Detail of brass on tomb of Thomas Boleyn

Today, I’m going to look at Sir Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire, Earl of Ormonde and Viscount Rochford, the father of Queen Anne Boleyn and an important man at the court of King Henry VIII.

Popular culture (“The Tudors”, “The Other Boleyn Girl” etc.) paints him as a cunning and manipulative man who will stop at nothing to curry favour and raise his status at court, and many Anne Boleyn fans dislike him, feeling that he let Anne and George down in their hour of need and just carried on with his life and career, but was Thomas Boleyn really like that? Let’s examine his background, career and the different views people have of him and see if we can discover the real Thomas Boleyn.


Thomas Boleyn was born in around 1477, the eldest of ten children. His parents were Sir William Boleyn (1451 – 1505), son of Geoffrey Boleyn (1406 – 1463) the Lord Mayor of London, and Lady Margaret Butler (1454 – 1539), daughter of Thomas Butler, the 7th Earl of Ormonde (1426 – 1515). Thomas’s mother, Margaret was a descendant of Eleanor de Bohun (1304 – 1363) and her first husband James Butler, 1st Earl of Ormonde, and interestingly Eleanor de Bohun was the granddaughter of Edward I and his first wife, Eleanor of Castile.

I made the point in my post Anne Boleyn’s Royal Blood, based on research done by Olivia Peyton and Robert Milne from the Facebook group Anne Boleyn1, that Eleanor of Castile was descended from Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, so Thomas Boleyn wasn’t the commoner some people have made him out to be.

Thomas’s father, Sir William Boleyn, was High Sheriff of Kent and his paternal grandfather, Geoffrey Boleyn (1406 – 1463) was a successful mercer (a merchant of fine cloth) and also served as Lord Mayor of London in 1458. It was Geoffrey Boleyn who purchased Hever Castle in 1462 – it had previously belonged to William Fiennes, 2nd Baron Saye and Sele – and set about renovating it and rebuilding it into the manor house that stands today.

Marriage and Issue

Grave of Henry Boleyn

Thomas Boleyn married Lady Elizabeth Howard, daughter of Thomas Howard, the Earl of Surrey (and later the 2nd Duke of Norfolk) in around 1498/1499. We do not know the precise date of their marriage but Eric Ives2 points out that Elizabeth’s jointure was settled on her in the summer of 1501, suggesting a relatively recent marriage.

As far as issue is concerned, we know that the Boleyns had at least five children – Mary, George, Anne, Thomas and Henry – because we have records of them. Many people have not heard of Thomas and Henry but that is because they did not survive childhood. Thomas is buried at Penshurst Church and Henry is buried at St Peter’s Church, Hever. This photo shows the stone marker of Henry’s grave on the floor of St Peter’s, near his father’s tomb. In a letter written to Thomas Cromwell in July 1536, Thomas Boleyn recalled the financial hardship of his early years of marriage, mentioning that his wife “brought me every year a child”3 but we do not know, conclusively, the birthdates of the Boleyn children and can only hypothesise.

Eric Ives believes that Mary was the eldest and was born around 1499, then Anne in 1500/1501 and then George in about 1504, but what about Thomas and Henry? Well, I discussed this with Alison Weir and she pointed out that it is likely that they were born before George because of their names – Thomas after his father and Henry to honour the King, Henry VII – and that they must have still been alive when George was born, otherwise George would have been named Thomas or Henry. If we believe that Anne was born in 1501 then Thomas and Henry could have been born in 1502 and 1503, if Elizabeth did indeed bring her husband a child every year, or perhaps one of them was born before Mary. Obviously, this all changes if you believe that Anne Boleyn was born in 1507!

Career and Offices

Portrait once thought to be of Thomas Boleyn but now thought to be of James Butler, 9th Earl of Ormonde

Although Paul Friedmann4 writes of how it was Thomas’s father-in-law, the Earl of Surrey, who helped to advance Thomas’s interests at court, we also have to take into account that Thomas Boleyn was an incredibly intelligent man and an asset that any king would want at court. Eric Ives writes that Thomas “was a man of some education, far and away the best speaker of French in the Tudor court, with Latin as well, and cultured enough to commission several items from Erasmus”5 and in his notes on his chapter “A Courtier’s Daughter”, Ives writes that it is probable that Thomas also had legal training. Legal training, a flair at languages and a cultural disposition, no wonder he was chosen by Henry VIII to undertake many embassies and diplomatic missions.

