Wednesday, 21 August 2013

The Resting Places of the Boleyn Family

Claire Ridgway

Claire Ridgway - author
I often get asked where the Boleyn family's graves are because some people want to go on a pilgrimage and pay their respects to the family who has captured their hearts and imagination. 

Unfortunately, the Boleyns are scattered. Although the family church, the Church of St Peter's, Hever, has a Boleyn (or Bullen) Chapel, only two of the immediate family were buried there.




Anne Boleyn and George Boleyn

Anne Boleyn: The Hever Portrait
Queen Anne Boleyn and her brother, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, were 
both executed as traitors in May 1536 and were, therefore, buried as such in the chancel area of the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula (St Peter in Chains) at the Tower of London.
The English historian and antiquarian John Stow wrote in Elizabeth I's reign:
“Here lieth before the high altar in St Peter's Church, two Dukes between two Queens, to wit, the Duke of Somerset and the Duke of Northumberland, between Queen Anne and Queen Katherine, all four beheaded."

And it is thought that Anne Boleyn was laid to rest next to her brother, George, so he would have been buried on the edge of the chancel, near the North Wall. 

In 1876, when restoration work was carried out on the Chapel, the remains of “a female of between twenty-five and thirty years of age, of a delicate frame of body, and who had been of slender and perfect proportions” were found on the spot where it was thought that Anne Boleyn had been laid to rest. Next to her, were the remains of a man thought to be Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, and next to those the remains of another man thought to be John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, so Stow's words make sense. Doyne C Bell, who recorded the findings of 1876, stated that George Boleyn's remains were not found and that it was thought that “they may have been removed … or else they lie more towards the north wall”, where the workers did not dig for fear of affecting the stability of the Blount monument on the north side of the chancel.

Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula
After the restoration work had been completed in the Chapel, the remains found in the chancel area were “soldered up in thick leaden coffers, and then fastened down with copper screws in boxes made of oak plank, one inch in thickness. Each box bore a leaden escutcheon, on which was engraved the name of the person whose supposed remains were thus enclosed, together with the dates of death, and of the year (1877) of the reinterment. They were then placed in the respective positions in the chancel in which the remains had been found, and the ground having been opened, they were all buried about four inches below the surface, the earth was then filled in, and concrete immediately spread over them.”

It is possible to visit the Chapel and pay your respects to Anne and George in the chancel. You can do this by either going on a Yeoman Warder tour or by waiting until after 3.30pm in the winter or 4.30pm in the summer when the Chapel opens to the public. Unfortunately, the chancel area is usually roped off so it's not possible to get close to their resting places. You could of course go on a Sunday and worship at the Chapel; Holy Communion is at 9.15am and Matins is at 11am.
Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, wife of George Boleyn, is also buried in the chancel area of the chapel.

Jane survived the fall of the Boleyns in 1536 but was executed on 13th February 1542 for treason after she helped her mistress, Queen Catherine Howard, have secret assignations with Thomas Culpeper. John Whitcomb Bayley, author of “The History and Antiquities of the Tower of London”, wrote that Jane “accompanied her mistress in execution and in sepulture” and the Victorians placed her memorial tile next to Catherine's.

Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire

Memorial brass of Thomas Boleyn
The 12th century St Peter's Church, which is situated on the green just outside Hever Castle, is the resting place of Anne Boleyn's father, Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire. 

Thomas Boleyn's tomb is a must-see for Tudor history lovers and those who love memorial brasses. It is situated in the Bullen Chapel, which was added to the church in the mid 15th century by Thomas Boleyn's grandfather, Sir Geoffrey Boleyn, Lord Mayor of London. It is a large stone tomb topped with an incredibly detailed memorial brass. The brass depicts Thomas dressed as a Knight of the Garter with his daughter Anne's falcon crest above his right shoulder and a griffin at his feet. The inscription reads:

“Here lies Thomas Bullen
Knight of the Order of the Garter
Erle of Wilscher and Erle of Orm-
Unde Wiche Desessed the 12
Dai of Marche in the Iere
Of our Lorde 1538”

We actually put his death at 1539 but it was 1538 then because of the fact that the new year did not start until 25th March, Lady Day.

