The Other Boleyn Boys



Anne, Mary, and George Boleyn are the famous Boleyn siblings, but there were at least two other Boleyn children who are known to us only by their graves, and a few faint historical traces that leave more questions than they answer.

Around 1498, Thomas Boleyn married Lady Elizabeth Howard, though we’re unsure of the exact date. Later in life, Thomas wrote:

When I married I had only 50£ 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.
Thomas Boleyn could have been exaggerating slightly - or some of these pregnancies might not have resulted in living children - but it seems most of Elizabeth’s pregnancies occurred early in their marriage, in rapid succession. We know of at least five Boleyn children.
The stories of Mary, Anne and George are well-known … But what happened to the other Boleyns?

imageIn Saint John the Baptist Church of Penshurst, there’s a small brass cross set into the floor over the small tomb slab of "Thomas Bwllayen the sone of Sir Thomas Bwllayen." It’s in the Sidney chapel, tucked against another monument, a tiny marker on the floor that’s easy to miss.

In St. Peter’s Church, Hever, there is the little tomb slab of Henry Boleyn, marked in the same fashion, with a slightly different cross. This grave is set into the floor beside the head of Sir Thomas Boleyn’s chest tomb.

Both tomb slabs are very small - only a couple of feet square, and the simple brasses that mark them are stylistically dated to around 1520. Because stillborn children weren’t usually named or memorialized, these boys likely lived for at least a short time.

Thomas the Younger - as I’ll call him to avoid confusion with his father - might have been the eldest son, based on common naming traditions of the day, but that is not a certainty. Henry’s place in the birth order of the Boleyn children is unknown, open to speculation.

imageWhat happened to these “other Boleyn boys?” Based on the size of their graves and the simplicity of their markers, most historians have come to the conclusion that both of them died as infants. However, it’s recently been suggested by Alison Weir in her biography of Mary Boleyn that both Thomas the Younger and Henry lived to adulthood.

In the first edition of this book, I stated 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. 

The inscription on the brass reads ‘Thomas Boleyn, son of Sir Thomas Boleyn’. That must date the brass to after June 1509, when the elder Thomas was knighted. 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 perhaps 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. 
It is possible that these brothers both lived into early manhood; it may even have been Henry who went to Oxford. Two cross brasses of similar date might indicate that they died around the same time, possibly from the same cause. In 1517, for example, there was a severe epidemic of the sweating sickness, which caused high mortality in England, notably in Oxford and Cambridge.
The first problem with Weir’s theory is the idea that Thomas the Younger was born in the “mid to late 1490s.” We know that Elizabeth Howard was unmarried in 1495, based on the poem written about her by John Skelton. Elizabeth’s jointure was documented in the summer of 1501, and jointure was usually settled within a year after the marriage, though there was no exact time limit. Scholars typically place the date of Thomas and Elizabeth’s marriage in 1498 or 1499, so 1499 seems like the earliest possible birthdate for Thomas the Younger. He wouldn’t have been seventeen, and able to attend Oxford, until 1515 or 1516.
Secondly, there is no evidence of Thomas Boleyn the Younger or Henry Boleyn as adults. Neither is mentioned in the records as being a student at Oxford unlike their brother, George - though it is true that not every student who didn’t matriculate is noted.
imageIt would be surprising if the ambitious Sir Thomas Boleyn didn’t try to get his eldest son a position at court, but Thomas the Younger is not mentioned in the records. We have mentions of Anne and Mary at their respective courts as early as 1514, but no records of Sir Thomas Boleyn negotiating for a fine marriage for his eldest son or attempting to get him a position. The one reference we have, to a “Master Boleyn” attending a court function with his father, may easily refer to George.
Nor are there - as far as I know - any records that show a Thomas Boleyn serving the Duke of Buckingham. The accounts of the duke’s household do not mention Thomas Boleyn the Younger (and Buckingham left behind a surprising amount of personal accounts, records, and correspondence.) Thomas the Younger may not have been particularly of note to his contemporaries, but it certainly would have been worthy of mention for later researchers if they discovered his name among the records. 
imageThis is not - of course - absolute proof that Thomas the Younger and Henry were already dead, but there isn’t any proof they were alive, let alone attending Oxford, or serving the Duke of Buckingham circa 1520.
More importantly, if Thomas the Younger and Henry died in 1520, why were their grave markers so simple, more suitable to infants than a courtier and heir to a wealthy, influential man? Brasses commemorating adults usually showed a figure in prayer.

