Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire

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The Right Honourable
The Earl of Wiltshire and Ormond
James Butler, 9th Earl of Wiltshire & Ormond by Hans Holbein the Younger.jpg
The image is disputed; while it is traditionally held to be a likeness of Thomas Boleyn, historian David Starkey believes it is actually that of his cousin, James Butler, 9th Earl of Ormond [1]
Lord Privy Seal
In office
Monarch Henry VIII
Preceded by Cuthbert Tunstall
Succeeded by Sir Thomas Cromwell
Treasurer of the Household
In office
Monarch Henry VIII
Preceded by Sir Edward Poynings
Succeeded by Sir William FitzWilliam
Personal details
Born Thomas Boleyn
ca. 1477
Hever Castle
Hever, Kent
Kingdom of England
Died 12 March 1539 (aged 61–62)
Resting place St. Peter's Church
Hever, Kent
United Kingdom
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Nationality English
Spouse(s) Lady Elizabeth Howard
Relations Sir William Boleyn (Father)
Lady Margaret Butler (Mother)
Children Mary, Lady Stafford
Anne, Queen of England
George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford
Residence Hever Castle
Occupation Diplomat, Politician
Arms of Sir Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire and Ormond, KG
Arms of the Boleyn family of London, including Sirs Geoffrey, William and Thomas, Great Grandfather, Grandfather and Father of Anne Boleyn.

Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire, 1st Earl of Ormond, [2] 1st Viscount Rochford KG[3] KB (c. 1477 – 12 March 1539) was an English diplomat and politician in the Tudor era. He was born at the family home, Hever Castle, Kent, which had been purchased by his grandfather Sir Geoffrey Boleyn, who was a wealthy mercer. He was buried at St. Peter's parish church in the village of Hever. His parents were Sir William Boleyn (1451 – 10 October 1505) and Lady Margaret Butler (1454–1539). He was the father of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII of England. As such, he was the maternal grandfather of Queen Elizabeth I.

Marriage and issue

Sometime before 1499, Boleyn married Lady Elizabeth Howard, eldest daughter of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk and Elizabeth Tilney. They had five children, only three of whom survived childhood:[4]

Diplomatic career

In 1503, he helped escort Margaret Tudor north for her marriage to James IV of Scotland.[5] He was created a Knight of the Bath at Henry VIII's coronation in 1509.[6]

His appointment as ambassador to the Low Countries brought him into contact with the regent Archduchess Margaret of Austria. Like Thomas, she spoke French and Latin and they got along well enough for her to accept his daughter Anne as a maid of honour.[7]

Through his ability and the connections of his extended family, he became one of the king's leading diplomats. Known appointments and missions included:

Titles garnered

Boleyn was invested as a Knight of the Garter (KG) in 1523.[8][9]

Boleyn's claim to his other titles derived from his mother, Lady Margaret Butler who was the younger daughter and co-heir of Thomas Butler, 7th Earl of Ormond.[10] Thomas Butler, as an Irish peer, should only have sat in the Parliament of Ireland. However as a personal friend of Henry VII he was summoned to the English parliament in November 1488 as "Thomas Ormond de Rochford, chevaler". At this time, he was already 8th Earl of Carrick and 7th Earl of Ormond.[11]

In English law, matrilineal descent is not considered valid for earldoms, and in Brehon law, then largely still in use in Ireland, new leaders were chosen by election. These customs were, in Boleyn's case, outweighed by a more important consideration – he was the father of two pretty daughters. Henry VIII dallied first with Boleyn's elder daughter Mary, then with his younger daughter, Anne. Boleyn's ambition was so considerable that unsubstantiated rumours had it that he allowed his wife to have an affair with the king, but those rumours were intended to steer the king away from marrying Anne, and even suggested that she was his own daughter.[12] When it was claimed that Henry had had an affair with both Anne's sister and mother, the king replied to the rumours, "Never with the mother."[13]

In 1525, Henry VIII became enamoured of Anne and began pursuing her. Her father was elevated to the peerage as Viscount Rochford on 18 June 1525.[14] The title referred to the "barony" of Rochford supposedly created in 1488 for his grandfather. The title had fallen into abeyance as Ormond had died without any male heir in 1515.

