Update on Debate over Thomas Boleyn Junior’s Tomb

Posted By on August 1, 2011

Tomb of Thomas Boleyn, brother of Anne Boleyn

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.

Breaking News

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??

Notes and Sources

http://www.ashmolean.org/ash/departments/antiquities/brass/counties/Kent.html

26 thoughts on “Update on Debate over Thomas Boleyn Junior’s Tomb”

  1. Tina says:

    I like to think of the old way of address, Thomas Boleyn the Younger. I also believe that these two boys died young, if not at birth, then shortly after. Considering the infant/child mortality rates, as you say, it wouldn’t be unheard of to lose two children in the same calendar year, before either reached his first birthday.

    1. Claire says:

      Hi Tina,
      Thanks for the comment. I chose “Junior” rather than “Younger” because I though Thomas Boleyn the Younger was too similar to Thomas Wyatt the Younger but I too prefer the old way.
      I just think that these sons would have been given more elaborate tomb markers if they were adults when they died.

  2. I wonder if the 1520 date was the date of the brass, not of the date of death.

    1. Claire says:

      Good point, Susan, and that would explain both the Hever and Penshurst brasses being dated 1520 in the Ashmolean records.

  3. Sherisma says:

    Ok wait so I’m confused so they hada brother named Thomas Boleyn Junior?? how come this was never mentioned before?

    1. Claire says:

      Well, he was called Thomas Boleyn, like his father, not Thomas Boleyn Junior, I called him that just so there was no confusion with Thomas Boleyn the father. Anne, Mary and George also had a brother named Henry and both of them were believed to have died in infancy which is why they are not often mentioned. You can visit their tombs – Henry’s at St Peter’s, Hever, and Thomas’s at St John the Evangelist, Penshurst.

  4. Anne Barnhill says:

    Oh maybe the Henry was a son of Henry viii? he was rumored to have had the mother, too. though he did deny it! I’m really just kidding–throwing a monkey wrench into the conversation! I agree Thomas (Jr) was probably a child as we heard nothing of him and we would have had he lived to be 20. At least, that’s my little opinion!

    1. Lots and lots of people named their children after the current king and queen. As a courtier, Thomas Boleyn would have been likely to name a son after the king to curry favor, not to announce to one and all that his wife had had the king’s child.

      1. Claire says:

        I agree, Impish, I think the whole Elizabeth Boleyn legend came from a mix-up between the names Blount, pronounced “Blunt”,and Boleyn.

  5. SamanthaRegina says:

    I tend to agree with you, that he had to be children when they died. The Boleyns were somewhat prominent, and like George, he would have been involved in the government somehow, leaving more records about him.

  6. Anne fan says:

    I think Susan might have hit the nail on the head there. I seem to remember that after Anne and George’s deaths Thomas was reported as saying that when he and Elizabeth were first married she gave him a child every year and they were (in 21st Century colloquial terms) broke.

    Is it possible that when they had money he and Elizabeth arranged for the brasses to be placed on the graves of their children who died young?

    1. Claire says:

      That’s right, Anne fan, it was in a letter to Cromwell where Thomas was writing about the financial ‘hardship’ of the early years of his marriage when Elizabeth gave him a child each year.

      1. Claire says:

        I’ve just noticed in the Ashmolean records that Thomas Boleyn Senior’s brass is dated 1538, yet he died in 1539! “Sir Thomas Bullen, KG, Earl of Ormonde & Wiltshire (Date/Signature: 1926 – F.G.) 1538 Monumental Brass Kent 4/215”

        1. He had the brass made before he died, then. And it IS the date of the brass, not the date of the death.

        2. Claire says:

          Alison Weir has pointed out that Thomas Boleyn Senior is sometimes given a date of death of 1538 and sometimes 1539 because of the fact that the Tudor new year started on Lady Day 25th March and he died in March.

  7. Anne Barnhill says:

    All those dates and so easy to get them mixed up and just wrong! I really was kidding about Henry and Henry B.— 🙂 And for sure, daddy Thomas would have named a son Henry to please the king! Glad you are back, Claire and know your trip was wonderful–can’t wait to join you one of these days!

  8. Dawn says:

    This might sound silly,but they are saying that Thomas Boleyn jr. is dated as having died in1520. I dont know alot about Elizabeth Boleyn, she is said to have been born 1480ish, is her birth date accurate? that would make her 40 years old at this time give or take a year or two. Now we know that is getting on a bit in these times, but could it be possible that she had a late baby, rare but not unheard off, does anyone know where she was in this year of his death. A long shot I know….

