Modern history



While the Boleyn fortune, which had been built on trade, was substantial by the mid-fifteenth century, it was William Boleyn’s marriage which cemented the family’s links to the nobility and led to them becoming great landowners.

In around 1475 William Boleyn, who, following the death of his elder brother, Thomas, had succeeded to the Boleyn estates, married Margaret Butler.1 Margaret, whose parents are known to have been married by 1445 when her mother was only fourteen and her father a few years older, was probably of a similar age to her husband – in her early twenties.2 There appears to be some dispute over Margaret’s parentage, with one recent writer on the Boleyn family declaring, confusingly, both that she was the daughter of Thomas Butler, 7th Earl of Ormond, and of Thomas’s elder brother, John Butler, 6th Earl of Ormond.3 Clearly, Margaret was not the product of two different fathers! An earlier writer also believed that she was a daughter of the sixth earl.4 There is in fact no doubt that both Margaret and her sister, Anne, were the daughters of the 7th Earl of Ormond. In the earl’s will he specifically referred both to ‘my daughter Dame Anne St Leger’ and ‘my daughter Dame Margaret Boleyn late the wife of Sir William Boleyn’.5Both daughters received personal bequests from their father which he specifically noted as having belonged to their mother, with Margaret, for example, receiving a bed of tapestry work and an old great carpet. Anne, the elder sister, did rather better in the will, receiving, among other items, a little mass book covered with russet velvet.

The Butler family was an Irish one, with its earliest known member, Theobald Butler, recorded as having died in Ireland during the reign of Edward I.6 Theobald’s great-grandson was created Earl of Ormond by Edward III in the early fourteenth century, with the title passing smoothly from father to son up to the time of the fifth earl. Margaret Butler Boleyn’s father had been only the third son of the 4th Earl of Ormond. His eldest brother, James, had attained the family earldom in 1452 on the death of their father, having previously also been granted the English earldom of Wiltshire in 1449 due to his loyalty to the Lancastrian king, Henry VI.7 Henry VI relied heavily on James Butler, appointing him first as Lieutenant of Ireland and later as Lord Treasurer of England. The earl fought with the king at the first Battle of St Albans during the Wars of the Roses, finding himself forced to flee the field when it ended in defeat. He again fought for the Lancastrians in 1460 when they won a great victory at the Battle of Wakefield, leading to the capture and execution of Richard, Duke of York, the rival claimant to the crown. York’s death did not prove the end of the Civil War: early the following year his eldest son entered London and was declared king as Edward IV. James Butler, along with his two younger brothers, John and Thomas, remained loyal to the Lancastrian king. After defeat at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross, James was captured, before being executed at Newcastle on 1 May 1461. Disastrously for the Butler family, this was followed in November by the earl’s attainder by Parliament, leading to him (and his heirs) being stripped of his earldoms and lands.

James Butler, in spite of making three marriages, died childless, with his younger brother, John, eventually acquiring the earldom of Ormond after making his peace with Edward IV. The earldom of Wiltshire was not however returned, instead being bestowed on a follower of the new king. At the time of Margaret’s marriage to Thomas, her uncle, the sixth earl, was still living, although his failure to marry meant she had reasonable prospects of eventually being the daughter of an Earl of Ormond. This occurred in 1478 when the sixth earl died unexpectedly during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, with his brother, Thomas Butler, inheriting the earldom in his place.

