Thank you to Clare Cherry, co-author of George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier and Diplomat for writing this guest article for us today.

Over to Clare…

In 1536 five members of the Boleyn family had their lives destroyed, or at the very least fundamentally damaged. Anne and George were put to death on trumped up charges of incest, adultery and treason. Thomas and Elizabeth Boleyn lost a daughter and their son and heir. Thomas also lost his court position, career and reputation. Jane Boleyn lost her husband and social position. She later went on to lose her life.

Ever since Anne Boleyn first caught the eye of the king, and since he first started chasing her around the country, the Boleyn family has been vilified. They were alleged to be ambitious social climbers, Thomas pimped his daughters to the highest bidder and so on and so on. The vilification obviously increased when Anne was accused of adultery and incest, and of plotting to kill the king. All of the charges we now know were nonsense, as did many people at the time of her fall. But human beings just love kicking a person when they’re down. So anyone who was jealous of the Boleyns, or who hated religious reform of which they were spearheads, or who were loyal to Catherine of Aragon and Mary used every opportunity to defame them. When Henry decided to ditch Anne using every foul method available to him, their enemies, or should that be rivals, must have been rubbing their hands together in glee.

But before the king’s infatuation with Anne, the Boleyns were a respectable family, no different to any other prominent Tudor family. They were in the employment of the king, and they were loyal subjects. Thomas was a successful and respected courier, politician and diplomat, and his young son, George was to follow in his footsteps.

Yes, they were ambitious, like every other courtier at Henry VIII’s court, but I think only failures see ambition as a character flaw. Thomas, and later George, were highly intelligent and capable men. Their successful careers would have elicited no comment, other than perhaps envy, had Henry not wanted to marry Anne. But he did want to marry her, so what were the Boleyns, or indeed anyone else for that matter, supposed to have done? They had to get the king what he wanted. That included not only the Boleyns, but also Cardinal Wolsey, Charles Brandon, Thomas Cromwell and everyone else in Henry’s employ, whether they were happy to accept Nan Boleyn on the throne or not. If you didn’t like it, tough!

The Boleyns were no different to any other prominent Tudor family, save for the fact that they had two daughters who caught the eye of the king, and the fact that their two bright stars were murdered on false charges of treason. Without that, Thomas and George would be remembered as two successful courtiers in the same way as Thomas Wyatt, Francis Bryan, Nicholas Carew, Charles Brandon, etc. are. They played their cards in the same way as all of these men, just as the Seymour family did, the Howard family did and all of the other members of Henry’s court.

Children in the playground say, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me”. As adults, we understand the fallacy of that phrase. Bones can be repaired, but words are the most dangerous weapon we possess, and a damaged reputation can often be irreparable, as is the pain caused.

In the sixteenth century, reputation and honour were vitally important. Anne and George Boleyn were accused of incest. To two proud people, the horror of that would have been palpable. It’s why George Boleyn died on the scaffold saying he was dying with more shame and dishonour than had ever been heard of before. Yet so often we don’t even consider these people as human beings. We say what we like about them because it’s easy. They died so long ago it’s hard to think that they actually lived. It’s why some authors can be so cavalier when characterising them in their fiction. To all intents and purposes, they’ve become caricatures on a page to be used and abused at will.

We know all this, but still, Thomas is vilified for pimping his daughters, when there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that he did. The evidence we do have shows him to have been opposed to the marriage. Anne is still seen by many as the wicked witch who connived and manipulated her way to the crown and put aside the righteous Catherine of Aragon while doing so, despite doing everything in her limited power to spurn his attentions. Even Elizabeth Boleyn’s virtue has recently been questioned by one historian. And then there are Jane and George Boleyn. Jane has been vilified for years for being the source of the incest allegation despite no evidence to prove she was. Why let the lack of evidence get in the way of a good story?

We don’t seem to have come very far in the last five-hundred years. In fact, it gets worse. George Boleyn largely escaped vilification following his death. It’s only been in the last thirty years or so that certain fiction writers have started to take cheap shots at him. Suddenly he’s become a rapist, a wife abuser, a thug and a sneering idiot. It’s all become so boringly predictable and lazy.

Even George Boleyn’s talent for poetry has been used against him with callous manipulation. In Hilary Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies we have Thomas Cromwell suggesting that George only wrote poetry so that he could stick his cock in as many women as he could (Mantel’s obscenity, not mine). Does what we know about George Boleyn, rather than the fiction written about him, lead anyone to believe that this vile quote is deserved?

If the king had not moved heaven, earth and religion to marry Anne, then Thomas and George would have continued to have successful careers and be remembered as respected and competent courtiers. George would have kept his head intact and probably have died a natural death. Cavendish would never have written libellous verse about him, and his honour and reputation would, therefore, have remained intact, along with his head. No one would, five-hundred years later, be keen to paint Elizabeth Boleyn as a trollop. As for Jane Boleyn, no one would allege that she falsely accused her husband of incest, which would have the knock-on effect that no one would be accusing George of wife-abuse. Their marriage would not elicit any comment at all because it elicited no comment at the time. As for Anne, she would have married a successful courtier, and no one would ever have heard of her. The Boleyns would always have been keen religious reformers, but they would have had no power to do anything about it, and they would have been sensible to have put up and shut up.

