An engrossing biography about the life of Anne Boleyn’s only brother, George Boleyn. A consummate courtier who was witty, bold and hardworking. The two Claires set the record clear on George as well as on his family, tracing back the origins of the Boleyn family and enlightening readers to the truth about his father (ambassador and courtier as George would become whose ideals influenced him and Anne) and his marriage. There’s a lot that we are yet to know of this period despite what pop history tells us, a lot of what we think we know of George comes from later centuries and negative propaganda started by his enemies and Catholic rebels during the Elizabethan regime. Others have come from much later like with Victorian historian Agnes Strickland. George Boleyn started his career early, and like his father he was not afraid to speak his mind (like with the king of France). But there is a difference between him and his sister who was also outspoken. He and Anne were good friends but were polar opposites when it came to their way of doing things. Anne was more hot tempered and wasn’t afraid to speak hard truths, while George was more diplomatic and like his father, a pragmatist and approached every situation with caution and -albeit false- courtesy. Chapuys, the Imperial Ambassador had a good opinion of him and his father when he met them on his arrival to England. Even some of the Boleyn enemies, also remarked on how hardworking George Boleyn was.
On his missions abroad, his skill showed and the King trusted him for a reason: “Whether smugly self-satisfied with the result of the French mission or not, in reality, the small success George had achieved in France had no practical effect. Despite attempts to use Francis as a means of intimidation, the Pope remained unwavering. Irrespective of the Pope’s continuing refusal to relent, due to Anne’s pregnancy, and also to the intervention of Cranmer, matters that had taken six years to get to this point now started to move quickly. On 23 May 1533, Cranmer… declared Henry’s marriage to Catherine void, and five days later he declared the marriage of Henry and Anne to be valid, thereby stripping Catherine of her title as Queen. By having his marriage with Catherine declared void, Henry was in effect declaring his own daughter Mary a bastard, with no concern for her feelings or the feelings of her mother. As we have seen, it was also in May that Cranmer instigated the break with Rome, thereby making Henry head of the Church of England. The break would be completed by the Act of Supremacy in 1534. This was the beginning of the English Reformation, and the end of England as a Catholic country. Matters were now put in hand to have Anne crowned queen, and the date for her coronation was set for 1 June. 17 Unfortunately, having devoted much of his career to bringing it about, her brother was not able to attend his sister’s moment of glory. Less than two months after returning from France, George was sent back. In May 1533, accompanied his uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, and a large contingency of courtiers so that they could both be present at the meeting scheduled between Francis and the Pope. 18 Henry had chosen a contingency of men who would be acceptable to Francis, and clearly George Boleyn was considered to be one of them, having spent considerable time with the French king on previous missions.“
He never failed to attend one council meeting he was summoned to and was what we would call today a ‘workaholic’.
His relationship with his wife was one of the hardest to tackle for these authors but they did so in such a way that they didn’t put words in either of the subjects’ mouths like so many old historians have done. There is no evidence as the two point out that proves Jane hated George or vice-verce. Arranged marriages were nothing new and despite the Parker family’s sympathy for Mary Tudor and her mother, they knew that a union with the Boleyns was good for them. If George’s family prospered so would they. That’s how things were done back then and both lived and dealt in a world where this was the norm, neither of them as the authors point out, questioned this. The woman in question who denounced George and gave false evidence in his and his sister’s trial was never referred to as his wife, but merely a ‘lady’. It has recently pointed out this ‘lady’ was lady Worcester and she could’ve done it out of spite or under psychological duress like so many were put on during the interrogation.
Nor is there any evidence that he was a homosexual.
Finally, George’s last words and his image immortalized by his friend Thomas Wyatt is one that brings the reader to tears.
“There are a number of different versions of George’s speech, but they all agree on the basic content. Only Chapuys has George confessing that he deserved death for “having so contaminated and so contaminating others with the new sects”, and praying everyone to abandon such heresies. That is clearly not what he said, and is more a matter of wishful thinking by Chapuys. 2 After stepping on to the scaffold, George addressed the crowd: I was born under the law, and I die under the law, for as much as it is the law which has condemned me. According to two eyewitnesses, he said this three times, almost as if he were collecting his thoughts before continuing. But there was another reason. To say he died “under the law”, rather than admitting his guilt, was the closest he dared go to declaring his innocence. Therefore, he ensured the point was reiterated to the vast crowd of spectators, many of whom knew him personally. He went on to say that he was not there to preach a sermon but to die. He told the vast crowd that he deserved death because he was a wretched sinner who had grievously and often offended. He did not relate his sins, telling the crowd that they would derive no pleasure from hearing them, and that he would derive no pleasure from stating them. He merely said that God knew them all. He warned everyone present to use him as an example, especially his fellow courtiers. He warned them “not to trust in the vanity of the world, and especially in the flatterings of the Court, and the favour and treacheries of Fortune”, which he said raised men up only to “dash them again upon the ground”. He blamed fortune for his current pitiful condition – or rather, he blamed himself, saying he had leaned too heavily on fortune, “who hath proved herself fickle and false unto me”. He said he prayed for the mercy of God, and that he forgave all men. He begged forgiveness of God and of anyone he might have offended. He begged those present to ask anyone not there to forgive him if he had offended them, and he told them that “having lived the life of a sinner, I would fain die a Christian man.””