Quick Question: Did Anne Boleyn have any siblings?
Anne Boleyn, second wife of King Henry VIII, is one of the most famous Queens in English history. Her ten year relationship with Henry VIII saw her reach great heights and yet in the end she met her fate by a Frenchman’s sword. Anne Boleyn was the daughter of Thomas Boleyn and Elizabeth Howard and it is believed that she was born in 1501, but she was not the only child born to Thomas and Elizabeth. History commonly tells us that Anne had a sister named Mary and a brother called George, yet there are two other Boleyn siblings which time seems to have forgotten.
Thomas Boleyn’s marriage to Elizabeth Howard is not recorded, but it is generally believed that they married sometime in 1499. We do know however that “Elizabeth Howard’s jointure was settled on her in the summer of 1501” (Ives 2004, p. 17) and Ives suggests that the marriage of Elizabeth and Thomas must have been relatively recent to this date. In 1536 Thomas Boleyn wrote to Thomas Cromwell, right hand man to Henry VIII, stating that “When I married I had only £50 [nearly £25 00] a year to live on for me and my wife, as long as my father lived, and yet she brought me every year a child” (Weir 2011, p. 11). From Thomas Boleyn’s statement we can assume that the couple was married in 1499 then the first child born to Thomas and Elizabeth came into the world in approximately 1500, and then four more children followed one each year.
Mary Boleyn: Born 1500
Anne Boleyn: Born 1501
Henry Boleyn: Born 1502
Thomas Boleyn: Born 1503
George Boleyn: Born 1504
These birth dates are approximate dates as unfortunately records do not survive giving the exact dates of each birth. There has been a great deal of debate as to which daughter was oldest, Mary or Anne. The strongest evidence to suggest that it was Mary Boleyn who was the oldest daughter comes from a letter her grandson wrote. On October 6th 1597 George Carey, 2nd Baron Hunsdon wrote to Thomas Cecil, Lord Burghley. He wrote that he believed he was entitled to the earldom of Ormond, which had belonged to his great grandfather Thomas Boleyn. He stated that as the grandchild of the oldest daughter, and sole heir of Thomas Boleyn, he had a right to the title. In this letter George Carey also wrote that this father, Henry Carey, Mary Boleyn’s son, also asserted that he had a right to the earldom of Ormond.
This was a bold letter for George Carey to write. His second cousin was Elizabeth I, daughter of Anne Boleyn, sister to Mary. If Anne Boleyn had been the oldest daughter then it would have been Elizabeth I whom would have been entitled to the earldom of Ormond. Therefore it can be strongly suggested that George Carey would have had to have been more than certain his grandmother was the oldest daughter of Thomas Boleyn as he was claiming the right to the title of Ormond over his second cousin the Queen.
It could also be suggested that because Mary Boleyn’s marriage was arranged first she would have had to have been the oldest daughter, as often daughters had their marriages arranged for them in order of age, with older daughters in the family having precedent over younger daughters.
Also when Anne Boleyn was created Marquis of Pembroke by Henry VII, the letters patent giving her this title referred to her as “Anne Rocheford, one of the daughters and heirs of Thomas earl of Wiltshire and Ormond” (Wilkinson 2010, p. 11). If Anne Boleyn had been the oldest daughter would the papers not state this? Instead they simply state that she was one of the daughters of Thomas Boleyn.
Also in William Camden’s manuscript Ánnales rerum Anglicarum et Hibernicarum regnante Elizabetha’ published in 1615, he writes that Anne Boleyn was “begotten by Thomas Boleyn among other children” (Weir 2011, p. 13). Once again if Anne Boleyn had been the oldest child surely Camden would have written this.
Yet there is evidence which counteracts the thought that Mary Boleyn was the oldest daughter born to Thomas Boleyn and Elizabeth Howard. In the book ‘A catalogue and succession of the kings, princes, dukes, marquesses, earls, and viscounts of this realme of England’ written by Ralph Brooke, published in 1619, he writes that Anne was the eldest daughter of Thomas Boleyn.
Also Weever in ‘Ancient Funerall Monuments’ published in 1631 states that within the Chapel St Peter ad Vincula is buried Anne Boleyn, eldest daughter of Thomas Boleyn.
To add to the assumption that Mary Boleyn was the second daughter of Thomas Boleyn is the script written upon Lady Berkeley’s tombstone. Lady Berkeley died in 1635 and she had been the granddaughter of Henry Carey, son of Mary Boleyn. The inscription upon her tombstone states that Mary Boleyn was the second daughter of Thomas Boleyn. This inscription completely contradicts what Lady Berkeley’s father, William Carey had written in his letter, stating that his mother was the oldest daughter of Thomas Boleyn.
It is my belief that the evidence points to the fact that Mary Boleyn was the oldest child and daughter born to Thomas and Elizabeth.
There is also a great deal of mystery surrounding the lives of Thomas and Henry Boleyn. Records tell us that they were born but there is little information about their lives or deaths. Claire Ridway, from The Anne Boleyn Files, believes that both boys died either in infancy or at a young age. The tomb of Thomas Boleyn is located in the in the Sidney Chapel at St John the Baptist Church at Penshurst and the tomb of Henry Boleyn can be found at the church at Hever Castle. Both brasses over the tombs are very small in size which may represent the tomb of a child. It should also be noted that while there is mention of Mary, Anne and George throughout their teenage years there is no mention of Thomas or Henry Boleyn. I can only agree with Claire Ridway and conclude that both Boleyn boys died either as babies or in the early years of their lives.
Tragically both Thomas and Henry Boleyn died as infants or young children. Anne and George lost their lives due to trumped up charges of treason and adultery and met their ends on the scaffold in 1536. It was only Mary Boleyn, last of the Boleyn children, to live through adulthood and die a natural death.
Anne Boleyn, portrait from the National Portrait Gallery, London
May Boleyn, minature by Lucus Horenbout
Hu asdf Ives, E 2009, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.
Ridgway, C 2010, ‘Sir Thomas Boleyn, Father of Anne Boleyn’, viewed 23rd February 2012, Available from Internet < http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/5968/sir-thomas-boleyn-father-of-anne-boleyn/>.
Ridgway, C 2010, ‘The Lost Boleyn’s – Thomas and Henry, viewed 23rd February 2012, Available from Internet http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/14594/the-lost-boleyns-thomas-and-henry-boleyn/>.
Wilkinson, J 2010, Mary Boleyn The True Story of Henry VIII’s Favourite Mistress, Amberly Publishing, Gloucestershire.
Weir, A 2011, Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings, Ballantine Books, New York.