It was not just Anne and George who fell in 1536. The whole family was brought down with them, and for what? For being unlucky? For being in the wrong place at the wrong time? For having a paranoid cruel tyrant for a king who wanted to remarry without impediment? It certainly wasn’t for being guilty. A loyal servant to the king had his career stripped from him. Parents lost two of their children in the most tragic circumstances that can be imagined, and a wife was left widowed. Two innocent young people lost their lives and their honour on the foulest and most callous charges which could be conceived. What happened to the Boleyns was not deserved. What did they possibly do to deserve what happened to them? They were destroyed in 1536. Why do we feel the need to keep destroying them over and over again?

Clare did a video talk on George Boleyn for Anne Boleyn Day 2017 and you can click here to watch it. Claire Ridgway did a video talk on Thomas and Elizabeth Boleyn and you can click here to watch it.

Clare Cherry lives in Hampshire with her partner David. She works as a solicitor in Dorset, but has a passion for Tudor history and began researching the life of George Boleyn in 2006. She started corresponding with Claire Ridgway in late 2009, after meeting through The Anne Boleyn Files website, and the two Tudor enthusiasts became firm friends. They co-wrote George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier & Diplomat. Clare divides her time between the legal profession and researching Tudor history. Clare has written guest articles on George Boleyn for The Anne Boleyn Files,, and author Susan Bordo’s The Creation of Anne Boleyn website.

About George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier & Diplomat:

George Boleyn has gone down in history as being the brother of the ill-fated Queen Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII, and for being executed for treason, after being found guilty of incest and of conspiring to kill the King.

This biography allows George to step out of the shadows and brings him to life as a court poet, royal favourite, keen sportsman, talented diplomat and loyal brother. Clare Cherry and Claire Ridgway chart his life from his spectacular rise in the 1520s to his dramatic fall and tragic end in 1536.

George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier and Diplomat is divided into three sections – Beginnings, Career and Influence, and End of an Era – and topics include:

– George Boleyn’s poetry
– Personal attributes and social pursuits
– Religion
– George’s marriage to Jane Parker
– The Reformation Parliament and the League of Schmalkalden
– George the Diplomat
– The fall of the Boleyns, arrests and trials
– The aftermath of their fall
– George Boleyn, Dean of Lichfield, and the Clonony Castle Boleyns

The biography is fully referenced and includes chapter notes, bibliography and useful appendices.

Find out more about the book at

Picture: Jane Boleyn in “The Tudors” series; Thomas and Elizabeth Boleyn in The Other Boleyn Girl movie; George and Anne Boleyn in The Other Boleyn Girl movie; George Boleyn in Bring Up the Bodies.

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28 thoughts on “The Destruction of the Boleyn Family”
  1. I understand your point. But other families have been just as vilified: the Seymours, the Howards, the Woodvilles. Take the Seymours: Jane has been accused of being cold, calculating, murderous; historians have openly insulted her appearance (yes David Starkey) and the nonsense about John Seymour’s affair with his daughter-in-law continues to be asserted. Thomas Seymour is often referred to as a child abuser. Is anyone defending them and rehabilitating their reputation? Not to my knowledge.

    Also, what happened to George and Anne Boleyn was monstrously unjust, they were both innocent, but can we have some perspective: these people died in 1536. Almost five hundred years ago. Why do people feel so strongly? I can understand the Holocaust, as it’s still in living memory, and a terrorist attack has just taken place in Manchester. I just question why we need to feel sorry for people who lived so long ago. And while they do deserve rehabilitating, let’s not go too far and assume they were perfect, virtuous saints. They were not. Let’s not whitewash them. Anne Boleyn was not a passive Victorian victim. Let’s have some respect and take these people for what they were: power hungry, ambitious and scheming courtiers. Who also happened to be pious and educated.

    1. If you have read our book, you would know that Clare and I do not believe that George Boleyn was a saint, and if you regularly read articles on this blog then you would know that I do not see Anne Boleyn as a “perfect, virtuous saint” either. Nobody is whitewashing them.

      The majority of historians and authors depict Jane Seymour as a meek, mild and virtuous woman and I don’t believe that the Seymour family has been villified as much as the Boleyn family. The Boleyns are much more ‘popular’ in popular culture – fiction, TV, movies etc.

      I don’t think there’s any need to have some perspective here. I don’t believe that Clare is trying to get anyone to forget about today’s issues and force them to focus only on events of over 400 years ago. The Holocaust and the Manchester attack have absolutely nothing to do with this article, we don’t have to choose between them and why shouldn’t we feel empathy with, or pity for, people who lived long ago?

    2. I don’t agree with the vilification of anybody, and I fail to see what the passage of time has to do with that. The families you refer to were not destroyed in the same manner as the Boleyns, and neither are they vilified today to the extent that the Boleyns are.
      But yes, they have their share of negative comments, and anyone is at liberty to defend them if they choose. However, I am defending the Boleyns on a site dedicated to Anne Boleyn.
      The fact that I am doing so does not mean that I don’t care what happened in the Holocaust or yesterday in Manchester. But to suggest we cannot rehabilitate the long dead because of those atrocities doesn’t seem to make a great deal of sense to me. We are all capable of caring about a great many things, whether they happened yesterday or five-hundred years ago.
      People care about history and object to historical people being demonised. There are people who hate the injustice of the unfair treatment of these people for entertainment value. That doesn’t mean I believe anyone is perfect or virtuous or saintly, but I do think it’s good that there are people who care enough to put the record straight. If you don’t, that’s your prerogative.

