St John the Baptist, Penshurst

You may remember my post a few weeks ago about Thomas Boleyn the Younger, brother of Anne Boleyn and the infant Boleyn buried at St John the Baptist Church, Penshurst. In that post I explained that author and historian Alison Weir was claiming in her latest book, “Mary Boleyn: The Great and Infamous wh*re” (Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings in the US), that this Boleyn brother actually did not die in infancy but actually lived until adulthood and died in 1520.

Weir based her conclusion on the following evidence:-

  1. Thomas’s tomb is “marked by a cross and the date 1520”.
  2. He was named after his father and grandfather and therefore must have been the eldest son
Now, as I explained before, I was very puzzled about this conclusion as I have always believed that Thomas’s tomb was that of an infant, just like his brother Henry Boleyn’s at St Peter’s Church, Hever, which is also a tiny tomb marked by a simple cross. As someone who is researching the Boleyns on a daily basis for The Anne Boleyn Files and my book, I just couldn’t let this rest, so, I made it my mission to find out more about these lost Boleyns.

Mission Lost Boleyns

The first step in Mission Lost Boleyns was to get the help of my friend, Clare Cherry, who has written a book on George Boleyn. All of this blew up while I was on The Anne Boleyn Experience in July and Clare was one of the participants on this tour. Clare and her trusty sidekick, David, had told me that they were visiting Penshurst Place after the tour, so I asked if they would be interested in visiting St John the Baptist Church at Penshurst with Tim (my trusty sidekick) and I, to do some digging. I knew Clare would be excited about this and she agreed, off we went to Penshurst…

In the beautiful village church, just outside Penshurst Place, Clare, David, Tim and I, visited the tomb of little Thomas Boleyn in the Sidney Chapel. It was very moving to see this tiny, and very simple, tomb (see above) amongst all the large and lavish tombs of the Sidney family and to pay our respects to a Boleyn who is often forgotten. After we had paid our respects, Clare and I got down on our hands and knees to examine the brass cross, the inscription and surrounding stone work. What we found, and you can see this in my photos, is a very simple and plain brass cross inscribed with “Thomas Bwllayen the sone of Sir Thomas Bwllayen”. No date, no other information, just that. We took photos and then I turned to the church information table which had a guide book on the church. I purchased it, flicked through it on the spot and read out the following to my fellow investigators:-

“The most important memorials found in the Sidney Chapel include… A cross to Thomas Bullayen, infant brother of Anne Boleyn, who died in 1520…”

Hmmm… Clare and I looked at each other “Where did they get that date from?” was the obvious question, so Mission Lost Boleyns continued with the following investigations being undertaken:-

  1. Email to Alison Weir – Ask her what she bases the 1520 death date on as the tomb is not marked with a date
  2. Contact author of the church guide book re 1520 death date
  3. Research Parish Records for Thomas Boleyn’s death date

Results of Initial Investigations

  1. Alison Weir – Alison Weir emailed me straight back saying “There is a record of the date of the brass in the Ashmolean Museum, the same as in the church leaflet.” I then did some digging in the Ashmolean Museum’s onoline records of monumental brasses and found that Henry Boleyn’s brass cross was also dated 1520. I emailed her back saying that I wondered if the records referred to the date that the brasses were actually made and put on the tomb, rather than the date of death. Alison replied that Henry Boleyn’s tomb was “so tiny that I think he must have been an infant”.
  2. David Lough, author of Guide Book – Clare managed to track down David Lough, author of the church guide book, to ask about the 1520 date and he explained that the current guide book was based on an older guide book and he could not remember where the 1520 date came from but that “there are arguments for thinking it might have been 1521. In that year àctually 1522], Sir Tomas Bwllayen was appointed Keeper of Penshurst Place by Henry VIII following the property’s reversion to the Crown after the execution for treason of its previous owner, the Duke of Buckingham. According to ‘Penshurst Church: the Hidden History’, J.A Flower (private paper, 2004), It seems likely that the infant Thomas fell ill during one of his father’s visits as Keeper, to Penshurst Place from his own nearby Hever Castle.” He admitted that Clare probably knew far more about the Boleyns than he did!
  3. Parish Records – Unfortunately, Clare found that these only went back as far as 1558, so they were not any help.

All this was very interesting but it left us with more questions rather than answers! I was puzzled that Alison Weir was claiming that Thomas Boleyn the Younger’s tomb was that of an adult yet saying that Henry Boleyn’s at Hever, which was identical in size and design, was that of an infant. On the other hand, Clare and I were also both bemused by the idea that Elizabeth Boleyn was still producing babies c1520 at the age of around 40. None of it made sense. More digging was required.

I went back to the Ashmolean records and used their bibliography and list of sources for monumental brasses to find records of Thomas Boleyn the Younger’s brass. In “A List of Monumental Brasses in the British Isles” by Mill Stephenson (1926), which was based on older, 19th century records, I found the following:-

  • Penshurst – “Sm. cross (partly restored) and inscr. to Thos., son of Sir Thos. Bwllayen, c.1520”
  • Hever – “Sm. cross (restored) and inscr. to Hen., son of Sir Thos. Bwllayen, c.1520. At Penshurst is a similar memorial to Thos., another son of Sir Thos. Bullen.”

In another book, W D Belcher’s “Kentish Brasses” Vol I (1888), it said of the Penshurst brass: “Small cross with inscription for Thomas Bullayen, son of Sir Thomas Bullen” and had a drawing of the brass cross and inscription.

So, c.1520 was the date given to both brass crosses, at Hever and Penshurst. Surely the boys didn’t die in the same year? This made us wonder if the brass crosses were placed on the tombs at a later date, perhaps when the family had the means and inclination to mark these tombs in a fitting manner. In times when infant mortality was very high, it would not have been unusual, I feel, for these tombs to have been unmarked for a few years.

Tomb of Henry Boleyn, St Peter's Church, Hever

After all this digging, Mission Lost Boleyns seemed to come to a standstill. Clare and I concluded that the size and style of the tombs suggested that Thomas and Henry Boleyn were indeed infants and that the “c.1520” date was the date of the brasses rather than the date of the death. The fact that Thomas Boleyn the Younger was buried at Penshurst, rather than Hever, had been bothering us but Clare wondered if the renovation work that Thomas Boleyn carried out on Hever, after he inherited it in 1505, forced the family to stay with their friend and relative the Duke of Buckingham at nearby Penshurst. Perhaps little Thomas died while they were staying there, we just don’t know.

You may be wondering why I’m telling you all of this when it has been a few weeks since I published my articles on Thomas Boleyn’s tomb. Well, Clare found mention of this controversy on Alison Weir’s website. On her page about her latest book on Mary Boleyn, Alison Weir says:-

“In this book, I state that Mary’s brother, Thomas Boleyn, was buried in Penshurst Church, and that his tomb is marked by a brass cross and the date 1520. I obtained that date from three sources: a book on Penshurst village compiled by local archivist John Flower, which stated that the brass to ‘Thomas Bullayen’ was dated 1520; Penshurst Church’s own leaflet, which also gives the date 1520; and from the Ashmolean Museum’s website, where the museum’s rubbings of monumental brasses are listed. I also had a photo of the brass, but cannot read the inscription itself, as it is unclear. Corroboration of the date by the three sources above, which one might expect to be reliable, and which would normally be sufficient evidence on which to base a theory, gave me little cause to doubt that the information about the date was correct. But one person has emailed me recently to say that there is no date on the brass.”