In 1475 Margaret was already a potential heiress to her father’s estates, a factor that must have been considered by William Boleyn and his mother when they negotiated the marriage. Margaret’s father had married Anne, the daughter and co-heiress of Sir Richard Hankford.8 This marriage produced only two daughters: Anne, who married Sir James Saint Leger, and Margaret, the younger daughter. Anne Hankford, who was past childbearing age by the time of her youngest daughter’s marriage, died in 1485.9 The seventh earl desired a male heir of his own and he took a second wife, Lora Berkley, who was the widow both of Lord Mountjoy and Sir Thomas Montgomery, at some point between January 1495 and November 1496.10 This marriage only produced a further daughter, Elizabeth, who died in childhood in February 1510, before her father’s death.11

Even without certain hopes of inheriting the lands connected with the earldom through his marriage, William’s choice of Margaret was helped by her impeccable pedigree. While her mother’s father was a mere knight, her maternal grandmother was a daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury. Thomas Butler, as well as being the son of an earl, was also the maternal grandson of Lord Bergavenny. This family connection was a close and important one, with Butler’s grandmother, Joanne, Lady Bergavenny, leaving substantial bequests to her three Ormond grandsons and her Ormond granddaughter in her will of 1434.12 Margaret’s father, as the youngest son, received the least from his grandmother, although he was still granted the very personal bequest of bed of white and black velvet, with cushions and other furnishings to match. He evidently remembered his grandmother fondly and, in his will written nearly eighty years after her death, he left funds so that she, along with himself, his wife and parents, should be prayed for.13 In addition to this connection, Butler’s sister, Elizabeth, married the Earl of Shrewsbury, providing links to the highest levels of the English peerage. Butler remained close to his sister and his youngest daughter, Elizabeth, who was named after her, was buried in Sheffield church, a building strongly associated with the Shrewsbury family and suggesting that she may have been staying with her aunt at her death.

It is not at all impossible that the match between William and Margaret came about due to both family’s connections with London trade. William had been a younger son and, at the time of his father’s death in 1463, was still a child. It seems highly likely that his father would have contemplated a career as a merchant for him, something which he had himself of course undertaken as a younger son. There does not however seem to be surviving evidence to support the recent claim that William was admitted to the Mercer’s Company in 1472, however, or that he was also admitted as a lawyer to Lincoln’s Inn the following year.14

Margaret’s father had a connection with the church of St Thomas Acon in London, where he was buried.15 His mother, Elizabeth Beauchamp, had already been buried there and it is clear that the Butler family felt a strong affinity to the church, with Margaret’s father bequeathing a Psalter bound in white leather and signed in his own hand to the church, to be attached by a chain of iron to his tomb ‘for the service of God better to be had’ and so that anyone who wished could make use of it.16 The church of St Thomas Acon had reputedly been built on the birthplace of St Thomas Becket, and was founded by one of the martyred archbishop’s sisters in the late twelfth century. Interestingly, the Butler family claimed descent from Agnes, another of the archbishop’s sisters, who had married an Irish gentleman. It is this connection, which was referred to in a petition to Parliament in the mid-fifteenth century made by Thomas Butler’s brother, James, the fifth earl, which brought about the family’s interest in the church. The seventh earl was devoted to the saint, specifically bequeathing his soul to the ‘glorious martyr Saint Thomas’ in his will. In addition to this, the church, which was the chapel of the Hospital of St Thomas, had strong connections with the Mercer’s Company, which was based at the site and acted as its patron. The Mercer’s had begun to make use of the hospital’s hall by at least 1391 and, early the following century, they built their own hall adjoining the hospital church.17 When the hospital was dissolved during the reign of Henry VIII, the company took over the remains of the foundation, making use of the church as its own chapel. Thomas Butler and his family, through their own patronage of the hospital church, would have come into contact with the Mercer’s Company and, in all probability, Sir Geoffrey Boleyn and, later, his eldest surviving son.

The marriage of William and Margaret proved fruitful, with a number of children surviving to adulthood. William was evidently a fond father, making bequests to his eldest son, Thomas, who was born in 1477, as well as younger sons James (born 1480), William and Edward in his will.18 Young William became a priest and later served as Archdeacon of Winchester, dying in 1571.19 He was educated at Gonville Hall in Cambridge, where his great-uncle had been master and was later promoted by his niece, Queen Anne Boleyn.20 Sir William Boleyn also remembered his daughters, Alice and Margaret, who were then unmarried, as well as the eldest surviving daughter, Anne, who had by them married Sir John Shelton, in his will. Alice and Anne came to prominence in middle age under their niece, Queen Anne Boleyn.