      1. It’s good to care as history is made by the brave and what happened in the past does affect the future, people who do not care for history do not realise this, it’s like women saying they cannot be bothered to vote, this annoys me as I always tell them one woman threw herself in front of the Kings horse and died as a result so they could have the opportunity to decide our country’s future.

        1. This is an interesting and well-written article. I do agree that other families deserve rehabilitation, however. Susan Higginbotham has written a powerful study of the Woodvilles, focusing on their cultural interests, their patronage, their sporting prowess; she undermines the traditional view of them as greedy, unscrupulous parvenus.

          I don’t agree, though, that the Boleyns are vilified as much as they used to be. Many historians, including Eric Ives, Suzannah Lipscomb, David Starkey and Retha Warnicke have corrected misapprehensions about the so-called unbridled Boleyn ambition and have demonstrated that they were typical courtiers of their time and class. They were ambitious, undoubtedly, but so were most noble families, including the Howards, Seymours, Percies, Greys and Brandons.

          Perhaps the reason for continuing misconceptions about Thomas and George Boleyn, in particular, is the influence of Philippa Gregory’s powerful novel. Now, Gregory’s approach to history is rather imaginative, but she is a novelist and so is entitled to write as she sees fit. She does not claim to be writing biography or a serious work of academic history. Likewise with Hilary Mantel. Likewise with other novelists, such as Carolly Erickson or Suzannah Dunn, both of whom have written less-than-sympathetic novels about Anne Boleyn and instead adopt the modern trend of portraying her as foul-mouthed, vulgar and entitled. But there lies the distinction between non-fiction history and a novel: these novelists are freely admitting to using creative licence, to using their imagination, they are not claiming to be writing an academic tome. If readers wish to read a non-fiction account of the Boleyns, they can turn to Ives, Starkey, Lipscomb, Warnicke. Lauren Mackay is releasing a biography of Thomas Boleyn, and David Loades has actually written a biography of the Boleyn family.

          I don’t spend much time on social media sites, so I can’t speak about continuing misconceptions about the Boleyns, but I do agree that other families deserve rehabilitation and reconsideration. The Seymours have received far less attention, aside from William Seymour’s book published in the 1970s. The Howards also traditionally do not enjoy a favourable reputation. And I know of irritation felt by some that the Parrs have received scarcely any recognition. We all know of Katherine Parr, but what of her able and talented siblings William and Anne, who resided at court for many years before their sister caught the king’s eye?

          There have been thousands and thousands of reviews on Amazon, Goodreads and blogs criticising Gregory, Mantel, Erickson and other novelists who are very imaginative with their history and favour sensational storylines concerning witchcraft, incest, adultery, lesbianism, etc. But these are works of fiction and if readers cannot tell the difference between a novel and academic history, that is not the fault of the novelist.

        2. I think the problem is that many people who read historical novels and who watch movies and TV series like “Bring Up the Bodies”, “The Other Boleyn Girl”, “The Tudors” etc. etc. don’t then go on to read books like Eric Ives’ biography. Not a week goes by when I don’t receive a message, an email, a comment on Facebook or here, or see a comment on social media about Anne Boleyn being a wh*re, her family pimping her out, Jane Boleyn being responsible for the Boleyns’ downfall, George being a horrible husband, and similar. On Anne Boleyn Day, I lost count of the times I saw or received comments saying that Anne Boleyn got what she deserved and that it was karma. The Boleyns are regularly being vilified. Jane Seymour does get attacked, but nothing like Anne Boleyn, and her brothers don’t get as much attention anyway.

          “But these are works of fiction and if readers cannot tell the difference between a novel and academic history, that is not the fault of the novelist.” That’s not entirely true when you have novelists claiming that their books are historically accurate. I don’t see that a reader can be blamed at all then.

    3. First my heart and prayers go out to those who were brutally murdered last night and the injured and those still lost and their poor parents, friends and relatives. This was terrible and we remember them and prayers are with them. RIP. YNWA.

      We remember people from the past in this way because they have been maligned by history. When representing people from history we need to be balanced and faithful to the truth, good and bad. Thomas Seymour was a child abuser in the modern sense as Elizabeth was only 14 when he acted inappropriately in her room, but it was more akin to grooming and Elizabeth was considered an adult as she was of marriage age. That still makes his advances wrong and she didn’t want them. Thomas Seymour was married to her stepmother and Elizabeth was under their protection. He had no right being in her room uninvited in any event. Jad she not called out on a couple of occasions he may have raped her. She was terrified. But he was also charming and handsome and both Seymours were regarded for their military contributions. Katherine Parr found him interesting and loved him for his charms and other qualities. She adored him and took his side when she caught him kissing Elizabeth, although she knew in her heart there was something in the rumours about him. Katherine was pregnant and needed her husband with her. After her death in childbirth, Thomas did petition Elizabeth to marry him and she didn’t turn him down. He was then both foolish and reckless and was accused of plotting to marry Elizabeth and place his nephew the King in danger. I don’t believe he intended any harm to Edward but his actions were interpreted as treason, so he is maligned by the state trials which give mostly the crown side of things. Edward Seymour was a moderate reformer, but he is portrayed as a fanatic and he was also shown as having a helpless young Edward under his thumb. It is true he was very ambitious and took control of the Regency Council against Henry Viii’s will and he was renowned for toughness, but he was also maligned by Northumberland who was in turn maligned for his part in promoting Lady Jane Grey as Edward’s heir. The evidence actually points to it being Edward Vi who wrote the Device in collaboration with Northumberland. The parents of Lady Jane Grey have been maligned as cruel and abusive but they were loving and protective. They were all ambitious, but that doesn’t mean they abused their children or deserve to only be remembered for how they died.

