Tag Archives: Sir Thomas Boleyn

On this day in 1535 – Sir Thomas More was interrogated in the Tower of London

The issue of royal supremacy was a highly dominate aspect of 1535 with citizens of England expected to sign an oath that declared they supported King Henry VIII’s claim as head of the Church of England and recognised that Anne Boleyn was his lawful wife and their children would be legitimate, therefore declaring that his daughter, Mary, was illegitimate as a result of an unlawful marriage with Katherine of Aragon.

One person who delayed in signing the oath was Sir Thomas More, More had been one of Henry’s closest friends and advisors and was even Lord Chancellor until he resigned over his opinions of Henry’s divorce.

On 3rd June 1535 More was in the Tower of London and was visited by Thomas Boleyn, Thomas Audley, Charles Brandon and Thomas Cromwell who were there to interrogate him about his views and to try and persuade him one more time to take the oath.

Sir Thomas More refused to take the oath again by answering that he answered to God first and the King second. More was pushed to give an answer on whether he had seen the oath he was being asked to take and if he thought it was lawful. More replied that he had confessed to seeing it but refused to answer whether it was lawful.

Sir Thomas More wrote a letter on the same day to his daughter, Margaret, to tell her about the visit. In the letter it said;

3rd June 1535

Tower of London

 Our Lord bless you and all yours.

 For as much, dearly beloved daughter, as it is likely that you either have heard or shortly shall hear that the Council was here this day, and I was before them, I have thought it necessary to send you word how the matter stands. And verily to be short I perceive little difference between this time and the last, for as far as I can see the whole purpose is either to drive me to say precisely the one way or else precisely the other.

 Here sat my Lord of Canterbury, my Lord Chancellor, my Lord of Suffolk, my Lord of Wilshire and Master Secretary. And after my coming, Master Secretary made rehearsal in what wise he had reported unto the King’s Highness, what had been said by his Grace’s Council to me, and what had been answered by me to them at mine other being before them last. Which thing his Mastership rehearsed in good faith very well, as I acknowledged and confessed and heartily thanked him therefore. Whereupon he added that the King’s Highness was nothing content nor satisfied with mine answer, but thought that by my demeanour I had been occasion of much grudge and harm in the realm, and that I had an obstinate mind and an evil toward him and that my duty was being subject; and so he had sent them now in his name upon my allegiance to command me to make a plain and terminate answer whether I thought the statute lawful or not and that I should either acknowledge and confess it lawful that his Highness should be Supreme Head of the Church of England or else to utter plainly my malignity.

 Whereto I answered that I had no malignity and therefore I could none utter. And as to the matter, I could none other answer make than I had before made, which answer his Mastership had there rehearsed. Very heavy I was that the King’s Highness should have any such opinion of me. Howbeit if there were one that had informed his Highness many evil things of me that were untrue, to which his Highness for the time gave credence, I would be very sorry that he should have that opinion of me the space of one day. Howbeit if I were sure that other should come on the morrow by whom his Grace should know the truth of my innocence, I should in the meanwhile comfort myself with the consideration of that. And in like wise now though it be great heaviness to me that his Highness have such opinion of me for the while, yet have I no remedy to help it, but only to comfort myself with this consideration that I know very well that the time shall come, when God shall declare my truth toward his Grace before him and all the world. And whereas it might haply seem to be but a small cause of comfort because I might take harm here first in the meanwhile. I thanked God that my case was such in this matter through the clearness of mine own conscience that though I might have pain I could have no harm for a man may in such case lose his head and have no harm. For I was very sure that I had no corrupt affection, but that I had always from the beginning truly used myself to looking first upon God and next up on the King, according to the lesson that his Highness taught me at my first coming to his noble service, the most virtuous lesson that ever prince taught his servant; whose Highness to have of me such opinion is my great heaviness, but I have no means, as I said, to help it but only comfort myself in the meantime with the hope of that joyful day in which my truth towards him shall well be known. And in this matter further I could not go nor other answer thereto I could not make.

 To this it was said by my Lord Chancellor or and Master Secretary both that the King might by his laws compel me to make a plain answer thereto, either the one way or the other.

 Whereunto I answered I would not dispute the King’s authority, what his Highness might do in such case, but I said that verily under correction it seemed to me somewhat hard. For if it so were that my conscience gave me against the statutes (wherein how my mind giveth me I make no declaration), then I nothing doing nor nothing saying against the statute, it were a very hard thing to compel me to say either precisely with it against my conscience to the loss of my soul, or precisely against it to the destruction of my body.

 To this Master Secretary said that I had before this when I was Chancellor examined heretics and thieves and other malefactors and gave me a great praise above my deserving in that behalf. And he said that I then, as he thought and at the leastwise Bishops did use to examine heretics, whether they believed the Pope to be the head of the Church and used to compel them to make a precise answer thereto. And why should not then the King, since it is a law made here that his Grace is Head of the Church, here compel men to answer precisely to the law here as they did then concerning the Pope.

 I answered and said that I protested that I intended not to defend any part or stand in contention; but I said there was a difference between those two cases because at that time, as well here as elsewhere through the corps of Christendom, the Pope’s power was recognized for an undoubted thing which seems not like a thing agreed in this realm and the contrary taken for truth in other realms. Whereunto Master Secretary answered that they were as well burned for the denying of that as they be beheaded for denying of this, and therefore as good reason to compel them to make precise answer to the one as to the other.

