Unknown Man, attributed to Lucas Hornebolte. c. 1525., possibly Thomas Boleyn

I recently read a comment on a Tudor history Facebook page which really struck me and got me thinking, as well as banging my head on my desk.

The writer was of the opinion that Thomas Boleyn did not deserve to be buried in St Peter’s Church, Hever, and that he should have been buried in a field somewhere, in an unmarked grave, because of the “horrible things” he did to Anne and George. I considered these to be incredibly harsh words, but it made me think that perhaps this was the general perception of Thomas Boleyn, father of Mary, Anne and George.

I decided to carry out a bit of an experiment on Facebook and Twitter to see what people thought of Thomas. Obviously, you have to bear in mind that Anne Boleyn Files followers are Tudor history lovers with some knowledge of the Boleyns, but, even so, the general consensus was that Thomas Boleyn was an awful man who forced his daughters into their relationships with the King so that he could rise at court. There were a few comments giving him the benefit of the doubt, but here are some of the comments that summed up the general perception and got “liked” by other Facebook members:-

“Her father?! I dont like him at all. He seemed to only care about his position, his wealth, how much power he had. Did he care that 2 of his childern were killed?! that one was disgraced?! I doubt it.”

“Overly ambitious, Not the best Father for pretty daughters…Yes I know it was the way of court to sell off your daughters to the highest bidder…however I think he took it toooooo far.”

“I think he used his children for family advancement.”

“He was very greedy and wanted power.”

“Used his family to gain power. In the end, it destroyed his family.”

Now, while I believe that everyone is entitled to their opinions, and I’m certainly not criticising the people who wrote these comments, I believe that this kind of opinion has no basis in fact. If Thomas Boleyn was the conniving, manipulative pimp of The Tudors and The Other Boleyn Girl then, yes, he was a horrid man, but I have not found any evidence to back up these depictions of Thomas Boleyn. I feel that the people who hold these views of Thomas Boleyn have been misled by authors, historians and scriptwriters, and it’s time to challenge these perceptions of Thomas Boleyn, just as we challenge the myths surrounding Anne Boleyn.

Thomas Boleyn’s Rise at the English Court

Those of you who have been led to believe that Thomas Boleyn gained his power as a result of pimping his daughters out to the King will be interested to know that Thomas Boleyn was a powerful and wealthy courtier long before Mary’s affair with Henry VIII.

  • He was present at Catherine of Aragon’s wedding to Prince Arthur in 1501.
  • In 1503, Thomas escorted Margaret Tudor, Henry VII’s daughter, to Scotland to marry King James IV.
  • He was appointed an esquire of the body before Henry VII’s death and Henry VIII chose to keep him on.
  • Thomas was knighted by Henry VIII in 1509 and his wife, Elizabeth, served as one of the “baronesses” of the Queen’s Chamber at the coronation of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon in 1509.
  • In July 1509 he was appointed Keeper of the Foreign Exchange in Calais and in 1509 and 1510 he served as sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk.
  • In January 1510 Thomas participated in a revel in honour of the Queen and dressed up as one of Robin Hood’s (the King’s) men. On 23rd May he was involved in the knightly combat and jousts, and accepted a challenge from King’s team.
  • In 1511, Thomas was involved in the jousts to celebrate birth of Prince Henry, Duke of Cornwall. He was also a chief mourner and one of the knight bearers at Prince Henry’s funeral on the 27th February.
  • Rewards and grants in 1511 included the keepership of the park of Beskwode, Nottinghamshire; the manors of Borham and Powers in Essex; Busshy in Hertfordshire; Purbright in Surrey and Henden in Kent; and Culverts and Little Waltham in Essex. Also appointed Sheriff of Kent.
  • 1512 – Grants and appointments included being granted, jointly with Henry Wyatt, the office of constable and keeper of the castle and gaol of Norwich, which was also reconfirmed to them in 1515; being granted one half of the custody of the lands, wardship and marriage of John, son and heir of Sir George Hastings; and being reconfirmed and granted in survivorship the manor of Wykmer in Norfolk with his wife Elizabeth.
  • 1512-1513 – Thomas Boleyn was sent to the court of Margaret of Austria, with John Young and Sir Robert Wingfield, to act as an envoy to her father, Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, to conclude an alliance between England and the Empire against France. Thomas Boleyn became so friendly with Margaret that they had a wager on how long the negotiations would take and he also secured a place for his daughter, Anne, at Margaret’s court. A place in Margaret’s court was highly sought after by royal and noble families in Europe so this showed just how much Margaret respected Thomas.
  • 1514 – Grants included the life grant of the lordship of the manors of Saham Tony, Nekton, Panworth Hall, Cressingham, Parva, and the hundreds of Waylond and Grymmeshowe in Norfolk. By this time, as William Dean points out, Thomas Boleyn owned, or had been granted, the controlling interest in around twenty manors and he was the keeper of various other estates, as well as being the Keeper of the Exchange at Calais and the Foreign Exchange in all English ports.
  • 1514 – Thomas Boleyn secured places for both his daughters in the entourage of Mary Tudor, who was going to France to marry Louis XII.
  • 1516 – Thomas Boleyn acted as a canopy bearer at the christening of Princess Mary, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon.
  • 1517 – He acted as Queen Margaret of Scotland’s official carver for the forty days of her visit to England.
  • 1518 – Thomas was a member of the Privy Council by this time and was involved in the negotiations for the Treaty of Universal Peace signed that October.
  • End 1518/beginning of 1519 – Thomas was appointed as the English ambassador to the French court. He served there as Henry VIII’s ambassador and as Cardinal Wolsey’s agent. While in France, Thomas became good friends with the French royal family.
  • 5th June 1519 – Thomas sponsored Francis I’s baby son, Henry, Duke of Orleans, in the name of Henry VIII.
  • 1520 – Returns to England and is appointed Comptroller of the Household.
  • 1520 – Thomas attended the Field of Cloth of Gold, having been chosen as one of 40 select members of government, nobility and the Church who were to ride with the King to his first meeting with Francis I. Thomas’s wife, Elizabeth, was appointed to attend Queen Catherine.
  • May 1521 – Thomas was now the Treasurer of the Household and was also was appointed to the special commissions of oyer and terminer which tried Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. He benefited from Buckingham’s fall, being granted in survivorship the manor, honour and town of Tunbridge, the manors of Brasted and Penshurst, plus the parks of Penshurst, Northleigh, and Northlands, in Kent. He had also recently been granted the manor of Fobbing in Essex and Fritwell in Oxfordshire. His manors now totalled around two dozen!
  • 1521 – Thomas accompanied Cardinal Wolsey to meet Margaret of Austria under the pretence of mediating between France and the Empire, but actually to secure an alliance between England and the Empire.

