March 12, 1539 – Death of Sir Thomas Boleyn

Thomas Boleyn, by Hans Holbein – though the image may actually be Piers Butler instead (Public domain via Wikimedia Commons).

Thomas Boleyn led a charmed life by Tudor standards – except for his last three years.

The misery started in May 1536, when two of his three children were executed for treason. (Thankfully, he was spared from sitting on the juries that condemned them.)

In June 1536, he was forced to resign the post of Lord Privy Seal (Cromwell inherited it). He tried to withdraw from court at that point, but was called back so that he could participate in the christening of the future Edward VI. He was chosen to carry the taper during the ceremony, which both rubbed his nose in the situation as well as implied his mute assent to justice.

In January 1538, Henry reversed himself on a decades-old decision. Back in 1529, when the King was still courting Anne Boleyn, he decided to burnish her image and decided that Thomas Boleyn was the proper heir to the Earldom of Ormonde rather than Piers Butler. After Anne’s death, Henry changed his mind, and gave the title back to Piers.

In April 1538 Boleyn’s wife died and chose to be buried at Lambeth with her Howard relatives rather than at Hever.where her husband would lie.

Finally, Thomas Boleyn died himself, a broken man around 62 years old. There are many people who believe he brought his misery onto himself, but five hundred years ago he was viewed with much more sympathy (I wrote an Apologia for him, posted on the anniversary of the day he was elevated to the Earldom of Wilshire, you can click here to read it). Either way, he deserves a compassionate nod today.

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