Thomas Boleyn also knew the importance of being involved in courtly entertainment, jousting and tournaments, and there are records of him fighting with the King at Greenwich in May 1510 and being an “answerer” in February 1511 at the Westminster challenge6.

Thomas Boleyn Here are the highlights of his career, including the rewards he was given for his loyalty and hard work:-

  • Mentioned in the Pardon Roll at the beginning of Henry VIII’s reign – “20 June. Thomas Boleyn, Bullen or Bulleyn, of Bishops Lynn and Boston, gent., innholder or yeoman, late yeoman of the Crown of Henry VII.”7
  • 1509 – Knighted
  • 1517 – Chosen to look after Margaret, Henry VIII’s sister, on her visit to England8.
  • 1511 – Made joint governor of Norwich Castle with Sir Henry Wyatt9
  • 1511 and 1517 – Appointed High Sheriff of Kent
  • 1512 – Sent as ambassador to the Low Countries
  • 1519-1523 – Appointed as Ambassador to the court of France, attended the Field of Cloth of Gold, attended the meeting at Gravelines with Emperor Charles V, participated in the Calais Conference of 1521 and was then appointed as ambassador to Spain.10
  • 1522 – Obtained the patent of the treasurer of the household, the stewardship of Tunbridge, the receivership of Bransted, and the keepership of the manor of Penshurst.11
  • 1523 – Granted the keepership of Thunderley and Westwood Park.12
  • 1523 – Made Knight of the Garter
  • 1524 – Granted the stewardship of Swaffham.13
  • 1525 – Made Lord Rochford
  • 1527 – Diplomatic missions to France
  • 1529 – Sent as envoy to seek support for the divorce of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon from Emperor Charles V and Pope Clement VII.
  • 1529 – Thomas given the Earldom of Ormonde after the Butlers surrendered the title in return for the disputed Ormonde lands on a long lease.
  • 1529 – Made Earl of Wiltshire.14
  • 1530 – Appointed Lord Privy Seal after the fall of Cardinal Wolsey.15
  • March 1536 – The Boleyn managed to secure letters patent reconstructing Thomas Boleyn’s lease of the Crown honour of Rayleigh in Essex. Sir Anthony Browne was forced to surrender this office.16

As you can see from this long list of jobs and rewards, Thomas Boleyn was one of the King’s main men from the beginning of his reign in 1509 until the fall of the Boleyn faction in 1536. He was an active and important member of the Privy Council and Eric Ives writes of how the King spoke of Thomas Boleyn as being a skilled negotiator and how it is evident that he knew how to handle the king17. He certainly reaped his rewards.


As I said earlier, fiction, movies and TV series have portrayed Thomas Boleyn as a man who used and manipulated his daughters to advance his career. Even historians judge him harshly – Eric Ives quotes Friedmann as saying that Thomas Boleyn was “mean and grasping”18 and P W Sergeant as saying “it is clearly hopeless to attempt a defence of Sir Thomas”19. Now, we know that Mary Boleyn was Henry VIII’s mistress and obviously Anne was in a relationship with the King for around 10 years, but did Thomas purposely put his daughters in the King’s path? Was he a pimp who prostituted his daughters for his own gain? It is hard to know, but we need to take into account Tudor beliefs regarding women and the context the Boleyns were living in. Women were seen as second class citizens, as chattels, and a daughter’s only use to a father was to marry well so that she was supported financially and so that she could bring honour and favour to her family. I don’t think that Thomas was unusual in using his daughters to gain favour and having a daughter become mistress to the King brought all sort of rewards and prestige to the family and did not seem to affect the woman’s long term reputation or marriage prospects. I think that Thomas was simply an ambitious courtier and an opportunist.