      We have to continually rehabilitate people in history as they are still maligned. If Philippa Gregory et al didn’t promote their ideas of history as the truth instead of an idea for a fictional novel, then George and Anne Boleyn wouldn’t need to be defended over and over again. We would have numerous works and sources to guide people to and not the nonsense of popular films. Unfortunately, people believe the Other Boleyn Girl and don’t listen to anything else. Claire is absolutely correct, the Boleyn family are still maligned for the sake of it, while others are presented more fairly.

      Yes, the terrible events of the Holocaust are within living memory, but the evils which led to the slaughter of six million men, women and children should never be allowed a voice again and it must never be forgotten!!!!! There are many tragic things in history which we have a duty to remember. Have you ever watched a recreational documentary on Herculanium or Pompeii, based on the evidence of those they have rediscovered who died, where they showed it as if the people were alive and it was happening now? Reading the accounts of those who suffered, from their discovered bodies as if they are telling us their story really brought home that these people were real and human and loved, lived and breathed and had relationships, children, enjoyed life, were like us, not some obscure person from 2000 years ago. These poor people suffered and I actually cried watching that because they were suddenly real. We have a duty to care just as much about people of the past, at least to remember them as we feel for the people of Manchester, Paris, London, the Middle East, anyone killed in terrible circumstances. If we don’t remember them, who will?

      1. Hi Banditqueen iv always had a fascination for the tragedy of Pompei and Herculaneum and whenever there’s a documentary or film on tv I have to watch it, they died the most dreadful deaths having hot ash poured down on them before being burned alive, thankfully it was a quick death and their horror they experienced shows in the ravaged plaster casts of their faces, they are immortalised forever as victims of the terrible destruction of nature, it has always been said that the elements are mankinds worst enemy, history is full of tragedies it is mankinds heritage, there’s disease and wars and famines, but what is worse is mans treatment of his own kind, the holocaust was heinous, so was the killing of the babies by King Herod and the massacre of the French Huguenots by Catherine De Medici, Stalin murdured thousands and most was his own people, we can weep for all the victims of these dreadful tragedies wether they happened a thousand years ago or just ten years ago, I wept for the victims of the moors murderers the victims suffering will never go away, on Remebrance Sunday we pay tribute to those who suffered and died in the last world wars and the war in Afghanistan the middle east, the Falklands, now the dreadful cowardly attacks by ISIS, there always seems to be something awful happening, the pen is mightier than the sword which is all too obvious in the case of Anne Boleyn who has been called everything from a sex mad incestous witch with a sixth finger to plotting murder and her father a power obsessed tyrant who literally pushed his daughters into the Kings bed, her mothers reputation has also suffered with many saying she also slept with Henry whilst at court long before her daughter became involved. Writers of historical fiction like Gregory are responsible for this as the public tend to believe what they read, some writers like Plaidy and Lofts stuck nearer to the truth but Gregory has really gone to town with her fabled tales of the Boleyn family, in a sense she has re written history so instead of rumours dying down she is responsible for people believing the most ridiculous stories, she went all out to trap Henry – nonsense, she coerced her own brother into bed with her so she could have a son – again nonsense, she had Mary Boleyn giving birth to Henrys son when her first born was a daughter and there has never been a definitive proof either of her children were the Kings, she had both sisters vying for his affection when the truth was he had an affair with Mary first which ended after he had married her off and after his eye alighted on Anne who certainly did not want his stifling attentions and was forever leaving court to get away from him, I think it’s a shame that Miss.Gregory cannot write a novel that tells it like it was, as much as a novelist can to stick as close to the truth as possible, I don’t find her novels anymore exciting because she has Anne and George having a quickie in the bedchamber, it just wasn’t true yet here’s the problem, Gregory actually thinks they did sleep together, so in some people what was a dreadful slandering of two innocent intelligent normal people many years ago is still very much alive today, albeit in the trashy novels on the shelves of WH Smiths, in that wonderful film Anne Of The Thousand Days it showed Henry earwigging outside the great hall in the Tower when Anne was on trial and after she was condemned he visited her in her apartments, in reality they never saw each other again after the fatal May Day joust, he would not visit her and I believe this could partly be that he was afraid old feelings would get the better of him and he was determined not to weaken in his resolve to get rid of her, I wish historical films and books would stick to the truth because I am forever saying, that didn’t happen, that’s not true, etc, Braveheart also was not historically accurate, I think the only part that was was where poor Wallace was executed at the end, enjoyable movie though.

        1. I agree, although I don’t mind the odd variation on how something was in fiction as a device to portray something more dramatic, but Gregory says in her notes that her version is closer to the truth. She also goes too far and completely invents pointless things, such as Elizabeth of York being raped by Henry Tudor in the White Princess. The Anne is a Witch or Anne and George together in order for Anne to have a baby have all been debunked years ago. This is why we care and go on refuting this nonsense, in the hope someone is taking notice.