Now, I could go on with grant after grant and details of Thomas Boleyn’s diplomatic duties, but I just wanted to cover the period up to 1522, when it is thought that Mary Boleyn caught the King’s eye. If you cast your eye over that list and consider that Thomas Boleyn was Treasurer of the Household by 1522, had over 24 manors and was the man Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey trusted with diplomatic missions, then it really is hard to argue that he owed his rise in status and wealth to acting as a pimp for his daughters. William Dean, who wrote a detailed thesis on Thomas Boleyn, summed it up when he said “One cannot, as some have done, simply attribute Boleyn’s advancement to Henry’s preferment of his daughters up to this point. Granted, a case may be made for this influence later, but Henry had no history of doing generous things for his mistresses, much less their parents. It is more likely that Henry  recognised ability and past service and rewarded Boleyn for it”1 and I agree. Bessie Blount’s family had not benefited from her relationship with the King, so how could Thomas Boleyn have expected to? He was already a powerful man by the time Mary slept with the King, his rise had been rapid and deserved. He was a key courtier, a trusted adviser and a skilled negotiator and diplomat. He worked hard for his rewards.

Thomas the Pimp?

It can also be argued that Thomas Boleyn was actually unhappy about his daughters’ relationships with the King. The fact that the King had to step in and ask him to provide for his daughter Mary after she was widowed suggests that the Boleyns had distanced themselves from Mary after her affair with the King, and there is evidence that he was initially against Henry VIII’s plans to marry Anne:-

“I must add that the said earl of Wiltshire has never declared himself up to this moment; on the contrary, he has hitherto, as the duke of Norfolk has frequently told me, tried to dissuade the King rather than otherwise from the marriage,”2

“Shortly after the Duke [Norfolk] began to excuse himself and say that he had not been either the originator or promoter of this second marriage, but, on the contrary, had always been opposed to it, and tried to dissuade the King therefrom. Had it not been for him and for the father of the Lady, who feigned to be attacked by frenzy to have the better means of opposing it, the marriage would have been secretly contracted a year ago; and for this opposition (the Duke observed) the Lady had been exceedingly indignant with the one and the other.”3

As for him being cunning, manipulative and cruel, the Duke of Norfolk actually described Thomas Boleyn as “very timid” and “not of a warlike disposition”.4 He must have had drive and ambition to be a successful courtier, but the manipulative, cruel and overbearing Thomas Boleyn definitely belongs in the realm of fiction.


It is impossible to know what Thomas Boleyn was really like as a person or father, but evidence does not support the characterization that we so often see in fiction and on TV. As for him abandoning his children in May 1536, we just don’t know what Thomas did, and he can hardly been blamed for picking himself up, dusting himself off and working his way back into royal favour. That was his job, that’s what a courtier had to do and he still had his wife and mother to think of and provide for. The Tudor court was a dangerous place and Thomas had to move on and survive.

I think of Thomas as an intelligent, charismatic, hardworking Renaissance man. I am in awe of his career and how quickly he rose at Henry VIII’s court and how respected he was by the French royal family, Margaret of Austria, Henry VIII and other courtiers. I think it’s time to stop blaming him for what happened to Anne and George in 1536, when he had no hand in it, and, instead, applaud him for his amazing career and for providing his children, including his daughters, with a top notch education and amazing opportunities that other courtiers’ children just did not get. Bravo, Sir Thomas!

Notes and Sources

  1. Sir Thomas Boleyn: The Courtier Diplomat, 1477-1539, William Hughes Dean, Ph.D., West Virginia University
  2. Span. Cal. iv. ii.1048
  3. Span. Cal. iv. ii.1077
  4. Span. Cal. iv. i.255

The Fall of Anne Boleyn

Remember to check out today’s event on the timeline at www.thefallofanneboleyn.com

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72 thoughts on “In Defence of Thomas Boleyn, Father of Anne Boleyn”
  1. I am willing to stand up and say I do not believe Thomas is a monster. I don’t think he had much say in what happened as far as Henry is concerned. I do not think he played the pimp. I think he was destroyed by what did happen dying within a couple of years. Thomas gets a bad press which is undeserved IMO. There is nothing to say he was the type of character he is made out to be. I feel a lot for Thomas.

  2. Very interesting article, I never realised that Thomas Boleyn was as active in court before the rise of Anne. One thing that interests me is the mention of “keeper of the park of Beskwode, Nottinghamshire” does anyone know if this is what is know known as Bestwood Park?

  3. Great article, Claire. He was known to be a well respected diplomat and certainly had to use these skills in his personal life as well. He had difficult choices to make, and in reality, not too many options. There were few career opportunities for him that did not depend on the favor of the king, and as you mentioned, he still had family responsibilities. Thomas and Elizabeth set high standards for all their children, and each in their own way, lived their lives by their own terms and by their own wits. I don’t think they were pimped in any way. Anne was a visionary beyond her times, and Mary, when she wed Stafford, defied all convention and had the guts to follow her heart. Thomas may have actually been an exceptional father to have raised these three, and with that, life after Anne and George must have been a sur-real and hellacious world he had to endure in the name of survival.

  4. Great article, Claire.
    Thomas’ career pre Mary and Anne is nearly always overlooked. I think that’s often deliberate because it doesn’t fit in with the picture of the Boleyns which so many authors try so hard to project.