Joanna Denny is one historian who does not see Thomas as a scheming manipulator at all and writes of how he recalled Mary to England when he heard of her exploits at the French Court and removed Anne from court, when he spotted the King’s interest in her, because “while he could do nothing to prevent the King’s affair with Mary, he could try to protect his younger daughter.”20

I guess we’ll just never know what kind of man Thomas really was but he cared enough about his daughters to make sure that they received a top notch education, instead of simply learning needlework and homemaking skills. He also sent them abroad and Anne Boleyn was famed for her fluency in French, her musical skills and intelligence. It is said that Mary Boleyn had the Howard classical beauty whereas it seems that Anne’s dark looks came from the Boleyn/Butler side of the family and I also think that Anne was her father’s daughter, having his ambition and intelligence.


Thomas Boleyn the Reformer

While we can argue until we’re blue in the face over Anne Boleyn’s faith and her role in the English Reformation, it is clear that her father played a role in advancing reform by using his diplomatic missions to smuggle literature into England, literature which would have been viewed as heretical. Joanna Denny writes:-

“Thomas Boleyn was a firm advocate of the “New Religion”. He imported dangerous tracts that could have led to his condemnation as a heretic, one of which he translated and dedicated to his daughter Anne. He commissioned works from Erasmus, who wrote a commentary for him on Psalm 23 and called him “egregie eruditus“, outstandingly learned.”21

Denny goes on to describe him as “a man of principle, learned and daring in taking risks for his beliefs. He was a supporter of the New Religion, a Protestant, although this term was not in use until 1529”22
and writes of how he kept in contact with French reformers.23 Ives too writes of how Thomas Tebold travelled around Europe in 1535 and 1536, supported by Thomas Boleyn, spreading the news that Thomas was a patron of the New Learning and New Religion24. It is clear that Anne and George’s interest in humanism and reform stemmed from their father.

Thomas Boleyn and the Fall of Anne Boleyn

On the 24th April 1536, two commissions of oyer and terminer were set up to investigate treason and Thomas Boleyn was one of the commissioners. Little did he know that he would be sitting in judgement on four of the men accused of committing adultery with his daughter, Anne Boleyn. The setting up of this commission was the beginning of the end for the Boleyn faction and May 1536 saw the downfall and executions of two of Thomas Boleyn’s children, Anne Boleyn and George Boleyn, and key Boleyn supporters. So, how did Thomas Boleyn escape? Friedmann explains:-

“Anne’s friends were closely watched, but it was not thought necessary to interfere with the liberty of Lord Wiltshire. He was a mean egotist and coward, and from motives of prudence had always disapproved of his daughter’s bold and violent courses. There was, therefore, no reason to fear that he would try to defend her.”25

Harsh words! It could be argued that Thomas Boleyn escaped because he could not be implicated in his daughter’s affairs, who knows, but he was a lucky man. He is often criticised for not fighting for Anne and George, after all, Weston’s family did all that they could to try and get Weston released, yet there is no record of Thomas Boleyn lifting a finger to help his children. But who can judge Thomas Boleyn? He knew the King and Cromwell well enough to know that there was no hope and who can blame him for blending into the background and thinking of his own survival when he realised that there was nothing he could do? We can only imagine the heartache he felt on the brutal deaths of his children, the guilt that he felt, and it is likely that the events of 1536 led to some kind of breakdown in Thomas’s marriage to Elizabeth, suggested by the fact that she was buried at Lambeth, in the Howard church, rather than at Hever.

Life After Anne

Although Thomas Boleyn fell from favour after the fall and execution of his daughter, he was a survivor and did not give up. He was active in squashing the rebellion of the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536, he was present at Edward VI’s christening in 1537, and Ives talks of how he buttered up Cromwell by lending him his chain and Garter badge26. By 1538, Thomas Boleyn was back properly at court and it was even rumoured that he would marry Margaret Douglas, Henry VIII’s niece27! However, he did not live long after Anne’s fall, dying in March 1539, around a year after his wife. The fact that Henry VIII ordered masses to be said for Thomas’s soul is clear evidence that Thomas was back in favour by then.28

Thomas Boleyn’s Resting place

Thomas Boleyn is buried in a tomb at St Peter’s Church, Hever, Kent, just near his former home, Hever Castle. His tomb is decorated by a magnificent brass which shows him dressed as a Knight of the Garter. Above his right shoulder is his daughter Anne’s falcon crest and at his feet there is a griffin. His son, Henry Boleyn, lies nearby.

