Sunday 4 September 2011

The Other Boleyn Boy?: Did Anne Boleyn have another brother?

Anne Boleyn is known to have been one of at least five siblings and whilst her elder brother and sister, George and Mary, grew into adulthood, it has always been assumed that her two other brothers, Thomas and Henry, died as children. Now, however, the historian Alison Weir is arguing in her new biography Mary Boleyn that, in fact, Thomas lived into early adulthood and died in 1520 - by which point his eldest sister, Mary, was already married, George was at court and Anne was completing her education in France. Weir's conclusions is based on the fact that the brass cross added to young Thomas's grave in Saint John the Baptist Church in Penshurst was not added until 1520, thus suggesting that Thomas in fact lived until either his late teens or early twenties before dying. 

However, Claire Ridgway at The Anne Boleyn Files has been hunting down the mystery of "the lost Boleyns" and isn't convinced. Instead, she argues that the traditional version of events which claims that only Mary, George and Anne lived to maturity is correct. You can click here to access Claire's full investigation into the mystery of the missing Boleyns, but her thought-provoking conclusion is that all the evidence which suggests young Thomas lived until 1520 is based on evidence that has either been misinterpreted or non-existent. Like a lot of Tudor history, unfortunately.


  1. Hi Gareth,
    Thanks for writing about my investigation and article. In her book, Alison Weir said that the brass was marked 1520 and then, when I pointed out to her that it wasn't, she published the article on her website giving sources for why she still believed the tomb to be dated to 1520. Unfortunately, her conclusions ride on the "c.1520" Ashmolean dating of the brass which the Monumental Brass Society's Kentish brass expert extends to 1500-1535 because that's when the workshop which made the brass was active.
    It's all fascinating stuff and I've loved investigating it.

  2. I have two Boleyn questions:
    (1)Did Anne Boleyn have any collateral descendants?
    (2) Anne's sister ("the other Boleyn girl") was gotten pregnant by King Henry. Whatever became of that child?

  3. Hi Tubbs.

    The answers to your two questions merge quite conveniently. Anne does indeed have collateral descendants alive today - many, in fact and many of them very influential - and all of them through her sister's offspring.

    Unfortunately, despite recent attempts by G.W. Bernard in his books "The King's Reformation" and "Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions," and A. Hoskins in the 1997 article "Mary Boleyn's Carey children," published in the Genealogists' Magazine (March edition), to rehabilitate the myth, there is in fact very little in the way of evidence to suggest that Mary Boleyn's children - Henry and Katherine - were the offspring of Henry VIII. All the reliable evidence would suggest that they were, in fact, the biological offspring of her legal husband, Sir William Carey, who died during the plague epidemic of 1528. At some point, I will be writing about the "mystery" of the two children's parentage on this blog, but for now, it's easier to say in a nutshell that they almost certainly weren't half-Tudor in their parentage.

    The (presumed) eldest of Mary Boleyn's children, her daughter Katherine, is someone I've just finished researching for my MA dissertation on the Tudor court in the early 1540s. She was born in about 1524 and served in the households of Anne of Cleves and her second cousin, Queen Catherine Howard. However, she left the latter's service in order to marry Francis Knollys, becoming Lady Knollys when he was knighted in 1547 by Edward VI. Knollys was a very devout Protestant and due to his faith and her family associations, the couple migrated to Germany when Mary Tudor became queen in 1553. Katherine was very close to her cousin and they returned when she became queen five years later, becoming Elizabeth's chief lady of the bedchamber. She died in 1569, aged 35, much to Queen Elizabeth's grief and distress. She was survived by thirteen of her children - including Laetitia, who controversially married Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, the queen's favourite, and who was also the mother of the famous earl of Essex, who was beheaded for treason in 1601 after leading a failed rebellion against Elizabeth's rule; a son, William, who became earl of Banbury; five MPs - Henry, Edward, Robert, Richard and Francis; Thomas, who became a Protestant war hero thanks to his service in the Dutch wars of independence and Anne, who became the mother of Baron de la Warr, for whom the modern American state of Delaware is named after.

  4. Mary Boleyn's other child, Henry, was born in 1526, it is presumed - long after his mother's liaison with Henry VIII would have ended. Due to his mother's financial concerns after her husband's death, from which she seems to have inherited nothing but debts, Henry's education was initially funded by his aunt, the queen. Aged about nineteen, he was married to Anne Morgan, one of the heiresses of Sir Thomas Morgan. Like his sister, Katherine, Henry Carey fled abroad during Mary's reign but came back to enjoy the favour of his cousin Elizabeth in 1559. His wife was appointed one of the new queen's ladies of the bedchamber and they were popular with the new queen. However, she was hesitant about reviving the earldom of Ormonde in her cousin's favour, one of the titles enjoyed by their late grandfather, Thomas Boleyn. It's quite possible that this was due to concerns over the reaction in Ireland to reviving the title, as it had proved quite controversial in the 1520s during her father's reign. Carey was however made Baron Hunsdon by Elizabeth and under her, he had a distinguished military career. Like Katherine, Henry had a large number of children. His second son, John, became the father of the future earl of Dover, a title created for him by Charles I, whom he served during the Civil War of the 1640s. Henry Carey died in 1596, late in his cousin's reign.

    So, with all their children, Henry and Katherine are responsible for quite a number of Boleyn descendants over the years - including the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the novelist P.G. Wodehouse, the scientist Charles Darwin and, very distantly, Diana, Princess of Wales.

  5. Gareth, thank you so much for your time.
    Kind of icky-feeling to know the current royals are offspring of Thomas Boleyn, who is always depicted as the ultimate creep - but when one does the math of a family tree, one is bound to find villians.

  6. Gareth-love this blog of yours. How may I contact you directly regarding Tudor history. I have some things I'd like to share with you. Thank you. Dawn

  7. Great article. I have to disagree however - George was probably younger than Anne.


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