  5. Claire
    I love the timeline of what all Thomas Boleyn did!!!! Been trying to write this one up myself. Thank you!
    Even though he did have accomplishments on his own, I still do not think he was a good father in keeping his children safe, (letting my modern day feelings in here) although a natural one for the times. Something we so often forget, that the time period and happenings/living was SO very different from our time now.

  6. Great article! I agree that Thomas “got ahead” on his own merits, and, wasn’t the “pimp-monster” that many believe him to be, but I can’t see him as “Father (or Grandfather) of the Year”, either. Thomas had to be pushed to support Mary and her children — which included his only grandson. I doubt that this is moral disapproval of Mary’s affair with the king, which was long over, since he didn’t do anything during the affair. IIRC, the Duke of Buckingham had his sister sent back to her husband for her affair with Henry (or one of his friends, there is some debate) — which indicates some action was possible, and, since Thomas Boleyn didn’t have royal blood, as Buckingham did, Thomas Boleyn wouldn’t risk Buckingham’s fate.

  7. It isn’t fair to judge anyone in the Tudor era by today’s standards. The King was supreme, he had his way in ALL things including his sex life. People today and especially Americans, who have not studied history do not grasp just how a person was subject to the sovereign.Thomas Boleyn I believe was not an unnatural father for his time. It was quite a misogynous society,women just weren’t valued. I think he loved his children, he just loved his children by 16th century standards, and anyone who studies this era knows there just wasn’t room for alot of emotion.

    1. Carrie, I agree a 100% that we can’t judge Thomas Boleyn’s actions and behaviors by today’s standards. As a courtier, especially one that achieved so much you did as the King requested. It was a matter of survival.

      I think that Thomas loved all 3 of his children by 16th century standards and expectations.

      For all we know maybe Thomas tried to warn Anne about marrying the King. He couldn’t stop it or prevent it because it was what the King wanted.

      I think Thomas Boleyn shouldn’t be judged so harshly. Imagine even by today’s standards of watching your children be destroyed and killed. There was nothing he could do. He couldn’t ease their pain and suffering nor prevent them from being killed.
      What Cromwell, the Seymour’s and Henry had put in motion couldn’t be stopped. Even if Thomas could have warned Anne and George, the tide turned very quickly and rapidly against them that he could not have helped them in any way at all. No one expected Anne to fall from grace.

      His emotional state most likely killed him – his children were gone, he would never see his granddaughter, Elizabeth as well as Mary went into hiding with her children.

      All of that aside, I think that Thomas Boleyn did show his love for his children in that he died of a broken heart and I don’t think that anyone can dispute that. He died so suddenly and so soon after George and Anne were executed that that in itself tells the tale of how he felt toward his children.

      1. Sherri, I’m sorry to say I can’t remember where I read it but I did read somewhere that Thomas Boleyn warned Anne to stay away from Henry VIII when she became one of Catherine’s ladies. I skip around on the Internet randomly following links. I guess I should at least start making notes of where I see things not mentioned in most files.

    2. First of all, Claire, I don’t know how you sleep and put these superior articles going, The TIMELINE is so wonderful, I can’t believe it. All I can think to add as a commentor, and the fact the Thomas Boleyn was back at court and in the King’s favor in 1539 says a lot!

      Also thank you Carrie, for your comment as all you wrote is very true except that, we from the United States (all this half of the world is American we must remember), and I know you mentione studied history, as I have a BA, and P.h.D. in Early Modern Western European History with and Emphasis in the Reformation as well as an M.A. in Libray and Information Science thrown in between the two. yes the King was supreme, but under Parliament as well (since the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 at Runnymede, and before that English law was built on the Star Chamber after the win in 1066. Yes, the King was supreme (and the break from Rome that led to ones in Parilament is altogether another subject for another time (as we who have studied History at the advanced levels understands that any of these true acts, and such by persons, settings, ideas, etc. can all go out to a web of theories on which dissertations have not even been written yet and more), and Henry did have his way in all things including sex (although Queen Anne, bless her heart held out for a long time). Today even people of Europe do not live under the absolute monarchies that they did then, as we know that even Queen Elizabeth II is a constitutional monarch. – there is a vast difference, but even then (as I mentioned Thomas was back in favor by 1539). I am going to stop here as my comments on Claire’s article are nothing less than fantastic! I will alway believe Queen Anne was innocent as long as I’m around, and she brought to history and much reality today, Queen Elizabeth I, who was the greatest absolute monarch England ever had. Thank you so much! WilesWales

      1. Hi AB Friend Wiles,Very excellent reply as always,I to agree that Claire brings to lite,all the facts and they are Fantastic as you say,always look foward to your wonderful replys Wiles and Claire to,as well as , all the other AB friends. Keep them comming. KInd Regards Baroness

    3. I agree with you Carrie, Thomas had no way of stopping Henry! If Henry wanted to sleep with Mary and Ann, how would Thomas stop him without risking death for himself?!

  8. Great article and right on, as far as I am concerned. Do you remember the portrayal of Thomas in Anne of 1000 Days? He was sort of bumbling with regard to his daughters, with the usual fatherly slight embarassment to think of them as objects of desire. He meant well but could not go against the king….we cannot really ‘get’ the idea of the divine right of kings as the idea no longer has currency in our day. But then, the king was next to God and they really believed that. And of course, the kings encouraged that belief. So what could Thomas do? Well, just about what he did. He died in a few short years after his children were executed and I believe the stress of those events really did both him and his wife in. They were both powerless against a king who had his eyes set on a new wife. Henry and Cromwell were quite formidable.

    1. Anne,Yes I do remember Anne Of The Thousand Days very well ,you make a excellent point , when Anne / George went to court and there father stood before them ,you could see the dismay and pain in his face. A good thing Norlfrolk released him ,as he was father of the acussed. I olny hope the family did not wittness them being slauthered!! Kind Regards Baroness

      1. I know this post is a very long time ago, but something that has puzzled me. Was Sir Thomas really excused from judging his children, or was that just for the film, like Henry visiting Anne in the Tower? In the ridiculous tv programme, the Tudors, if I remember rightly, Sir Thomas was not excused. I would like to know the truth of that.

