Guest Article: Anne Boleyn and George Boleyn: Siblings and Friends

I am very excited that this blog is the third stop in 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?

Sources

  • 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




58 comments:

Maddy Keightley-Phillipps said...

I like the fact that George was always loving towards Anne. Me and my sister always said he was awesome!!!!!
I am definitely going to read your book!
Anne was an incredible woman.
My email is maddykphillipps@yahoo.co.nz
:)

Claire Ridgway said...

I have a real soft spot for George. He's so badly maligned and yet some people who defend Anne Boleyn never think twice about the way George is misrepresented in fiction and by some historians. Both Anne and George are truly fascinating characters.

Stephanie Trevillian said...

Yes I do think they should! Such a loving brother!! Cant wait to read your book, it will have pride of place on my Tudor bookcase.
I've liked the fb page xo

Anonymous said...

We all thank you for your efforts in turning the public perception of the Boleyn family around. In todays words, they have received very bad press that wasn't deserved. Thank you again for your awsome website!
catwhitten@yahoo.com

Cathy Whitten said...

Now I figured out how to title the message! Sorry for the duplicate....

We all thank you for your efforts in turning the public perception of the Boleyn family around. In todays words, they have received very bad press that wasn't deserved. Thank you again for your awsome website!
catwhitten@yahoo.com

Lindsey Johnson said...

I hadn't read the dedication by George to Anne in the manuscript before. Thank you, it was a lovely thing to read and proves how close they must have been.

angel-in-tears said...

I love the dedication George has written for Anne in the first book, it's beautiful and loving :) I'm also glad you work hard to clear up misconceptions about the Boleyn siblings! Too many people I know take 'The Other Boleyn Girl' as gospel, and it's refreshing to be able to direct them to these wonderful sources :)

Anonymous said...

Claire - I'm having a blast following your book tour!

Thanks for another great article on Anne. It's great insight into her and her brothers relationship. I'm sad that it was used against her in her downfall.

Email: nicole.m.fuentes@gmail.com

Judilyn Brown said...

Great article Claire! I'm glad you included Jane Boleyn in the family circle, rather than treating her as a pariah. According to Julia Fox's book, Jane Boleyn's testimony was not even recorded or used as evidence in the trials of Anne and George.Thanks for being fair!
judinmike@verizon.net

Janet said...

Claire...you've piqued my curiosity about George. Now I want to learn more. Thanks for the great article.

Claire Ridgway said...

Thank you for all the comments. I actually have very strong feelings about the whole Boleyn family because they've been so badly misrepresented. The general public don't know that George was a skilled diplomat and poet, they think that Thomas Boleyn was a cunning "pimp", Mary is either a whore or angel, Anne is a homewrecker and witch, Elizabeth has recently been accused of being rather loose, Jane is the spiteful shrew who betrayed the Boleyns, and it just goes on and on. There's no evidence to back up these pictures of the Boleyns, it drives me mad!

Anyway, it's wonderful to be here and I'm so glad that you've enjoyed my article.

Calypsobard said...

Great article!!
It is ridiculous that people even believe the incest allegations. People always overlook that Anne was a woman of faith and would therefore not even consider anything as unnatural as sleeping with her brother.
They grew up together and were of the same mind and wit. It makes for good conversation.

Anonymous said...

I always had a sense that Anne and George were cut from the same cloth - witty, intelligent and vibrant. I had never seen that book dedication before. Thanks for sharing.

SamanthaR said...

It's been a busy week, so I'm just catching up on the book tour and I love it! Thanks to Claire and Sarah for all your work! I follow both of your pages on FB! :)

Magdalena said...

George is my favorite out of Anne Boleyn's
family. His life certainly was fascinating. I'm
curious especially interesting his relationship
with his wife. If your book is so interesting how
this article would like to win it. According to me
Anne really loved , brother. Both were
intelligent, had similar religious views to this
were of similar age. Maybe Cromwell wanted to hurt
Anne and, therefore, arrested George. My email is magdalenamakowka@wp.pl

Courtney Snyder said...

I cant wait to get claires book...even if i do not win it..i will be purchasing it. Its nice to know that anne has so many allies today...even 500 years later. I feel a great connection to her.
csnyderprocessing@gmail.com

starlitebrite said...

I am really loving this virtual book tour!!! I love all knowledge of Tudor history, no matter if is fact or fiction.

Kara Berendt
tkqj@msn.com

starlitebrite said...

I agree with everything you wrote. Couldn't of said it better ☺��

samridhi said...

I really want Claire's book!!!!
Especially because I will not get it here in India.
This entire concept of virtual book tour is too good!!!
And as usual great work is done here by our lovely Claire :):)
Keep it up and thanks for everything you have done.
Samridhi Khanna
samridhikhanna5894@rediffmail.com

Marco Ann Boleyn said...

