

    Thank you, Montana McKay

  19. Montana….seems we share the same Thomas Payne! He is also related to me and my family….small world hey! 🙂

    1. To Jacqui,

      I AM LATE in responding to this. We have moved further up the Oregon Coast and I am still catching up.

      I would love to chat with you about our family connection …

      Warm regards, Montana McKay

  20. i am very confused at this point i have been trying to search my dna heritage. i have done ancestry dna. 23andme, and the mtdna on family tree. my ggrandmother was lettie hayes shelton. on ancestry it shows her line going to lady anne shelton married sir john shelton. so i guess i have queen anne dna? my tree stops at matthew clay shelton 1812-1900 married
    elizabeth 1819-1880

  21. hi Melissa, your dna will come from your mother and her mother and so on. my dna was through oxford ancestors taking me back to out of Africa. trying to trace stuck in the 18th century. totally aggravating.

    best regards

  22. having an axe to grind as follows – making application to the college of arms for the restoration of the barony of de la warre only to find that it had been given to others in the 18th century on a lie. thus my 17th century grandfather captain john west’s nephew henry west who had the title with the urspers claiming descent from his son, but he was not married and had no children that could be found. henry had taken over his uncle’s ship and died in bethnel green London.

  23. the writer is descended from Thomas de brotherton and without my notes connected to the howards via the arundels. his mother 2nd wife of Edward 1. my late husband from the first wife to Edmund Langley son of Edward II and Isabel heiress of siddington Langley Gloucestershire.

  24. All Henry the VIII wives EXCEPT Anne of Cleves were descended from the Greatest Knight that ever lived, the Norman WILLIAM MARSHALL and his wife Isabel de CLARE.

  25. Claire, I am intrigued by Caroline’s coment that she has a line back to Thomas Paine and Elizabeth Boleyn. I would like to see that if she can share it, because there only seems to be information through daugteres Mary or Elizabeth. All information from sons Christopher, Edmund, James, Thomas, Richard, Edward, James, and daughter Frances seem to have disappeared. I have this information from a visitation 1563-89-1613 to their area in Norfolk. I am trying to trace a Barnett Payne (christened 29 Apr 1666) 1666-1742 from America who showed up and bought land in Virginia in 1706. He was supposed to come from Barford, son of a John (christened 6 Jun 1620) and Mary, son of a Richard and Mary. All other avenues of Paynes seem closed, except this family, but there is no more information. I would appreciate any data.

  26. I believe to be a relative of anne bolyne no joke. I was told years ago its to do with my grans side, janet clanahan..i would like to find out what it wld mean. We had a family tree done years ago with some old woman from glasgow and told my gran she was a distant cousin.,,,am more than sure. Could someone find out. Many thanks, stanley rogers,

  27. I am interested in the Moulin connection of Ann’s family . I have been searching the Calais branch of the Moulin and would be forever in your debt for just the speck of info. I have read that she has mention that Denis Moulin Bishop of Paris was family And that there may have been a Eustace du Moulin a knight in the house of Boleyn……..

    thank you: Michael Mullen

  28. I believe your very close to the truth.the truth is obvious according to my genealogy the bowling family is descended to Charlemagne who is of Merovingian bloodand because of the fact that the Merovingianhave gotten run out of the throne of Francethe bowling family not focused on the throne of Englandthey are desperately trying to seek out vengeance in order to get back on their original successionand because of that fact the bowling family is not only almost extinct but the line carried out within the on to Plantagenet family. And from the plantagenet family the line carried on with the Shelton familyso another wise the line is Charlemagne to Baldwin tually Plantagenet to the boleyns to the Sheltons if you’re curious to learn more about my family email me at jenniferritchey83 @

  29. Your research is somewhat interesting you know the comment about not many from her bloodline being left. Royal descendants may be living in US commercials. My research and DNA this bloodline still exist. I was the youngest of my fathers second family. I was given as a young child 2 family records. Being a decendent and direct decendent of the mentioned people in your artical I have spent the last 50 years knowing and researching; Texas History, American History, Catholicism, stories from my Elders, the King James Bible version, mankind wrong doings and of course allot of family trees within my DNA bloodline. So to some it up the American English Butler’s, Bryan’s & French 1st cousins # X’s removed their 3 Mallett shiploads of family members landed on the eastern coast of US, Ancestor Edward Strode called them landgrabbers. That is the line of many mixed and not so honorable they are and tend to be barbaricals a line of barbarians. God bless the Queen.

  30. I am sure you will know that the Battle Abbey Roll has been corrupted grossly over the years by the monks who, for a fee, were only to happy to increase the numbers of the “companions” of William the Bastard.

    So too the “Counts of Boulogne” (there was only one at a time) would not have dirtied his hands with William’s adventure – there was nothing in it for him. No, for the most part any non-Normans qua Normans were mostly younger sons who saw it as an opportunity to carve a future for their family – given that they would be by-passed for a patrimony.