        I seem to remember David Starkey telling us in one of his programmes that their father was forced to be on the jury. I could be wrong.

        My opinion of Thomas Boleyn, which I try to temper with the times and his own position, is that he did return to court and into the King’s favour. How could he be so close with the man who had murdered two of his children? He must have known they were not guilty of incest; he must have known Anne was not guilty of any of the charges, yet here he was bowing and scraping to their murderer.

        That in itself leaves me in no doubt that he thought more about his own position and wealth than he did about his family.

  9. Thanks for this very interesting article. I have not really thought too much about Thomas before beyond his caricature on films/ tv, but this has rally made me want to follow up what you have put forward.

  10. Well done Claire, you may not be a historian but you have historian’s passion and need for a deeper research. Congratulations for this post.

  11. Don’t judge Thomas too harshly for the way he used Mary and Anne, after all they were only daughters, he had to do something with them. Better to be whores to kings than commoners.

    1. Whores to Kings? What evidence do you have Mary or Anne were whores to Kings?

      Mary was the mistress of one King for a short period and there is no evidence that Anne was the mistress of anyone, but the Queen of Henry Viii.

  12. Your article is interesting, but to be honest, it does not really prove your point. Maybe a little more information about him from contemporary sources and a description of his actions during crucial moments -like the death of his kids, etc- would work better, because as it is, you just talk about how he was “not a pimp” and don´t offer much prove of his character. I say this as someone who does not know much about Thomas, so I don´t think he was good nor bad. I ´m just very careful with what I read and believe

    1. I think the point is that he was high in royal favour long before Henry took a fancy to either Mary or Anne. Once the King did want them, being the tyrant that he was, Thomas had little say in matters.

      Contemporary chronicles report that people in general did not believe that Anne wasn’t the King’s mistress and one contemporary even named her the ‘Goggle eyed whore’.

      TV programmes like the Tudors (which is more fantasy than history) and other authors who twist the facts, are the ones to blame for Mary’s reputation and Thomas’ reputation.

      People were far more concerned with climbing the social ladder than in loyalty to their families anyway.

  13. Good article Claire. Thomas Boleyn did no more or less than any courtier. Ambition was part and parcel of being near the throne and being successful in that milieu. It was a whole different era and women had their place and the women accepted that.

    There was something Ives wrote that shows you what it was like to live at court in those times. He said “the court was a Moloch that sucked in good people, body and soul, and spewed out a noisome plague of parasites – Anne among them – corrupting the community in the process”. It was a rough place.

    Something you didn’t address and that is the fact that Thomas’ wife Elizabeth was not buried in the family church. Some have speculated that they may have fallen out with each other after the deaths of their two children. It does make you wonder.

    1. Thanks, Sue. As far as Elizabeth is concerned, she was buried in the Howard Chapel of St Mary’s Lambeth, with quite a few other Howard women, so I wonder if her burial there was more to do with Howard tradition than any kind of separation between her and Thomas, plus she was in London when she died.

      1. Hmmm..very interesting. Ok, see now learning about all these facts, makes watching The Tudors a little less interesting…ok, lol, not really, but it is so refreshing to hear a side to this story that is actually true. Oh, to be a fly on the wall in those days..

  14. I really think we have to try to understand ,what all were unagainst back in the day,it was servival of the fitess if you did not have the KIngs favor with wealth titles ect: There was not to much you could do to gaine such, titles ,casas,wealth. The commom people were very poor,so with that said I keep an open,on just what kind of a man Thomas Boylen was and what he had to come up against,a pimp no ,perhapes a very good porvider,who would not want to see there child with wealth and titles???So I really think one had to do what was best for ,everyone in the whole of the family.

  15. Great article Claire! Your facts definetly clear his name for many wrongs history has accussed him of. I do however have a question: Did Thomas Boleyn sit in as a member of either Anne or George’s trial??

    1. There is no evidence that he was a member of the jury at the trials of Anne and George but he was on the jury for the trials of Norris, Smeaton, Weston and Brereton and those trials obviously prejudiced the trials of Anne and George. I don’t think he had any choice in the matter, poor man.

      1. Claire, A very good read as alawys,but what I have seen and read Thomas was on the Jury and as father of the acussed ,he was dismissedand sent away,whereas her uncle the Duke of Norfrolk was high on the court and gave Anne ; her dooomed fait,I however went to read the Transcripts of the trial all mornig,none had a chance so did really mean much of anything,they were all giong to , scaffold innocent or not,they had no chance,As I found this trail was based on presumtion, thats it and thats all!! Whenask to speak to the court and question , Markes,Norfolk said yes, Justice must seem to be so ,and gave Anne leave, to speak to Smeaton, however a long shot for all.

  16. Thomas Boleyn was no better or worse than any other man working in the complexities of Henry’s court in my opinion, he rode the waves as they all did, benefited greatly when in favour,and suffered the severe consequences when out of favour. This life style had a high risk factor, and the people who became a part of it must have felt these risks were worth taking. With hind-sight I would think most of them would have done it differently, remember Wolseys last words!!
    It seems that all the Boleyns are villified in one way or another, why, who knows, maybe it was because of all the radical changes that occurred around them at the time, and people always need scapegoats, even now-a-days. It is a great shame.

    1. Dawn1,I to agee with your comment,well said, you make a very good Scapegoatsvery well said . Kind Regards Baroness

  17. You have to remember the times in which they lived and not judge them by the standards of today. Women had very little standing and were used to the advantage of the male family members. Unless you were a woman of remarkable status, ability and forceful personality, you stood very little chance of notice. Compare Mary to Anne. And even if you did have status, it could easily be ripped away by the male members of your family – Kathrine of Aragon, Anne herself. Thomas Boleyn was making his way through life in a manner consistent with the times, and should not be judged harshly.

