|Arthur, Prince of Wales|
The KingIt was on 2nd April 1502 that the young Prince Henry’s fortune changed dramatically, the day his elder brother Arthur died and Henry inherited not only Arthur’s future but also Arthur’s wife. A Spanish infanta, Katherine was six years older than her second husband. Henry’s father Henry VII was unwilling to return Catherine and her generous dowry (of which only half had been paid) to Spain.
In April 1509 Henry became king and now freed from his father’s parsimony the young Henry set out to enjoy his inheritance. And so a marriage between the younger Henry and Catherine finally took place on 11th June 1509; Henry wrote to Katherine’s father Ferdinand of Aragon;
‘As for that entire love that we bear to [Catherine] ….even if we were still free, it is she…..we should choose for our wife before all other.’[ii]
|Catherine of Aragon|
Katherine had loved Arthur and she certainly loved the glamorous and attractive young Henry whose desire for an heir she gratified with the birth of Henry of Cornwall on 1st January 1511, a year after the birth of a stillborn daughter. But the young boy lived less than two months. On 18th February 1516 Catherine gave birth to another child, Mary. Mary was initially much loved by both her parents, but Henry started brooding about the lack of a male heir.
‘We are both young. If it was a daughter this time, by the grace of God the sons will follow.’[iii]
It was Geoffrey Boleyn[iv], a merchant, who had amassed the wealth necessary to attract the attention of the mighty Howard family. Geoffrey cunningly married Anne Hoo, daughter of Thomas Hoo[v]. Anne was co-heiress of the Hoo estate, bringing Geoffrey lands and a whiff of nobility. In 1452 Geoffrey purchased Blickling[vi] from his friend Sir John Falstof and two years later was attempting to marry one of his daughters to Falstof’s ward Thomas;
‘I am credibly informed that Geoffrey Boleyn makes great labour for the marriage of the said child [Thomas Falstof] to one of his daughters.’[vii]
In 1462 Geoffrey purchased Hever Castle from Sir Thomas Cobham and started to convert the castle into a moated manor house. Geoffrey died the following year and was buried at the church of St Lawrence Jewry in London. Nine years later Geoffrey’s heir Thomas died and was buried alongside his father.
|Butler family arms|
Geoffrey’s second son William inherited the Boleyn estates. William was lucky enough to support the Duke of York during the Wars of the Roses and as a result was made a Knight of the Bath at Richard III’s coronation. He also became a Justice of the Peace and married Margaret Butler, daughter and co-heiress of Thomas Butler, 7th Earl of Ormond[viii]. Chronically short of money before entering into his inheritance of £20,000[ix] in 1477, Butler was kept afloat financially by Geoffrey Boleyn and the reward was Margaret as William’s wife.
Margaret and William had eleven children, of whom only four survived. Thomas Boleyn was the eldest son born in 1477. Anne was his older sister[x], born in 1475; his younger sister Alice was born circa 1487[xi].
With the death of the king at the Battle of Bosworth the Boleyns immediately turned to support the new Henry VII. In 1490 William was appointed Sheriff of Kent and in 1501 Sheriff of Norfolk. By 1502 William was one of the four Barons of the Exchequer, who sat as judges in the Court of the Exchequer[xii].
The Rise of Thomas
|Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk|
Thomas and his father fought for Henry VII against the rebellious Cornish[xiii] in 1497 fighting against increases in income tax. Thomas himself was a gifted linguist, the most fluent French speaker at court. He was also an expert jouster; a talent that attracted the attention of the young king Henry VIII, who adored jousting.
About the turn of the century Thomas Boleyn married Lady Elizabeth Howard, daughter of Thomas Howard[xiv]. The marriage was a brilliant match for Thomas Boleyn; he would never have been allowed to marry a scion of the great Howard family if they had not suffered the reverse of supporting the wrong side at the Battle of Bosworth, where John Howard, Duke of Norfolk was killed fighting for Richard.
John’s son was thrown into the Tower by Henry VII in 1484 for three years. His son, Thomas Howard, then the Earl of Surrey, had been engaged to marry the new Queen Elizabeth’s sister Anne; after his return to favour in 1489 the earldom of Surrey was returned to him. Thomas Howard renewed his suit to Anne and the couple were married on 4th February 1495. Thomas Boleyn was now brother-in-law to the queen’s brother-in-law. And his sister-in-law Anne Tempest, his brother Edward[xv]’s wife, was one of Katherine’s ladies in waiting.
