You may think to read of the Boleyns is to read of the rollercoaster ride that was the Tudor court. You may think their rise began with Thomas Boleyn, the father of the famous Boleyn siblings, working his way through the thorny maze that was the political Tudor court, being careful who to favour and who not to side with. With his son, George by his side, slowly forging his own way up the political ladder, Thomas might well have thought he was paving the way for his children to succeed.
Here we take a look at the power the Boleyn family have held, from Anne Boleyn and her siblings through to their modern-day descendants.
The rising and fallen star – Anne Boleyn
Certainly with his daughter, Anne, Thomas had planned well with her education and childhood to spend time in the French court, gaining knowledge, standing and grace that would, at least on the outside, look as if Anne Boleyn was a very different lady from all the other ladies at the English Tudor Court.
It has been suggested that this difference in Anne, would ultimately bring the Boleyns their biggest rise and also their biggest failure. The power of the Boleyns that had been building up over the years, seemed to be locked in and trapped within the nature of one woman. At first Anne Boleyn was a success for her family, for she unusually became Queen consort, when the country had a Queen already and even had a role in changing the country’s religion, a subject matter that had strong opposition.
However, with all this Boleyn power condensed into one woman who had a mind and spirit such as Anne Boleyn, it can be any wonder that this force of nature burnt out too quickly. Just a few years into her reign, in May 1536, Anne was put on trial on trumped up charges of adultery, incest and perhaps only because of the paranoid Tudor dynasty, charges of treason. She was executed within the grounds of the Tower of London on 19 May 1536 and with her death, it has been suggested that the Boleyn family rise came to a crashing end.
But, the Boleyns would have one final hurrah, in the form of Queen Elizabeth I and her golden age, for she was Anne Boleyn’s daughter and so Anne Boleyn’s ‘blood was well spent’.
The underdog story
Is that the complete story of the Boleyns however? Did their power start with Thomas Boleyn and did it end with Queen Elizabeth I?
In the Boleyns: From the Tudors to the Windsors, we discover another side to the Boleyn family, sometimes classed as the ‘underdog’ side but nevertheless would ultimately gain a far longer importance that reaches to quite a different Queen Elizabeth altogether.
We can research the Boleyn family from at least the 1200’s – to understand the background of the famous members, we need to first discover how they started.
The Boleyns were essentially Norfolk farmers, gaining more lands as the years went by. With more lands, their importance grew, gaining them titles and marrying well at every step helped them along the way. Soon they were Mayor’s of London and the Royal court beckoned.
Thomas Boleyn did not only give a fine education to his son, George and his daughter, Anne, Thomas also had another daughter, Mary and it is with Mary’s fascinating family tree, meeting intriguing and fabulous people along the way.
More than the ‘Third Wheel’ to Queen Elizabeth I – Lettice Knollys
It is through Mary Boleyn, that we have Lettice Knollys. Lettice is often portrayed as the ‘other woman’ in the drama that was the relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and her love, Robert Dudley, but when looking at this famous relationship from the angle of Lettice, it does seem to take on a different form. That perhaps Robert Dudley’s choice in wife may not have only been to rub it in the face of Queen Elizabeth, that time and time again there was real love between husband and wife.
Also, in the nature of looking after her children, we can sense Lettice’s own Boleyn fiery, strong characteristics, which could be said to have been within her son, Robert Devereux as well. Lettice’s way of getting what she desired in life could be compared to Mary Boleyn, by chipping away at a problem in a non-showy way, with Robert Devereux however, he could be said to have gone running at a problem, head on, more like his relation, Anne Boleyn, with similar outcomes.
Still making their presence known – Richard Boyle
Travel a few centuries further and we meet Richard Boyle, the third Earl of Burlington. As well as being a member of the House of Lords, Richard would also make a name for himself in the skylines of the countryside and cities, by being the architect of many buildings we know today, such as Burlington House, Chiswick House and Westminster School. The Palladian style to his works he developed through his trips abroad earned him great notoriety for his time, showing us the hard working nature of the Boleyns was still shining and working for their descendants all the way through the 1740s.
So the Boleyn family continues, showing the intelligent, strong willed nature of Mary Boleyn, through Duchesses, politicians and even to the modern Royal family today. The Boleyn DNA reaches into Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II and in doing so reaches into her children and her children’s children, all of whom are heirs to the British throne and we can only imagine what a wonderful future that can hold for us to learn and for the Boleyns themselves.
Through Mary Boleyn, not Anne, as might have been expected at the time, the Boleyns have travelled far from their beginnings as Norfolk farmers.
Amanda Harvey Purse is the author of several historical books. The Boleyns: From the Tudors to the Windsors, published by Amberley Publishing on 15 October 2022, is her first within the Tudor period. Being a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Amanda has written academic papers for universities, special events and articles for many magazines, websites and Societies.
Amanda has also worked with many museums and television companies behind the scenes on displays and items in various time periods.