  18. Thomas was a man of his time, I do not blame him for the outcome. Anne and George were adults, ‘old’ by the 16th century standardsand accountable for their decisions and actions. In the 1970’s my father still believed that women were not worth educating. My brothers got a University Education, me? primary school, that’s what I merited as a woman. I lived in a Third World Country , in the 80’s I emigrated to the USA in order for me to become what I wanted to be: Independent and educated.
    For Thomas Boleyn to invest in ALL of his children education, regardles of intellect and abilites,to believe that they ALL were worth the expense and effort says a lot to me. To seek places for them in the highest courts of the land and beyond, tells me of the love he had for his children, they were foremost in his mind and he showed them off to everyone, What parent does not believe his children are geniuses? We have inferred that Mary was not the sharpest pencil in the box. But still Thomas gave her the best education he could afford her, he treated them all the same. He knew their intelligence and characters, and by God, he would do what he could to help them advance them in this world. Think of parents nowdays, giving their children the best of everything they can afford, regardless of the returns!. In the end, things slipped out of their control; Thomas knew that Anne was courting danger and tried to stop it ( if it is true that he was against the marriage). But Henry’s will got in the way. There was no way he could save his children, he had to see their fall and mourn their fate. Weep for what it could have been. He died of a broken heart. What parent would not have done so, his hopes dashed, their careful upbringing and brilliant futures ending in such a horrible, hideous, and tragic way; all his efforts for naught? . I think he might have regretted having had such brilliant children. It worked against them. That Thomas worked himself back into favor so soon after their deaths speaks volumes of his worth and Diplomatic accumen for Henry. Such times he had to live under, who feels sorry for him? I do.

  19. I have believed, just like Anne and all the Boleyns, Thomas was maligned also. There is no way he would not mourn the fact his son and heir was “killed”. What had he gained power and wealth for if not his son. He was a victim of the time and Henry! As Nan Boleyn stated, he must have had great worth and skills to work back into favor, but obviously dying after only a few years, I am sure his spirit was broken by the loss of his children, but self preservation prevails..

  20. Another excellent and thought provoking article Claire. It always amazes me that even respected historians buy into such distorted carictures of historical figures even when the evidence is slim, contradictory or non existant. It is great that people are now looking at these people as complex individuals within the context of the society they lived in. When you compare what we know about Thomas Boleyn’s behaviour as regards to Anne marrying Henry with the Seymour brothers towards Jane you see that it was the latter that were pushing their relative towards the throne. Yet whilst Boleyn is vilified the Seymours get far less critcism. (Not that I am villifying them instead they too had their motives which they considered justified for their actions).

  21. Dear Claire,

    Thank you so much for bringing these interesting facts about Sir Thomas Boleyn to your readers. Can you tell us, what is the modern reason, motivation for the on-going defamation of Anne, George and Thomas Boleyn and who do you think is behind it?

    Thank you.

  22. I think he has been unfairly villified, when it is really the Duke of Norfolk who is to blame, at least in part, for the death of George, Anne and their cousine Katherine Howard.

  23. Thanks for the great article Claire!
    Blame for Anne’s death sholud be placed where it belongs, at the feet of Henry VIII.

  24. Thank you for your research Claire! I still find it hard to think or ponder that a parent or close relative could doom their flock to death. Alison Morton.

    1. He was awarded the title in 1529 Thomas after the Butlers surrendered the title in return for the disputed Ormonde lands on a long lease. Piers Butler had styled himself the Earl of Ormonde after the death of Thomas Butler, 7th Earl of Ormonde, and Thomas Boleyn’s grandfather, but the title was argued over by Piers, the St Leger and Boleyn families. See https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/8901/anne-boleyns-irish-roots-lady-margaret-butler-and-the-butlers-of-kilkenny-castle/ for more information.

      1. Sorry Claire I have only just seen your reply. Thank you for the information. Just think how different Anne’s life would have been had she married James Butler. She could have lived her life out at the lovely Kilkenny Castle and become “more Irish than the Irish themselves”.

  25. That Thomas Boleyn was a firm and valued courtier is beyond question. That he married a Howard, one of England’s foremost families, is a pointer to his regard.

    He knew Henry VIII’s character, as did his wife, Elizabeth. Now, to say he DIDN’T foster hopes for further advancement in royal circles because he was already well-regarded is a trifle naive. Mary fell at the first hurdle, sharing her time and body with Henry, and not getting much reward in return….other than a son, that is. So to Anne.
    Her holding Henry at arms length for so long, I believe, was, in part, due to coaching from her court-aware parents…..and uncle. Thomas knew how Henry would cease the hunt once he caught and claimed Anne’s prize, so why not educate her on delaying the inevitable for as long as possible, getting as much as possible out of the situation as was possible? After all, AFTER the event, Anne would be soiled goods, so who would marry her? Better to accrue wealth and enjoy a comfortable life.

    But whose idea was it to marry Henry? Did Anne succumb to his charms? Was it bloody-minded detetmination to rub every courtiers’ nose in her success? No-one knows. And no-one is totally objective in weighing motives and actions of those involved, only mourn the deaths of so many people because of a king’s Desire and a powerful family’s machinations.

  26. Dear Claire,

    Hi my name is Miranda Lynn Reed. I have my own opinion to express about sir Thomas Boleyn! I think Sir Thomas Boleyn was a good man. I think he tried to save his children but new if he tried he would of probably lost his own life in the process of trying to save his children from being killed. I think henry and Sir Thomas Cromwell ploted against the Boleyn’s! I don’t think the Seymour had anything to do with Queen Anne Boleyn’s and Sir Gorege Boleyn’s downfall! Queen Anne Boleyn and Sir Gorege Boletn caused their own downfall.I think If Queen Anne hadn’t argued with Sir Thomas Cromwell and hadn’t threatened to behead him I think Queen Anne Boleyn would of lived a little longer I think Queen Anne Boleyn hadn’t had any man/men in her bed chambers and just had her ladyi in waiting in her chambers she would of live a longer live. I hope i am making sense here. let me know i am not making sense. And also let me know if i am making sense here as well.


