His wife, Elizabeth Howard, first daughter of Thomas Howard, second Duke of Norfolk (1443–1524). She gave birth to three children, Mary Boleyn (1498), Anne Boleyn (1499) and George Boleyn (1504). He became a diplomat and he attended the wedding of Prince Arthur and Catherine of Aragon. (1)
Sir Thomas was very ambitious for his children. According to David Starkey: "They were intelligent, ambitious and bound by a fierce mutual affection. Their father recognized their talent and did his best to nurture it." (2) Alison Plowden, the author of Tudor Women (2002), claims that he was particularly interested in the education of his two daughters: "Thomas Boleyn... wanted Mary and Anne to learn to move easily and gracefully in the highest circles and to acquire all the social graces, to speak fluent French, to dance and sing and play at least one instrument, to ride and be able to take part in the field sports which were such an all-absorbing passion with the upper classes, and to become familiar with the elaborate code of courtesy which governed every aspect of life at the top." (3)
Boleyn was a valued participant in royal tournaments. He was the king's opponent at Greenwich Palace in May 1510. "With his linguistic skills, his charm, and his knowledge of horses, hawks, and bowls, Boleyn made an ideal courtier." (4) In 1512 Boleyn was sent on a diplomatic mission by Henry VIII to Brussels. During his trip he arranged for Mary Boleyn to join the household of Margaret, Archduchess of Austria. (5)
In August, 1514, Henry announced that his sister Mary was to marry King Louis XII of France. Mary was eighteen and Louis was fifty-two. Princess Mary left England for France on 2nd October. She was accompanied by a retinue of nearly 100 English ladies-in-waiting. This included Boleyn's daughters, Mary and Anne. The couple were married on 9th October. Mary and Anne were among the six young girls permitted to remain at the French court by the king after he dismissed all Mary's other English attendants the day after the wedding.
After King Louis XII's death, his wife secretly married Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk, on 3rd March 1515. Mary stayed in France. There is some evidence that she had a sexual relationship with King Francis. He boasted of having "ridden her" and described her as "my hackney". A representative of Pope Leo X described her as "a very great infamous whore". (6) As her biographer, Jonathan Hughes, has pointed out, "she seems to have acquired a decidedly dubious reputation." (7)
Anne Boleyn also remained in France but she seems to have avoided the kind of behaviour indulged in by her sister. Members of the Royal Court observed that she learned "dignity and poise". According to the French poet, Lancelot de Carle, "she became so graceful that you would never have taken her for an Englishwoman, but for a Frenchwoman born." (8)
Sir Thomas Boleyn eventually heard the rumours concerning Mary and brought her back to England. Boleyn became a maid of honour to Catherine of Aragon. King Henry VIII had several mistresses. The most important was Bessie Blount and on 15th June 1519, she gave birth to a son. He was named Henry FitzRoy, and was later created Duke of Richmond. After the child's birth, the affair ended. It is believed that his new mistress was Thomas Boleyn's daughter, Mary. The historian, Antonia Fraser, has argued: "The affair repeated the pattern established by Bessie Blount: here once again was a vivacious young girl, an energetic dancer and masker, taking the fancy of a man with an older, more serious-minded wife, no longer interested in such things." (9)
On 4th February 1520 Mary Boleyn married William Carey, a gentleman of the privy chamber. Henry VIII attended the wedding and over the next few years gave Carey several royal grants of land and money. (10) David Loades has pointed out: "Whether this was a marriage of convenience, arranged by the King to conceal an existing affair, or whether she only became his mistress after her marriage, is not clear." (11) In 1523 he named a new ship Mary Boleyn. This is believed that Henry did this to acknowledge Mary as his mistress. (12) One historian has suggested that these "transactions might seem to turn Mary into the merest prostitute, with her husband and father as her pimps". (13)
Thomas Boleyn continued to be used for diplomatic trips. He attended the Field of Cloth of Gold and was involved in the Franco-Imperial conferences organized by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in 1521. In May 1522 he accompanied Henry VIII to a royal meeting with Emperor Charles V at Canterbury. Later that year he was sent to Spain on a further mission promoting an offensive alliance against France, from which he returned in May 1523. On 18th June 1525 at Bridewell Palace he was elevated to the peerage as Viscount Rochford. (14)
Mary Boleyn gave birth to two children, Catherine (1524) and Henry (1526). Some have argued that Henry was the father of both children. Antonia Fraser, the author of The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1992), has argued against this: "Despite later rumours to the contrary, none of Mary's children were fathered by King Henry: her daughter Catherine Carey and her son Henry Carey, created Lord Hunsdon by his first cousin Queen Elizabeth, were born in 1524 and 1526 respectively when the affair was over. We may be sure that Henry Carey would have been acclaimed with the same joy as Henry Fitzroy, if he had been the King's son." (15)