She then goes on to explain that she then did further research, after the one person emailed her (that’s me!), asking the vicar of Penshurst to check the brass for a date and to find out where the church got the 1520 date from. Rev. Tom Home informed Weir that there was no date on the brass but that “the late John Flower surmised that this Thomas Boleyn was born at Penshurst after his father, Sir Thomas Boleyn, became Keeper”. Weir then dismissed that line of argument because “this was not until April 1522, so that theory cannot be correct.”

Interestingly, Weir then concludes that the brass must date after June 1509 because it describes Thomas Boleyn the Younger as son of “Sir” Thomas Boleyn and Thomas Boleyn the Elder was not knighted until June 1509. She goes on to say

“Brasses were often small, even for adults, so the size of this brass does not necessarily indicate that Thomas Boleyn died in infancy. Indeed, he is likely to have been the eldest son, and if he was the son who went to Oxford University at 17, then he must have been born in the mid-to-late 1490s. After studying at Oxford, it is possible that he entered the household of the Duke of Buckingham, which might explain his burial at Penshurst. Buckingham, of course, was executed in 1521.”

Weir also states that she contacted the Ashmolean Museum to find out their source for the date:-

“Dr Eleanor Standley, Lecturer and Assistant Keeper of Medieval Archaeology, Institute of Archaeology/ Department of Antiquities, Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford, has kindly stated her belief that the brass has been dated on stylistic grounds to c.1520. In John Page Phillips’ Macklin’s Monumental Brasses (1969) the date is given as c.1520 as well, but Dr Standley does not know where this information came from. She is going to try and find some more information about this brass, and will get back to me as soon as she can.”

As for Henry Boleyn:-

“A cross marks the undated brass of Thomas’s brother Henry in Hever Church, which has also been dated, probably on stylistic grounds, to 1520. It is, of course, possible that both boys lived into early manhood. Two cross brasses of similar date might indicate that they died around the same time.”

Now, visitors to The Anne Boleyn Files over the past two and a half years know that I don’t participate in author/historian bashing and that I am always respectful of them, no matter how much I disagree with them (à la G W Bernard!). However, I am finding it hard to take Alison Weir seriously on this matter. Here are the reasons why I have lost a little of my former respect for her:-

  • Weir came out with a controversial and ground-breaking theory, i.e. that Thomas Boleyn the Younger died as an adult in 1520, in a book, citing evidence that is now proven to be suspect. The tomb is NOT marked 1520 and no sources seem to be able to explain the c.1520 dating of the cross.
  • She relied on two books and a photo of the brass, rather than visiting the tomb. She admits that her photo of the inscription was unclear – A bit risky to base a new theory on something you haven’t seen methinks.
  • She has changed her mind about the relevance of the size of the tombs – In an email to me she remarked that Henry Boleyn’s tomb was “so tiny that I think he must have been an infant”, yet then argues that both boys could have been adults after she realised that both tombs and brasses are the same size.
  • Weir’s justification of the 1520 death date for an adult Thomas Boleyn – That he was born in the mid to late 1490s and that after studying at Oxford he may have entered the household of the Duke of Buckingham. She does use “he is likely to have”, “if” and “it is possible”, but this is pure supposition.
    It is believed that Elizabeth and Thomas Boleyn married 1498/1499, and not before. Eric Ives states that “Elizabeth Howard’s jointure was settled on her in the summer of 1501, which suggests that it was relatively recent – say not before 1498” and goes on to suggest that Mary was born c1499, Anne in 1501 and George c1504. I believe that Thomas and Henry Boleyn were born between Anne and George, or Thomas possibly between Mary and Anne.
    As for the whole Oxford issue, it has been said that George Boleyn attended Oxford University, but there are no records to confirm his attendance there or that of another Boleyn sibling, as far as I know. What I do know, from my research into the Boleyns, is that Thomas Boleyn the Younger is not mentioned in the records and surely, as the son of a rising star at court, he’d be mentioned if he hadn’t died in infancy. There is a “Master Bollyn” recorded as taking part in the Christmas festivities of 1514 with his father, Sir Thomas Boleyn, but this is thought to refer to George and it is only George who is mentioned in later records. Surely a son born in the mid to late 1490s who joined the Duke of Buckingham’s household would be mentioned?
  • The 1509 Sir Thomas Boleyn argument – Weir argues that the tombs must date to after 1509 because the inscriptions refer to “Sir” Thomas Boleyn as their father. This can be explained by the brasses being placed on the tombs later, it does not mean that the boys died after 1509.
  • I didn’t hear anything further from Alison Weir – When people point out an error that I have made in my work or a theory that just isn’t backed up by the evidence then I thank them and share with them anything else that I find on the issue. I am disappointed that Alison Weir refers to me on her website as “one person” who informed her about the lack of a date on the tomb and just wrote the article you see on her website without sharing anything with me. Perhaps I expected too much, but I didn’t have to email her regarding my visit to the tomb.
Please believe me when I say that I have not written this to discredit Alison Weir’s work or her reputation in any way, I just cannot agree with her theory on Thomas and Henry Boleyn and her subsequent justification of it. I’m puzzled, bemused and a little cross about the whole thing. This website is all about “the real truth” about Anne Boleyn and that includes her family. What Weir has written as fact is actually supposition and I cannot support it.
The floor of he Sidney Chapel, Penshurst - note how small Thomas Boleyn's cross is!
These lost Boleyns are still lost, in that they are still a mystery in my eyes. There is no date on their tombs, they are not named in any records or contemporary sources, the date given in records of monumental brasses is CIRCA 1520 and also refers to the brasses not the tombs, and the trail has gone dead for the time being. We can have opinions about these boys but they are just that, opinions. I will carry on believing that those simple, tiny tombs at Hever and Penshurst belong to the little Boleyns who died young but fortunately escaped being brought down so brutally with their sister and brother in 1536.
RIP Thomas and Henry Boleyn, the lost Boleyns.
Part of Sir Thomas Boleyn's ornate brass on his tomb at St Peter's Church, Hever

Notes and Sources

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98 thoughts on “The Lost Boleyns – Thomas and Henry Boleyn”
  1. That is very interesting to read, although you may not agree with Alison Weir’s theory, she quite possibly be right. although wikipedia is not a reliable source, when looking at Sir Thomas Boleyn’s page, under marriage & issue it has this:

    Mary Boleyn (c.1500 – 19 July 1543)
    Anne Boleyn (c.1501 – 19 May 1536)
    Thomas Boleyn (c. 1502) (thought to have died young)
    Henry Boleyn (c. 1503) (thought to have died young)
    George Boleyn (c. 1504 – 17 May 1536)

    So from this we can see the believed year of births of Henry & Thomas, if they had died young then why make a brass almost 20 years later?
    I’m not sure what to believe but Weir’s is very likely to be true.

