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April 3, 1538 – Death of Elizabeth Boleyn

Portrait of Elizabeth Boleyn
Elizabeth Boleyn, by an unknown artist (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

I feel so bad for this poor lady. Her life was pretty wonderful…until it wasn’t.

Admittedly, she had a bumpy start. She was the oldest daughter of Thomas Howard, Second Duke of Norfolk – so she should have married higher than Thomas Boleyn, who was smart and ambitious but only the son of a wealthy mercer (though his mother was a co-heiress of Thomas Butler, the 7th Earl of Ormond, so he did have a potential claim to the title). But Thomas Howard fought for Richard III during the Battle of Bosworth and was attainted and sent to the Tower – and it was during his disgrace this period that Thomas Boleyn snagged the highly sought-after Elizabeth.

(Miraculously, Howard persuaded the normally vindictive Henry VII that he should not die a traitor’s death. He told the new king that he had fought for his anointed sovereign, that if Parliament had vested the crown on a wooden chair he would have fought for the chair, and that when Henry was crowned he would fight for him with everything he had. But I digress…).

Elizabeth and Thomas remained at court while they raised their family (three children lived to adulthood: Mary Boleyn, Anne Boleyn, and George Boleyn). Thomas was a successful diplomat; Elizabeth was a lady in waiting to Catherine of Aragon, and apparently attractive enough that rumors later circulated that Elizabeth had once been Henry’s mistress. The rumors were pretty much disproved by Henry’s too-perfect-to-doubt sidestep when accused of having dallied with both Anne’s sister and her mother: he replied, “never with the mother”.

Elizabeth was said to disapprove of Mary’s relationship with Henry (some people say Mary in general), though she had a close relationship with Anne and remained in her household throughout her queenship. Elizabeth withdrew from court after her husband and brother provided no help to her wrongly-accused children. Thomas withdrew as well, though he 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 cruelly rubbed his nose in the situation).

Elizabeth died a year after that. Interestingly, she chose to be buried at Lambeth with her Howard relatives rather than at Hever, where her husband would lie. It makes me think she was angry with him – though admittedly I don’t know why she wouldn’t also have been furious with the Howards…


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April 3, 1538 – Death of Elizabeth Boleyn
Published inOn This Day


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