Nor does this account for the very small sizes of the tomb slabs themselves, which was usually - though not always - large enough to cover the entire length of the grave. It makes little sense that adult Boleyn men would have been buried so simply, under such tiny monuments, at a time when the Boleyns could afford better.
imageApplying Ockham’s Razor to the situation, the simplest explanation seems the correct one in this case. Is it more likely that the two “other Boleyn boys” lived until 1520 while attending university and a ducal court without being noted in any records of the day, died at roughly the same time, and then were buried in different churches beneath tiny tomb slabs bearing the plain, simple markers of infants? 
Or is it more likely that Thomas and Henry died young and their tombs were marked later when the Boleyn family had more funds?
imageIn the Tudor era, graves of infants were often unmarked. It was a time in which a third of children died before age five, and a full fifty percent would not survive to adulthood. Even the children of royalty might lie in unmarked graves. Henry the Duke of Cornwall, son of Henry VIII and Katharine of Aragon, died before he was a month old and was given a lavish funeral in Westminster Abbey, but his grave was unmarked, though the general location is known. 
When infant burials were marked, the memorials were usually very simple, such as the brass crosses seen on the graves of the Boleyn boys. Another form was known as the “chrysom brass" that showed a swaddled infant.
imageThat the Boleyns had these memorials installed years after the deaths of their babies implies an emotional aspect to the decision. They weren’t under any societal expectation to do so, in other words. They must have marked these graves because they wanted Thomas and Henry to be remembered.
Weir is certainly correct that the brasses cannot date from before 1509 when Sir Thomas Boleyn was knighted. If they do, indeed, date from around 1520 (the word “circa" gives a decade of wriggle room on either side of that number) the brasses likely wouldn’t be commemorating infants that recently died. At that date, Elizabeth Boleyn would have been in her forties, and probably was no longer having children.
The similarity in the brasses could be put down to the simple fact that they were created around the same time - possibly even by the same workshop - to mark both extant tombs. The cross of Thomas the Younger is more detailed, as would befit a first son, but the inscription plates are nearly identical.
But questions remain. Why was Thomas the Younger buried at Penshurst instead of at Hever with Henry and Sir Thomas Boleyn? 
Claire Ridgway at the Anne Boleyn Files speculates that the Boleyn family was visiting Penshurst while Hever was being renovated after Thomas inherited it in 1505. Perhaps that’s where Thomas the Younger was born and passed away shortly after birth. She has an excellent video about the controversy.

People were often buried where they died, even if they were just visiting. Anne Astley, sister of Elizabeth Wood Boleyn, died in childbirth during a visit to her sister’s home, and is buried at Blickling Hall. Elizabeth Boleyn herself is buried with her family at Lambeth, where she may have been visiting when she passed away.

Henry, then, may have been born after 1505 when the Boleyns moved to the castle. The family marked his grave in the Hever chapel after 1509 when his father was knighted. Decades later, Sir Thomas Boleyn’s tomb was placed right beside that of his infant son.

Tags: Boleyns


Jane Parker in the Tudors: fact or fiction? (1/?)

Jane Parker’s Marriage to George Boleyn 

inspired by these two wonderful series

The wildly popular show The Tudors is not exactly known for its historical accuracy, but there is a hardly a figure more maligned and misrepresented in the entire four season run of the show than Jane Parker, the Viscountess of Rochford. From the very beginning the show makes it obvious that it has thrown any attempt to keep her story true to history out the window. This scene for example would leave one to believe that Jane Parker had never met her husband to be, or in fact, had ever been to court. She’s drug reluctantly to the alter by her father, and is forced to endure an embarrassing scene when George turns toward Mark Smeaton, who for some reason is a guest, and laughs. The wedding is presided over by Thomas Cranmer, and among its guests is Queen Anne Boleyn, already struggling to keep her position secure.  This is all one hundred percent fiction.

The truth is that Jane Parker had been installed in the household of Katherine Of Aragon (probably as a Maid of Honor) for some time before she married George Boleyn. She would travel with the queen to the Field of the Cloth of Gold in June of 1520, and later would preform alongside her future sister-in-laws Anne and Mary Boleyn in Chateau Vert in the role of Constancy. She would more than likely have been acquainted with George Boleyn before taking her wedding vows, as he too was often at court from the age of ten on wards and was a favorite of the King’s long before Anne came onto the scene. The marriage was an arranged one, made to align the well established Parker family with the quickly rising Boleyn family. For political reasons this match was an excellent one, and there doesn’t seem to have been any objections from either George or Jane at the time. Though the exact date of the marriage is unknown most historians agree it took place sometime in late 1524 or early 1525, long before Anne Boleyn became queen of England. The idea that Cranmer would have conducted the ceremony is also dubious. Overall this scene is very much fiction

Did Jane ever show support for Mary while the Boleyns were in power?