    1. The trouble is that we have no records for their births or dates, Rachel, so we just don’t know. It’s all supposition. If the boys really had been 17 and 18 when they died then I would expect them to have the style of tomb associated with adults, rather than tiny simple crosses. By 1520, Thomas Boleyn was an important man, an ambassador, surely he would paid for better tombs for his sons who would have been seen as men.

      My point is that all this is supposition, yet is being treated as fact.

      1. weir’s satement what thomas and henry were born before anne and george seems to attack her own theory..hahaha. esp since she wrote that thomas was born in ’96.

  2. I see your point very clearly. And to be honest, I agree with you. Your research and legwork has been well documented, your opinions well thought out and well supported. There is a huge difference between what might have happened and what can be proven. I thought from the beginning of this (and I have been wondering if you were following up!) that it makes the most sense that these two boys were lost in infancy or early childhood. It was a common occurance, and it wouldn’t be unheard of to lose two children in the same year at different houses, bury them in two different chapels.
    The open discussion is what I love, and I am perhaps a bit surprised at Ms. Weir’s response, but then a bit not. I really think you’re right. You are talking about factual history, and she talking supposition. Very different things! Fantastic followup, I feel much more confident in my own not-so-well-researched opinion. Thanks so much!!

    1. Thank you, Tina. My mission always has been to present the truth and the facts, while also discussing opinion, so I really needed to follow up on this. I don’t want to come across as ‘bashing’ Alison Weir, I’ve met her and corresponded with her, but I just cannot agree with this theory or the way that it has been handled.
      Thanks for your support!

  3. It seems you’ve done a good research and because there is no records of Thomas and Henry reaching adult life I agree with you that they must have died in infancy. It was quite common at that time after all.

  4. A bit sloppy to base a whole book on a picture and hear say of 2 books instead of actually digging into the information and visiting the two mentioned sites.

    What bugs me is that in the end the facts or interpertation gets turned around to fit her theory instead of what are the facts / things I know this is how it could have happened.
    The fact that first the size of the tombs is segnificant and after that isnt because if the one is the size of an infant then the other must be an infant to. Then all of a sudden it isnt the size of an infant anymore but that of a grown man (in his 20’s) to support the theory that he was around 20 years of age.

    I agree that at least some credit should be given for unraveling the correct facts. (but lets face it, i wouldn’t like it either if people dissolved the purpose of my whole book with one email :p, could be she is a bit cross with u for that? I dunno)

    As for the children being born around 1490. It was just not done to have a baby out of wedlock in those times, people could get banished for that. If that was the case it would not be named after Thomas Boleyn and there would have been a writing somewhere of Elizabeth Howard fallen ‘ill’ enough to be send away to the country side.

    At least that is what I think of it 🙂 Everyone their own but I will look sceptic upon new books of Allison Weir from now on.

    1. She’s bound to be embarrassed about the error over the brass but I handled it by sending her a private email regarding it and only went ‘public’ with my findings after she said that she stood by the Ashmolean record and she had been quoted on another website by a reviewer of her book, so I don’t think she was upset with me. She has written some great books and has done wonderful research but this was a mistake and I’m glad that she has admitted that on her website and explained her reasoning, but it just doesn’t make sense to me. I like it to be clear what is fact and what is theory, but that’s just me.

      At the end of the day, we all make mistakes and history is a complete minefield, particularly where families like the Boleyns are concerned. We just don’t have concrete facts about their births and dates, all we can do is build a case around what the primary sources do say, to hypothesise, to theorise and share our opinions.

      1. I think the difference is that you, Claire, are a dedicated historian. I think Weir is a dedicated novelist who uses history and endeavours to make her stories plausible but will take creative licence for the sake of story. We all love the Tudors, but it took sweeping licence to creatively interpret many historical facts. The inaccuracies there drove me crazy. But it entertained. And that is probably Weir’s primary purpose. Yours, is to discover the absolute truth… and no matter what stories entertain us about Anne and the Boleyns.. we all want to know the truth.

        1. It is unfair to call Allison Weir either a novelist or someone who is not a serious historian. It is true that the Tudors take liberties with most things, but Weir has written many historical books, most well before the Tudors came on T.V. I am sure that Claire has done a lot of legwork and research on this and other subjects, but she also has an agenda, to bring the facts about the Boleyn family and Anne in particular to life for her Blogs and Websites. I enjoyed this article as well as many others and a great deal of work has gone into it: but there is a problem tracking down infants that died in the Tudor period: they were not always recorded at birth. Before 1536 it was not required to register the birth of a child: just the baptism of a child and even then many ignored the law on certification. Deaths are easier to trace, but with so many monuments and tombs being in old churches that were liable to vandalism by reformers and Civil War marauders, many have vanished. It is not always easy to decypher some of these plaques as they were placed or replaced at a later time. I would say that it is likely that these two boys are infants as they are memorialised in an obscure and simple manner and the memorial plaque could have been placed there later on. However, that does not excuse calling any historian a novelist who uses history to make her stories plausible, when they are clearly as dedicated as Claire and have been writing successful history for a number of years prior to the introduction of this website.

  5. Being a fair minded Libran, I’m kind of leaning towards the boys being born when Elizabeth Boleyn was in her forties (I’m surrounded by women who conceived throughout their forties, including close family members so am possibly biased here) which means that you are both right. 😉

    Of course, being a more mature lady would have meant that the trial of childbirth was even more risky which could explain why the boys were either stillborn or didn’t survive for very long?

    1. I think in this day and age it’s quite normal for a woman to give birth at the age of 40+ but things were very different in Tudor times with the menopause being far earlier and life expectancy being mid 30s for the general population. Also, we have the letter from Thomas Boleyn to Thomas Cromwell in 1536 where he described the financial hardship of the early years of his marriage when his wife, Elizabeth, “brought me every year a child”. If we think that Mary was born in 1499, Anne 1501 (some think 1507), George 1504 then these boys would fill the gaps. The thing is, we can come up with lots of different theories because we just don’t know. I object to theories being treated as fact. There are too many “ifs”.

      Thanks, Melanie, I’m an Aquarius so I’m not sure what that makes me? Stubborn?? Bull in a china shop?? I’m not sure!

      1. Actually Eleanor of Aquitane was 45 years old when she had the future King John. Elizabeth of York was thought to be 38 when she died of child bed fever. Agnes of the Palatinate, Duchess of Bavaria (1201-1267) was thought to be 40 years old when she had her last child Agnes of Bavaria (1240-1306). Having children during change of life was not really that uncommon.