    Miranda Lynn Reed

  27. Great article Claire!
    Finally, an enlightenment to the character. before reading this I was always curious of what kind of person Thomas Boleyn was. I mean, how could a bright successful ambassador pimped his own daughters while he himself gained all the achievement by his own right, by his own intelligence. Within his position at that time, surely he would have foreseen and wise in directing his children’s future, knowing the king’s nature. Seeing how he provided the best education to his children, I think it shows that he loved his children unconditionally. and wanted them to advance in a more respected way. And anyway, it was H8&Cromwell’s doing that led to Anne’s downfall.

  28. Regardless of his ability to compartmentalize the outcome of the trials of his children, and later, his daughter-in-law, Thomas Boleyn’s lot in life could not have been easy, emotionally.

    His only surviving son was executed.
    His daughter, while ‘only’ a female, was clearly engaging, attractive, beguiling – and executed.
    His son’s wife, later, was executed.
    His wife’s niece was executed at the same time.

    His heart must’ve been broken.
    Such a price to pay for his family’s ambitious actions!

  29. Wonderful article Claire. Thank you for all the hard work to bring us this information. Has made me see this man in a different light.

  30. Always great to read your posts, Claire! I’m relatively new to the Anne Boleyn Files, but like so many of us who thirst for ever more information on a time and on events from so long ago, I’m thrilled to see consistently new research, fresh insights and an even handed view!
    Having fallen hard for Anne Boleyn solely on the intrigues (however far fetched and clearly created more to grip a television audience and not to ‘tell it like it was’) of “the Tudors”, I confess I’m most thankful to have had this made-for-tv attempt at both drawing & holding an audience and giving an outline, however flawed in inaccuracies, of the events of those amazing years, people, politics, sex, ambition, etc. Lucky for me and perhaps many others, herein began MY thirst for as much factual information on this same story told of the Tudors and much other surrounding historical facts as well. “The Tudors” created, at least a notion of people and not just names, something that many history books do not or choose not to do. Without context it all falls rather flat. Now though, there will be few books left unopened or posts left unread, for I am hooked! Wow! not the place for all this, sorry!
    I do have much studying to do, of course, and I could be accused of naively viewing Thomas Boleyn as the man who put his children in harms way solely to raise his own level of prestige, power, income and sway within Henry’s court. While Clearly, long before Mary or Anne ever laid in Henry’s bed, Thomas Boleyn’s list of accomplishments was beyond extensive and his favor with both Henry VII & Henry VIII was remarkably close. I wonder then, why did a man whose personal clout stood far and away beyond so many courtiers put his children into this environment at all, unless it was to take ever further steps of favor toward the King and receive even greater position, benefit, wealth and power within court. Who better to know the true cost of a life of in Henry’s court. True, he had not yet seen the harsh removal (which he, it appears, assisted in stepping along, arguably to his own benefit) of a 20+ year sitting Queen, or the ‘kill or be killed’ bent Henry’s own take on execution would become, but surely Thomas Boleyn, so close to the man who would ultimately, ‘personally’ kill his own children had to have recognized the risk of courtly life, along with what only a genuinely intelligent, trained man so close to the crown must have sensed as, at the very least, rolling the dice of one’s neck it was to take that next step toward what he later saw as the kind of favor that could ONLY be achieved through being a member of Henry’s family by marriage. I wonder what the list of gifts & wealth were as Henry courted Anne, likely only to be topped by what a Father-in-Law may receive in properties, titles, and accumulating wealth. It was a fantastic bet he made putting his strikingly exotic, uniquely mannered, precisely educated and relentlessly brave daughter Anne, especially after the ‘failure’ of daughter Mary, ‘in Henry’s sights’ for what can honestly only be seen by this novice as a playing of his own hand, with the gem of a card he had in Anne…all an incredible gambit, right up till the bough broke and his ‘cradle of children’ lost their heads as a result. This privileged courtier, father of 3 whom he so diligently educated, had placed in courts where they would come out multi-lingual, carefully trained in all manner of the arts, particularly performing music & dance, in writing (George was known to be a poet, and Anne, at least it was suggested dabbled, if ever privately ~ since we apparently have no actual poetry to get that deeper window into her person! her thoughts and feelings ~ sadly), and perhaps more importantly the more nuanced skills and manner that made each stand out in their own way! not as the wallflower English men & women in court, whom Henry could generally have without fuss (including Mary, whose skill set suggested she was most highly suited as a sovereign’s Mistress, evidently immediately interesting, yet rather quickly and without fuss ultimately disposable, despite even the fact that she bore Henry a son {or so my research has said} she too went the way of most all of ‘Henry’s cast-off mistresses, or as in the case of Mary, would be known as the “Great Whore” for the rest of her life it seems).
    Was Thomas Boleyn forced to bring his children to court, get positions for them? Could he not have used that same savvy that had him initially place them in other courts to continue the paths of their own lives, loves (perhaps), religion and continued learning. Were they forced by their sovereign to appear and serve? If Henry had never seen Anne, might she have stood a chance, with all her fine graces, manner and exotic appeal, of finding a decent husband and a life of child rearing, and possibly leisure, left to bloom as the remarkable woman she’d become in the French and Hapsburg Courts? Or was she always being groomed to be that championship winning card in fathers’ hand to lay before a king, just in case it meant winning the ultimate prize, Afterall, sincerely, WHAT WAS Thomas Boleyn raising Anne to be?? It seems only reasonable that all that education, special training, etc, was not to give her a special life of leisure and to be, to the English Court, a “Nobody”.
    Again, only a novices view…and a scattered one at that, but perhaps something to consider. And I will continue to read your fantastic posts, Claire!! Thanks much!