Final Thoughts

Thomas Boleyn can be described as ambitious and self-seeking, but I do not think he was an evil man who manipulated his children and then turned his back on them in their hour of need. In my opinion, he was simply a product of Henry’s court and his time, a courtier who enjoyed basking in royal favour but who knew the sense of hiding when things got too hot. He was a survivor. I am sure that Anne would have understood the way he handled things in May 1536 and would have forgiven his shortcomings, she knew how things at court worked.

Notes and Sources

  1. The Anne Boleyn Facebook Group run by Olivia Peyton and Robert Mylne
  2. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Eric Ives, p17
  3. L&P, xi.17, Letter from Thomas, Earl of Wiltshire to Thomas Cromwell, dated Hever, first Sunday of July.
  4. Anne Boleyn, P Friedmann, p25
  5. Ives, p10
  6. Ives, p10
  7. Pardon Roll of 1509 L&P i.438
  8. L&P ii.1475
  9. Friedmann, p25
  10. Ives, p10
  11. Friedmann, p26-27
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ives, p36
  15. Friedmann, p51
  16. Ibid., p306
  17. Ives, p11
  18. Ibid., p6
  19. Ibid.
  20. Anne Boleyn, Joanna Denny, p49
  21. Ibid., p11
  22. Ibid., p38
  23. Ibid., p100
  24. Ives, p263-4
  25. Friedmann, p232-33
  26. Ives, p353
  27. Ibid.
  28. LP xiv. 950

Related Post

44 thoughts on “Sir Thomas Boleyn, father of Anne Boleyn”
  1. As always, Claire, a fascinating and well-researched article. I agree he was gifted in language, a trait shared by his daughter and granddaughter! I also think he was a survivor and am not sure that he put his daughters in the king’s path. I think, like Anne, he was between a rock and a hard place once the king noticed both his girls. What choice did he have?? I’ve always admire Anne because she didn’t have lots of choices either, but she gambled on a path no one else had even considered. It ended badly but what a great run she had! Thanks again! Now I’d love to know more about her mother, Elizabeth Howard. I’ve read she was a lovely woman and surely close to Anne, as Anne was worried about how her arrest would affect her mother.

  2. I find it interesting that Thomas Boleyn would write a letter to Thomas Cromwell in July of 1536, two months after the executions of his children. I wonder what the contents of the rest of that letter were – I would be very curious to know!

  3. Thank you, Anne. I think Anne was a Daddy’s girl and like him in so many ways, sharing his love of learning and his passion for reform. It is hard to find out any details about Elizabeth Howard, I think because she was a woman, whereas Thomas was a man, courtier and diplomat, an important man at court and so much easier to research. Sheena wrote a guest article on Elizabeth Boleyn last week, see

  4. Hi Annette,
    Thomas Boleyn wrote to Cromwell on the 2nd July 1536 and this is what he wrote:-
    “I received a letter from the King, with another from you concerning an augmentation of living to my daughter of Rochford; and although my living of late is much decayed, I am content, whereas she now has 100 marks a year, and 200 marks a year after my decease, to give her 50 marks a year more in hand. From Lady day last past she shall have 100l. a year to live on, where she should have had only 100 marks as long as I live, and after my death 300 marks a year. Beseeching you to inform the King that I do this alonely for his pleasure. When I married I had only 50l. a year to live on for me and my wife as long as my father lived, and yet she brought me every year a child. I thank you for your goodness to me when I am far off, and cannot always be present to answer for myself. Hever, this first Sunday of July.”
    This is taken from L&P xi. 17

  5. It’s about time there was a balanced view of Thomas. I should have known it would be by you!
    I have always had an issue with Thomas sitting on judgment of the four commoners and thereby finding his own daughter guilty of adultery. I know that there was nothing he could have done to save Anne but I do find that difficult to excuse. Having said that, I am looking back five-hundred years with my twenty-first century sentimentality, and common sense tells me I can’t really do that. No doubt, as you point out, we are much harder on Thomas than either Anne or George would have been.
    Anne and George Boleyn are a really important part of my life, but their generation is so far removed from our own, not just in time but in attitudes and ideals, that I sometimes fear that if I could go back in time to meet them they would be so far removed from my understanding of human nature that they would seem like aliens from a different planet. Sometimes I would love to put it to the test, and sometimes not.