  6. Claire,
    I agree with you, if these two Boleyn boys had survived infancy there would be records indicating that somewhere. Boleyn placed all of his children to further his ambitions, if these two had lived to be even young children he would have placed them in a court somewhere, he even did that for his young daughters. He sent Anne all the way to Austria! A son’s placement surely would have been even more prestigious and would have been commented on and recorded, at least in the household expenses somewhere. Are there ledgers available that have been preserved from the Boleyn or Buckingham households? That is how we know much about what happened at court, through the financial information that was left behind.
    The comment that the brass was stylistically dated to about 1520 just means that the brass itself was designed in the same manner of those of about the same time period. This, as you say does not mean the occupants of the tomb died in that year. Boleyn complained of his financial situation before his rise to power saying that his wife had given him a child every year since they were married, and they had been married for about five years at this point. But from that point on only three children are mentioned. It would make sense if there were financial issues to bury infants in an unmarked grave in the family chapels, or the nearest available one and mark them later, which it sounds like they did. It is hard to imagine that two adult Boleyns would not have been at court and could have died in 1520 without recieving a mention anywhere. They are not mentioned ANYWHERE which would be a tipoff to me that these people were simply not alive at that time. Like you said in 1514 one male child is mentioned and said to be at court with his father, if there had been others would it not have said three Boleyn children for would they not have been at court too? What about family birth and death records or any other sort of census like accounting at that time besides the parish records? Anything? Dating of the tomb itself and not the memorial? There would have been a record of baptism which would give a birth year and some sort of records of death for the local area, Was not Mary Boleyn also Henry VIII’s mistress at the time? If so would there not have been land grants for two adult Boleyn sons as there were for the father? Some sort of compensation for the use of Mary? (Awful isn’t it?) If those boys had grown up they would have appeared somewhere in someone’s records.

    1. I’m sat here nodding my head, Jenny, you’re spot on! The Parish records don’t go back further than 1558 unfortunately so that is a closed avenue. Yes, Anne was sent to Margaret of Austria’s court at Mechelen at the age of 12 (or 6 if you believe in the 1507 birthdate) so Thomas Boleyn would have made sure his sons, particularly the eldest, had opportunities at court or abroad. As you say, Thomas Boleyn complained of the financial hardship of the early years of his marriage, when Elizabeth brought him a child each year, so it could be that the boys were buried but the tombs left unmarked until the family had money. There were so many children who died in infancy or childhood and many don’t even have marked tombs like the Boleyn boys.

      We don’t know exactly when Mary became Henry VIII’s mistress, all we know is that Henry VIII rode out at the Shrovetide joust in March 1522 with the motto “elle mon coeur a navera”, meaning “she has wounded my heart”, which is thought to refer to his infatuation with Mary. Even if the boys had lived to 1520, as Weir suggests, they would not have benefited from grants as they would have been dead by this time.

      I must do some digging and see of there are any financial records to do with Penshurst and the Duke of Buckingham to rule that side of things out. It’s all such a puzzle!

  7. Love the research that you have done Claire, always so detailed and such an interesting read! Personally I believe that both boys died young, there’s just NOTHING mentioned about them in history. Even Mary Boleyn who compared to her sister and brother was not as éxtravagant’ shall I say, and she still gets a huge mention!

    I also thought that Thomas Boleyn wrote somewhere along the line that his wife gave him a child every year after they were married. Since they were married only in 1499/1500 or close abouts, a child roughly every year afterwards would make perfect sense. Mary, Anne, Thomas (named after his father?) Henry (named after the King) and then George whom we know was born roughtly in 1504ish? That would fit with Thomas Boleyn’s statement about his wife giving him a child every year. The fact that George was named George (rather than Thomas or Henry) makes *me* think that Thomas and Henry lived a few years, at least until George was born, and then passed as little children. Very sad indeed but alas part of the Tudor life.

    1. I completely agree, Sarah, and, yes, it was in a letter to Cromwell that Thomas wrote of Elizabeth giving him a child each year in the early years of their marriage:-
      “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.” LP xi.17 and that fits in with what you said. I’ve also had a Facebook comment by Hannah Stewart pointing out that Alison Weir says that Thomas must have been the eldest because he was named after his father but that is not proof he was the eldest anyway when you think that Henry VIII was Henry VII’s second son. I am inclined to think that Thomas and Henry came before George as they were named after their father and the king but I am inclined to think that they died in childhood, hence their absence in the records.

      1. Totally agree with you Claire – I think both boys died in childhood, possibly quite young (maybe 5 or younger) as there are almost NO records on them. Generally there would be some mention of them, especially since their father was at court and both Anne and Mary were maids to Mary Tudor. *IF* Thomas had lived to adulthood logic would suggest that his father would have secured a place for him about court as Thomas did for both his girls.

  8. As an archaeologist, looking at that picture of the teeny grave marker and the bigger one – using my powers of archaeological-ness…I would say that’s definitely the grave of a child.

    Of course, the only way to really prove it would be by doing an excavation, which alas would never be allowed =[

    A little shocked to read about Alison Weir chopping and changing her mind, basing her theory off basically poor sources etc. Plus, if her theory is correct and the boys had survived into manhood, there would be records somewhere!!

    1. That’s why I added that photo that Tim took of the Sidney Chapel where you can see just how small Thomas the Younger’s tomb is and also the contrast between Thomas Boleyn’s brass at Hever and the tiny cross beside him for Henry. I know that Thomas Boleyn the Elder was a Knight of the Garter, diplomat, important courtier, and that would explain his amazingly detailed and very large brass, but surely adult sons would have more than a simple brass cross.

      George Boleyn doesn’t properly turn up in the records until 1522 when he and his father receive grants of offices that had belonged to the Duke of Buckingham, but I would have expected there to be mention of the other boys in the records when they reached adulthood. As others have said, Thomas Boleyn was an ambitious man who made sure his children were well educated and well placed, why then are these boys not mentioned when they became teens and therefore men?

      1. Claire, given that the boys were never advanced at all, and Mary, Anne and George were the only surviving adults of Thomas and Elizabeth Boleyn and he said he wife “brought him a child every year”, the only thing that makes sense is that they died as boys, especially given their names. The eldest two must have been named after their father and the king and George must have been much their junior. I’ve bough the book, but will know treat it warily – in fact I am doing so purely on the illustrations alone. There are several pictures whose named attribution is just wrong! Having said all this, I do like Alison as a writer and a person, but we all make mistakes. I hate suppositions in history – “if” doesn’t mean “was”! David Cecil’s biography of Jane Austen was like that and I ended up loathing it!

      2. What makes me believe they were infants when they passed away is the fact that they are never mentioned by their siblings. You would think that if they were able to live to adulthood, or even 5 or 6 years old, Mary, Anne anf George would at least have mentioned them at some point. It would be possible they both dies shortly after birth, and so the other children did not really know them.

  9. I agree with Melanie that one shouldn’t dismiss the possibility of a conception by Elizabeth in her forties. Anne, Duchess of Somerset, who was probably born around 1510, had her youngest child in 1550 and might have managed more if her husband hadn’t been imprisoned and executed. Elizabeth Woodville was around 43 when she gave birth to her daughter Bridget. Other Tudor women had children when they were in their late 30’s, like Frances, Duchess of Suffolk,

    1. I take your point, Melanie and Susan, I just think that the births of the boys in the early 1500s fit in more with what Thomas Boleyn said to Cromwell about his wife bringing him a child every year in the early years of their marriage. They would fit between Anne and George.

  10. Claire I applaud you for sticking to your guns and searching for the truth. Perhaps Ms. Weir got a “tad” lazy on this one. She’d be the last to admit it, I suspect. As a writer, I would be thoroughly embarrassed if something I had put out there was proven incorrect, or at least inaccurately researched. Especially if I was supposed to be an expert on the subject.