    Here is illustrated the Boleyn coat of arms. These arms have nothing to do with that of the Counts of Boulogne – so I do not believe that there is a male line connection. Apparently the arms originate in Brabant, but I think that this means only that this is the place where they are first recorded.

    The author goes on to say that:

    William de Bolein de Bologne had three sons:
    Simon bought land in England before 1252.
    Pharumus de Boleyne.

    William de Bolein de Bologne had a brother Herbert de Bukium.

    If “de Bolein de Bologne” is correct then we can see that “Boleyn” is NOT a corruption of “Boulogne” (or it would be tautology and silly because it actually diminishes the nobility aspired to). However the use of the name Eustace and the William being in Boulogne at the time does imply a proximity to the Count’s family – at least at that time.

    My guess is that the family may have been connected to the Duchy of Bouillon and I see that the Boleyn coat of arms could be construed as that of a vassal of this family (colours reversed, chevron for fesse (see – but not, I think a male line descendant. I see that Geoffrey de Bouillon also held Antwerp (which is in Brabant).

    In his Memoires, Charles Grant vicomte de Vaux claims a very close connection with the Boleyn family which he represents as “Boulenc”. While the specifics of his claim that Anne Boleyn was descended from a Grant girl) are clearly bogus, there could be something solid somewhere in it – ie a family connection, but much looser. I am relaxed about “Boleyn” and “Boulenc” both being corruptions of “Bouillon” (however it was spelled at the time(s) in question). I see you cite “Buliun” and this too would fit.

    So Ann Boleyn may well have had an ancestral link to the Counts of Boulogne (given the extent of intermarriage in those days, it would probably be harder not to) but the pudding may have been considerably overegged wrt the nature of that connection. This was a common practice.

  31. I have traced my Bullen (Boleyn) ancestry back to 1480s in a Norfolk very near to Salle where in the Church of St. Peter & St Paul there are brass inlays in the nave floor to Anne Boleyn’s great-grandparents Geoffrey and Alice Boleyn and Simon Boleyn, a priest, who died in 1489. The Christian name of Simon suddenly appears as the name of one of my ancestors in the 1400s but I have not been able to find a link although I think there must be one. Therefore I would be grateful if anyone could let me know the siblings of Simon the priest and who his parents were.
    Thanking you and hoping for help,

  32. Further to my post an hour ago I have just found some info. on the internet in connection with Simon Boleyn – although I don’t know whether it is going to help!!!!

  33. Did Someone ever thought to search for a dutch or flemish connection?? this because Boleyn is a common name in these countries…….

    1. 50 Flemish knights, mainly younger sons, accompanied William the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders on their return trip to Normandy.
      Spelling was not standardized in England until the latter 1700s and in America until the early to mid-1800s. To a certain extent, it was up to the writer and the accent. Some early historians called the people living in what is now called England Saxons, others called them Angles.
      My point.
      I do not accept the Boulogne. I had never heard about the family name originating there.
      One line of my family comes from one of those 50 Flemish knights and I do not recall that name. I will check what I have and hope I can find my way back here.

  34. How many cousins from direct decent do you think Anne Boleyn has lived. many names mentioned are in my family tree, Geoffrey Boleyn, with others also mentioned

  35. Haven’t finished reading everything on this site but I will in time because it is so interesting. Thank you. It is almost 20 years since I became interested in genealogy and have managed to go back quite a way in my Family Tree. But a few days ago I nearly fell off my seat when I found a Lady Mary who was the sister of Anne Boleyn. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing especially when “My Heritage” advised me the next day that Anne & Henry VIII were my direct ancestors through 18 generations. My father’s family came from Kent and my mother’s from Co. Cork but originally from Gloucestershire. Haven’t worked out which side to “blame” yet but it will keep me involved for many months or years. Barbara Hitches

  36. My ancestors the deMandevilles were also ancestors of Ann Boleyn. They came with first Norman king, King William, and quickly became Constables of the Tower of London. Eventually they were Earls of Essex, lost it, regained it, then went to Beatrice Mandeville de Say, and to Hereford. My first husband was related to Francis West, family of earliest Virginia governors, thru the dela Warres descended from Mary Boley Carey, thru the Knollys…

  37. My Grandmother,..was a Boleyn,..she was married to John Fulford,..she passed at sixty nine years of age, I have our family tree that proves I am a direct desecendant. She is buried in Martinsville, Indiana,..she rests next to her husband John. I lack in depth,..detailed information regarding my ancestor,..Anne Boleyn,..and would appreciate any factual information. I know what everyone knows ( the historical account) in regard to her life, ..yet I’m sure it contains truth, interlaced with assumption, well as falsehood !..I would appreciate any help,..Thank you !