  6. If you love Anne Boleyn and admire the woman she was then you have to give credit to Thomas Boleyn, the father who gave her a wonderful education and who arranged for her to go abroad. I too have problems with the fact that he sat in judgement on the men, which then prejudiced Anne and George’s trials, but I’m not sure he had much choice in the matter and I don’t think Anne would have thought badly of him. I think Anne and George were very like their father, what do you think?
    As far as going back in time, I’d love to have dinner with Anne and George but, like you, I’m not sure that we’d understand each other and I’m not sure my wit and intelligence would match theirs!

  7. I think your wit and intelligence would have matched their’s, but whether their verbal gymnastics would be as easy to follow is another matter. Speech patterns have changed dramatically over the last five-hundred years, in fact, even over the last two-hundred years. They made conversation into an art form, and their quickness in putting together complex sentences and arguments would be difficult to emulate.
    As for Thomas Boleyn, yes I do think Anne and George were very like him in their attitudes and their beliefs, and yes he did give them the best education possible. I don’t doubt Thomas’s love for his children, but to have actively participated in the trials of the commoners doesn’t do him any credit. At the very least he could have pleaded illness. But, as I said above, that is looking at a bygone age with my current outlook. And as you know, I’ve been criticised for that before!

  8. I love your articles on the Tudor and Elizabethan histories because they really do separate fact from fiction. I believe that Thomas Boleyn did love his children, but as with all parents he wanted the best for them them. That’s the problem with playing politics and especially in this time and age: Many times you can misstep. However too many times depending upon who’s telling the story it can make it look like they are monsters. I’m thinking of the film version of “The Other Boleyn Girl”.

  9. I feel sorry for anyone involved in the Tudor court, seeing as they did the downfall of often innocent people around them. I would have loved to have met Anne Boleyn and am sure we would ahve had much in common – passionate all consuming relationships which led to our downfall! Thank heaven we can’t be executed by our lovers today.

  10. Louise, I agree with a lot of your views. I have only been the parent of 4 legged babies, but I can’t imagine having to sit through a bogus trial involving my children. But I guess the politics and beliefs of the times were so different than our views today that Thomas Boleyn probably did what was expected of him. I thought he looked like a man trying to escape reality when he was reading during George’s execution scene – like a way to cope with something too awful to deal with. Leaving prison, he looked shell shocked, someone who is permanently damaged from those events but still going through the motions of living. Even when he is told he can leave, I got the feeling that he was happy to be a survivor and relieved not to be killed, but that’s just my viewpoint of “The Tudors.”

  11. Interesting stuff. He did what he had to to survive, but in my opinion he still was a manipulator. He knew how to work people to get what he wanted. After what happened with his two children, he still somehow got back to court. It takes talent.

  12. Anne was truly her father’s daughter. She should have known she was playing with fire when she got entangled with Henry however. If he could callously dismiss Catherine what on earth made her think she could hold him. I’m sure Thomas encouraged her all the way though. Still, to try and get honor through your daughters and then ignore them in their plight is truly an unforgivable act in my opinion.

  13. King and country would have been more important than family in the scheme of things maybe. So he would have had to have enforced the laws or customs of the time even to the extent of finding his own children guilty. He would have done ‘the right thing’ – but really it is difficult to swallow. Very balanced article. Thank you!