I feel so bad for George too, he suffered as much as Anne did over the course of History, everyone thinks so little and so bad of him, people don't understand that there no facts about much things believed about Anne and George, they see them as this really cruel people, soo good that Clare's book clears everything out :)

Ann said...

Excellent article. I am so happy to see George finally being championed. I always believed he was a good and supportive brother.

Mrs. Huse said...

The time George put into that gift is amazing to think about. It saddens me that he is thought badly of when he seems to have been nothing but a kind and loving brother. Can't wait to read your book Claire! Thanks for another wonderful article.
Juliehuse@gmail.com

Tiana said...

I've always loved the George and Anne relationship; it often reminds me of my own relationships with my siblings. I've always hated how their relationship has been turned into something perverse and twisted. If the charges against Anne are false, then it should also stand that the charges against George and the others are also false.

moecleo said...

wonderful very informative

Michelle L. Hamilton said...

Great job Claire, well researched and well argued. As one historian to another I tip my french hood to you.
Michelle L. Hamilton
historywiz1@cox.net

Claire Ridgway said...

Thank you, you're all so lovely! :)

TanyaB said...

Hey Claire, I was wondering what you know about the religious leanings of Anne's father? I am working on a large paper about her and one source claims her father was evangelical. Have you ran across anything that would cement this idea? If so, where can I find it? Thank you!!!

TanyaB said...

oops forgot to leave my email: tanya.bailey@eagles.ewu.edu

Bridgettt said...

Great article, as always. It is great to read anything to do with The Boleyns' as they are a favorite. Bridgett - thetudorcafe@yahoo.com

Jen W said...

Thank you Claire for yet another insightful article. (I am so glad I stumbled across your blog last year.) I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy of your book - even if I am not one of the lucky followers this week to win your book I will definitely be purchasing my own!
jenwayland@optonline.net

miladyblue said...

I still remember when Claire asked us last year how we were commemorating Anne on the anniversary of her execution.

I had bought "The Other Boleyn Girl" on DVD from a pawn shop - which went right back there, I might add! - and I watched it, I imagined George and Anne on the couch with me, throwing popcorn at the screen every time there was an inaccuracy about them. The living room was filled with popcorn within the first 5 minutes, and all those flying goodies mercifully helped blank out the TV screen. I also imagined the three of us laughing, and then enjoyed while Anne and George unleashed their legendary wits to destroy that misbegotten movie.

It was sort of The Tudors meets Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Anne: Well, at least they got our names right.

Me: At least the costumes were pretty.

George: Someone actually paid money to make this nonsense? I need to find that person, and offer them the title to Buckingham Palace, then. How much do you think would be a fair price to ask?

Beatrice said...

Hi!
My name is Beatrice and I am a thirteen year old girl from a little town in the middle of nowhere and I love tudor history!
This is a brilliant article, George Boleyn is often a very misrepresented character in history and media(if not entirely forgotten).
Anne Boleyn was my idol when I was little and I don´t believe (and never have) that Anne and George where guilty of incest.

P.s Congratulations on the book, I love the files keep using that soap box!.

Miladyblues@hotmail.se

Jennifer B. said...

Great article as always , Claire!!! I, as many people, started my Tudor journey reading The Other Boleyn Girl. I didn't believe a lick of it, but the 'characters' were so interesting I started researching everything. Of course, finding out that these were actual people! I especially loved reading about Anne and George's relationship. I'm jealous of their closeness. I often imagine them walking arm in arm talking about everything and anything. Sharing secrets, accomplishments, disappointments. I feel bad for them for how their lives ended, but its sweet to see that even at the end they were concerned for each other. :)
Email: jennifer.schuh@yahoo.com

Claire Ridgway said...

Thank you for all the lovely comments! I do think that Anne and George were very close because they were so similar and they were both close to the King. I would love to travel back in time and be a fly on the wall!

Libby said...

Lovely article, Claire! I adore George and his relationship with Anne: they were both so very intelligent and, as you said, "charismatic." Thanks Claire and Sarah!

WilesWales said...

I don't understand it Claire; you could not write better on a subject, with references to boot, if God tried. I loved the article. Thank you for gettng me to Sarah's site, she is a good scholar, and I enjoy reading her. George Boleyn has been misunderstood by so many over time! It's incredible how much time is wasted on gossip, rumor, speculation, etc. I just can't say anymore than that I agree with you about George 100%! Thank you, WilesWales

Carla said...

I have been intrigued with George for a long time. Are there any known portraits of him? If not, I certainly wish there were!

Lori Thomas said...