As Henry's passion for Anne intensified, so did her father's titles. Henry pressured the main claimant to the earldom of Ormond, Piers Butler, to renounce all his claims to the titles in 1529. Piers Butler was rewarded by being created Earl of Ossory five days later.

Boleyn's claims to the Earldom of Wiltshire also depended upon his Irish relatives. This time, he had to go back to his maternal great-grandfather, James Butler, 5th Earl of Ormond, to establish a claim. While James Butler was indeed the 1st Earl of Wiltshire (of the third creation), on 1 May 1461 he lost his titles and his life when he was executed by the victorious Yorkists. The title was subsequently revived (in fourth and fifth creations) and bestowed on people unrelated to the Butlers of Ormond. This did not prevent the creation of the earldom for the 6th time. On 8 December 1529 Thomas Boleyn, Viscount Rochford, was created Earl of Wiltshire and Earl of Ormond.[10]

Also on 8 December 1529, the Earl of Wiltshire's only surviving son, George, was granted the courtesy title of Viscount Rochford. His title of Viscount, although initially a courtesy title, ceased to be a mere courtesy title sometime before 13 July 1530.[10][15] On 17 May 1536, Lord Rochford was executed for treason, and all his titles were forfeited.[10][16] His widow, Jane, Viscountess Rochford, however, continued to use the title after her husband's death. Lady Rochford was herself attainted for treason and beheaded at Tower Green (not Tower Hill) within the Tower of London on 13 February 1542 with Henry VIII's fifth wife, Queen Katherine Howard.[16][17]

Boleyn was appointed Lord Privy Seal in 1530. In 1532, his daughter Anne was granted a peerage, being created Marquess of Pembroke in her own right, before marrying Henry the following year and becoming queen consort. Boleyn acquiesced in Anne's judicial execution and that of her brother Lord Rochford when Henry discarded her in favour of his third wife, Queen Jane Seymour.

At this point Boleyn was replaced as Lord Privy Seal and left in disgrace until his death a few years later.[18] He suffered a final indignity when the claims of Piers Butler to the Earldom of Ormond were recognised and he again became Earl of Ormond from 22 January 1538.[18] There were two earls of Ormond in the Kingdom until his death on 12 March 1539.[18]

In popular culture

Thomas Boleyn has been portrayed by Sir Michael Hordern in Anne of the Thousand Days (1969), by Benjamin Whitrow in Henry VIII, and by Jack Shepherd and Mark Rylance in the 2003 and 2008 film versions of The Other Boleyn Girl, respectively. The 2007 Showtime series The Tudors has Nick Dunning in the role depicting him as ambitious, cunning and devious, constantly working to curry favour for his family against everyone else and always willing to "motivate" his daughter, Anne, lest Henry lose interest in her. David Robb played Boleyn as a constantly furious, irascible schemer in Wolf Hall.

Styles and honours

  • Sir Thomas Boleyn KG KB (1523–1525)
  • The Rt. Hon. The Viscount Rochford KG KB (1525–1527)
  • The Rt. Hon. The Earl of Wiltshire and of Ormond KG KB (8 December 1529[18]–1539)

Note: on 22 February 1538, the earldom of Ormond was restored to Piers Butler, 8th Earl of Ormond.

