Claire Ridgway's Virtual Blog Tour! Claire has recently released her incredible book on Anne Boleyn entitled The Anne Boleyn Collection. I have to say this is one of my favourite books about Anne and Claire does a wonderful job looking at the real truth behind Anne Boleyn and her life. She even debunks some popular myths about Anne and sets the record straight!
Claire has kindly written a fascinating article for this blog looking at the relationship between Anne and her younger brother George. She is also giving away a signed copy of her book and your choice of either an “A” or “B” necklace! But more about the giveaway after Claire’s brilliant article…
Anne Boleyn and George Boleyn: Siblings and Friends
My two favourite historical characters in history are the charismatic 16th century siblings, Anne and George Boleyn. Contrary to popular opinion and some works of fiction, Anne and George were not lovers, they were friends. As much as Philippa Gregory would like us to believe that it would be natural for the desperate Anne Boleyn to turn to her brother to get her pregnant in 1536, I have to disagree. In my own rock-bottom moments of despair when going through IVF treatment, I never once considered calling my brother for 'help' (perish the thought!), and knowing Anne and George's religious beliefs they would never have contemplated incest. Incest was an abomination, an awful sin, and would have been unthinkable.
Rant over, incest out of the window, now let's have a look at the relationship that these siblings are more likely to have enjoyed...
Anne Boleyn was probably born in 1501, around three years before George. We do not know any details about their early lives, but it is likely that the family moved to Hever Castle in Kent around 1505 and that the children were educated together at home for their first few years. George may have started grammar school at around the age of seven and we know that Anne left home in 1513 to join the court of Margaret of Austria in Mechelen. She did not return to England until late 1521, so it appears that the siblings may have been separated for 8 years, a long time. But, although there is no existing record of George being sent abroad for educational purposes, Edmond Bapst, George's nineteenth century biographer, suggests that George's fluency in French, which enabled him to undertake embassies to France at a relatively young age, could well have been a result of him having spent time in France. Perhaps George accompanied his father there on embassies? This would also explain the close bond and friendship between Anne and George in the 1520s and 30s.
So, how do we know that Anne and George even had a close relationship?
Well, the main piece of evidence for their close relationship is a couple of manuscripts owned by Anne Boleyn. These manuscripts were translations of French reformist texts completed by George as gifts for his sister. Both were derived from books written by the French humanist, scholar and reformer, Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples, and it is likely that the first, “Les Epistres et Evangiles”, was a New Year's gift in 1533 to celebrate Anne's elevation to Marquess of Pembroke. The use of ultraviolet light has led to the discovery of the following dedication in this manuscript:-
“To the right honourable lady, the Lady Marchioness of Pembroke, her most loving and friendly brother sendeth greetings. Our friendly dealings, with so divers and sundry benefits, besides the perpetual bond of blood, have so often bound me, Madam, inwardly to love you, that in every of them I must perforce become your debtor for want of power, but nothing of my good will. And were it not that by experience your gentleness is daily proved, your meek fashion often times put into use, I might well despair in myself, studying to acquit your deserts towards me, or embolden myself with so poor a thing to present to you. But, knowing these perfectly to reign in you with more, I have been so bold to send unto you, not jewels or gold, whereof you have plenty, not pearl or rich stones, whereof you have enough, but a rude translation of a well-willer, a goodly matter meanly handled, most humbly desiring you with favour to weigh the weakness of my dull wit, and patiently to pardon where any fault is, always considering that by your commandment I have adventured to do this, without the which it had not been in me to have performed it. But that hath had power to make me pass my wit, which like as in this I have been ready to fulfil, so in all other things at all times I shall be ready to obey, praying him on whom this book treats, to grant you many years to his pleasure and shortly to increase in heart's ease with honour.”
As my friend Clare Cherry has pointed out in her work on George Boleyn, “this dedication is the closest we come to getting a glimpse of the actual relationship between the two of them” and she comments on how the dedication is quite tongue in cheek, in that it includes “the type of self-deprecation that only the very clever risks voicing, in the knowledge that it will be received by a recipient who fully appreciates the false modesty”.
The second book was Lefèvre's “The Ecclesiaste” and we know that this was also prepared by George because of similarities in the penmanship, the fact that the text is in French but the exhortation in English, and the use of blue in both manuscripts for editorial matter. The production of these manuscripts would have taken time, effort and money, so George must have loved and respected his sister.
Anne also loved her brother. When she was arrested and taken to the Tower, Anne immediately asked Sir William Kingston about her brother, “pray you to tell me wher my Lord Rochford is?... O where ys my sweet broder?”, and she questioned Kingston again when she heard that her brother had been apprehended. One report of her trial has her giving a speech in which she says “As for my brother and those others who are unjustly condemned, I would willingly suffer many deaths to deliver them, but since I see it so pleases the King, I shall willingly accompany them in death, with this assurance, that I shall lead an endless life with them in peace and joy”, so she was willing to give her life for that of her brother and friends.
At their trials in 1536, Anne and George were accused of being alone together in her room for a long time, ridiculing the King's fashion sense and discussing the King's sexual prowess, or rather lack of it. George was also accused of spreading rumours that the King was not Elizabeth's father. As Eric Ives points out, “we can imagine it as a joke – 'with his problems, it's hard to see how the king ever produced Elizabeth!'”, and it is not hard to imagine the quick-witted Boleyns laughing at this. This kind of reckless talk of intimate details between husband and wife would surely only take place between good friends. I believe that Anne, George and George's wife, Jane, were very close and shared interests and also a sense of humour. Both Anne and George were highly intelligent and were also interested in education, the New Religion and New Learning, music, poetry and literature. I can imagine lively discussions and debates between the likes of Anne, George, Jane, Thomas Wyatt, Sir Henry Norris and other members of the Boleyn circle – can't you?
George's death on the 17th May 1536 was actually due to his close relationship with his sister. I'm not just talking about their close friendship being twisted into something unnatural and perverse by the Crown, I also believe that Cromwell knew that if George was not dealt with then he would fight for Anne and rally support. George was an important courtier, a charismatic man, who may well have been able to bring Cromwell down and save his sister. Of course, we'll never know what would have happened if George had not been arrested and executed, but if George had not cared one jot for his sister then he would probably have escaped the brutal events of that Spring.
My research into Anne Boleyn's life has led me to fall a little in love with her whole family, particularly George who is still being maligned on a daily basis. George was a huge part of Anne Boleyn's life and both of their lives should be celebrated, don't you think?
- The Life of Cardinal Wolsey, George Cavendish
- The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Eric Ives
- “Her moost lovyng and fryndely brother sendeth gretyng”, James Carley, in “Illuminating the Book”, ed. M P Brown and S McKendrick
- Unpublished research on George Boleyn by Clare Cherry
- LP x. 876
- Wriothesley’s Chronicle, p39
A BIG thank you to Claire for choosing my little blog to be part of her Virtual Blog Tour and an even bigger thank you for the wonderful give away! For your chance to win a signed copy of Claire’s book, The Anne Boleyn Collection, or your choice of either an “A” or “B” necklace please leave a comment and your e-mail address below or pop over to my facebook page and press the like button! The winner will be announced on MARCH 15th!
You can find my Facebook page my clicking on the following link: Anne Boleyn: From Queen to History