    It’s like going on a treasure hunt. One day the prize may be found! You’ll have to keep us updated on any findings.

  11. Ooooh I do love this site! It’s more exciting than reading a book of fiction about the Tudors isn’t it?

    Brilliant work Claire and everyone else involved. Great.

  12. I’d just like to say that this article would not have been possible without the work of Clare Cherry, who has so much knowledge about the Boleyns. Thanks, Clare!

  13. Fascinating reading, been mulling this over since the original post, so pleased to see a follow-up.
    I am still really looking forward to Weir’s new book, just had the edge of excitement taken off though I have to say. I don’t expect any historian to be 100% right all the time by any means, but her attitude towards this issue isn’t great.
    I am really keen though to see what she has turned up in relation to Mary Boleyn’s children.
    I think it’s another vote for died in infancy; the lack of any mention of the two boys settles it for me. I know things get lost in History, but not a single mention of either son of a very ambitious man and prominent; seems to point towards infant death.

  14. Perhaps this is a really stupid question, but is there any way to see inside the tombs? I understand that we would not want to open them in order to preserve them, however, would it be possible to do some type of x-ray or something of that nature? We have such advanced technology nowadays and I don’t see why we can’t just scan the tomb in order to see the size of the skeletons. (I have often had the same thought on the supposed bastards of Henry VIII, Mary’s children. Would it be possible to get a small sample from Henry’s bones and the bones of Mary’s children to compare, rather than trying to trace the descent into modern day and then doing DNA tests?) Perhaps that was a really stupid question, but I’m big into science and I don’t understand why we can’t do these things…


    1. as far as i’m aware there’s no way of being able to see through into the graves. Geophysics is different, as you can see underground but I just don’t think you could do something like that without full excavation and then lab work =[

  15. There were many Tudor women (and women from earlier times, example Eleanor of Aquitaine) who had children into their mid forties, particularly if there were not long gaps between each pregnancy. Elizabrth Boleyn came from a very prolific family.

    1. Very true but I still think Thomas Boleyn’s words about his wife bringing him a child every year of their marriage in the early years suggests that all five children we know about were born then. Three children – Mary, Anne and George – doesn’t suggest financial hardship to me, not in a time when families were often large.

  16. If Elizabeth had been around forty when she gave birth to a child, it is possible that the boys, Henry and Thomas could have been twins as older women are more prone to having twins. Alos, with her age and if the boys were twins, then they most likely would not have been able to live to adulthood duing this era. I love all this mystery. Maybe one day we will be able to find some documents hidden away in a celler or dark room with all this information waiting to see the light of day! Thank you Claire for keeping our minds always working!!!

  17. Love the article. Maybe I missed it, but is there a way to check on the tradition of the cross making/cross placement? This might answer the question of small crosses always representing infants/children or could they represent adults as well. Maybe for adults small meant inexpensive. Or unobtrusive-they wanted to mark the deaths but not bring any undue attention to them (scandal, means of death, disease, etc.) Did 16th century folk/cross makers always/sometimes date the crosses with the production date, the date the crosses were placed, or the deceased’s actual date of death? Are there records of who possibly made the crosses or commissioned the crosses?
    Remember, try not to look at these things with a 21st century filter but a 16th century filter.

    1. Hi RxPhan,
      Neither cross is marked with any date at all, they are completely plain.

      I’ve had a flick through Belcher’s “Kentish Brasses” Vol. I, which has rubbings of brasses as well as records of the inscriptions on them, and Thomas Boleyn the Younger’s brass is the only small cross, all of the others are large and ornate and belong to adults. I’ve also looked through some other monumental brass books and cannot find anything similar. In an article at, it says that children began to have their own brasses from the turn of the 16th century, so this practice was very new at that time. In Mill Stephenson’s “A List of Monumental Brasses in the British Isles”, I found mention of “Dorothy, 11th child of Giles Alleine, 1584, aged 3, head lost, sm., inscr. in 10 Eng. vv. beginning “A little impe here buried is..” in Woodham Mortimer but there is no picture of the brass.

      Oooh, just found a child’s cross in Mill Stephenson’s book in North Tuddenham, Norfolk: “Sm. cross bearing an inscr. to Frances, dau. of Thos. Skippe, esq., 1625, aged 2” so that sounds similar and she’s only 2. Will keep searching!

        1. Will be interested to see what they say. I contacted them last year in connection with my research on the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk and the Howard tombs at Lambeth, but didn’t get a reply.

  18. The photos are very nice and revealing; I can’t see why both these small graves should be for grown-ups instead of infants. And, as you say, if they had lived until about twenty there should be some mention anywhere of them.

  19. I have read the articles and every posting ever placed on this forum. I think there are many points we can all agree to “disagree” on and I too want to know the “facts”. But I also do not believe one should dismiss an author’s entire body of work on perhaps a hastily made statement. I have read several books on the same subject and had opposing “factual” statements – just compare the many books on Henry VIII and his Wives! There are too few historians/authors writing on Womens Tudor and Medieval History to exclude an author of such note as Ms. Weir. So…agree to disagree…look for the truth, but please do not discredit or discourage anyone interested to read and learn…else all the facts will simply be forgotten…and our passions for history also….

    1. Tracy,
      I certainly was not suggesting that people should not read Alison Weir’s books and I was not discrediting her work, just challenging this theory. I have many of her non-fiction books and use them on a regular basis. I was very careful in what I wrote so as to make that clear.

    2. I’ll say that I think this fits into a pattern about Ms. Weir. She did much damage to Anne Boleyn’s reputation with her original Six Wives book (she talks the Imperial Ambassador at his word and seldom questions him. It would be like hundreds of years from now a historian taking Karl Rove at his word about President Obama or taking David Axelord at his word about George W Bush!). She thought Anne was guilty until of course it becomes financially advantageous for her to write her Lady of the Tower book and “clear” Anne. The facts didn’t change. She just discovered thanks to Tudors, this site and others that Anne was popular and well regarded. I understand that her historical research on Eleanor (Henry II’s wife) is also suspect. I know from my own research about Anne of Cleves that she missed some pretty obvious documents and conclusions. I think with this particular author there’s a history of hastily made conclusions. Some of her work is quite good and I would recommend it. But I also say take her with a bushel of salt. If you do your own research, you find sometimes hers isn’t as indepth as you’d expect. And yes, I own a number of her books.

  20. Interesting discussion. Perhaps the Boleyns were some of the first to leave brass markers for their infant children, If Elizabeth did give birth every year as the letter states, then is makes sense that these two boys were born at the time of their other siblings. So it seems most likely that they died as infants and had their markers put up later. I must agree with the rest that if either boy had been placed in a home at a later date there should be some written evidence of it.

  21. I have just found your website and am enthralled! Anne Boleyn and everything connected with her has been my passion for 50 years (since I was 5 years old). Keep searching for the truth, fiction cannot compare, I applaud you.

  22. Speaking of the Boleyn children, makes me think of their mother, Elizabeth Boleyn. Though we know little about her, I think she must have been an extraordinary woman. Can you imagine the highs and lows of this woman’s life? Especially, the lows – losing George and Anne like she did.