  31. Another great article god I love reading this website. I check it the minute I finish work. At the moment I’m reading The Lady In The Tower and its a very good book. As for Thomas I really think he didn’t have much choice on the matter. I don’t think he was a bad parent but who would want to go against the king? In this book he quite good standing in the community as he was at henry and Katherine’s wedding although I really feel it for katherine she wasn’t treated right. But then neither was Ann. Thomas was at the trails of Smeaton, Norris etc but I don’t think he was a bad person. If anyone I think Anns uncle Duke of Norfolk was worse then Thomas. X

  32. I disagree Thomas Boleyn was an ambitious man. But to say he was a “good man” is a statement I would not make. He used not only one daughter to advance himself but also used Anne to further his ambition. I as a parent would never have done it once much less twice. Anne got her ambition from her father. Unfortunately, Thomas did not realize how many enemies at court he made and when the opportunity came his enemies pounced. He did nothing to try to save his children. He did what he had to save his own neck!. Even Francis Weston’s parent begged the king for their son’s life. There is no evidence that Boleyn even tried. I am sure my opinion is in the minority but I fail to see how one can dismiss his behavior.

    1. You are spot-on, what happened to Anne and her brother was despicable, he’s a disgrace and a coward in my eyes and should have gone to his death with his children, there’s absolutely no excuse for him

  33. There are so many excellent points of view written…. I would like to add that Thomas still had one child left…. Just one…. Mary…. Perhaps he did what he needed to … To at least leave her and his grandchildren something for the future… and to protect where he could

  34. Thomas Boleyn I believe has been misunderstood like his daughter Anne, tv dramas like The Tudors don’t help they showed him as an opportunist who pushed his daughters into the Kings path, several historical fiction books also shows him in a bad light, none of us know what he thought or felt regarding both his children’s involvement with Henry and Anne’s subsequent marriage and fall from favour but the fact is from an early age he made sure they all had a good education which shows a good fatherly interest in them, a need for them to do well and he must have been very proud of them all, he himself was intelligent, a master of several languages and a valuable courtier to the King, I must admit I didn’t like him all that much but my feelings were prejudiced from a young age from reading a Jean Plaidy book about the Boleyns but now I know more about him I realise he was a hard working man who done his best for his children and his wife, the events of 1536 were out of his control and the fact that he was able to win favour with the King again after just goes to show what an intelligent and maybe charming man he must have been, he must have had the gift of the gab.

  35. There are always two sides of a story and it does make a change to hear this one . It musnt be forgotten how he used his various positions to actually help advance his children and provide them with a first step on the court ladder . What they did thereafter as adults was at their own disgression . After all, although difficult both daughters could have refused the kings advances . As head of the family the Duke of Norfolk was the more manipulative one

  36. Has any thought been given that Henry since having a son with Mary and wanting an heir saw Ann as biologically able to do this for him? Since he knew the sister was capable of producing male babies? At this point in time it was still believed that women determined the child’s sex.

  37. Boleyn was a man of his time. That meant making family alliances to benefit the family long term. Marrying George to Jane Parker was such a move, marrying Mary to rising star William Carey another. He had more ambitious plans for Anne-wanting to marry her into the Butlers of Ormonde. These marriages would benefit the family as a whole, unless the situation changed.
    Boleyn may have felt that seeking a marriage with the King was dangerous business, he did however profit by it. He does not appear to have treated Mary well as a widow. Disapproval of her conduct? Why didn’t he get her married off again? Mary clearly felt her family had treated her poorly, her letter to Cromwell is rather explicit on this subject. Did Boleyn believe Anne and George had deserved their fate?
    He opposed the King at his peril. He chose not to go down with the ship.
    We will never know what hurt him more, the loss of his status, or his children.

  38. Hi Claire,
    Excellent article as usual! I have been of the opinion that Thomas’ reputation was in need of rehabilitation for some time and have recently tried to do a little research myself. I was aware of William Dean’s thesis but have not been able to find a copy, where did you get yours from?

    1. I can’t remember but I think I got it from the university. I paid for a spiral bound printed out version as I don’t think it had been digitised.

        1. Thanks, I’ll try the university and I’ll look out for the biography. Poor old Thomas just needs a few sympathetic portrayals in fiction now. You don’t happen to know anyone that’s writing a best selling novel that can be made into a film? I’d do it myself but I have absolutely no talent! 🙂

  39. Loved the article , always an informative & interesting read. This past year year I’ve been really getting into the tudors, specifically henry- elizabeth. Unfortunately i did believe that thomas boleyn was the monster, however after readimg this my opinion of him has changed drastically. It seems to me that its reasonable to speculate Anne’s resistance to henrys advances might have come from her father. Thomas probably was against the marriage or advances b/c he most likely saw the way henry treated his other mistresses ( including mary) & thought the same would happen to anne, and after that he prospects wouls have been ruined for a good match in a husband.

  40. While I agree with your opinion in a general way about both Thomas Boleyn and the Duke of Norfolk, it is quite obvious neither Mary not Anne Boleyn could have risen as far as they did without the knowledge,support, and encouragement of the men in their family. No woman during that period of time was free to make her own choices, ever. Thomas Boleyn may not have “needed” his daughters to rise, the same can be said for the Duke- but the Boleyn girls clearly got played and put forward for family advancenent

    1. But I’m not saying that the Boleyns didn’t advance their daughters, I’m saying that there is no evidence (and evidence to the contrary) that Norfolk and Wiltshire pushed Mary and Anne into a sexual relationship with the king. Wiltshire was ambitious for his children, he had Anne (and perhaps Mary) educated to a much higher standard than was usual for girls and arranged for Anne to have her education ‘finished’ at Mechelen. The whole aim for families like the Howards and Boleyns was for you to get your children to court, serving the king or queen. But that’s not the same as expecting them or grooming them to sleep with the king. I disagree that the Boleyn children got “played”, they got educated and given opportunities so that they could be advanced at court and serve their king and his consort, as they did, George included. Like other noble young men and women. The Lisle Letters, for example, have several letters regarding Honor Lisle trying to get her daughters positions serving the queen, it’s what was expected.

  41. Ummmm this is the same Thomas who sat as jury member over the men that were accused of sleeping with Queen Anne Boleyn. And knowingly found them guilty thereby condemning both his daughter and son to death. That guy. Or sure just misunderstood.