    1. Dawn says:

      OOps just re-read the post there is a little Henry too. Who else was around at that time with the Boleyn name, had Thomas sn. still got any living brothers with wives young enough to have children, or nephews who had married maybe… can these little plaques actually be linked to the ‘famous’ Boleyn family, or could they be markers for the lesser known Boleyns of the paternal side?

      1. Claire says:

        Hi Dawn,
        The tombs actually say on them that they are the sons of “Sir Thomas Boleyn” and one is next to THE Thomas Boleyn at Hever and the other is a few miles down the road at Penshurst which was also linked to the Boleyn family, so they are siblings of Anne, Mary and George. Hope that makes sense.

        1. Dawn says:

          Yes it does, thank you. I have just looked on the net and they have Thomas jr. as 1502,(though this is one of the dates given as Anne’s b/day) and baby Henry 1503 thought to have died young, I think it is going to be one of those mysteries that will keep us guessing until evidence can be found, if ever. Maybe mum and dad re-commemorated their deaths went they became more affluent hence the date on the plaques, dated at the time they were placed, 1520….it is sooo frustrating when you can’t find the answer.

  9. Sheena says:

    I too believe that 1520 is the date that the plaques were comissioned. Although I find it strange that the boys are not buried together, I know of people who hold on to their family member’s remains (usually in the form of ashes in an urn) until they are ready to bury them in the manner that their loved one would have wanted. Was there anything significant that happened in 1520 that would have given Thomas Boleyn Sr sudden access to money that he didn’t have before? All that comes to mind right now is Mary’s affair with Henry…

  10. David says:

    They should just open up all these old tombs. These kids, Henry VIII’s, Elizabeth’s, the works of them. Such valuable information and items of historical/archeaological import are just lying around without being taken advantage of. Ridiculous.

  11. Adriane says:

    I believe this Thomas the younger died in infancy. Anne, Mary and George were all recorded as being comissioned at things in their younger years. Anne and Mary sent tp the households of Queens and George was getting started for the court political world. Being that this younger Thomas was a male I sincerly believe if he survived passed infancy he would have been involved in things similar to George and there would have been record of him somewhere. Thomas Boleyn the Older was an ambitious man not only for himself but for his family as well. Had Thomas the Younger survived infancy surely Thomas the Older would have some commission for him as well. That is just my opinion.

  12. Dawn says:

    Just another idea, what if theses boys were born after the main three, maybe when Anne was abroad, say about 1514/15, making them 5/6years of age, (maybe twins) therefore it puts mum still within the boundries of child bearing. Although Henry and Thomas are thought to have been born a lot earlier, it was quite common to name later children after ones who had not survived. Then the family were unlucky enough to lose both in the same year, within a few monthes of each other, say, when staying at different places, hence not buried together, or are the tombs too small to contain small boys…. grasping at straws, oh yes, but it really is nipping my head not knowing….aaarrh!!!

  13. Anna Karin S says:

    To make every thing short as a hobby family researcher from the sources we have available in this case we can only say that the grave brass monuments over thomas jr and Henry Boleyn was probably erected in 1520 and that they both died before that date either as infants ,children or early teens since there is no other records of them.
    From what Thomas Boleyn senior wrote to Cromwell they may have been born in the ca.1497-1505 year period (if we are going to take his words litterary.).But there is offcause the probability that they were born later or that there is children who died in infancy or early childhood that we do not know about !!!
    How old can a child be and still be cosnidered an infant ?? or a Baby ?? (from a swedis speaker)

  14. Wally Pynn says:

    I think it might stand to reason that young “Tommy” and young “Harry” Boleyn did not make it past their formative years. As mentioned above, the Howard Clan was a ‘force’ with which to be reckoned at the time, and as such, each capable member of the family attained either by influence or personal design, a status becoming of their nobility and notability. Thomas Sr. had his eye on Royal Favour and used any and all means to further any advancement consistent with his greed, ego, fame, and lust for power and greatness. Anne,Mary, and George, were his unmistakable pawns in this weave. Yet, Harry and his brother Thomas attain no mention in the anals of that era. And to my mind, they were in all likelihood, born while their mother was in her child-bearing years (late teens to early 30’s – conjecture of course, but most likely). Although not unheard of at the time, it is unlikely that Elizabeth gave birth to them in her 40’s, when one’s body back then, would have neared old age in the fourth decade. I am also apt to suggest that they perhaps died in young infancy as there is no mention of them at all in any known paper or document of the period. If they had reached their teen years or young adulthood, then surely they would have been recognized in one way or another. And of course, there is always the sad possibility that they could have been either physically or mentally challenged. Unfortunately, in such a case scenario, and with the knowledge of the status of the Howard and Boleyn families, mentioning this at the time would not have been so.

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