William Carey died of sweating sickness on 22nd June, 1528. Henry VIII ordered Thomas Boleyn to take Mary under his roof and maintain her, and assigned her the annuity of £100 formerly enjoyed by her husband. By this time Henry was having an affair with Mary's sister, Anne Boleyn. It is not known exactly when this relationship had began. Hilary Mantel has pointed out: "We don't know exactly when he fell for Anne Boleyn. Her sister Mary had already been his mistress. Perhaps Henry simply didn't have much imagination. The court's erotic life seems knotted, intertwined, almost incestuous; the same faces, the same limbs and organs in different combinations. The king did not have many affairs, or many that we know about. He recognised only one illegitimate child. He valued discretion, deniability. His mistresses, whoever they were, faded back into private life. But the pattern broke with Anne Boleyn." (16)
For several years Henry had been planning to divorce Catherine of Aragon. Now he knew who he wanted to marry - Anne. At the age of thirty-six he fell deeply in love with a woman some sixteen years his junior. (17) Henry wrote Anne a series of passionate love letters. In 1526 he told her: "Seeing I cannot be present in person with you, I send you the nearest thing to that possible, that is, my picture set in bracelets ... wishing myself in their place, when it shall please you." Soon afterwards he wrote during a hunting exhibition: "I send you this letter begging you to give me an account of the state you are in... I send you by this bearer a buck killed late last night by my hand, hoping, when you eat it, you will think of the hunter." (18)
Philippa Jones has suggested in Elizabeth: Virgin Queen? (2010) that refusing to become his mistress was part of Anne's strategy to become Henry's wife. She had learnt from the experiences of her sister that it was not a very good idea to give him what he wanted straight away: "Anne frequently commented in her letters to the King that although her heart and soul were his to enjoy, her body would never be. By refusing to become Henry's mistress, Anne caught and retained his interest. Henry might find casual sexual gratification with others, but it was Anne that he truly wanted." (19) Historians have suggested that Anne was trying to persuade Henry to marry her: "Henry found her not easily tamed, for it is clear that she had the strength of will to withhold her favours until she was sure of being made his queen... All the same it must remain somewhat surprising that sexual passion should have turned a conservative, easy-going, politically cautious ruler into a revolutionary, head-strong, almost reckless tyrant. Nothing else, however, will account for the facts." (20)
Anne's biographer, Eric William Ives, has argued: "At first, however, Henry had no thought of marriage. He saw Anne as someone to replace her sister, Mary, who had just ceased to be the royal mistress. Certainly the physical side of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon was already over and, with no male heir, Henry decided by the spring of 1527 that he had never validly been married and that his first marriage must be annulled.... However, Anne continued to refuse his advances, and the king realized that by marrying her he could kill two birds with one stone, possess Anne and gain a new wife." (21)
Henry sent a message to the Pope Clement VII arguing that his marriage to Catherine of Aragon had been invalid as she had previously been married to his brother Arthur. Henry relied on Cardinal Thomas Wolsey to sort the situation out. During negotiations the Pope forbade Henry to contract a new marriage until a decision was reached in Rome. With the encouragement of Anne, Henry became convinced that Wolsey's loyalties lay with the Pope, not England, and in 1529 he was dismissed from office. (22) Wolsey blamed Anne for his situation and he called her "the night Crow" who was always in a position to "caw into the king's private ear". (23) Had it not been for his death from illness in 1530, Wolsey might have been executed for treason.
Henry VIII continued to reward Viscount Rochford. This included a grant of the revenues of the see of Durham. It was now clear that he was one of Henry's small inner ring of councillors. On 8th December 1529 he was promoted earl of Wiltshire and earl of Ormond. On 24th January 1530 the new earl replaced Cuthbert Tunstall, bishop of Durham, as lord privy seal. Whitehall Palace was rebuilt for Anne Boleyn, and in 1531 her father was allocated a set of rooms there. (24)
Henry's previous relationship with Mary Boleyn was also causing him problems in Rome. As she was the sister of the woman who he wanted to marry, Anne Boleyn. It was pointed out that "this placed him in exactly the same degree of affinity to Anne as he insisted that Catherine was to him". (25) However, when Henry discovered that Anne was pregnant, he realised he could not afford to wait for the Pope's permission. As it was important that the child should not be classed as illegitimate, arrangements were made for Henry and Anne to get married. King Charles V of Spain threatened to invade England if the marriage took place, but Henry ignored his threats and the marriage went ahead on 25th January, 1533. It was very important to Henry that his wife should give birth to a male child. Without a son to take over from him when he died, Henry feared that the Tudor family would lose control of England.