    1. Yep, that’s the one. But what we have to remember is:

      1) He wouldn’t have had any choice about being a member of this commission and would have been appointed to it prior to knowing who/what it was about. These commissions were organised in the April.
      2) Trials did not work like they do today. The person being tried was presumed guilty unless they could prove their innocence. As Leanda de Lisle pointed out in the recent programme on Lady Jane Grey, these trials were really just morality showcases. They were theatre.
      3) Jury members were expected to do their duty to the king and find the person guilty of treason. There is the case in Mary I’s reign where they acquitted a man and then found him guilty after the queen got involved and they were threatened.

      Thomas Boleyn would have had absolutely no choice in any of this and that must have been truly awful for him. Sitting with those who were hostile to him, his family and these men, and having to find these men guilty and therefore his own son and daughter guilty too.

  42. Just what did Thomas Boleyn do to his daughters? One became Queen because she fell in love and Henry wanted to end a marriage to get a son and Mary was married to a good husband and then married her own choice.. Please correct me but I thought it was Henry Viii who ruled England not the Boleyn family. I also thought it was Henry who had poor Anne and her brother beheaded on trumped up charges. Thomas Boleyn had risen through the ranks long before Henry fancied either of his daughters. Mary was one of his favourite mistresses according to myth but in fact we know little about her and the King and her family did not get that much material gain from it. Thomas was talented, ambitious, hard working, charismatic, skilled as an Ambassador and astute political player. He was no different than anyone else in royal service. His talents and skills were used by four Kings, not just Henry Viii, but Edward iv and Richard iii and Henry Vii. He was over sixty when he died in 1539. He was rewarded for his services. His status depended on being ambitious and service to the crown. He was not responsible for the King’s libido. Henry noticed his daughter Mary and he didn’t stand in the way of their relationship. Anne was too well educated not to be at Court and Henry noticed her. She was not forced to have an affair with the King and her family protected her by allowing her to come home when she rejected Henry’s early advances. As the relationship developed, however, of course he took advantage and encouraged Anne and of course the entire family were rewarded just as the Woodville family were and the Seymour brothers would be in similar situations. Anne and Henry fell in love and he wanted her for his Queen. Her family are hardly going to say no, are they? Mary was dismissed by her sister and disowned by her father because she married below her station and without parental consent. Before people comment on Facebook they need to educate themselves in how things were in the sixteenth century. Thomas is the head of the entire household and the women belong to him. He can do with them what he wants within reason, especially when it comes to marriage. He can’t force them into marriage but he can arrange a good marriage and it is their duty to obey. We might not like it but we have to accept it as it was how life was 500 years ago. Mary wanted to marry and live in the country as she had enough of being insulted at court. So she chose a man who made her happy, but who was poor. She didn’t ask permission and this was not very dignified. Her father responded within his rights and as any other father would at that time and cut off her allowance. With the help of Thomas Cromwell and being humble she got financial support. It was not cruel but a father acting in what he felt was his daughters best interests.

    Thomas Boleyn paid for whatever ambitions his family had, if we see it that way, although I don’t, because Anne was arrested and tried with her brother on false charges of adultery, treason and incest. Him and his wife, Elizabeth, had to endure the horrible execution of two of their children. Thomas was excused the trial of his children. He had to sit in judgement on the other innocent men. He lost his wife in 1538. His return to Court during 1537 to 1539 was not a disrespect for his children or disregard or unfeeling. It was a matter of survival. He had suffered financially from their fall and he needed some dignity and status for his remaining family. He had to swallow his pride and return to face the man responsible, Henry Viii. I actually believe that took courage. He was pragmatic as were so many others who had to go on and restore family name and fortune after a member had been executed. He was not the first or last person to do so and to condemn him is unfair. There was very little other choices career wise for him and he may have been feeling he needed the money from employment at Court. Like so many others he did the wise thing and returned to Court and was welcomed back, had some favour restored and ended his life with some dignity and remembrance.

  43. Great article. I’ve always thought that Mary’s recall from France always said a lot about him as well. Sure, he had found a solid match for her, but it also seems interesting that she was recalled after becoming the “English Mare” and (relatively) quickly married off to Carey. That has always, to me, rung of a father who’s trying to “stem the bleeding” to the family name.

    The education is a great point too. It was a pretty radical thing then to educate your daughters so well, and Anne obviously felt comfortable becoming a confident and outspoken young woman. You have to wonder if a woman beaten down and pimped out by her father would become such an outwardly confident and outspoken person.

  44. Mary Bolyen was notorious from the beginning. So notorious that her parents were upset about it. Anne Bolyen was a Renaissance women, Her French clothing style, jewelry and mannerism attracted many. King Henry VIII was just one of them. Of course Anne Bolyen would not refuse a marriage proposal from a King. I do not think that Thomas Bolyen used his daughters to earn a social position. He and his son were doing well in Royal court. If he had played it, Henry VIII would had him executed as well.

    1. I agree but I believe Mary was unfairly notorious because of the boasting of King Francis whose claims are not evidence. I also believe her relationship with Henry was brief and she was left without much support after her husband died. Fortunately Anne was in a position to provide her son with an excellent education and provide for him. Mary gets a bad press which isn’t really deserved.

  45. I hate it for the Bolyens. Thomas seems to be a decent man.. What good did it do for Mary.
    She had two children by the king. The King never recognized them as his. The advancement for
    her 1st husband, well her died of the Sweating Sickness.

    Anne was too ambitious. She and George were adults while she was Queen.

    I’m sorry, that Henry believed,a power hungry man who brought charges against them.

    They were both murdered.

    Henry was in a hurry to remarry. Poor Jane did her duty and gave him an heir. She died of
    Complications following child birth. Eward VI died as a 15 year old king. No son for an heir.

  46. Hi Claire,

    Where can I find the source by William H Dean – Thomas Boleyn: The Courtier Diplomat please? I would like to add this into my research for my dissertation on the Boleyn family.

    Please help if possible thanks so much!

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