 Whereto I answered that since in this case a man is not by a law of one realm so bound in his conscience, where there is a law of the whole corps of Christendom to the contrary in matter touching belief, as he is by a law of the whole corps though there hap to be made in some place a local law to the contrary, the reasonableness or unreasonableness in binding a man to precise answer, standeth not in the respect or difference between beheading and burning, but because of the difference in charge of conscience, the difference standeth between beheading and hell.

 Much was there answered unto this both by Master Secretary and my Lord Chancellor over long to rehearse. And in conclusion they offered me an oath by which I should be sworn to make true answer to such things as should be asked me on the King’s behalf, concerning the King’s own person.

 Whereto I answered that verily I never purposed to swear any book oath more while I lived. Then they said that I was very obstinate if I would refuse that, for every man doth it in the Star Chamber and everywhere. I said that was true, but I had not so little foresight that I might well conjecture what should be part of my interrogatory, and as good it was to refuse it at first as afterward.

 Whereto my Lord Chancellor answered that he thought I guessed truth, for I should see them and so they were showed me and they were but two. The first whether I had seen the statute. The other whether I believed that it were a lawful made statute or not. Whereupon I refused the oath and said further by mouth, that the first I had before confessed, and to the second I would make none answer.

 Which was the end of the communication and I was thereupon sent away. In the communication before, it was said that it was marvelled that I stuch so much in my conscience while at the uttermost I was not sure therein. Whereto I said that I was very sure that my own conscience, so informed as it is by such diligence as I have so long taken therein, may stand with mine own salvation. I meddle not with the conscience of them that think otherwise, every man suo domino stat et cadit [Romans 14:4, Cor 10:12]. I am no man’s judge. It was also said unto me that if I had rather be out of the world as in it, as I had there said, why did I not speak even out plain against the statute. It appeared well I was not content to die though I had said so. Whereto I answered as the truth is, that I have not been a man of such holy living as I might be bold to offer myself to death, lest God for my presumption might suffer me to fall, and therefore I put not myself forward, but draw back. Howbeit if God draw me to it himself, then trust I in his great mercy, that he shall not fail to give me grace and strength.

 In conclusion Master Secretary said that he liked me this day much worse than he did the last time, for then he said he pitied me much and now he thought that I meant not well; but God and I know both that I mean well and so I pray God do by me.

 I pray you be, you and my other friends, of good cheer whatsoever fall of me, and take no thought for me but pray for me as I do and shall do for you and all them.

 Your tender loving father,

 Thomas More, Knight

More was eventually charged with treason and was put on trial on 1st July 1535. By the 3rd More said that the Act of Supremacy was like a ‘sword with two edges’ because ‘if a man say that the same laws be good then it is dangerous to the soul, and if he say contrary to the said statue then it is death to the body’. More was inevitably found guilty of treason and sentenced to exectution.

On this day in 1536 – Sir Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, Sir William Brereton and Mark Smeaton all stood trial accused of treason

On 12th May 1536 Sir Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, Sir William Brereton and Mark Smeaton all stood trial just two days after it was announced that there was sufficient evidence of their alleged guilt. George Boleyn and his sister, Queen Anne Boleyn were to stand trial separately as they were members of the aristocracy and therefore was to be tried at the court of the Lord High Steward of England by a jury of their peers.

The four men were taken by boat to Westminster Hall where they were greeted by a jury that included Sir Thomas Boleyn, Sir William Fitzwilliam, William Askew, Edward Willoughby, William Musgrave, Sir Giles Alington, Anthony Hungerford, Walter Hungerford, William Sidney, Sir John Hampden, Richard Tempest, Robert Dormer and Thomas Palmer. These men were people who held a grudge against the Queen, were in Cromwell’s debt and even relatives of the Boleyn’s including the Queen’s own father.

There is no longer any evidence of what occurred in these trials. However, documented in the Letters and Papers was;

Noreys, Bryerton, Weston, and Smeton were brought up in the custody of the constable of the Tower, when Smeton pleaded guilty of violation and carnal knowledge of the Queen, and put himself in the King’s mercy. Noreys, Bryerton, and Weston pleaded Not Guilty, and that they have no lands, goods or chattels.

Judgement against all four as in cases of treason; execution to be at Tyburn.”

Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, volume 10 January – June 1536

Alongside the above piece of evidence we also have a letter that the Imperial Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, wrote to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. Chapuys wrote regularly to the emperor to keep him informed of what was occurring in England and regarding the trial he wrote;

“On the 11th were condemned as traitors Master Noris, the King’s chief butler, (sommelier de corps) Master Ubaston (Weston), who used to lie with the King, Master Bruton (Brereton), gentleman of the Chamber, and the groom (varlet de chambre), of whom I wrote to your Majesty by my man. Only the groom confessed that he had been three times with the said putain and Concubine. The others were condemned upon presumption and certain indications, without valid proof or confession.”

The defendants were not entitled to counsel and therefore did not know what evidence would be presented to the jury. This one move meant that the accused were not able to build up a defence to the accusations that were being thrown at them, all they could do is react as the evidence was being read out. All but Mark Smeaton declared that they were not guilty and Smeaton pleaded guilty to one count of adultery, however, it is probable that Smeaton’s confession was extracted through means of torture.

It is likely that the verdict was already reached before the accused even stepped in front of the jury even so all four were declared guilty of high treason and were sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered at Tyburn. However, because all four were in service of the King the sentence was commuted to beheading.

Westminster Hall

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.