Posted By Claire on August 1, 2011
Thanks so much to those who alerted me to the fact that Alison Weir is claiming in her new book on Mary Boleyn that Thomas Boleyn Junior (I hate calling him that but I’m not sure what else to call him!!), the brother of Anne, Mary and George who is buried in St John the Evangelist Church at Penshurst, actually died in 1520 as an adult.
As you may have noticed from a previous post and my photo album on our Facebook page, I visited the church after the Anne Boleyn Experience and while I was there paid my respects to Thomas and took some photos of his tomb. As I said last week, the tomb is tiny and is marked by a simple brass cross and inscription, with no date mentioned, but the screws on the cross have led me to wonder if the cross is a more modern replacement for an older marker or brass. The church leaflet did, however, state that Thomas Boleyn Junior died in 1520 and when I contacted Alison Weir to query this information she stated that there is a record of the date of the brass in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
I then did a search and found the following on the Ashmolean Museum website in the records of monumental brasses in Kent:-
“Cross and inscr. Thomsa Bullayen 1520 Monumental Brass Kent 6/102”
However, I have, so far, been unable to back this up with an actual record of burial as when Clare Cherry, who I visited the church with, searched the Parish records, she found that they only went back to 1558. Interestingly, the cross marking the tomb of the other Boleyn child believed to have died in infancy, Henry Boleyn at St Peter’s Church, Hever, has a record in the Ashmolean also saying 1520:-
“A cross for Henry, son of Sir Thomas Bullen (Date/Signature: 1926 – F.G.) 1520 Monumental Brass Kent 4/216”
I do wonder where the 1520 date comes from and why both these Boleyn boys have been given this date of death when there are no dates in the inscriptions on their tombs.
Anyway, my own feeling is that they were children when they died, hence the simple brass crosses and simple inscriptions. When you compare these simple small tombs with the other tombs at Penshurst and Thomas Boleyn’s tomb at Hever they are so small and ‘insignificant’ and this is understandable in an age when infant mortality was so common.
Just after I published this article I heard from Clare Cherry who contacted David Lough, author of the guide to St John the Evangelist Church at Penshurst, the one in which the tomb is dated 1520 and he says:-
“As you say, the register of Births, Deaths and Marriages starts at 1558. I shall have a look for a source on the 1520 date but I suspect your detective work will displace it. I am grateful for your extra information and, unless I can make it stand up, will alter it in time for the 2012 edition. As far as I understand, there was always quite a bit of traffic between the owners of Hever Castle and Penshurst Place, so it is entirely possible that young Thomas simply died while the Boleyns were at Penshurst rather than Hever. As you say, the size of the gravestone suggest that he was still in infancy.”
Interesting! Perhaps David’s dating of the tomb was based on the Ashmolean record??