  14. I’ve have to give it to all of you , I believe you’re right on the subject.
    What I would like to know is Was thomas Boleyn, Queen Annes’ Father given Wolsey’s lands ?
    Great job.
    Renee Woolsey Smeaton-Burgess

  15. I’m not overly familiar with the intrigues of the courts of this time, but it seems to me that there could have been a power play here by Cromwell. Putting Thomas in this position to try and force his hand so that he too could be executed allowing Cromwell to have the upper hand. Since this was clearly a fabricated charge against Anne as can be seen looking back from the present on the rest of Henry’s reign. I think there was alot more internal court intrigue and plotting going on than we realise. Just think what goes on behind closed doors in DC or what the Boriga’s were upto a few years earlier.

  16. thomas was a cruel selfish cold hearted old man who let down his children and wife he used anne to his own adantage and when things went terribly wrong he abandoned anne and george in their hour of need after being held in the tower he just left them to die!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! god i hate this man

  17. I don’t think there is any real evidence to suggest Thomas used his daughter’s by pushing them into relationships with the King. In the main the notion of Thomas as a type of ‘pimp daddy’ comes from fiction.
    In Henry’s court Thomas wasn’t the first and wouldn’t be the last parent to let his children down. Perhaps the best assessment of him is that he was a man of his time, as are all survivors.
    Renee, in answer to your comment, it wasn’t Thomas who benefited financially from Wolsey’s fall. It was George who received a huge annuity, which completely transformed his financial position.

  18. Great article! In reading all of these, it just gets me more excited for the day your book comes out! =)

  19. My wife and I are enjoying the Tudors for the first time. We were in England 40 years ago in college and took a train to Hever and did the brass rubbing of T. Boleyn in the church then went across the street for a meal at the public house. Great fun. It is strange to watch a guy on t.v. that is mounted on your wall. You all need to get a life.There is no way to judge these people who lived and survived 500 years ago.

  20. Theres one thing I do not understand. Thomas Boleyn managed to stay somewhat in favour and appear at court, but wouldnt have people stopped and stared every time they saw him at court? with such thoughts and even comments like ” Theres the father of that witch” How did he manage to overcome this?

  21. me and my wife janus had a great time in england and we visited his grave last september, it was a magical experience

  22. this has been an intreasting read.

    If you look at the situation this way regarding Thomas Boylen he was serving an absoulute monarch, he did as he was told or he lost his place at court and a substantal amount of hi income as well.

    He could have pleaded illness but he knew that wouldn’t cut the mustard with Henry or anyone else during the trial, Henry Percy, Earl of Nothumberland had tried it with no luck, he was made to attend like it or not.

    Like many people of the time he did what he had to to survive, not that I’m making excuses for him, but we are looking back with modern eyes, even with documents we can only guess at what he felt and thought really.

    He must have suffered mentally for what he had had to do as did his wife Elizabeth, which is why, I think, they were estranged, they both blamed each other up to a point.

    Don’t forget as well Kathrine Howard was cousin to Anne and neice to Elizabeth, what part did the Duke of Norfolk really play in this?

    It was after all a harder hasher time to live in and none of us know exactly what we would have done in the same circumstances.

    1. yes but it might have been a different time but people could or should have still had some sort of emotion within them .

  23. I thnk you are so right , if it hadnt been him it would have been someone else, Jane Boleyn had a hand in it if she hadnt lied about the incest between anne and George then it wouldnt have happened at all. why would she lie about her own husband like that it is possible she was a pathological liar

