The Earl of Wiltshire and Ormond
Monumental brass to Thomas Boleyn, St Peter's Church, Hever
|Lord Privy Seal|
|Sir Thomas Cromwell|
|Treasurer of the Household|
|Sir Edward Poynings|
|Sir William FitzWilliam|
Kingdom of England
|Died||12 March 1539 (aged 61–62)|
|Resting place||St. Peter's Church|
|Spouse(s)||Lady Elizabeth Howard|
Anne, Queen of England
George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford
|Mother||Lady Margaret Butler|
|Father||Sir William Boleyn|
Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire, 1st Earl of Ormond, 1st Viscount Rochford KGKB (c. 1477 - 12 March 1539), of Hever Castle in Kent, was an English diplomat and politician who was the father of Queen Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII, and was thus the maternal grandfather of Queen Elizabeth I of England.
He was born in about 1477 at Blickling Hall, Norfolk, the son of Sir William Boleyn (1451-1505) of Blickling (purchased by Sir William's father Sir Geoffrey Boleyn, a wealthy mercer) by his wife Lady Margaret Butler (1454-1539), a daughter and co-heiress of Thomas Butler, 7th Earl of Ormond.
At some time before 1499 he married Lady Elizabeth Howard, eldest daughter of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk by his wife Elizabeth Tilney. Five children are attested, only three of whom survived childhood:
His appointment as ambassador to the Low Countries brought him into contact with the regent Archduchess Margaret of Austria. Like Thomas, Margaret of Austria spoke French and Latin and they got along well enough for her to accept his daughter, Anne, as a maid of honor.
Through his ability and the connections of his extended family, Thomas Boleyn became one of Henry VIII's leading diplomats. Known appointments and missions included:
Boleyn's claim to his other titles derived from his mother, Lady Margaret Butler who was the younger daughter and co-heiress 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 rumors 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 rumors, "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. Boleyn is often thought of as a power hungry, ambitious and scheming man who sacrificed his daughters for personal gain, but his biographer, Dr Lauren Mackay, has successfully argued that he enjoyed a highly successful career as an ambassador and courtier years before his daughters caught the King's eye. As Henry's passion for Anne intensified, so did her father's titles, though these rewards were not solely due to Anne but also Boleyn's own merit. 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, 4th 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 recognized 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.
He died at Hever Castle on 12 March 1539 and was buried in St. Peter's Curch, Hever, where survives his elaborate monumental brass. He is depicted dressed in full robes wearing the insignia of a Knight of the Garter, with the Badge on his left breast and the Garter around his left knee. His head rests on a helm surmounted by a crest of a falcon displayed (his daughter's heraldic badge) and his feet rest on a griffin. The inscription reads: Here lieth Sir Thomas Bullen, Knight of the Order of the Garter, Erle of Wilscher and Erle or Ormunde, which decessed the 12th dai of Marche in the iere of our Lorde 1538.
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.
Note: on 22 February 1538, the earldom of Ormond was restored to Piers Butler, 8th Earl of Ormond.
Letters Patent by Henry VIII, referenced in Alison Weir's 2011 book, Mary Boleyn: "The Great and Infamous Whore", reveal that Mary had been posthumously accorded the title Dame Mary Stafford. Her husband, William, had been knighted on 23 September 1545, with Mary having died in 1543, two years earlier. These letters indicate that, in their final years, the couple had remained outcasts from the court and in 1542 were dealing with family real estate concerns, living in retirement at Rochford Hall in Essex, which was owned by the Boleyns.
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
| Viscount Rochford
|New creation|| Earl of Wiltshire
|Peerage of Ireland|
|New creation|| Earl of Ormond