Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire
|The Right Honourable
The Earl of Wiltshire and Ormond
|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 |
|Lord Privy Seal|
|Preceded by||Cuthbert Tunstall|
|Succeeded by||Sir Thomas Cromwell|
|Treasurer of the Household|
|Preceded by||Sir Edward Poynings|
|Succeeded by||Sir William FitzWilliam|
Kingdom of England
|Died||12 March 1539 (aged 61–62)|
|Resting place||St. Peter's Church
|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
Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire, 1st Earl of Ormond KG 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 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:
- Mary Boleyn (c.1499 – 19 July 1543); Lady Mary Carey (1520–1528); Lady Stafford (1534–1543)
- Thomas Boleyn the younger (c. 1500 - ) (thought to have died young) 
- Anne Boleyn (c.1501 – 19 May 1536); later Marquess of Pembroke (1532–1536); later Queen Consort of England (1533–1536)
- Henry Boleyn (c. 1502/03 - ) (thought to have died young)
- George Boleyn (c. 1504 – 17 May 1536); later Viscount Rochford (1529–1536) by courtesy
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.
Through his ability and the connections of his extended family, he became one of the king's leading diplomats. Known appointments and missions included:
- 1511 and 1517: Sheriff of Kent
- 1512: One of a party of three envoys to the Netherlands.
- 1518–1521 : ambassador to France, where he was involved in arrangements for the "Field of Cloth of Gold" meeting between Henry and the new French King Francis I in 1520.
- 1521 and 1523 : Envoy to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.
- 1527: One of a large envoy to France
- 1529: Envoy to a meeting of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Pope Clement VII, to seek support for the annulment of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. This was followed by another envoy to France.
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. 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.
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. 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."
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. 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.
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. On 17 May 1536, Lord Rochford was executed for treason, and all his titles were forfeited. 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.
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. 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. There were two earls of Ormond in the Kingdom until his death on 12 March 1539.
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 1529–1539)
Note: on 22 February 1538, the earldom of Ormond was restored to Piers Butler, 8th Earl of Ormond.
- 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. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
- Chrimes, Stanley Bertram (1999). Henry VIII. New Haven: Yale University Press.
- Cherry, Clare (2011). George Boleyn: A Biography [unpublished manuscript].
- Cokayne, George Edward (1949). White, Geoffrey H., ed. The Complete Peerage XI. London: St. Catherine Press.
- Cokayne, George Edward (1945). Doubleday, H. A., ed. The Complete Peerage X. London: St. Catherine Press.
- Hughes, Jonathan. "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. (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. (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.
- Richardson, Douglas (2004). Everingham, Kimball G., ed. Plantagenet Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Co. ISBN 0806317507.
- 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.
- Shaw, William A. (1906). The Knights of England. London: Sherrat and Hughes.
- Starkey, David (May 1981). "Holbein's Irish Sitter". The Burlington Magazine 123 (938): 300–301, 303. doi:10.2307/880241.in JSTOR
- Weir, Alison (2012). Mary Boleyn: 'The Great and Infamous Whore'. London: Vintage Books. ISBN 9780099546481.
- Weir, Alison (1991). The Six Wives of Henry VIII. New York: Grove Weidenfeld.
- Wilkinson, Josephine (2009). Mary Boleyn: The True Story of Henry VIII's Favourite Mistress. New York: Amberley Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84868-525-3.
Sir Edward Poynings
|Treasurer of the Household
Sir William FitzWilliam
(Bishop of London)
|Lord Privy Seal
Sir Thomas Cromwell
|Peerage of England|
|New title||Viscount Rochford
|New creation||Earl of Wiltshire
|Peerage of Ireland|
|New creation||Earl of Ormonde