Family Tree

See also


  1. Starkey 1981, pp. 300–301, 303
  2. On 22 February 1538, the earldom of Ormond was restored to Piers Butler, 8th Earl of Ormond
  3. Richardson 2004, p. 180.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Ridgway 2012, pp. 189–195
  5. Ives 2005
  6. Wilkinson 2009, p. 67
  7. Wilkinson 2009, pp. 20–22
  8. Shaw 1906, p. 21
  9. List of the Knights of the Garter (1348–present)
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Cokayne 1949, p. 51
  11. Chrimes 1999, p. 138
  12. Weir 2012, pp. 42–44
  13. Weir 2012, p. 145
  14. Cokayne 1949, p. 739
  15. Cherry 2011, p. 53
  16. 16.0 16.1 Cokayne 1945, pp. 141–142
  17. Davies 2004
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 Hughes 2004
  19. K.S.B. Keats-Rohan, Domesday People, I Domesday Book, (Boydell Press, 1999), p. 229
  20. Ann Williams, G.H. Martin, Domesday Book; A Complete Translation, (Penguin Books, 1992) p. 85
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 21.3 21.4 21.5 Claire, 2013. Anne Boleyn’s Family Tree,, February 8
  22. The Boleyn Family,
  23. 23.00 23.01 23.02 23.03 23.04 23.05 23.06 23.07 23.08 23.09 23.10 23.11 23.12 23.13 23.14 23.15 Elizabeth Norton, 2013. The Boleyn Women, Amberley Publishing
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 24.3 24.4 24.5 24.6 24.7 24.8 Tricia J Mccall, Ancestors of William Henry Cress Generation,, Generation Page No. 21, 20, 19, 18, 17
  25. 25.0 25.1 BOLEYN FAMILY,
  • Block, Joseph S. (2004). "Boleyn, George, Viscount Rochford (c.1504–1536), courtier and diplomat". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/2793.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  • Chrimes, Stanley Bertram (1999). Henry VIII. New Haven: Yale University Press.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Cherry, Clare (2011). George Boleyn: A Biography [unpublished manuscript].CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Cokayne, George Edward (1949). White, Geoffrey H. (ed.). The Complete Peerage. XI. London: St. Catherine Press.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Cokayne, George Edward (1945). Doubleday, H. A. (ed.). The Complete Peerage. X. London: St. Catherine Press.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Davies, Catherine (2004). "Boleyn [née Parker], Jane, Viscountess Rochford (d. 1542), Courtier". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/70799.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  • Hughes, Jonathan (2004). "Boleyn, Thomas, earl of Wiltshire and earl of Ormond (1476/7–1539), courtier and nobleman". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/2795.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  • Ives, E. W. "Anne (Anne Boleyn) (c.1500–1536), queen of England, second consort of Henry VIII". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/557.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  • Ives, Eric (2005). The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: 'The Most Happy' (Paperback). Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4051-3463-7.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Richardson, Douglas (2004). Everingham, Kimball G. (ed.). Plantagenet Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Co. ISBN 0806317507.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Ridgway, Claire (2012). "The Lost Boleyns". The Anne Boleyn Collection: The Real Truth About the Tudors (Paperback). MadeGlobal Publishing. pp. 189–195. ISBN 978-1470038168.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Shaw, William A. (1906). The Knights of England. London: Sherrat and Hughes.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Starkey, David (May 1981). "Holbein's Irish Sitter". The Burlington Magazine. 123 (938): 300–301, 303. doi:10.2307/880241.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>in JSTOR
  • Weir, Alison (2012). Mary Boleyn: 'The Great and Infamous Whore'. London: Vintage Books. ISBN 9780099546481.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Weir, Alison (1991). The Six Wives of Henry VIII. New York: Grove Weidenfeld.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Wilkinson, Josephine (2009). Mary Boleyn: The True Story of Henry VIII's Favourite Mistress. New York: Amberley Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84868-525-3.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Sir Edward Poynings
Treasurer of the Household
Succeeded by
Sir William FitzWilliam
Preceded by
Cuthbert Tunstall
(Bishop of London)
Lord Privy Seal
Succeeded by
Sir Thomas Cromwell
Peerage of England
New title Viscount Rochford
1st creation
Succeeded by
George Boleyn
Preceded by
George Boleyn
Viscount Rochford
1st creation
New creation Earl of Wiltshire
6th creation
Peerage of Ireland
New creation Earl of Ormonde
2nd creation