Find out more about George Boleyn

Aug21,2021 #George Boleyn #the Boleyns

George Boleyn is my second favourite historical character and is just as fascinating as his more famous sister, Anne Boleyn, so I’m really pleased that his life and career are being given the attention they deserve in BBC Two’s The Boleyns: A Scandalous Family.

If you want to know more about George Boleyn then you can use these resources:

  • Our George Boleyn category of posts – click here.
  • George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier and Diplomat – biography by Clare Cherry and Claire Ridgway. Click here.
  • Among the Wolves of Court: The Untold Story of Thomas and George Boleyn by Lauren Mackay – A dual biography of Thomas Boleyn and George Boleyn. See
  • The Boleyns of Hever Castle by Owen Emmerson and Claire Ridgway, which looks at the whole Boleyn family, who owned Hever Castle for 77 years, and tells their story through their home. Click here

And here is my George Boleyn playlist of videos:

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5 thoughts on “Find out more about George Boleyn”
  1. Hi Phil, yes Anne and George were very close, they both shared a common interest in the reform and we’re very intelligent witty people, they both seemed to have had a dry wit and people found them amusing and fascinating, we don’t know what George looked like but he was described as very handsome, and he could have been dark like Anne, dark and dashing he was a bit of a cad and a womaniser, he was married and there is a myth he disliked his wife, and that she was jealous of the queen, but there is no evidence of any ill feeling between Anne and George’s wife, and all three must have got along quite well, it was Anne who confided in Jane Boleyn that the king lacked prowess in bed, George had a good future at court, his sister was the queen and he was training to be a diplomat like his father, and like Sir Thomas was bi lingual, like Anne he had had a good education, also like Anne he had a love of music and wrote poetry and it was known that he was often in his sisters company, it seems she confided in him quite a lot and sadly, their affection for each other was used to blacken Anne’s name, when she was later accused of having an incestous affair with him, he lost his life because the king wished to rid himself of his sister, and his name was blackened dreadfully, also his sexuality has been the cause of investigation by one historian and he was shown on television indulging in a homosexual affair with the queens musician Mark Smeaton, the real George Boleyn was a witty and charming highly gifted and straight individual, he was not old when he died being only it is assumed about thirty one or two, like his elder sister he had a short but brilliant life.

    1. Hi Christine, yes, many people don’t know that George Boleyn was a scholar and multi lingual. They don’t know he was a poet and he translated a couple of books for Anne. Most noble people spoke and read some French and Latin, because it was required, few actually mastered those languages. Many students studied Greek as well and Anne had the education of a man. I doubt she studied Hebrew and we know her Latin wasn’t as good as some of the nuns she criticised but it was still good. George may even have been better at translation as he may have gone to University. I know that’s speculation but there is tentative evidence. Whether he was a master or not is hard to say because he was killed before he could have reached that point in life. Its clear he was bright and intelligent and knew the Scriptures. He didn’t always follow them but Court life is corrupting and young men are likely to get themselves into some trouble. They are still only half cooked as Judge Judy says at 18. We don’t know much about his early life or when he was born but internal evidence from documents suggests he was the youngest sibling and probably born around 1503 to 1505. He was charismatic and learned quickly. He made an impact and a splash wherever he went. George Boleyn was popular amongst a certain group of courtiers and seems to have been a warm person. He was a gambler and he lost money. He was also in debt at the end of his life and concerned about the creditors. That’s more than I would care to be honest. Mind you, these were individuals, not Barclaycard. You tend to care more about people than larger institutions. He was a conscious Christian, meaning he was aware of his frailties as a human being and a sinner. He was a pretty serious theology student and preached a sermon at his execution. He was a natural public speaker, his presentation to Convocation and at his trial is evidence of that. He was capable of knowing his own limitations as an insidence with the French Ambassador who refused to come with him straight away to Court showed. George had to ask Norfolk for help. He was also cocky at times and he said stuff which got him into trouble. He may or may not have been sexually orthodox, although there isn’t any evidence to support accusations of homosexuality. He may or may not have had a good time with the ladies, as the verses of Cavendish and even Wyatt suggested but again the former was the servant of Cardinal Wolsey and the latter wrote often in gest. We know next to nothing about his wife, Jane, but there is no evidence to say they had an unhappy marriage. They disagreed on who to support ideologically as Jane supported Mary and got arrested, but that’s not unusual. Husband and wives do not always see eye to eye and would have boring marriages if they didn’t argue occasionally. There is no evidence that Jane gave evidence against George and she sent him a note of support and comfort. George and Anne were very close, as close as twins in fact. They had similar interests and they shared secrets most likely. Again there are few clues to go on but his dedication to her in a book is affectionate. He was concerned enough for his sister in 1534 and 1535 to warn her against speaking of the death of Mary and Katherine.