    I did go to The Garden Museum in Lambeth. It is the old church of St. Mary- at- Lambeth. It is the burial place of Elizabeth Boleyn, amongst those of other notable people.The church has been de-consecrated and is now The Garden Museum. It is a lovely place to visit and not so “manic” a place to visit in London. Inside, The Howard Chapel is now a coffee shop. I thought quite a lot about Elizabeth, while I was having coffee in – The Howard Chapel. Seemed kind of strange actually – to be drinking coffee in The Howard Chapel.! I was thinking how Elizabeth’s body could be any where under the floor boards of the shop. There were some memorials on the walls but none for her. I wonder, what it would take, even if we could, to get one placed there for her.


    1. My latest obsession is trying to figure out whether Elizabeth Howard Boleyn was the older sister or was Muriel (Marcella) Howard. Anyone know? I have seen arguments made both ways. I would argue Elizabeth is older simply because she had to be born before 1483 and named for the queen. (Elizabeth Woodville).

      1. As far as I can find, Muriel/Marcella was the eldest child of all of them; Anne’s uncle Norfolk was born a year after her.

  23. Dear Claire,

    How I love and appreciate your dogged pursuit of fact! If only records had survived to give us pure fact. I’m VERY inclined to agree with your certainly MORE thorough research and wonder if Ms Weir has become a bit “full of herself” and resents someone she may consider an upstart (which you MOST certainly are NOT!) questioning her.
    I’ve always loved a rousing point -counterpoint and it is one of the reasons I read EVERY syllable of you site. Keep Calm and Carry On.

    1. I agree with Claire’s thoughts, and do not at all think she was bashing or trying to discredit Ms. Weir. Those writing on the subject of history (whether they are historians or not – yes, PG, I’m looking at you!) must expect their theories, statements and conclusions to be questioned.

      The back and forth of debate, research, sharing of sources, etc. is how our knowledge of these times are increased. Authors don’t get a pass to write anything they want because “There are too few historians/authors writing on Womens Tudor and Medieval History” and that challenging suppositions will somehow lead to historical anarchy and even the lack of anyone caring about history any more (“else all the facts will simply be forgotten…and our passions for history also”).

      I would think that those who love history would expect and welcome this process, as it benefits all of us.

      1. Thank you, Impish. My aim in the article was to challenge a theory and the way that it was being presented as fact rather than attacking Alison Weir herself or trying to discredit her and her research. The same way as I have challenged G W Bernard’s heavy reliance on the poem written by Lancelot de Carles as evidence that Anne may have been guilty. When an historian or writer puts a new theory out there then it should be debated.

  24. What a thoughly exciting story this is turning out to be.
    All that you and the others have mentioned are all the possible and most likely answers, I agree with them all, and can’t think of anything to add of consequence.
    I also commented on the last post about the ‘lost boys’ being late babies, even twins, like some of the ladies above, and I also, still lean to that way, a little.
    I know the letter from Thomas senior, states it was a struggle to make ends meet, with Elizabeth having a child every year, so with them being ‘strapped’ for cash then, it could be possible that those little ones were just tucked away in another tomb, a relative maybe this has been know to happen, because has there not been remains of babies/small childrens found in tombs of other well known people that couldn’t be explained in the past, or, as said above, left umarked, then marked at a later date when money wasn’t a problem. We can not know for sure that the two little ones in the years between when the ‘famous three’ were born (sounds like an Enid Blyton story that ha ha) were boys either, soo, what if, these little ‘lost boys’ did actually die at the date given on the markers, and consequently marked because money was not a problem then, daft idea maybe but who knows… keep on looking though Claire, we are hooked now, and relying on you to dig up the truth, no pressure then love!! 🙂

  25. Thanks for looking into this Claire. I’ve seen the brass at Penshurst and was puzzled by it but it is so insignificant that I missed it at first and had to go back through the church to find it. I can’t believe that Thomas Boleyn would have comissioned such a modest monument for an adult (or near adult) son. I tend to think it’s a personal memorial for the family, rather than a statement of that family’s prestige like most adult tombs.As you say, I think it far more likely that the children died in early childhood. I can’t believe that they could have grown to maturity without leaving a trace somewhere or that Thomas Boleyn would not have advanced their careers somehow.

  26. Sorry again Claire, when did Thomas Boleyn write that letter regarding his wife bringing him a child every year? What date was the letter written?

    1. Hi Sarah,
      Thomas Wrote the letter to Thomas Cromwell on the 1st July 1536 and it is concerning Mary Boleyn’s financial situation:-
      “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.” LP xi.17

      1. WOW this letter is incredible on so many levels! It appears to me that Thomas only wanted to help Mary because both the King and Cromwell directly asked him to. He just lost a son and daughter, and his one remaining child he cares so little for?!

        *cough* Back to the Boleyn children, this letter PROVES that there must have been children born to Elizabeth and Thomas in 1500 – 1504! Mary in 1500, Anne in 1501, Thomas? in 1502, Henry in 1503? and George in 1504. If we have an accurate date for the first Boleyn child and the (?) last Boleyn children, there are only three years to fill inbetween! One of these would be Anne and therefore logically the other two years must be Thomas and Henry!

        1. Would “my daughter of Rochford” refer to Mary, or would it refer to Jane? Also, is there any other way that the 1520 dates for the crosses can be reconciled with the death of the infants born closer in time to the other three other than shortage of money? Something about that letter (the sense of “she shouldn’t need more than 100, since I made do with 50 … and I had a wife and children) makes me think Thomas may not have been overly accurate.

        2. Actually, yes, looking at it again I think it is Jane Rochford he is talking about as she did ask for money at that time and did write to Cromwell, sorry, don’t know where my head was!

        3. I’ve just found the record of Jane, Lady Rochford, asking Cromwell for money in May 1536 after George’s execution:-
          LP x.1010. ” Jane, widow of Lord Rochford, to [Cromwell].
          Beseeching him to obtain from the King for her the stuff and plate of her husband. The King and her father paid 2,000 marks for her jointure to the earl of Wyltchere, and she is only assured of 100 marks during the Earl’s life, “which is very hard for me to shift the world withal.” Prays him to inform the King of this. Signed.”
          So Cromwell then went to the King and then on to Thomas Boleyn.

        4. Maybe he was still mad at Mary for marrying beneath her and with no permission? Nevertheless it is sad that he seemed not to care about her.

        5. Sorry, Sarah, as Esther pointed out, this letter from Thomas is a result of Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, writing to Cromwell asking for money so that’s why Thomas comes across as rather uncaring.

  27. I agree that the boys must have died as young children, as so many Tudor children did, unfortunately. I think if they had lived to adulthood, or even adolescence, there would be some further mention of them somewhere. It makes complete sense to me that they were born in the early years of Elizabeth and Thomas Boleyn’s marriage since he mentioned in his letter to Cromwell that she brought him a child every year. In my opinion, if the boys had been older when they died their tombs would have been far more elaborate. As always, fantastic article Claire! I learned alot reading it and it opened my mind to explore and learn more! Very fascinating indeed. Keep up the good work!

