Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire

Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire, 1st Earl of Ormond,[1] 1st Viscount Rochford KG[2] KB (c. 1477 – 12 March 1539), of Hever Castle in Kent, was an English diplomat and politician who was the father of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII, and was thus the maternal grandfather of Queen Elizabeth I. By Henry VIII he was made a knight of the Garter in 1523 and was elevated to the peerage as Viscount Rochford in 1525 and in 1529 was further ennobled as Earl of Wiltshire and Earl of Ormond.

The Earl of Wiltshire and Ormond
Monumental brass to Thomas Boleyn, St Peter's Church, Hever
Lord Privy Seal
In office
MonarchHenry VIII
Preceded byCuthbert Tunstall
Succeeded bySir Thomas Cromwell
Treasurer of the Household
In office
MonarchHenry VIII
Preceded bySir Edward Poynings
Succeeded bySir William FitzWilliam
Personal details
Thomas Boleyn

c. 1477
Hever Castle, Hever, Kent, Kingdom of England
Died12 March 1539 (aged 61–62)
Resting placeSt. Peter's Church, Hever, Kent, United Kingdom
51°11′02″N 0°06′41″E / 51.1838°N 0.1113°E / 51.1838; 0.1113 (St. Peter's Church, Hever)
SpouseElizabeth Howard
ResidenceHever Castle
OccupationDiplomat, politician
Arms adopted by Sir Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire and Ormond, KG: Or, a chief indented azure, the ancient "Walter" arms of the Butler family, later Earls of Ormond, his maternal ancestors. As survives on his Garter stall plate in St George's Chapel, Windsor
Paternal arms of Boleyn: Argent, a chevron gules between three bull's heads afrontée sable

Origins edit

He was born in about 1477 at Blickling Hall in Norfolk, the son of Sir William Boleyn (1451–1505) of Blickling (purchased by Sir William's father Sir Geoffrey Boleyn, a wealthy mercer who served as Lord Mayor of London)[3] by his wife Margaret Butler (1454–1539), a daughter and co-heiress of Thomas Butler, 7th Earl of Ormond.

Marriage and issue edit

Around 1500, he married Elizabeth Howard, eldest daughter of Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey by his wife Elizabeth Tilney. Five children are attested, only three of whom survived childhood:[4]

Diplomatic career edit

In his youth, Thomas Boleyn was active in the court of Henry VII.[1] He attended the wedding of Prince Arthur with Catherine of Aragon. In 1503, he was part of Princess Margaret Tudor’s escort, to Scotland, to marry King James IV.[6] He was created a Knight of the Bath at the coronation of Henry VIII in 1509.[7] In February 1511, Boleyn took part in the Westminster Tournament, held to celebrate the birth of Henry, Duke of Cornwall. He was paired with Thomas Grey, 2nd Marquess of Dorset in costumes featuring emblems of pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.[8]

His appointment in 1512 as ambassador to the Low Countries brought him into contact with the regent Archduchess Margaret of Austria. Like Thomas, Margaret of Austria spoke French and Latin and they got along well enough for her to accept his daughter Anne as a maid of honour.[9]

Through his ability and the connections of his extended family, Thomas Boleyn became one of Henry VIII's leading diplomats. Known appointments and missions included:

Titles obtained edit

Boleyn was invested as a Knight of the Garter in 1523.[10][11]

Boleyn's claim to his other titles derived from his mother, Margaret Butler who was the younger daughter and co-heiress of Thomas Butler, 7th Earl of Ormond.[12] Thomas Butler, as an Irish peer, should only have sat in the Parliament of Ireland. However, as a personal friend of Henry VII he was summoned to the English parliament in November 1488 as "Thomas Ormond de Rochford, chevaler". At this time, he was already 8th Earl of Carrick and 7th Earl of Ormond.[13]

In English law, matrilineal descent is not considered valid for earldoms, and in Brehon law, then largely still in use in Ireland, new leaders were chosen by election. These customs were, in Boleyn's case, outweighed by a more important consideration – he was the father of two daughters. Henry VIII had affairs first with Boleyn's elder daughter Mary, then with his younger daughter, Anne. Boleyn's ambition was so considerable that unsubstantiated rumours had it that he allowed his wife to have an affair with the king, but those rumours were intended to steer the king away from marrying Anne, and even suggested that she was his own daughter.[14] When it was claimed that Henry had had an affair with both Anne's sister and mother, the king replied to the rumours, "Never with the mother."[15]

In 1525, Henry VIII became enamoured of Anne and began pursuing her. Her father was elevated to the peerage as Viscount Rochford on 18 June 1525.[16] The title referred to the "barony" of Rochford supposedly created in 1488 for his grandfather. The title had fallen into abeyance as Ormond had died without any male heir in 1515. Boleyn is often thought of as a power hungry, ambitious and scheming man who sacrificed his daughters for personal gain, but his biographer, Lauren Mackay, has argued that he enjoyed a highly successful career as an ambassador and courtier years before his daughters caught the King's eye. As Henry's passion for Anne intensified, so did her father's titles, though these rewards were not solely due to Anne but also Boleyn's own merit.[17] Henry pressured the main claimant to the earldom of Ormond, Piers Butler, to renounce all his claims to the titles in 1529. Piers Butler was rewarded by being created Earl of Ossory five days later.