Elizabeth was born on 7th September, 1533. Henry expected a son and selected the names of Edward and Henry. While Henry was furious about having another daughter, the supporters of his first wife, Catherine of Aragon were delighted and claimed that it proved God was punishing Henry for his illegal marriage to Anne. (26) Retha M. Warnicke, the author of The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn (1989) has pointed out: "As the king's only legitimate child, Elizabeth was, until the birth of a prince, his heir and was to be treated with all the respect that a female of her rank deserved. Regardless of her child's sex, the queen's safe delivery could still be used to argue that God had blessed the marriage. Everything that was proper was done to herald the infant's arrival." (27)
Henry VIII continued to try to produce a male heir. Unfortunately, Anne Boleyn, had two miscarriages. Viscount Rochford found himself less influencial as a result of Anne being able to produce a son. (28) Anne was pregnant again when she discovered Jane Seymour sitting on her husband's lap. Anne "burst into furious denunciation; the rage brought on a premature labour and was delivered of a dead boy." (29) What is more, the baby was badly deformed. (30) This was a serious matter because in Tudor times Christians believed that a deformed child was God's way of punishing parents for committing serious sins. Henry VIII feared that people might think that the Pope Clement VII was right when he claimed that God was angry because Henry had divorced Catherine and married Anne.
Henry now approached Thomas Cromwell about how he could get out of his marriage with Anne. He suggested that one solution to this problem was to claim that he was not the father of this deformed child. On the king's instruction Cromwell was ordered to find out the name of the man who was the true father of the dead child. Philippa Jones has pointed out: "Cromwell was careful that the charge should stipulate that Anne Boleyn had only been unfaithful to the King after the Princess Elizabeth's birth in 1533. Henry wanted Elizabeth to be acknowledged as his daughter, but at the same time he wanted her removed from any future claim to the succession." (31)
In April 1536, a Flemish musician in Anne's service named Mark Smeaton was arrested. He initially denied being the Queen's lover but later confessed, perhaps tortured or promised freedom. Another courtier, Henry Norris, was arrested on 1st May. Sir Francis Weston was arrested two days later on the same charge, as was William Brereton, a Groom of the King's Privy Chamber. Anne's brother, George Boleyn was also arrested and charged with incest. (32)
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer declared Anne's marriage to Henry null and void on 17th May 1536, and according to the imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, the grounds for the annulment included the king's previous relationship with Mary Boleyn. However, this information has never been confirmed. (33) Later that day George Boleyn was executed.
Anne went to the scaffold at Tower Green on 19th May, 1536. The Lieutenant of the Tower reported her as alternately weeping and laughing. The Lieutenant assured her she would feel no pain, and she accepted his assurance. "I have a little neck," she said, and putting her hand round it, she shrieked with laughter. The "hangman of Calais" had been brought from France at a cost of £24 since he was a expert with a sword. This was a favour to the victim since a sword was usually more efficient than "an axe that could sometimes mean a hideously long-drawn-out affair." (34)
Anne Boyleyn's last words were: "Good Christian people... according to the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it... I pray God save the King, and send him long to reign over you... for to me he was always a good, a gentle, and sovereign Lord." (35)
After the executions of his son and daughter Thomas Boleyn lost the office of lord privy seal to Thomas Cromwell, the agent of their fall. He therefore became the only nobleman dismissed from one of the great offices of state "by the mature Henry VIII apart from those who were also condemned as traitors". (36) Over the next couple of years he lost all his titles but his English earldom (now without an heir). (37)
Thomas Boleyn, Viscount Rochford, died at Hever Castle on 12th March 1539.
Thomas Boleyn... wanted Mary and Anne to learn to move easily and gracefully in the highest circles and to acquire all the social graces, to speak fluent French, to dance and sing and play at least one instrument, to ride and be able to take part in the field sports which were such an all-absorbing passion with the upper classes, and to become familiar with the elaborate code of courtesy which governed every aspect of life at the top.
Boleyn was of most service to the king as an outstanding diplomat, chosen as an English pioneer of the resident, rather than extraordinary, ambassador. A sophisticated and cultivated man, he was employed for his fluency in French. He spent a year from 1512 to 1513 with Dr John Young, Sir Richard Wingfield, and Sir Edward Poynings at the court of Margaret of Savoy, regent of the Low Countries, and on 5 April 1513 concluded an enlargement of the anti-French holy league to include the empire. Boleyn found favour with the regent as a quick and incisive negotiator, and won a courser from her by concluding the league negotiations within ten days. He joined in the invasion of France in summer 1513 with a retinue of 100 men.