  28. Urgh – I’ve just bought Alison Weirs new book on Mary! Having read your earlier post about Thomas Boleyn the younger and the mysteries surrounding his date of death I was interested in reading Ms Weirs theories, though I was always more inclined to think that the brasses on the tombs were put down at a later date. It’s the most plausible explanation in my opinion as there’s no mention of Thomas Boleyn ever having more than one son who lived to adulthood. Now reading this post I’m inclined to think your conclusions Claire are the most logical more than ever!
    That’s the thing about Alison Weir – I so want to like her, I think she writes very well and I always enjoy her books- but then she comes out with something like this that just makes me stop and wonder! Thanks Claire for all your hard work on this little mystery and I’d love to know the outcome of any further enquiries.
    Hmm, you weren’t a detective in a past life or anything were you?!!!!!

    1. Hi Bella,
      I’m certainly not saying that you shouldn’t buy her book and read it, I own many of her books, what I am doing is challenging one theory that was presented as fact. I disagree with Weir on many things – her presentation of George and Jane Boleyn in The Lady in the Tower for example – but it does not mean that I am discrediting the whole of her work. She has put forward a theory as fact and I disagree with it and am challenging it. I like Alison Weir, she is a lovely lady and I have enjoyed many of her books but this theory just doesn’t make sense to me and her evidence was shaky.

      I’m not going to let this drop, I’m carrying on investigating so will let you know if I find anything else out. As I put in another comment, I have found a similar tomb in a church in Norfolk, a simple brass cross for a two year old girl, whereas I cannot find any adult tombs marked in this way, they’re all far more ornate.

      Well, I grew up reading Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers and now I love CSI so perhaps so, Bella! I can just see me in my old age being a bit of a Miss Marple!

  29. Excellent article, as always Claire, although I was hoping for a definitive resolution to this mystery! I tend to agree that Thomas and Henry died young since they have not been mentioned in any context related to the family or within the court. In one site, I have also found mention of a Katherine…but she was just a girl……….

    1. Wow! I was just wondering how many more of them there might have been. It does seem unlikely that Elizabeth would have had a child roughly every year until they had five, and then never conceive (or carry to term) again. Not impossible, of course. There might have been problems with a pregnancy that affected her fertility. But it does seem plausible that there might have been more than 5 live births. Would they not have marked the tomb of “just a girl”? (I’m asking, I honestly don’t know if they would have or not, so make your cases for other, possibly unmarked children they might have lost in those lean years!)

      I absolutely adore debating this back and forth with all of you. This is exciting!

  30. Being a tudor period fan, I find your site fascinating. Hats off to you for your dedication, patience and passion. Having read the majority of Ms. Weir’s books, you’ve now ignited a flame of doubt as re. her research for her books, easy, I’ll consider them fiction. By the way, will you be writing any books in the near future? Kind regards Lee Hannaford

    1. I will be writing books, Lee, watch this space!

      What I would say about any historian/author who is presenting theories is to look for yourself at the sources they are relying on to back up their case. For example, in this case, I was pretty sure that Thomas Boleyn the Younger’s tomb did not have a date on it, even though Weir categorically said that it did. I was lucky enough to be able to visit the tomb and see it with my own eyes and take photos. We cannot just take a person’s word for gospel, whatever their reputation and their experience, we have to consider things for ourselves and that is all I was trying to do. I hope that makes sense.

  31. I have visited the church at Penshurst many times. The small cross for Thoms Bwllayen the son of Sir Thomas Bwllayen, (the A in Thomas was omitted and what looks like a rather crude letter A added just above the letter M) facinated me as it was so much smaller than the other tomb markers and a Boleyn!. I took a brass rubbing of it and tried to find out a little more about this unknown Boleyn. I too found the info in the church guide (died 1520) and on the Ashmolean Museum web site c 1520 and the same date for a brass cross for Henry Boleyn in Hever
    I believed that these tragic tombs were of children, and that Thomas was the eldest because though both brasses are similar, the Penshurst brass is a little more detailed, ( and damaged, there is a crack in the brass on the top right of the inscription and a screw has been inserted in the cross to hold it in place) I also thought that the 1520 dating for both brasses was because they were placed there on or around that time, because Sir Thomas Boleyn had more status, and money!
    That was a couple of years ago, so I was amazed to hear of Alison Weirs claims that Thomas jr was a young man when he died I suppose anything is possible, but to have no record of him to his suddenly having lived into early adulthood is a stretch too far for my imagination.

    Wasn’t it Ms Weir who claimed yellow was the colour of Royal mourning in Spain, in her 2007 edition of “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” Yet in ” The Lady in the Tower” she states “it is a misconception that yellow was the colour of Spanish Royal mourning”

  32. Very interesting article Claire. The one thing I love (and really hate) about history is that all we have to rely on is records of those from that time. And even with that, we have to assume what they have recorded was correct because we were not there to witness it. All of you have brought such interesting theories about his life, and unfortunately for us, we could never really know.

  33. Oh, Claire, you’ve done it again! Written an interesting, well-researched article that has sparked oodles of conversations–I love it. I’m with you in thinking these boys died as young children or infants. As Thomas Boleyn wrote, he didn’t have much money when the children were coming each year and would not have been able to mark their graves. But in1520, things were a bit different, his children were grown and the girls were away, his career was going well and he had money to mark his sons’ graves. Elizabeth would have, perhaps, insisted, for a mother remembers always a lost child. I can imagine her telling him this needed to be done, now that they could afford it. I cannot believe, as well-known as Thomas was at court and abroad, no mention would have been made of these boys. So, they must have died young. Really, it’s the only conclusion. Thanks for all your wonderful research!

  34. Refering to the letter written by Thomas Boleyn in 1536, stating she bought me a child every year, but when did this annual child bearing stop…although it may have slowed down a little as time past and Thomas was away alot on the Kings buisness, I pressume Elizabeth stayed home, but who knows how many more miscarriages, lost babies/toddlers there were and undocumented. is there much information on Elizabeth before and during her family’s climb to fame, or when her daughters were in Europe I haven’t really read much about her except she was in the background. Was she at court a lot or at home having yet more babies? Although you are probably correct in the theory of these little boys, I don’t think that later births can be ruled out, considering how fertile the Howards were, if the boys were 4 or 5 at death she would have been 34/5 while pregnant, Anne had Elizabeth at 33 or there abouts. Hope I am making sense, re read my last post and it came across as gobble-de- gook to me let alone others haha, last glass of wine went to my fingers!!! Anyway good luck with the hunting for an answer. Are there any books on Mrs Boleyn Claire?j

  35. As usual Claire, excellent article!!!

    What would we do without your zeal for uncovering the truth? I am sorry your findings turned out to be inconclusive! Perhaps the answer is waiting, hidden in the chapter of a long lost book somewhere, waiting for the right historian to pull it out like Arthur with the sword in the stone!

    Forgive my crazy comparison! Anyways, thank you for updating us about this! My personal opinion is this: how on earth could this Thomas Boleyn be an adult with that small grave? ( Judging from your picture posted) Unless he was secretly a hobbit?

  36. I have often seen the date given of 1480 when Elizabeth Howard Boleyn was born. Do we know the source for that? Her brothers were born 1473, 1477 and 1479. I wonder if she was born in 1475 or 1476? She was almost certainly named for Queen Elizabeth Woodville and her mother (Elizabeth Tilney Bourcher Howard) so I would think she was the older daughter and born obviously by April 1483. I am trying to figure out if Elizabeth or Muriel was the older Howard daughter.

