On this day in 1539 – Sir Thomas Boleyn died

Sir Thomas Boleyn died on 12th March 1539 after an eventful life in the Tudor court.

Sir Thomas Boleyn was born in 1477 at Hever Castle, Kent. Thomas Boleyn was born to Sir William Boleyn and Lady Margaret Butler. Not much is known about Thomas’ early life; it is suspected that he married Lady Margaret around 1498. The exact dates and order that the three Boleyn children were born in is still something that is debated until this very day but it is widely believed and backed up by Eric Ives that Mary was the eldest, born approx 1499, with Anne following in 1501 and lastly George born in 1504. It is believed that there were other pregnancies it can’t be said for certain.

Thomas Boleyn began building an illustrious career within the Tudor court that dates back to 1501 where he was noted to be present at the wedding of Katherine of Aragon to Prince Arthur. Boleyn was again entrusted with an important duty by King Henry VII in 1503 in which his daughter Margaret was to be escorted to Scotland for her marriage to King James IV.

In 1509 Boleyn was created a Knight of the Bath at a ceremony that celebrated the coronation on the new King, Henry VIII. This was the start of a relationship with the King that would bring him to such high power within the realm as well as a relationship that tore his family apart. At some point during these early years serving Henry, Boleyn was made ambassador to the Low Countries (Belgium, Netherlands and Flanders), here he met Archduchess Margaret of Austria and at some point during his meetings with the Archduchess he arranged to send his daughters to serve in her court.

For the next decade Boleyn fulfilled many roles within the court from acting as an envoy to the Netherlands in 1512 to acting as an ambassador in France between 1518 and 1521. During his time as ambassador to France Boleyn was heavily involved in the Field of Cloth of Gold, the meeting between Henry VIII of England and Francis I of France.

At some point during this decade his oldest daughter, Mary, had caught the eye of the King and became his mistress. There is no record of the relationship so we don’t know how long they were together or when. It was also rumoured the Henry was the father of one if not both of Mary’s children. Again there is no evidence of this and the King never claimed he was the father of Mary’s children especially as she was married at the time of the affair. However, in 1523, Thomas Boleyn was invested as a Knight of the Garter. Was this Henry’s way of giving reward to the Boleyn’s for his relationship with Mary?

In 1525, Boleyn had further honours bestowed upon him as he was created Viscount Rochford and further in 1529 when he was granted the titles of Earl of Wiltshire and Earl of Ormond. At the same time Henry’s desires had transferred to Thomas Boleyn’s other daughter, Anne. Was the honour being bestowed upon Thomas rewarding him for his years of service to the King and his father before him, or was Henry simply handing out favours to his new mistress’s family?

As Henry pursued his new mistress and his quest for an annulment from his current wife, Katherine of Aragon, he was becoming more and more surrounded by members of the Boleyn family, Thomas’ son George was handed the title of Viscount Rochford upon Thomas’ ascension to Earldom. Thomas was also sent as an envoy to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and Pope Clement VII in an attempt to gain their allegiance for Henry’s divorce.

Thomas Boleyn’s success reached a pinnacle when in 1530 he was made Lord Privy Seal, one of the greatest roles within the council and when his daughter Anne finally married the King and was proclaimed Queen in 1533 it seems that Thomas Boleyn was almost untouchable.

As Anne Boleyn’s downfall began a few short years later so did Thomas’. He was ordered to be a part of the council that was set up to try and sentence the men accused alongside the Queen for treason and adultery. This included his son, George, as well as Anne. He was involved passing sentence on Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston and William Brereton. However, he was excused from passing sentence on his children and condemning them to death as traitors. He did witness both of their executions at the hands of the man he had served loyally. Thomas Boleyn forfeited the role of Lord Privy and retired to Hever Castle, his position was to be handed to Thomas Cromwell.

DIGITAL CAMERA                         Hever Castle – the family home to the Boleyns.

Although Boleyn had retreated to his home in Kent he still served the King and there are records of him helping to fight the rebellion in the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536, just months after witnessing his two children die. It appears that Boleyn was slowly gaining favour with the King again as he was present at the christening of Prince Edward.

Thomas Boleyn died on 12th March 1539 from unknown reasons and was buried in St Peter’s church in Hever next to his home. Upon his death King Henry ordered masses to be said for Thomas Boleyn’s soul.

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