Elizabeth Boleyn (nee Howard)

St Mary's, Lambeth
The Garden Museum in Lambeth, near Lambeth Palace, is the resting place of Elizabeth Boleyn (née Howard), mother of Anne Boleyn. When Elizabeth was buried there on the 7th April 1538, it was St Mary's Church, not a museum, and she was buried in the Howard Chapel along with many of her Howard relatives. Her tomb is not visible because it lies underneath the wooden floor of the museum café. As Marilyn Roberts wrote in an article on the Howard Chapel: 

“It was the Victorians who recklessly demolished and rebuilt the church of St Mary-at-Lambeth, and showed no respect at all for its Howard burials, smashing their way through tombs and memorial tablets. The church was deconsecrated in the 1970s and was due for demolition when it was rescued almost at the last moment and became the Museum of Garden History (now the Garden Museum).” 
So we have the Museum to thank for the church actually still being there. 

It is not known why Elizabeth was buried at St Mary's rather than with her husband at Hever. Although there has been speculation that there was a breakdown in Thomas and Elizabeth's marriage after the fall of Anne and George, there is no evidence to support this theory. Norfolk House, the house where Catherine Howard spent part of her upbringing and the London home of the Howard family (Elizabeth's family), was just down the road from the church and Elizabeth died in London, at the home of the Abbot of Reading, so perhaps it was more practical to bury her at Lambeth. It also appears to have been traditional for Howard women to be buried at Lambeth in the Howard Chapel. It is reading far too much into the burial to take it as evidence of a marriage break-up.

Mary Boleyn

Mary Boleyn
Mary Boleyn was a bit of a mystery in life and she also eludes us in death because we don't know where she was laid to rest when she died in July 1543. It is possible that she was buried in St Andrew's Church at Rochford, in Essex. This church is near Rochford Hall, the property Mary inherited and which had been in her family since 1515, but there is no tomb or brass for her there and burial records don't go that far back. It would make sense for her to have been buried at St Andrew's if she died in the area, but it appears that her grave is lost.



Henry Boleyn and Thomas Boleyn the Younger

We don't know exactly how many children Thomas Boleyn and his wife, Elizabeth, had in all but we do know that they had two sons who did not survive childhood. One son, Henry, is buried near to his father's tomb in St Peter's Church, Hever. His tomb is marked with a small cross on the stone floor and the inscription reads:
“Henry Bullayen the sone of Sir Thomas Bullayen.”

Memorial cross of Henry Boleyn
Another son, Thomas, was laid to rest a few miles away in the Church of St John the Baptist, Penshurst. The village of Penshurst is also home to the historic Penshurst Place and the parish church is known for its beautiful Sidney Chapel, which is where, amongst the huge tombs and brasses of the Sidney family, visitors will find a very simple brass cross on the floor. It is identical to the cross of Henry Boleyn at Hever and the inscription reads:
“Thomas Bullayen the sone of Sir Thomas Bullayen.”

In her biography of Mary Boleyn, Alison Weir claimed that Thomas Boleyn the Younger had survived childhood and that his brass was marked with a death date of 1520; this is not true. Thomas's brass is undated and although the church guide book says that Thomas died in 1520 the author, David Gough, said that he had got that information from a previous guide book and didn't know where it actually came from. When I did further research into the memorial, I found that Mill Stephenson's “A List of Monumental Brasses in the British Isles” dated both Thomas and Henry's brasses to c.1520, which seemed a bit odd, so I contacted the Monumental Brass Society. The Society's Kentish expert replied, saying:-
Memorial cross of Thomas Boleyn the younger
“The Bullen crosses are two “one-offs” of the same design. There was a small workshop in Kent around 1500-1530/35 which produced some rather low quality brasses with a very debased script style. Most of them are listed by Mill Stephenson as “local”. The design was never a style, just a bit of Kentish localism. The earlier cross brasses of the fourteenth century in particular were of course high quality, mainly London work for priests. The Bullen examples are almost certainly to children.”