      George was an eloquent speaker as I have already said but he took his career to the next level when he was sent to France on an embassy. He went on missions with his father and it is clear that he intended to step into his father’s footsteps when he was old enough and mature enough. He didn’t get that chance.

      He was good at sports, the same as most men of the knightly class and jousted well. He did, however, struggle to make friends in the older generation of the same class. His family had made enemies and that blocked his advancement. George was well liked by the King and trusted and he acknowledged his talents. It is interesting to anticipate that he may have had a glittering career but for his execution and downfall on false charges of incest and adultery with his sister, the Queen.

      This was the worst of the accusations brought against Anne Boleyn, having incest with her own brother. It was totally designed to blacken her name and it was meant to shock. The description of what went on with George is far more graphic than it was for the other men. This would have horrified everyone. Anne was accused also of planning and imagining the death of the King. The incest charge was added to make that believable. His wife didn’t need to bring this charge, the prosecution headed by Thomas Cromwell were perfectly capable of inventing it themselves.

      George was also reckless and cavalier and a joker. Although no moron or idiot, he could act as if he didn’t care and was very arrogant. He laughed at the King and his poems and he made lude jokes, which was his downfall. He was presented with a piece of paper in Court at his trial and told not to read it out. Without a real care as he knew he hadn’t a chance, George did the opposite. On this paper were charges that he had laughed with Anne at the Kings talents and clothing and made a joke about the parenting of Elizabeth, which was false. However, it was the last item he read out word for word which sent waves of laughter and horror around the 2000 people inside the hall that May afternoon. He read out that the King had neither the stamina nor the skill to satisfy a woman. George could only have heard this from Anne or Jane and someone had overhead their conversation and the government knew about it. This was deeply wounding for the King who must have been embarrassed when he heard later on, for he wasn’t present. George was saying that Henry wasn’t good in bed and was impotent. This was insulting, treason and probably not true at this point. However, this reckless act condemned George to death and with hindsight he probably wouldn’t have done it. Cromwell knew he was reckless and played on his lack of self control and discipline. Yet, there are many times that George had showed restraint and discretion so it’s merely his inexperience which let him down. He loved life and that was cruelly used against him and his sister. She was accused of being foolish with her own tongue and her pleasure in games of courtly love and this was used as invented evidence against her. Anne was doing nothing more than observing the convention of her day. For two Christian people, who loved and knew well the Gospels, to be accused of breaking the laws of the Bible they had helped to translate into English through sponsorship by sexual misdeeds and incest, was devastating and horrendous. This condemned them to Eternal darkness. It was highly unlikely that they would even have considered it.

      George Boleyn should be remembered as a scholar and poet, a reformer and translator, as a man of natural talent and great ambition and potential, of whit and fun loving, as the brother of a Queen, as a man valued by his King and as a humanist just as his father was. Instead he is known as a man who may have slept with his sister, although we know him to be innocent, who acted the fool and was overly ambitious and paid the ultimate price as a reckless baffoon.

  2. Goosebumps when George practised his speech to Convocation in the mirror. Such a human way to portray the overwhelming honour it must have been to put the King’s case before the great and the good, the Church’s own Parliament that everything they held true was wrong and why Henry’s case for the annulment and to head the Church was righteous. Henry was taking one hell off a gamble here, sending an inexperienced, young man of what, 27, if that to give such an important proposition to men much older, wiser and with vastly greater experience than he and they could have refused to listen or laughed at him. However, George had a gift and was able to present the King’s words, the King’s wishes and desires and case with eloquence and panache and some authority. Sending him as an Ambassador to the Pope or even his father to the Pope later on, that wasn’t so smart as they didn’t even get an audience. The fact that Henry trusted this young man with such an important mission showed his trust in him and his ability and maybe that his judgment wasn’t quite as sound as one may assume. He was, all through this time, heavily influenced by Anne and his desires. Anne was the most important his life in 1529 and 1531, during some of the most important changes in regards to the Annulment and Reformation and she was in the place of his Queen. Henry listened to her and practically nobody else. One might say choosing her brother to act for him rather than a more experienced man of the law, trained in theology, was short sighted. However, due to the natural ability George processed and obviously displayed, it turned out to be a good choice. Henry Viii was a reasonable judge of character and skill and he used his discernment here and the mission was successful. Convocation listened and agreed to hear the King’s arguments further, even if his desires were not at once granted.

    Anne’s interest in theology is well known but George’s interest is more tangible as witnessed by the works he translated for her. This was not the 21st century where a man in his late twenties might even fast track in a modern forward thinking company into middle management, especially with the right family contacts, this was the sixteenth when a man was expected to be an apprentice for over seven years and to work his way through many junior positions under superiors before he was given any such responsibility. George would be considered a new kid on the block, but the King’s show of trust changed all of that and his rise was swift from his late 20s onwards. That was still a problem to the older establishment who blocked his passage when it came to election to the Privy Chamber, the Council and so on, even to membership to the Garter. He worked alongside his father who was well respected and known as a hard working statesmen on the Council etc. He acted as an Ambassador both with his father and on his own, though not always without difficulty and he gained a number of responsible posts in a few short years. He wrote a touching dedication to Anne in one of the theological works he translated into French for Anne and he was certainly the centre of Court life and business as the family rose towards the throne.