          There are so many terrible things in history and now and we remember all of them because they are part of the human story. I recently acquired gwo books which look at the reputation of two greatly criticised and
          probably maligned Medieval women. There is a book on Joanna of Naples who was accused of everything under the sun because she backed the wrong horse or rather, Pope, although before this she was a wise and pious ruler. You see there were two Popes Urban and Clement and Joanna, a friend of Saint Katherine of Sienna backed Clement, then in panic backed Urban and then Clement. Most countries backed Urban and Joanna ended up losing her kingdom, her freedom and her life as she ‘died’ in prison. Excommunicated she also lost her tomb to her sister and her reputation has greatly suffered. Her new biography balanced the sources and both reputation and true contemporary legacy to get at the truth.

          Isabella of Bavaria, the mother of the Dauphan of France, the future Charles Vii and wife to the mad king Charles vi, was called an adulterous wh*re several times over, but a book The Life and Afterlife of Isabella of Bavaria explores the historiography of the Queen, sources by her rivals and enemies and other sources which paint a different view. Isabella was respected during her regency and her care for her husband who could no longer reign as he was mentally ill for her wisdom and good administration. However, during the early years of her son’s reign when he was fighting to regain lost territory and after her death Isabella was called an adulterous woman and the fatherhood of Charles vii questioned. Her rule had been praised but some foreign sources, mainly from those Burgundy showed her negatively in the years that France and Burgundy were at loggerheads. Written originally in French, but now fully translated, the new work by an expert in Medieval France and ancient language has fully recovered Isabella through a full investigation of all of the known sources and historiography through the centuries. Both are very well written and academic works but highly recommended.

          Someone mentioned a few days ago the wife of Louis ii of Bavaria, a young woman accused of adultery and brutally executed along with some of her ladies on no basis and apparently with little or no trial. The remaining evidence is negligible and we know very little to evaluate the truth, save another young woman died so as her husband could have a son with another wife, this time after only two years of marriage.

          In the fall and execution of Anne and George we see two young highly educated and scholarly people, the loss of two children for their parents, as adults in their prime, the destruction of their potential heirs, the loss of future grandchildren and their wealth and fortune confiscated. We see Elizabeth and Thomas Boleyn having to give up much, including their home and Elizabeth was made sicker through their loss. Yes, Thomas was very ambitious, they all were, which is why they are in royal service in the first place, but so what, there id nothing wrong with ambition and he was very talented and rewarded because of hard work and long service as well as his daughters careers. George Boleyn as Clare reminds us was married to Jane Boleyn and left a widow with little to support her after George lost his lands and revenue as punishment for his alleged treason. Jane had to write to Cromwell in order to get financial support. It was fortunate for her that with many of Anne’s other ladies, she was able to transfer to Jane Seymour’s service. Mary Boleyn was left as the sole heir but she had to fight as she was out of favour with her family. Thomas Boleyn had a brother, James, who inherited most of what was left and both Thomas and Elizabeth died within a couple of years of Anne and George.

          The other four men also left families who were ruined and devastated. Henry Norris had a sweetheart, Madge Shelton and no doubt family from his first marriage. Francis Weston wrote to his parents and wife and was only 25. William Brereton came from a large successful family in Cheshire and has many descendants. We don’t know if Mark Smeaton had any family but he was also a talented young man. All left someone behind, we all do.

          Just as these young people were brutally cut down in their prime, we also remember the young children and teens murdered last night before their flowering potential could even begin to be realised. Maybe it’s horrible crimes like this that remind us we can never be without compassion whether for a victim in the past or present because in the end we are linked as human beings. They are us, yesterday.

    4. I find it quite amusing that Warnicke is given credit for dispelling misconceptions about the Boleyn while creating new ones. Yes, Gregory is rather imaginative with her history. After all, a lot of the story line in The Other Boleyn Girl comes from Warnicke.

      1. I have read an article by Warnicke in which she distances herself from Gregory and her portrayal of the Boleyns. Warnicke is responsible for the notion that George and the other four men were guilty of unnatural sexual practices, a misconception that has been disproven by Claire and others. She also suggested that Anne Boleyn gave birth to a deformed foetus. Both ideas were taken up by Gregory.

        However, Warnicke is not responsible for the ruthless and insensitive portrayal of the Boleyns in “The Other Boleyn Girl”. That was Gregory’s interpretation and hers alone. Warnicke never speculated about the character or personality of any of the Boleyns. She herself openly stated that Gregory does not portray these individuals as early modern people.