I checked my copy of Mill Stephenson’s “A List of Monumental Brasses in the British Isles” and it did indeed say “local” in its records of the two brasses:-
“Sm. cross (partly restored) and inscr. to Thos., son of Sir Thos. Bwllayen, c.1520, local, S.C [South Chapel]” – Penshurst
“Sm. cross (restored) and inscr. to Hen., son of Sir Thos. Bwllayen, c.1520, local, N.C. [North Chapel]” – Hever.

So, the Monumental Brass Society, who are experts on brasses, dated these brass crosses to 1500-1535 and believe that they mark the tombs of children. I think it is safe to say that “c.1520” was chosen as a date for Mill Stephenson's book and the church guide book because it was pretty much in the middle of this period. In the absence of evidence to back up the 1520 date and in light of the fact that the style of brasses suggest a memorial to young children, I believe that these boys died in infancy or early childhood in the early 1500s, they are certainly not mentioned as young men or adults in court records.

Other Boleyns

Here are the burial places of other Boleyn family members:

·         Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, is buried in the Lady Chapel of Westminster Abbey. King James I arranged for a white marble monument to be built to house the remains of Elizabeth and her half-sister, Mary I. It is topped with an effigy of Elizabeth and bears the inscription, “Consorts both in throne and grave, here we rest two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in hope of our resurrection.”

·         Sir William Boleyn of Blickling, Anne's paternal grandfather, is buried at Norwich Cathedral. His tomb can be found in a recess on the south side of the altar.

·         Geoffrey and Alice Boleyn, Anne's great-great-grandparents and the parents of Sir Geoffrey Boleyn, Lord Mayor of London, are buried at St Peter and St Paul Church, Salle, Norfolk, where there are brasses to them.

·         Sir Geoffrey Boleyn, Lord Mayor of London and Anne Boleyn's great-grandfather was buried in the Chapel of St. John, the Church of St. Laurence, Jewry, London, where he was joined by his son, Thomas Boleyn of Salle. Unfortunately, the church was destroyed in the 1666 Great Fire.

·         St Andrew's Church, Blickling, Norfolk, was the burial place of some of the Boleyn family. Brasses there include one for Anne Boleyn, daughter of Sir William Boleyn and aunt of Queen Anne Boleyn, who died aged three.

Notes and Sources

·         Bayley, John Whitcomb (1830) The History and Antiquities of the Tower of London
·         Belcher, W D (1888) Kentish Brasses
·         Bell, Doyne C. (1877) Notices of the Historic Persons Buried in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London, With an Account of the Discovery of the Supposed Remains of Anne Boleyn
·         Lough, David (2011) Guide and History, Church of St John the Baptist, Penshurst
·         Roberts, Marilyn (24 June 2011) More on the Howard Chapel and Norfolk House, Lambeth,  published on The Anne Boleyn Files
·         Stephenson, Mill (1926) A List of Monumental Brasses in the British Isles
·         Stow, John (1603) Annals of England to 1603
·         The Monumental Brass Society
·       Weir, Alison (2011) Mary Boleyn: The Great and Infamous Whore
Photographs by Tim Ridgway
Anne and Mary Boleyn photographs from Wikimedia Commons

Claire Ridgway is the author of several books on Tudor history:

The fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown 

The Anne Boleyn Collection: The Real Truth about the Tudors






On This Day in Tudor History.






To visit her Amazon page click here if you are in the UK.

And here if you are in the US.

Claire's webpage:  

The Anne Boleyn Files




  1. I really enjoyed reading this. Wonderful insight into the Boleyn family. I've always been fascinated by the times of Henry V111.
    Have any books been written about George Boleyn's wife Jane Boleyn? I'd love to read about her.
    Thank you


  2. Hi Rosemary, there is a non-fiction bio of Jane Boleyn by Julia Fox and Jane is mentioned in lots of novels about Anne Boleyn but I'm not sure if there are any specifically dedicated to her.