    We know Elizabeth Howard Boleyn was not married circa 1495 when Garland of the Laurel was written and she was there with her mother, sister, Jane Seymour’s grandmother and others at Sheriff Hutton. Elizabeth Boleyn’s mother died in 1497 and her father quickly remarried. Based on Howard family tradition, I think it would make sense for Elizabeth to marry Thomas Boleyn shortly after her mother’s death (the Howards tended to send off the older children abroad or by marrying them when the mother died and they remarried) I think that helps come up with a date of 1497 or 1498 for Mary’s birth or a Thomas Boleyn.

    I realize Elizabeth’s mother and others in the family were fecund but I cannot imagine her giving birth in 1520 especially since I tend to think she was born before 1480. I would argue she was born between her older brother, Thomas, future duke of Norfolk, and Edward, because there is a four-year gap. (1473 and 1477 respectively) Obviously there may have been dead children in that four-year gap but a living daughter is also possible. Muriel Howard died in childbirth in 1512 so that makes me think she was the younger sister. I think people forget when Elizabeth’s mother was born and began giving birth (1467) and having children late in the 1480s just seems unlikely for Elizabeth and Muriel to be born then as some attest.

    My point is….I think Elizabeth Boleyn was older than 40 years old in 1520 and there’s as much historical basis for my contention as there is for Alison Weir’s 1520 adult child death at this point….It’s really all speculation on the facts as we know them now. Hopefully Claire finds out more! I also hope we can get her on the case of which Howard girl is the older one cause she’s a great detective (oh and when the Howard girls were born to Elizabeth Tilney Bourcher Howard!)

  37. I am very glad to find so much information on your fan-club. Here, in Belgium I don’t find very much, at least nothinh in my own language “Dutch”…so I have to translate every book I buyand that takes a lot of time to…since I left school at 18.

    It’s my hobby since I was 14 years old en now I am 50….

    I find it hard sometimes to live in Antwerp, so I have to travel a lot to Britain to visit those interesting places, filled with memories about her.

    Thanks again and I keep on reading your news daily

    linda francis, Antwerp, Belgium

  38. I cannot add anymore to the discussion, but I wanted to say that I loved this article. I love the detective work and the way in which you went about it. You do so much for us who are fascinated by the Boleyns and the Tudor period in general. Thank you for giving them life and making me feel close to them (even though I’m an ocean and a continent away!).

    1. Hi Cindy,
      I can’t get the link to work even by copying the whole of it, it just comes up with an error message so I can’t see it to check I’m afraid. Thanks though.

  39. I have mentioned elsewhere the strong tradition that Elizabeth Howard died in 1512 and that Thomas remarried another Elizabeth.

    If Henry and Thomas were the sons of this later Elizabeth, that would fit.

    But … Just to throw another chronological issue in here … Thomas was in France for the years 1518/21 as ambassador so surely his wife was with him and any such children born and buried in France?

  40. In Vol. I of ‘Lives of the Lindsays’ by Lord Lindsay 1858
    Vol I page 260 states that Sir David Lindsay Lord Lyon King at Arms, meets a DR. Boleyn, brother to Queen Ann, who lives in the North of England.
    This to me muddies the waters. Is this a Boleyn who attended Oxford, and indeed is an aging bother of Ann. Sir David born 1490

  41. By the way, it is my understaning, after haveing been married to a BULLEN that this is the family surname and spelling as it was spelled by Thomas Bullen, Ann’s father and the rest of the family. It seems Ann after some education on the Continant, Latinised the spelling of her surname.

  42. i think that the historians who publish unrealistic therories like warnicke about the deformed fetus do it for the $ and don’t truly believe it.

  43. I was of the opinion that both henry and Thomas did die in infancy,what led me too this is the size of the brasses on their tombs,however in hind site having walked around the abbey at Westminster many tiny memorial/tomb stones are in the floor or walls some smaller than the two for the Boleyn boys,im still undecided !
    Is it possible that these are heart burials? Alison weir mentions in a few of her books that heart burials where out of fashion before this time,although I ve heard of a few that have taken place long after her opinion on this?

  44. Having experienced similar contradictions during the course of my own research, I found this thread immensely enjoyable.

    I’ve been trying to establish the burial place (so far without success) of George Stanley and his wife Eleanor, daughter of John Sutton, 1st Lord Dudley. I found various articles online – and even a photograph claiming to be of their tomb – stating that they had been buried at Lichfield Cathedral. However, when I emailed the cathedral archivist she replied by saying that no such tomb existed for the above. She went to say, however, that there was a monument to Sir John Stanley of Pipe (died 1515), a relative of George’s.

    Wanting to sort out the confusion re the said photograph, I emailed the chap responsible for it explaining that no tomb for George and Elizabeth Stanley existed at Lichfield Cathedral. Disappointingly, I didn’t get a reply.

    All of the above goes to show how important it is to check original sources, and how mistakes are sometimes perpetuated in subsequent publications.

    Good work, Claire.

  45. My dad has done extensive research into our family history and it turns out that Henry Boleyn is our 17th great-grandfather.

  46. I am just starting to read Alison wires book, and I was shocked to see about the brothers I am a real Tudor fan and always like to get deep in history. I am sorry but these boys to me seemed to have died young. Me and my husband were searching the internet for these boys until we came upon your suite , I have been on hear alot and will be doing more in future for all the time you took to do the research. Don’t get me wrong I loves losing wires books but I am a little way in and it has dissapointed me , as the first one with katherine of Aragon was fantastic I hope the next one is more factual.

  47. Good morning,

    Recently, I came across a couple of intriguing pedigrees. The first pedigree is detailing the Risby of Thorpe Morieux Family Pedigree. It states that , “Margaret, dau of Parris of Lynton co, Cambridge; relict of Edward Bullin, Esq. married Thomas Spring of Laevenham, clothier, Will PCC 29 March 1486, proven September 1486.” The Spring, of Packenham. Pedigree says that Thomas and Margaret Spring had Thomas, the heir and their descendant Robert Spring married Anne, dau of Thomas Eden, Esq. of Lavenham. Anne survived Eden and subsequently married Sir Philip Paris, knt. In Sir Philip Paris’ will in 1558, Sir Philip speaks of “my daughter Bulleyne and her trying times with” what appears to be “Jerome Spring.”

    Sir Philip was knighted by Queen Mary and was Henry VII’s wine butler among other roles. He and his wife were among the retinue attending the Field of the Clothe of Gold..Later, Philip’s son Ferdinando Parris, married the granddaughter of Sir Thomas More, Frances. Ferdinando and Frances were persecuted and suffered great financial loss for being Catholic Recusants. Yet, Elizabeth’s spy master Francis Walsingham frequently gave a later Philip and Ferdinando Parris license to travel etc. sometimes very light treatment by comparison to other Recusants. I can only think it was because of the Bulleyne connection referred to in .these two pedigrees.

    Can you help in sorting out these “lost Bullens/Bullins/Bulleynes,

    Thank you,

    Shay McNeal

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