  24. Whatever Sir Thomas Boleyn’s private or public motives for promoting first Mary and then Anne to the King’s bed, I felt sorry for him as a father having to see his daughter and his son executed in this terrible manner and his family disgraced after so many years of royal service. I do not believe that he was the over bearing grasping self centred crack pot that he is displayed as in the Tudors. Sir Thomas was a clever man and he served as a diplomat for a number of years. He was well known and well liked by Henry VIII in his own right. However, having had a taste of the sort of royal favour that quickly promotes a family when one daughter is the King’s mistress and may have been the mother of at least one child by the King, he was not content to take a step backwards. Anne comes home just at the right time when Henry is looking to a solution to his fading marriage to Queen Catherine and Henry is soon thinking that his marriage to his brother’s wife was not blessed by God. Anne is no beauty by modern standards but was well educated and had beautiful and very lively eyes. She was sophisticated and catches Henry’s eye. Sir Thomas as time passed saw the advantage in this and his family’s fortunes can once again rise. He did what any ambitious father would do, he gave his daughter a push in the right direction, right into the Kings path. Henry by 1527 wanted a divorce from Queen Catherine and Sir Thomas sees the tremendous benefit at this time of a match with King Henry. He pushed Anne all the way pointing out that she could if she played her cards right and found a way to keep Henry’s interest that great things may follow. He was right and seemed to delight in the fact that Henry now had ideas of making Anne Queen. Naturally Sir Thomas and Anne’s mother did all they could to back the king at this time and Boleyn even worked as an envoy to the Emperor and the Pope to gain support for the divorce. He was a skilled courtier and he was good at promoting ideas: he used his skill to produce pamphlets that outlined why Cardinal Wolsey was not good for the country any longer and that his regime was corrupt. He was certainly behind his fall from power. Anne was I believe very much like her father and their joint ambitions spurred the family on to the achievement of Anne gaining the crown.

    What is sad is that after three years it all went wrong and after the disgrace of both of his children: Anne and George, Sir Thomas was forced to retire to the country. Henry had enough respect for him and due to his past service he was allowed to retain much of his property. He was never arrested or put in the Tower, although I imagine that he had to condemn the alleged behaviour of his son and daughter: incest and treason. Of course he probably believed them to be innocent but could not say so. It is also interesting that Henry merely asked Sir Thomas to identify his son and daughter at their trial and then retire as their relatives. It may have been also out of respect for his past service that Anne’s father kept his earldom and that he did not hand over Hever Castle until after his death in 1538/9. He was present at the baptism of Prince Edward in 1537 and he died a quiet, but sad death, having lost two of his three surviving children. He may have been ambitious at one time, but I believe that Sir Thomas Boleyn died a broken man, possibly of a broken heart.

    In the Tudors he is also shown as a ruthless and very determined reformer who did not even believe that Christ had apostles and he called them all liars. He seemed to support Cromwell in some kind of zealot style attack on the Catholic Church and has a dislike of the English clergy. However, despite may be being in favour as was Anne of a more Bible based faith in England and of what was called the New Learning there is no evidence that Sir Thomas Boleyn was anything more than a faithful Catholic until the end of his life. He was certainly no zealot and he had no interest in destroying the Church. He may be what we would today call a conformist: he went along with reform and the break with Rome as a loyal courtier, but in private he worshiped in his own fashion, just as his ancestors had done.


     The Monument to the Royal Stuarts is a memorial in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City State. It commemorates the last three members of the Royal House of Stuart: King James III & VIII, his elder sonPrince Charles Edward Stuart, and his younger son, Cardinal Prince Henry Benedict Stuart. The marble monument is by Antonio Canova, the most celebrated Italian sculptor of his day. It is a bas relief profile of the three exiled princes, with this inscription: IACOBO•III•IACOBI•II•MAGNAE•BRIT•REGIS•FILIO•KAROLO•EDVARDO•ET•HENRICO•DECANO•PATRUM•CARDINALIVM•IACOBI•III•FILIIS•REGIAE•STIRPIS•STVARDIAE•POSTREMIS•ANNO•M•DCCC•XIX (To James III, son of King James II of Great Britain, to Charles Edward and to Henry, Dean of the Cardinal Fathers, sons of James III, the last of the Royal House of Stuart. 1819.) The monument was originally commissioned by Monsignor Angelo Cesarini, executor of the estate of Cardinal Henry Stuart. Among the subscribers, curiously, was King George IV, who (once the Jacobite challenge had ended) was an admirer of the Stuarts. The monument stands towards the back of the basilica in the left aisle opposite the main door.. It is frequently adorned with white flowers by Jacobites.

  26. when a father, for personal gain and prestige, allows his daughters to be wh*res, his character leaves no room for attributes

    1. I no some people like to defend Thomas Boleyn but he doesn’t come across as very fathererly to me, had I been in Anne Boleyns shoes my father would have raised an army to free me don’t matter had he been the poorest man in the kingdom, he would have gone to court and faced Henry himself and told him exactly what he thought of him, and that fat creep Cromwell, no Thomas Boleyn was a self seeking opportunist as Jane Jones says, he even lent his chain of office to Cromwell the man who orchestrated his children’s deaths, unbelievable!