Great article, will have to read up more about George.

ctymice at gmail dot com

Boleynfan said...

Hi Claire,

Wonderful article! As an Anne Boleyn fanatic, I've always been intrigued by George myself, and as usual, your article enlightened me to an aspect of Boleyn history I was unaware of. Thanks so much! My curiosity about George is ever growing, so this was perfect.

xx Boleynfan

Tina Mcbride said...

I love reading about the past kings and Queens.
Thank you so much for your knowledge :)
Today's my birthday and I'm 35 YUK! But I've had the day to read and research. Yes I'm a nerd.

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting on your description of how Jane was part of their group. The portrayal of Jane in the Showtime series The Tudors seems one as an outsider of the family and George seemed to love Anne much more than Jane. I wonder how Anne truly felt of Mary due to her affair with Henry prior to Anne. It would be very interesting to know that side of the sibling story. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing!
e-mail: esselmac01@charter.net

Anonymous said...

I guess I found my answer in your other blog about Mary and Anne. Were three siblings a crowd in their relationships??? Thanks!
email: esselmac01@charter.net

Anonymous said...

George is my favorite Boleyn...
I never for once thought that Anne and George would commit incest!
I find it incredibly interesting to think that Jane was kind after all that was said about her, it's very interesting.
I love this article and can't wait to read your book.
My sister and I love Tudor history. She constantly talks about it, and now I'm hooked too.
George is awesome!!!

xxx Laney

email: laneymoo.dkp@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

George is awesome!!!
I watch Tudor things with my friend and her sister.
I became interested in Tudor history after study Henry VIII with my friend Maddy in English :)
Still, as yuck as Henry was I always wondered about, George...
It's good to know that they had a loving relationship.

:) Mikki
email: mighty_little_1@hotmail.com

Anonymous said...

oops I forgot the *ing but you get what I mean
-Mikki

Anonymous said...

:)

a1stitcher said...

Well said. I do agree if George had not cared a bit for Anne, that he would not have been such a target.It's interesting to me that their father survived the downfall of his two children.


Liz

Sylwia said...

I think that it is a great injustice to portray Anne&George as having an incestuous affair. They were close as brother and sister, and it's understandable. I really loved the article. Thanks for posting and good luck in give - away everyone! :-)
Sylwia
sylwia.zupanec@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

The incestuous thing is a very clear way of showing how much a rumor can damage a person, even after almost half a millennium, people still believe the rumors, and the poor Boleyns are still victims of a bunch of tags that sell in hollywood. As I mentioned the other day in FB, the pimp, the absent mother who didn't care, the homewrecker, the whore, the incestuous homosexual, are tags that sell well, but the damage they inflict can last for another few centuries or more if people don't educate themselves and do a little research before passing judgement.

This is why I love your work so much, Claire, it provides information, different angles to diverse opinions, etc. I look forward to reading your book, I hope it doesn't take forever to get to my country.

Victoria
mad_twinkie@hotmail.com

Melissa said...

I've really been enjoying the book tour this week! I'm so glad you visited this site (it was this blog that first lead me to yours, Claire!), and even more glad that you shared this with us. Poor George!

Anonymous said...

Im not sure I would have a soft spot for George But i did love how he loved his sister. If only they knew how bad the price for fame and fortune would have been, I can honestly say she was the best queen because she knew what she wanted and went after it !!

vanessa r. said...

Thanks for this great article. I do not know much about the Boleyns, but now I'm definitely interested in learning more about them. Will be a regular reader for sure.

Heather Ward-Gregory said...

Thank you so much for your amazing insight to the Boleyn siblings, Claire. Beautifully done. I am an only child in this life, but if I were to have been blessed enough to have siblings...I could only hope to have been as close as Anne and George.

Heather
hqward@gmail.com

Sofia said...

What an interesting article. Since Anne is always portrayed as a femme fatale, it is very easy to overlook the fact that she was very religious. But faith aside, I cannot imagine any sister looking to her brother to get pregnant. Now, what say you about the rumors that George was gay? I am not sure I believe that either...

varsharies said...

what happened with george boleyn...was completely unfair! Gay or not, he had no right to be condemned so falsely. May his soul rest in peace and always be remembered as a brother who gave up his life for his sister.

Mom said...

As someone who has measured every man I've ever known against my beloved brother, I totally understand the depth of their love and friendship! Well done, as always, Claire!

lexa4227 said...

Great article! I completely agree. What happened to both George and Anne Boleyn was completely unfair and I hope their soul rest in peace and always be remembered.

Anonymous said...

Are the necklaces for sale? My child is obsessed with Anne and would love the B necklace. carolynbarr2002@yahoo.com

Carolyn Barr

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