  3. Great posts Lyn, yes it’s very sad that this handsome charming and intelligent young man is remembered only for the dreadful charge of incest of which he was found guilty and died for, he was carving his way ahead as a respected diplomat in the footsteps of his father, he like his father had a master of several languages which was needed to be a diplomat, he was learning the trade from Thomas and had he lived who knows what honours could have come his way,he was given the title Viscount Rochford when Sir Thomas was made an Earl and Jane his wife was also at court having served both Queen Katherine and now Anne, it is true both George and Anne were accused of mocking the kings poetry and his clothes, but is this true? I could imagine Henry V111 vain as he was and having a high opinion of himself, fancied himself a good poet like he did a great lover, and he could have boasted about his prowess with the quill and parchment to several of his courtiers including all six of his wives, I can see Anne secretly sniggering behind his back to her brother at this, as people do when someone boasts about their many talents, he was eloquent as his father and sister was and was so quick witted there were bets on he would be acquitted at his trial, he could be quite cruel like when the old queen died and he declared it was a pity the lady Mary did not keep company with her mother, but George was as you say a champion of his sister, both Katherine and her daughter had been the obstacles for so long in the way of Anne and Henry marrying, and they were both still refusing to recognise Anne as the true queen, Katherine still called herself queen and Mary referred to herself as the true princess, such obstinacy inflamed all the Boleyn’s but George was more subtle than Anne was, and yes he did admonish her when she recklessly declared she would kill Mary if ever she got the chance, this got back to the ears of the king because after her arrest, Henry called both Mary and her bastard half brother into his presence, and informed them they should be grateful for having escaped the accursed wh*re who would have poisoned them both had she could, this he said in between sobs Mary must have believed it, but I can see Fitzroy struggling with this piece of news because the queen had arranged his marriage to her cousin, therefore he was part of her family, Anne had a right termagants tongue but George it appeared was more easy going, he was in the kings set and was often in the company of Anne, they were very close having a lot in common, there are also no records of any ill feeling between George and other courtiers so he was probably quite popular, George Cavendish thought he was dissolute but the court was a heady exciting place to live in for young people, sporting gambling and wenching went on, most men had mistresses, we hear none of any women linked to George but he must have been tempted as he was considered handsome, and could have had a mistress or two, with Anne’s rise and fall all her family were affected, honours came their way over a short distance of time, Anne was elevated to Marchioness of Pembroke a singular honour to precede her coronation , her coronation also was unique because she was crowned with King Edwards crown, which meant she was recognised completely as the true consort of England, which makes her fall all the more shocking, every single member of the family were affected by the two siblings deaths, we can say in all honesty they must have been broken, how can one adjust with seeing ones family member on the throne one minute, to a captive tainted prisoner the next? The speed at which Anne fell was in just under three weeks, from a living breathing person one day to a bloody corpse the next, and George to left behind his wife who herself must have been broken hearted, she had been quite close to her sister in law, whatever novels say and Anne had confided in her about her sex life, her and George had comfortable apartments at court, they also owned the manor of Bulieau a charming place which still stands today, they were a fortunate couple and now with both Anne and George in the tower to Jane’s fortunes took a nose dive, she possibly tried to plead with the king, as she promised in her letter to him, but I can see Henry being intransigent and Cromwell having the kings ear, would not have wanted any mercy given, the charge of incest was to completely blacken the queens name, and her hapless young brother was merely the scapegoat, all this rotten mess was to enable King Henry V111 to marry again and have his longed for son, it’s truly repugnant when we know to achieve his dream five innocent people had to die, and one to whom Henry had once pledged he would rather beg from door to door than forsake her, forsake her he did and many families lives not just the Boleyn’s, were wrecked also, Westons young wife and son, Henry Norris’s two sons, he had been the kings good friend for many years, the king had also forsaken him in his quest for a son, William Brereton lost his life and young Mark Smeaton who we know nothing of, except he was young and possibly from a poor family, he could have had parents living and maybe brothers and sisters, the Duke of Norfolk to who had disliked his niece yet had to stand at her trial and condemn her to death, how did his sister feel, Anne and George’s mother, that he was bound by order of his office as Earl Marshall to carry that out, it could not have been easy and maybe Elizabeth Boleyn because of her health at the time, was spared most of the awful details, Sir Thomas Boleyn retired to Hever his two brilliant children were dead, and now the only child that was left to him and his wife was Mary, over the years they had lost four children now Mary and her children were their only future.

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