  38. I have recently become interested in genealogy through Ancestry DNA. Bullen is my husband’s family name. Any suggestions as to how I can trace it back further? I know the Bullen roots are English, but I’ve come to a standstill with Ancestry. I’ve long been interested in Anne Boleyn, reading everything I can find and visiting Hever so I’d appreciate help on where to go to connect the dots. I’ve recently focused on my mothers family where I’ve gone back to around the 1600’s in Scotland, England and Ireland.

  39. wondering if you can speak your mind OR the truth here. Don’t think it takes 24 hrs to moderate, or does it ? my comments seem to have gone into to a black hole. Remember Jack Nicholson ? “you can’t handle the truth ” Hmmmmmm

  40. On the wall at Hever is a letter from Anne’s father in his own hand and he signs his name “Bollyng” rather than Boleyn.

    My own family name. Boulding, is a corruption of Bollyng/Bullyng, (the “d” appears to be added in the late 16thC to make it “Boulding”, and is found in Kent from the late 1200s where the name is styled “de Bullyng/Bollyng” (1274 Whitstable). There is in Whitstable a place called “Bollyng” next to the church and I have always been torn between the locative name being from Whitstable or from Boulogne. The de Bollyngs has property in Whitstable, Canterbury, Godmersham and Crundale Thomas de Bollying was an accountant for the St Augustine’s Abbey and they gave out farming rights to their lands in Godmersham. Godmersham’s chantry priest was Thomas Bollyng in 1374

    There is also Bollyng Hall in Bradford and the “de Bollyng” family had a close connection with the Tempest family who also turn up in Norfolk.

  41. I also have a Geoffrey Bullyng (son of William & Isabella Bullyng of Herne in Kent.). One wonders whether Geoffery was named after a successful relative or perhaps – as it fetne is – a complete coincidence.

    Geoffrey Bullyng before 1455 – (son of William & Isabella Bullyng)
    Geoffrey Bullyng born before 1455 [Herne?]
    AC Vol XLI p45
    10th Feb 1475/6 Will of William Brailis. Geoffrey Bullyng overseer A Vol 3 fol 64
    William Brailis 10 Fen 1475/6 Buried in the churchyard. High alter 12d, to the parish clerk and the sacrisy each 4d. William London after the death of my wife have a folding table. Residue to wife Alice my Ex’or with Geofrey Bullyng overseer. Wife have my tenement with garden for life then sold and to the reparation of each church 33-4d to Julyane wife of John Colbrand 3-4d and each of her children 20d; to the Priory of Leeds 6-8d; repair of bad roads 6-8d; and for masses 10/- [Probate 16 feb 1475/6] A Vol 3 fol 64

    William Bullyng of Herne b14xx – d1482 Herne
    Isabella ____
    14?? William & Isabella a son, Geoffery Herne?

    The Will suggest no other children. Geoffrey, his son, sues John Bocher alias Apilton, of Herne, butcher in 1477 so must be born before 1455.

    Bullyng William 1482-3 Consistory ct. Vol 2 folio 550
    1482 Dec 10 William Bulling Herne Wills No 49 AC Vol 28
    To be buried in churchyard. To son Geoffrey a horse to be disposed in exequies and mass and also other good works for my soul. Residue to wife Isabella who executrix. Feofees: William Ive of Hoth, John Hammond, John at Hall jnr, who are to sell an acre of land at Westbroke & my wife Isabella have the money. Also wife to occupy messuage with garden for life then to Geoffrey and his heirs but if Geoffrey die before his motther then to be sold and 6s 8d to the fabric of the church and in mass for 2 years in church. Proved Jan 27 1482-3 (Vol II f550)

  42. Very interesting article. Thank you. My own ancestors spelt their surname Boullen, the spelling of which I have noticed on the pictures of Ann and her sister Mary, at Hever Castle. My ancestors were Huguenots, from Luneray in Normandy.
    I think it likely that her surname originates from France. Very interesting to read that it could have come from Boulogne.

  43. Claire.

    I have to study this some more, but before I do, I am sending this to you.
    Spelling was not standardized until the 1800s, Some people have been found to have had 14 spelling of their name during their lifetime. My point the spelling of Boleyn will vary greatly.

    Chapyus and the Howards were Roman Catholics and Anne was not. She followed the New Learning as it was some times called or the Church of England with the monarch in charge. Anne was the Queen and as such the Duchess of Norfolk would curtsy. The Duchess would consider herself humiliated because Anne had precedence over her.
    During Elizabeth’s reign criticism of Anne would be limited.

    I am not sure who I am descended from, there are no records of my paternal family before my great grandfather, and all I know is his first, middle and surname. There are records between 1050 & 1700, but that is another story.
    However, I am researching most monarchs and aristocracy because I am helping a friend research their ancestors. Direct lines have been established and I am working on other relatives.

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