        1. I doubt Michael Hirst was thinking of Retha Warnicke or anyone else when he wrote the Tudors showing Thomas and George Boleyn hurrying off back to the palace after Henry’s fall from his horse while he was meant to be unconscious and they began plotting to form a regency and put Elizabeth on the throne. He had plenty of ideas of his own about how ambitious the Boleyn family were. Philippa Gregory did just as good a job by herself in the Other Boleyn Girl, but the ambition of the Seymour faction is underplayed and they haven’t had the same historical attention as the Boleyn family until recently. Even Jane doesn’t have one decent biography, save an old one from 1965: Jane the Quene. The gwo by David Loades and Elizabeth Norton are alright but they are more Jane and her times and the rest of the family, not good enough. The Seymours of Wolf Hall by Loades is a move towards redresing the balance, while the Boleyn family, especially Anne get a new book every few months. Anne has numerous biographies and novels. Not every novel is nonsense or biography based on sound research, but a fair number are. Yet despite historians having accessible and well researched blogs and articles, the majority of people still base their knowledge on a few high profile authors who have been fortunate enough to get their mayhem onto the big screen or television. Add some sexy looking actors and beautiful actresses and sexual scenes every five minutes and you have a hooked believing public. I partly agree that someone should be able to tell the difference between a novel and a biography and not take the former seriously, but many are misled by claims of original and authentic research and unfortunately, in some cases, academic prowess, confident assurances that this is based on real events. Even when fiction writers are honest enough to promote their work as their ideas and interpretation or historical entertainment and don’t claim their book is the truth, most readers are only interested in enjoying the book, not in the history behind it. The same can be said of drama, it’s drama, entertainment, not meant as history, but if people believe it, well they believe it. All we can do is hope they log into a blog like this one and ask questions or take part in discussions to address errors in media and fiction. I must point out that documentaries are no better and historians get it wrong, such as Suzanne Lipscomb and Anne Boleyn had her head on a spike. After the exaggerated oh poor Queen Elizabeth last night, which has had me hitting the tv for the last few weeks, I watched, Henry and Anne, Lovers who Made History and other than a few other clangers, this really stood OUT. Where is her evidence when every comment on Anne’s burial had her buried with her head? Charles Wriothsoly, the Chronicle of Henry Viii, the State Letters and Papers from the Vienna Archive and Lancelot de Carles all state that the body and head of Anne and unusual at the time, the five men were buried with their heads. Yes, male traitors normally ended up on spikes, but Katherine Howard didn’t. even if her alleged lovers did. The documentary was excellent up till then, so why make such an obvious clanger? When a novelist does it, it can be excused as imagination but when historians show they haven’t done their homework or invent things it’s much worse as people who don’t know their history assume they are correct as they can justifiably claim to speak with authority. It’s little wonder myths persist and now we have a new myth. Wonderful.

    5. I think the clue is in the title of the website B…The Anne Boleyn Files. Its a personal choice of which period of history you prefer, and there are no given time limits that govern a persons feeling on past events be it 5 years ago or 500 years ago otherwise with the anniversary of WW1 ending 100 years ago next year and the last of the fighting men now passed away you could apply your thought of ‘Living Memory’ to that era and all the injustices then should lessen. Each to their own…

  2. There was no denying Henry’s desires and resistance could prove deadly. Suggesting that some subjects paid tribute to Henry or colluded with him for self-serving purposes should instead be thought of as an act of self-preservation.

    1. I totally agree with this! Even if not as badly vilified as the Boleyns, many of the families cited were destroyed by the Tudors (the Poles under Henry VIII; the Seymours, with Edward and Thomas both executed under Edward VI; the Howards (Earl of Surrey under Henry VIII, 4th duke under Elizabeth are all only examples) I think much of the vilification of the Boleyns is due to a strange unwillingness to blame Henry VIII for the judicial murder of six innocent people … possibly due to the claim that Henry was interested in religious reform, when he was really only interested in appropriating the Church’s wealth and power.