The answer is, more than likely, no.

Many a historian will disagree of course. Saying it is well known that Jane was arrested for greeting Mary ,as she arrived in London to serve in the household of Elizabeth, with encouragement and reassurance that she was the true princess. However nowhere is Jane named in the letter detailing the event. Written by Castelnau and Dinteville the report reads: 

When lately the Princess was moved from Greenwich, a great troop of women, as many city-wives as others, in despite of their husbands, went before her, crying and calling out that no matter what had been done to her, she was a princess, and the greatest of these were placed in the Tower, still persisting in their opinion. 

The idea that Jane (along with her aunt) were one of these women comes from Paul Friedmann. He comes to the conclusion because in the margins of this passage the names Lord Rochford and Lord William Howard are scrawled. 

However it is interesting that if Jane was arrested for showing Mary support, that Chapuys never mentioned it. Or that we have no record of the wives of such important men being arrested. If Jane and her aunt did join in this show of loyalty, it would have caused quite a scandal. But except for the names of their husbands being scrawled in a margin not a word is breathed about Jane being arrested.

That’s probably because she wasn’t. Because she probably wasn’t one of the women spoken of. 

George’s biographer Bapst has a better guess as to why the names Rochford and Howard appear in the margins. 

…In our opinion, the note in the margin naming Lord Rochford and Lord. W Howard does not indicate that they were the husbands of “the greatest” of these two women, but that they informed the two Ambassadors of the facts mentioned. Besides, the imprisonment of two ladies as eminent as Lady Rochford and Lady Howard would have been recorded in other documents at the time; but there is no trace of any. Lastly we know that only a few months previously, Lady Rochford was still deeply hostile to Catherine Of Aragon and Mary; so sudden a reversal would be surprising. 

The “madness” of Jane Boleyn


While waiting in the tower for her fate to be decided it seems that Jane Boleyn suffered from some kind breakdown, one that Chapuys would label as “madness”. Unlike with her sister-in-laws breakdowns, there is no written records of Jane’s episodes so we do not know exactly what she was doing. We do know that it must have caused some alarm and concern for she was released from the tower and placed in the care of Lord Russell’s wife Anne and Henry had his own doctors sent to treat her. According to Chapuys this bout of “madness” ended upon being told she was going to die, suggesting that the breakdowns were not caused by a fear of death or the ax, but perhaps of just not knowing what was to become of her. Both the French ambassador and Johnson, an eye witness to the executions of both Jane and Katherine, suggest that Jane had her wits about her when she went to the block, she was apparently able to make a long and impressive speech. 

Many people, historians and fiction writers alike (Emily Purdy being a prime example here) have often times stretched this “madness” out of proportion, arguing that Jane had always been insane/mentally unstable. They used this as an explanation of her “voyeuristic” tendencies, why she got such a kick out of spying through peepholes, and would later betray four out of the five queens she served. Others have said that this was Jane’s last ditch effort to stay alive, for she would have known an insane person could not be executed. But there is no evidence to support such a claim. More likely than not Julia Fox got it right when she wrote.

In view of the trauma that she had suffered when the king had struck at Anne and George, finding herself in the firing line again, and this time at the epicenter, not the periphery, her breakdown is quite understandable.

This is was no mad woman losing the last little bit of sanity she had left, or a woman desperately trying to escape the block, this was a woman who had seen this all happen before and feared she knew how it was going to end….. 

Anonymous said: What did he do for the reformation ?


A good deal more than he is usually accredited for. 

I wouldn’t go so far as to say he was a catalyst for the English Reformation, or that his impact was invaluable. But he did believe and promote Reformist views. Excessively. 

We have from Chapuys himself that George couldn’t help but enter into religious debates with Catholics constantly. We know he financially supported Evangelicals and Reformers. He encouraged Anne to show reformist pamphlets to the King. He smuggled illegal books from France and translated them for Anne (an extremely risky thing to do). He was heavily involved in the Reformation Parliament from 1530 until his death, he had the best attendance record of any lord during 1534. He was also involved with the Schmalkadic League (which was admittedly as political as it was religious). He supported both Cromwell and Cranmer (though he seems to have been more involved with the former than the later) 

Lastly at his scaffold speech we have him stating that 

"I was a great reader and a mighty debater of the Word of God, and one of those who most favored the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Wherefore, lest the Word of God should be slandered on my account, I now tell you all Sirs, that if I had, in very deed, kept his holy Word, even as I read and reasoned about with all the strength of my wit, certain am I that I should not be in the piteous condition wherein I now stand."  

and later  he calls himself a “setter forth of the word of God”, which George’s contemporary biographer Claire Cherry suggests that George may have done even more than we are aware of, that perhaps some of his works, like his poetry, has been destroyed or accredited to someone else. 