      1. I think he had to do what many Tudor families did and accept there was nothing he could do, put his surviving family first and do what he needed to do to keep his position at court – just like families like the Howards, Staffords, Dudleys, Greys etc. He would have known that there was nothing he could do to save his children and his priority then would be to protect himself, Elizabeth and the assets that kept the family alive. I don’t see there being any evidence at all that he was a self-seeking opportunist as he rose to high favour before either of his daughters caught the King’s eye. Re him lending Cromwell his garter chain, we don’t know what happened but I expect that when the King’s right hand man asks to borrow something then you can only say yes!

        1. Yes I suppose so but I think he should have retired from court out of respect for his children’s memory.

        2. I’m sure he would have preferred to but I suspect that he had little choice, he’d been a courtier since his youth, it’s what he did and he would have been expected to just accept things and loyally serve his king.

  27. The fact that he was able to return to court and even function there shows he may have been a sociopath. I guess he was trying to promote his granddaughter, Elizabeth, but wouldn’t you run from there after the king killed your children?

    1. “The fact that he was able to return to court and even function there shows he may have been a sociopath” – then so were lots of families and courtiers. The monarch was God’s anointed sovereign and your job as a courtier was to be loyal and to serve your king whatever the circumstances. Just like other noble families, e.g. the Staffords, Thomas Boleyn had to put aside the fact that his children had been executed and do his job. He HAD to serve his monarch and, by doing so, protect his surviving family and hs grandchildren’s futures. He really had no choice.

      1. Well said Claire, I think a lot of people find it hard to try and put them selves in the times that we are talking about.

        The King was after all the King. He might as well have been God, the Law and everything else.

  28. It is a fact that Protestantism freed us all from the propaganda being peddled by the Catholic church at that time. I used to think that I should thank Henry 8th for breaking the power of the Catholic church and which has led to me being a free thinking person today and not locked into a brainwashed world of Catholic dogma. But I was wrong. The fact that we are free thinkers today is due to a number of other people and not entirely due to Henry 8th. It is clear that Thomas Boleyn had a friendship with Thomas Cranmer and was probably even with Cranmer in France when Cranmer was recalled to take up the position of Archbishop of Canterbury. He was interested in Erasmus’s ideas and smuggled religious books back from France. After Anne’s execution he retuned to court and took an interest in Edward 6th. Cranmer wanted Edward to be influenced by Protestant beliefs and appointed Richard Cox as his tutor who was a Protestant. What I am trying to hunt down is who was the catalyst for the free thinking that we all enjoy today in the UK and the finger points to Thomas Boleyn. His relationship with Cranmer and Cromwell just cemented the radical thinking that was taking place. He influenced his daughter who influenced the king and you cannot get more influential than when in bed. So thanks Thomas Boleyn. You’re that man.

    1. The Catholic Church does not prevent anyone from being a free thinking person, Anne wasn’t a Protestant and neither was Henry Viii. She was interested in reform but a lot of what she believed was traditional Catholic. I see your free thinking doesn’t prevent you from peddling Protestant propaganda which has nothing to do with this post and is biased.

  29. I keep forgetting the 500 year difference. Sometimes I find it difficult to understand The Tudor culture. This article brings some clarity to Thomas Boleyn. Surely he was a broken man, and should have been. King and Country before anything.

  30. I have only found your site a few weeks ago, and I just wanted to say how I love your articles.
    Not only do you look at things in an objective point of view, you leave it open enough for people to interpret in their one ways.

    Before I got into researching the Tudor times, I too, would only look at Thomas as he was portrayed in the Tudors, but knowing now what I know, it is hard to see what else he could have done.

  31. guess what, if my daughter were killed. i would not want to go on living. so the fact that he thought of himself anf his own survival SICKENS me. he lost TWO children to a NUT CASE TYRANT. he should have distanced himself from henry after that and he should have wanted to die with them. like any WORTHY AND DECENT PARENT

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