  3. To me the destruction of the Boleyn family has all the essence of a Greek tragedy, they were as the article says successful loyal servants of the crown, there was never any scandal attached to them and the head of the family, Sir Thomas was highly regarded by both Henry V11 and his son, Henry V111, Lady Boleyn was a Howard and had royal blood herself being a descendant of Edward 111, the Howard’s were one of the most noblest families in the kingdom along with the Percy’s and the Staffords, Thomas had made a brilliant match and as he was just a Boleyn maybe there was a bit of envy there who knows but the couple seemed happy together and had children in abundance, after his children’s death he mentioned to Cromwell that Elizabeth had given birth every year, an exhausting feat! But noble families did believe in having lots of children as many died as a result of poor hygiene sickness etc, the strongest survived then as now but we have medical knowledge something the Tudors did not possess, they were a typical family of the age, Lady Elizabeth was at court along with her husband as one of Queen Katherines ladies along with Margery Wentworth, the mother of the woman who would one day take Elizabeths daughter place as Henrys wife, she may have been a bit of a flirt, certainly she was attractive and jealousy often accounts for the odd barbed comment but as happened later with her daughter evil rumours persist and there was never any foundation to the gossip that she had slept with the King, and Anne was his child, besides Henry was guarded very strictly by his father after Arthur’s death and he was much younger than Elizabeth, as one historian points out, he would have been around ten years old at the time, Elizabeth served Katherine well and no doubt enjoyed court life, Thomas was entrusted to escort Princess Margaret to Scotland another mark of high esteem, it was a very valuable errand to undertake, for many years they enjoyed the privileges that being at court brings and after sadly burying several children Elizabeth gave birth to four more children who would survive one who would bring riches untold to their door, Mary the eldest was presumably born c1499 Anne c1500-1 and George the baby of the family around 1504, they were all healthy and Thomas had his son and heir, from an early age he noted his youngest daughter was precocious and made plans to have her sent abroad, he wanted only the best for his children, this was normal and besides children were used as bargaining tools to bring added wealth and often much wanted titles to the family, Anne was bright and had a sparkling personality so much more attractive than mere good looks, he had high hopes for her, he too had made a brilliant marriage with Elizabeth Howard, now Anne his little star could do the same, as George grew up he too showed the same intelligence as his sister and had ability as a poet and like his father had the makings of a good diplomat, when Henry fell in love with Anne the sour looks and remarks began, people are disposed to jealousy and never more so than when they think honour is undeserved, Anne by blood was half a Howard yet she was a servant of the queen being her lady in waiting, why should she be allowed to oust her from her position as queen? Just because she refused to sleep with the King does not mean she should be allowed to step into her shoes, a popular queen of many years standing who was much loved, Henry it must have seemed to many was acting like a besotted fool, the whole of Europe thought so and they did not understand the hold she had over him, so Anne became a much vilified woman and because she was hated, so were the rest of her family, human nature is predictable, Anne completely misread Katherines reaction and could not understand why she wouldn’t just agree her marriage was over,( the problem being Henry was telling her it had never been a marriage in the first place) this enraged her so much she dug her heels in and decided to fight him all the way, the Boleyns became despised as they were looked upon as the harbingers of good Queen Katherines doom and more importantly they were interested in reform, the die hard Catholics were appalled by this and so the mud slinging began, as the years went by Annes frustrated ambition turned her from a cheerful amiable person into a bad tempered harpy who sought the destruction of anyone who stepped in her way, she goaded Henry over Wolsley a man she hated and who hated her, and she hated the queen and her daughter for their continued thwarting of Henrys will, as time went by she angered her uncle and even Percy her old love noted she was not a very good woman anymore, she quarrelled with Cromwell over the monasteries and was heard to mutter she would like to kill Henrys daughter Mary for her refusal to accept her as queen and Elizabeth as the rightful heir, all this continuel arguing and slandering though no doubt due to her frustration over Mary and her miscarriages, her grief at Henrys philandering done her no favours and everywhere like vultures in the desert there were plenty who sought to bring her down, she was nothing without Henry and she must have realised that by becoming queen she did not have the same power over him that she had welded as mistress, her failure to bear sons had made her vulnerable and in effect she knew if she fell, so did her families fortunes, she was the anchor that held them afloat, the Seymour’s were rising high in the Kings favour due to a member of their family catching the Kings eye, like the Boleyns before them they too were being showered with honours and Cromwell had offered his apartments to Jane, he was switching his allegiance to them, as what happens, as it does in politics throughout the ages, people stick with the rising star, Anne knew her fortunes were slipping away from under her as did the rest of her family and there was little they could do about it, Annes character was in essence part of her downfall, she made many enemies and did not care what people thought of her, she berated Henry and he sought refuge in a woman who was the exact opposite, a gentle soul who exuded an air of meek servility, after Anne and her brother were executed her family were left in tatters, they had produced a woman who for nearly five hundred years has been the subject of hot debate, their fortunes had deserted them and they were left a family in ruin, the Tudor court was a dangerous hotbed of ambition strife and envy, Anne chose to become involved in its politics and thus was sown the seeds of her destruction, her advent for reform made her dangerous and whilst she had many admirers her luck rested on the favour of the King, alone she was nothing, she realised this yet being very much her own woman she had belief in the strength of her own convictions, the fall of the house of Boleyn was caused by the politics of the age, a family risen to the highest social position of the age and yet it was all dependant on the fortunes of their daughter Anne, when years before she had been a young girl abroad their fortune had rested on the intelligence and hard work and loyalty of Sir Thomas, then when Anne caught the eye of the King their fortunes steadily increased, Anne was going to be queen! It seemed fortune favours the brave, yet as shown time and again in the court of Henry V111, good favour was transitory, they knew this as they had seen many fall before them it happened to Cromwell several years later and the Duke a Of Norfolk, in Edwards reign it happened to the Seymour’s, once admired statesman of the King, brothers to Queen Jane, broken and beset by grief Thomas and Elizabeth left for Hever and tried to overcome their bad fortune, Elizabeth died possibly of a broken heart just several years later and yet Thomas was soon back at court and held the train at Prince Edwards christening, he was a survivor this unique man who had given England her most notorious queen, he knew he could do nothing now his children were dead, his little granddaughter was a bastard and he quite possibly had little to no contact with her, yet by his sheer drive he could recuperate some of the Boleyn fortunes, Henry liked this faithful servant of his he knew he was invaluable and in the past had served him well, the fact there were rumours about his marriage to the Kings neice shows in what esteem he was held, I wish he had not died when he did, quite possibly he tried to overcome his grief but could not, he had lost his son and heir and his daughter, he was strong minded and had to endure the sidelong glances at court and the mutterings in the corner, always silent as he walked near, people thought his daughter was a disgrace as there are those who will always think there’s no smoke without fire, all this he had to endure and the fact he overcome it shows what a strong will he had, Anne had inherited many of his characteristics yet not his diplomacy, in the end just a few years after his wife he to died and that was the end of a most brilliant family, a family who by a mixture of sheer good luck tenacity and a Kings love had risen to become the highest in the land, as his daughters head rolled in the dust that dreadful day he must have thought that was the end yet little did he know it but his blood flows in the veins of the present queen today, through his ineffectual daughter who he possibly did not have much time for, she was the one through who his line continues to this day and will continue for many generations after.