Boleyn's claims to the Earldom of Wiltshire also depended upon his Irish relatives. This time, he had to go back to his maternal great-grandfather, James Butler, 4th Earl of Ormond, to establish a claim. While James Butler was indeed the 1st Earl of Wiltshire (of the third creation), on 1 May 1461 he lost his titles and his life when he was executed by the victorious Yorkists. The title was subsequently revived (in fourth and fifth creations) and bestowed on people unrelated to the Butlers of Ormond. This did not prevent the creation of the earldom for the 6th time. On 8 December 1529 Thomas Boleyn, Viscount Rochford, was created Earl of Wiltshire and Earl of Ormond.[12]

Also on 8 December 1529, the Earl of Wiltshire's only surviving son, George, was granted the courtesy title of Viscount Rochford. His title of Viscount, although initially a courtesy title, ceased to be a mere courtesy title sometime before 13 July 1530.[12][18] On 17 May 1536, Lord Rochford was executed for treason, and all his titles were forfeited.[12][19] His widow, Jane, Viscountess Rochford, however, continued to use the title after her husband's death. Lady Rochford was herself attainted for treason and beheaded at Tower Green (not Tower Hill) within the Tower of London on 13 February 1542 with Henry VIII's fifth wife, Queen Catherine Howard.[19][20]

Boleyn was appointed Lord Privy Seal in 1530. In 1532, his daughter Anne was granted a peerage, being created Marquess of Pembroke in her own right, before marrying Henry the following year and becoming queen consort. Boleyn acquiesced in Anne's judicial execution and that of her brother Lord Rochford when Henry discarded her in favour of his third wife, Queen Jane Seymour.

At this point Boleyn was replaced as Lord Privy Seal and left in disgrace until his death a few years later.[21] He suffered a final indignity when the claims of Piers Butler to the Earldom of Ormond were recognized and he again became Earl of Ormond from 22 January 1538.[21] There were two earls of Ormond in the Kingdom until his death on 12 March 1539.[21]

Death and burial edit

He died at Hever Castle on 12 March 1539 and was buried in St. Peter's Church, Hever, where survives his elaborate monumental brass. He is depicted dressed in full robes wearing the insignia of a Knight of the Garter, with the Badge on his left breast and the Garter around his left knee. His head rests on a helm surmounted by a crest of a falcon displayed (his daughter's heraldic badge) and his feet rest on a griffin.[22] The inscription reads: Here lieth Sir Thomas Bullen, Knight of the Order of the Garter, Erle of Wilscher and Erle or Ormunde, which decessed the 12th dai of Marche in the iere of our Lorde 1538.[23]

In popular culture edit

Thomas Boleyn has been portrayed by Sir Michael Hordern in Anne of the Thousand Days (1969), by Benjamin Whitrow in Henry VIII, and by Jack Shepherd and Mark Rylance in the 2003 and 2008 film versions of The Other Boleyn Girl, respectively. The 2007 Showtime series The Tudors has Nick Dunning in the role depicting him as ambitious, cunning and devious, constantly working to curry favour for his family against everyone else and always willing to "motivate" his daughter, Anne, lest Henry lose interest in her. David Robb played Boleyn as a constantly furious, irascible schemer in Wolf Hall.

Styles and honours edit

  • Sir Thomas Boleyn KG KB (1523–1525)
  • The Rt. Hon. The Viscount Rochford KG KB (1525–1529)
  • The Rt. Hon. The Earl of Wiltshire and of Ormond KG KB (8 December 1529[21]–1539)

Note: on 22 February 1538, the earldom of Ormond was restored to Piers Butler, 8th Earl of Ormond.

See also edit

Footnotes edit

  1. ^ On 22 February 1538, the earldom of Ormond was restored to Piers Butler, 8th Earl of Ormond
  2. ^ Richardson 2004, p. 180.
  3. ^ Mackay 2018, pp. 18–19.
  4. ^ a b Ridgway 2012, pp. 189–195
  5. ^ Weir 2012, p. 226. "Letters Patent by Henry VIII, reveal that Mary had been posthumously accorded the title Dame Mary Stafford. Her husband, William, had been knighted on 23 September 1545, with Mary having died in 1543, two years earlier. These letters indicate that, in their final years, the couple had remained outcasts from the court and in 1542 were dealing with family real estate concerns, living in retirement at Rochford Hall in Essex, which was owned by the Boleyns."
  6. ^ Ives 2005
  7. ^ Wilkinson 2009, p. 67
  8. ^ Henry Ellis, Original Letters Illustrative of English History, series 2 vol. 1 (London, 1827), pp. 183, 186: Henry Ellis, Hall's Chronicle (London, 1809), p. 518
  9. ^ Wilkinson 2009, pp. 20–22
  10. ^ Shaw 1906, p. 21
  11. ^ List of the Knights of the Garter (1348–present)
  12. ^ a b c d Cokayne 1949, p. 51
  13. ^ Chrimes 1999, p. 138
  14. ^ Weir 2012, pp. 42–44
  15. ^ Weir 2012, p. 145
  16. ^ Cokayne 1949, p. 739
  17. ^ Mackay 2018, p. [page needed].
  18. ^ Cherry 2011, p. 53
  19. ^ a b Cokayne 1945, pp. 141–142
  20. ^ Davies 2004
  21. ^ a b c d Hughes 2004
  22. ^ "12 March 1539 - Death of Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire and Father of Anne Boleyn". 12 March 2014.
  23. ^ 1538 old style date, 1539 in modern style

External links edit

Political offices
Preceded by Treasurer of the Household
Succeeded by
Preceded by Lord Privy Seal
Succeeded by
Peerage of England
New title Viscount Rochford
1st creation
Succeeded by
Preceded by Viscount Rochford
1st creation