The Newly Weds
Elizabeth Howard was Thomas Howard’s eldest daughter. She was pretty and the court poet John Skelton dedicated some verses to her, the Garland of the Laurel. Elizabeth was compared to;
‘Goodly Cressida, fairer than Polyxena,
For to envy Pandarus’ appetite:
Troilus, I vow, if that he had you seen,
In you he would have set his whole delight.’[xvi]
It is unlikely that Elizabeth came with a large dowry; her father had to expend much money buying back his lands from the king. Elizabeth was rarely seen at court, save for the major celebrations.
|Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scotland|
The couple had five children, Mary Boleyn was born sometime between 1499-1500; her exact date of birth is unknown. Her sister Anne was probably born the following year in 1501. Two more children died young, the fifth child was George Boleyn, born sometime between 1503-4. The children were born at Blickling Hall in Norfolk. Thomas later complained that, at the time, the young couple had a mere £50 per annum[xvii] to live on.
‘When I married I had only £50 to live on for me and my wife, as long as my father lived, and yet she brought me every year a child.’[xviii]
Thomas had to pay the Bishop of Norwich the sum of 3 shillings and 6 pence[xix] every 30 weeks for castle guard for Blickling.
Thomas was present at the marriage of Prince Arthur and Princess Catherine and in August 1503 was one of those chosen to escort Princess Margaret north to marry James IV of Scotland.
Thomas’s financial problems were solved in October 1505 by the death of his father and the family moved to Hever in the following February. Thomas was given royal licence to take possession of his father’s estates in February 1506. Thomas inherited a number of other properties in Norfolk, Hertfordshire and Kent. Geoffrey’s will required Thomas to pay his mother 200 marks per annum.
Hever was more convenient for London and the court. Thomas made over Blickling to his brother James and started improving Hever, adding mullioned windows, an entrance hall, a staircase gallery and a long gallery.
By 1507 Thomas held the post of Yeoman of the Crown at King’s Lynn. He was one of the Esquires of the Body at Henry VII’s funeral on 11th May 1509. Thomas was dubbed a Knight of the Bath at the new king’s coronation on 23rd June 1509. Elizabeth attended the ceremony and had a new gown for the occasion.
Shortly thereafter her husband was also dubbed a Knight of the Body[xx]. This new post meant that Thomas spent far more time away from his family, leaving Lady Elizabeth looking after the children. Thomas purchased New Inn without Temple Bar as a home from court.
Thomas was a diplomat and a statesman, holding Henry’s regard to the end. Indeed Henry believed that no-one was more skilled at negotiating than Thomas. Thomas’s vices were selfishness and avarice;
‘He could not resist the temptation of money.’[xxi]
Thomas could also be affable, dispassionate, brusque and insolent.
Cardinal Wolsey – Mandell Creighton, McMillan & Co 1891
Henry VIII – Robert Lacey, George Weidenfeld & Nicholson & Book Club Associates 1992
The Earlier Tudors – JD Mackie, Oxford University Press 1992
Henry – David Starkey, Harper Perennial 2009
Rivals in Power – David Starkey (ed), Toucan Books 1990
Illustrated Letters of the Paston Family – Robert Virgoe (ed), MacMillan London Ltd 1989
The Six Wives of Henry VIII – Alison Weir, Pimlico 1992
Mary Boleyn – Alison Weir, AudioGO Ltd 2012
[i] With apologies to my mother, who always wanted to write a book, about Henry VIII’s counsellors, with this title
[ii] Henry - Starkey
[iii] Henry VIII - Lacey
[vi] The present house is built on the remains of the Boleyn property
[vii] Illustrated Letters of the Paston Family - Virgoe
[viii] One of the country’s richest noblemen, Butler had a fortune of £40,000; In 2013 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £29,440,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £858,800,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £13,540,000,000.00 www.measuringworth.com
[xi] Marrying Sir Robert Clere
[xv] Edward was about 19 years Thomas’s junior
[xvi] Mary Boleyn - Weir
[xviii] Mary Boleyn - Weir
[xx] A post requiring Thomas to serve as a bodyguard to the king, sleeping on a pallet outside his door
[xxi] Mary Boleyn - Weir