    1. I am new to this era in English history and I am an American, please do not hold it against me. In the article and the posts it is made to sound like the Boleyn family lost everything which is far from the truth. When Henry VIII, Edward VI and Queen Mary died, England was in financial ruin, had few if any European allies and militarily weak as well as in great religious conflict among their own citizens. Then a ‘mere’ woman took over. Her councils first concern was to find a husband for her, she was not sure that she wanted to marry (gee, I wonder why she was reluctant). This was the beginning of England’s Golden Age. Under Elizabeth I, England became financially solvent, their Navy defeated the Spanish Armada and was a leader in world. Queen Elizabeth I was Anne Boleyn’s daughter. I personally believe that there is an afterlife where those who have passed on can see what goes on in the world they left behind. In this case King Henry VIII was scratching his head, while smiling and saying ‘that is my girl’. While at the same time Queen Anne is smiling and dancing in glee, saying
      ‘that is my girl too’. Everyone remembers her as Henry VIII’s daughter, but she was also Anne Boleyn’s child. She was the true legacy of the Boleyn family, and what a legacy she was!

  4. Wonderfully written, as always Clare! So glad to have you both as champions of these people. Does it really matter that they died over 400 years ago? Does that make them any less worthy of interest or respect? No. One tragedy does not take away from any other tragedy.

    1. Hi Beth, they are my opinions, which are not shared with many others such as Weir. I just hope that my opinions are based on safer ground. But who knows? x

  5. My mother dad last name is Boleyn. We are in Iowa. My great grandfather come from Ohio by boat to Elkeader,Iowa. My grandpa had a big family. They then take ox cart to Elgin,Iowa. But my cousin Troy Boleyn went to France to teach a few years ago and some how find out we are related to 2 Boleyn families. So there most be Catherine,Anne,mary and they family and then a other Boleyn family I’m relate to. I alway when I was little like watching king and queen shows. There was something I feel deep in I couldn’t put my finger on. Til my cousin Troy Boleyn went over and was teaching and did research there in France. I know Anne Boleyn is buried in the cathedral in London,France in the altar. But I would like to learn more on my Boleyn family all the way to Iowa. Ty.

  6. I’m glad to see the truth written here. Through research into my family’s past, we were able to find that we’re descendants of Mary, Anne’s sister even though we live in the U.S.. She’s been portrayed as a sl*t who would sleep with anyone to get just a little bit of power. I never believed that was true. Sure, she probably was ambitious, but so was everyone from the nobility of that day (and there’s not really much difference from politics today). Just because she was ambitious, it doesn’t mean she slept with everyone. As you mentioned, when Kings of that day had their eye on you, you really had no choice. Just because Mary was Henry’s mistress, it doesn’t mean she was a willing one. It doesn’t mean she was a sl*t using her body for getting power. If I’m not mistaken, her first marriage was like most, if not all, marriages of the nobility of the day. Arranged by the family. Her second marriage to a man “below her station” was one where she took the risk of disfavor to be with the one she loved. I consider her to be quite courageous and that marriage to Stafford should be proof enough that she wasn’t as worried about having a high station at court that being the sl*t she’s portrayed as, would make her out to be. Had she been so worried about her station in life, she never would have gone against Anne and Henry in marrying William Stafford. Had she been so ambitious and worried so much about her position, she never would have put it at risk by marrying him, even secretly. When it was found out, I’m sure she could have found a way to get out of the marriage (she was quite intelligent like her sister Anne and their father) and back into at least some favor with Anne, Henry, and the nobility of the court. Instead, she stuck with the man she loved and went into exile. That took a lot of strength of character to defy them, knowing how risky it was. Again, that doesn’t sound like the kind of person who puts station so high that she’d sleep with anyone to increase her’s. It sounds to me like someone who had a strength like her sister and father did. I just hope that, if I’m ever in an extremely tough situation, some of that strength has been passed down the bloodline to me so that I can stand up for what I believe is right, regardless of the amount of pressure.

  7. Really, one thing that cannot be denied is that all of the aristocracy oppressed the people. The world would have been a better place if all of them had suffered the fate of the boelyns.

  8. After 8+ years of looking for blood relation to the Boleyns and finally finding it with granddaughter of Capt. Thomas Boleyn of Dublin, Anna (Boleyn) Whitney marrying Rev. Ambrose Upton, I was left with one nagging question…

    If one looks at The Peerage website, under Surnames, one notices that some surnames, e.g., Howard, Fitzgerald and Courtenay(Courtney), have over 1000 family members of Peerage, but, others, e.g. Boleyn, have less than 100, (Upton ~129).

    One wonders, “What happened to the Boleyn family?” Was it vilification by Henry or expulsion from court? Like the Hoo family, (almost no Peerage), their stay in Court was early and brief, then the family seeming to ‘die out’ altogether.

    Was physical, medical and genetic health a factor? Or, was it the nature and personalities of these people?

    Now knowing there must be some tiny bit of Boleyn DNA in me… I can tell by the ‘personality’ of our family, that self promotion is not a big thing. It’s nice to confirm Boleyn relation, but, books will probably not be written.

    At a couple other websites, Family Forest Project of Hawaii and Select Surnames by Colin Shelley, they have noticed that some surnames or families, (groups of related families), that they carry a signature nature or ‘personalty’, having focused occupations or behaviors toward family heraldry.

    Maybe it was just the passive or meek nature of the Boleyns to slowly fade away as the Hoo family did?

    One can only speculate… “It really makes me wonder…”.

  9. We need know no more other than Good King Henry’s later consequences. Further histories exonerate the Boleyns and display to degrade His Majesty’s honour. Serve him well, the narrow minded, bigoted, self obsessed pile of conceit. His greatest successor twas but a ‘mere’ girl. We see you, Your Grace, we see you fine well…..( no, I don’t like him).

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