George was a deeply religious man. He cared  alot about the Reformation and seeing it take root and thrive in England. Just like many aspects of George’s life his love and zeal for and what he did to promote the Reformation is overlooked in favor of his sexuality or whether or not he was abusive or snobbish or a drunk party-er. 

Tudor Research Masterlist


Whether you are writing a paper, a book or are just interested in learning more about the Tudor Dynasty and Period (1485-1603), here are some books and online resources I have collected. 

It will be expanded upon as I discover more, if you have something you want to add, feel free!


Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne- David Starkey 

The Reign of Henry VIII- David Starkey 

Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII- David Starkey 

The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn-Eric Ives 

Henry VIII: Very Interesting People Series- Eric Ives

Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery-Eric Ives 

Henry VIII, the King and His Court- Alison Weir 

The Children of Henry VIII- Alison Weir 

The Life of Elizabeth I-Alison Weir 

Mary, Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley-Alison Weir 

The Six Wives of Henry VIII- Alison Weir

The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn-Alison Weir 

Elizabeth of York: The First Tudor Queen/Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World- Alison Weir 

Mary Boleyn: ‘The Great and Infamous Whore’- Alison Weir 

The Six Wives of Henry VIII-Antonia Fraser 

Mary, Queen of Scots-Antonia Fraser 

Rethinking Catholicism in Reformation England-Lucy Wooding 

Tudor England, A Very Short Introduction-John Guy 

My Heart is My Own: The Life of Mary, Queen of Scots-John Guy 

A Daughter’s Love: Thomas and Margaret More- John Guy 

Parliament and the Crown in the Reign of Mary Tudor- Jennifer Loach 

Edward VI-Jennifer Loach, George Bernard, Penry Williams
Protector Somerset- Jennifer Loach 
Jane Boleyn: the True Story of the Infamous Lady Rochford-Julia Fox 
Sister Queens: The Noble Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana Queen of Castile-Julia Fox 
Divorced, Beheaded, Survived: A Feminist Reinterpretation of the Wives of Henry VIII-Karen Lindsay 
The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn: Family Court Politics at the Court of Henry VIII- Retha Warnicke 
The Marrying of Anne of Cleves: Royal Protocol in Early Modern England-Retha Warnicke 
The Six Wives of Henry VIII-David Loades 
England Under the Tudors- Sir Geoffrey Elton 
The Tudor Revolution in Government-Sir Geoffrey Elton 
Reform and Reformation: England 1509-1558-Sir Geoffrey Elton 
The Reformation: A History-Diarmaid MacCulloch
Thomas Cranmer, A Life- Diarmaid MacCulloch 
The Boy King: Edward VI and the Protestant Reformation-Diarmaid MacCulloch 
The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, c.1400 to c.1580-Eamon Duffy 
Fires of Faith: Catholic England Under Mary Tudor-Eamon Duffy 
Young Henry: the rise of Henry VIII-Robert Hutchinson
Elizabeth’s Spy Master: Francis Walsingham and the Secret War that saved England-Robert Hutchinson 
Thomas Cromwell: The Rise and Fall of Henry VIII’s most Notorious Minister-Robert Hutchinson 
Anne Boleyn: A New Life of England’s Tragic Queen- Joanna Denny 
Katherine Howard: A Tudor Conspiracy-Joanna Denny 
The Pilgrimage of Grace, 1536-7: The Rebellion That Shook King Henry’s Throne-Geoffrey Moorehouse 
George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier & Diplomat-Claire Cherry and Claire Ridgeway
Two Gentlemen Poets At The Court Of Henry VIII:George Boleyn and Henry Howard-Edmond Bapst 
Inside The Wardrobe of Anne Boleyn- Barbara Parker Bell
The Mistresses of Henry VIII-Kelly Hart 
The Tudor Rose: Princess Mary, Henry VIII’s Sister by Jennifer Kewley Draskau
Worship and Theology in England: From Canmer to Baxter and Fox, 1534-1690-Horton Davies
Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen: Anna Whitelock 
Bosworth: The Birth of the Tudors: Chris Skidmore 
The Queen’s Agent- John Cooper 
Winter King-The Dawn of Tudor England-Thomas Penn
Anne Boleyn: In Her Own Words and Those Who Knew Her-Elizabeth Norton 
Websites/Online Resources 

(Source: maree-swan)