#WednesdayFact – Anne Boleyn could have lived in Ireland

Posted By on July 5, 2023

A sketch of the view of Kilkenny Castle from the river, 1841 by William Henry BartlettAnne Boleyn was Henry VIII’s queen consort from 1533 to her execution in 1536, but did you know that Anne Boleyn could have ended up being an Irish countess and living in Ireland instead?

Yes, before Anne Boleyn became involved with Henry VIII, there were negotiations for her to marry her relative, James Butler, son of Sir Piers Butler. In fact, Anne had been recalled from France in late 1521 because of these marriage negotiations.

There had been arguments between the Boleyns and Sir Piers Butler over the earldom of Ormond, and someone came up with the idea of a marriage match. A union between Anne and James would mean that the earldom of Ormond would pass to James and Anne on Piers’ death and therefore be in both the Boleyn and Butler family. However, this would mean that Thomas Boleyn would not inherit the title.

James Butler, 9th Earl of Wiltshire, by Hans Holbein the Younger

James Butler

It’s not clear who came up with the marriage idea, but Henry VIII, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk (Anne’s maternal uncle) were involved in the negotiations.

The negotiations fizzled out at some point in the 1520s, perhaps because Thomas Boleyn wasn’t happy with the idea of being passed over, and a deal brokered in 1528 saw Thomas being made earl, while Piers received fourteen of the Ormond manors on a thirty year lease and was elevated to the peerage as Earl of Ossory. Thomas Boleyn became Earl of Ormond in December 1529.

The fall of the Boleyns, however, in 1536 led to Piers being able to style himself Earl of Ormond in Ireland. His son, James, inherited the title on Piers’ death in 1539.

If Anne had married James Butler, she would probably have settled in Ireland and would have become Countess of Ormond in 1539. The Butler seat was the 13th century Kilkenny Castle, so that would have become her home, I expect. What a different life she would have led!

You can find out more about the Boleyn/Butler connection in these articles:

1 thought on “#WednesdayFact – Anne Boleyn could have lived in Ireland”

  1. Christine says:

    It is likely that it was Thomas Anne’s father who called of the wedding proceedings not wanting to play second fiddle to his cousin, and it appears he was happy with being created an Earl later on, his wife was thus Countess, another rung up the ladder for this most ambitious of men, what Anne thought of her marriages plans coming to nothing we do not know, but I have a feeling she was secretly pleased, she was very close to her mother and would not have relished the journey to Ireland although she would have been mistress of a grand estate, it meant not seeing Elizabeth so much, all the family were at court and I feel she was enjoying herself quite a lot where several young men were vying for her favour, Anne could nearly have married Lord Percy to and the prospect of being Countess of Northumberland must have thrilled her, but fate was up to her little tricks in the form of Cardinal Wolsey who quickly crushed loves young dream, had Anne become Countess of Ormonde she would have had a quiet but privileged life, and her name would now not be famous in the history books, but she would have lived her full life span and we can dare to suggest she might have had a few children, would she have been happy who can tell? She was destined for a short but glorious life and turned England from a Roman Catholic country into one with a new religion, the England she left behind as her sad little corpse was interred in its makeshift grave was one completely changed in her long history, years later Sir Thomas Boleyn must have pondered bitterly how his youngest daughter and his youngest sons life would have been spared had he agreed to engage Anne to her Irish cousin, but life is full of ‘what if’s, and because of that, plenty of regrets!

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