William and Margaret’s youngest daughter, Margaret, married John Sackville of Buckhurst in Sussex and had a family. A further daughter, Jane, predeceased her father. She was presumably the second daughter to survive to adulthood as she died married, as the wife of Sir Philip Calthorp of Norwich.21 The will of her sister, Alice Boleyn Clere, includes a bequest to her niece, Elizabeth Calthorp, of a pomander of gold, something which demonstrates that Jane bore at least one child who was still living and unmarried in 1539, over thirty years after her mother’s death.

As well as losing their daughter Jane in her early adulthood, William and Margaret had the misfortune to lose at least three children in childhood. A daughter, Anne, received a fine memorial brass in Blickling church, showing her as a grown woman with hair pulled back tightly from her face and a furred and pleated gown. This depiction of Anne as an adult was wistful and the inscription on the brass makes it clear that she died as a very young child in 1479, aged only three years, eleven months and thirteen days. It appears from the fact that her age was so specifically noted that her fourth birthday had been anticipated in the family and her death was sudden. Certainly, she was a much-loved child as can be seen from the expense incurred in providing her with such a fine memorial brass: given her early birth in 1475, coupled with the choice of the name Anne, after both her grandmothers, she was probably their eldest daughter. She is also likely to have been the couple’s eldest child, with their eldest known son only being born in 1477. She was certainly not forgotten and a later daughter, who survived to adulthood, was named after her. A son, Anthony, died on 30 September 1493 at the age of around ten, and was buried close to the altar at Blickling.22 Another son, John, who appears to have been an infant, had already died in 1484 and is also reported to have been buried at Blickling.23

Regardless of his father’s original plan for him to go into trade, William Boleyn quickly began to take steps to build a solid court career, being created a knight of the Bath at the Coronation of Richard III in 1483.24 In 1498 William and Margaret hosted a visit of the king to Blickling: a significant honour.25 The visit went well and a few years later William was appointed to the post of Third Baron of the Exchequer. He moved his family’s primary landed interests away from Norfolk and, by 1489, he was described as being a gentleman of Kent, where his residence of Hever Castle was situated.26 William maintained his close links to Norfolk, being appointed to commissions of the peace in the county in 1483 and 1485, for example.27 He served as sheriff of both Kent and Norfolk on occasion. In 1482 he was commissioned alongside Edward IV’s brother-in-law, Anthony, Earl Rivers, and a small number of other gentlemen to arbitrate in a dispute among other members of the local Norfolk gentry which had led to murder, trespass and other offences, with the commissioners being required to report directly to the king and his council.28 His increasing prominence was helped by the favour which Henry VII showed to Margaret’s father, appointing him as ambassador to Burgundy in 1497, for example. He was also a member of the king’s Privy Council and had earlier acted as ambassador to France, as well as serving as chamberlain to Queen Elizabeth of York.29 With the death of their stepmother in around 1501, Margaret and her elder sister must have begun to consider their eventual succession as their father’s heiresses a certainty, with their prospective shares being increased with the death of their younger half-sister in 1510.

There is little evidence for the relationship between William and Margaret. In his will, which was written shortly before his death in October 1505, William requested that his heir, Thomas, pay Margaret 200 marks a year out of the revenues of some of the principal Boleyn manors.30 There is no real evidence of affection and it was close to his mother, Anne Hoo Boleyn, that William asked to be buried, rather than requesting burial beside his wife when she died. Given the high number of children born to the couple they obviously spent a considerable amount of time together although Margaret, like her mother-in-law before her, ploughed her energies into supporting and advancing her children, in particular her eldest son.

Margaret had been a widow for nearly ten years when her father died, at the advanced age of around ninety, in August 1515. She was herself already well into her sixties – elderly for the time. The 7th Earl of Ormond was extremely wealthy, possessing seventy-two manors in England alone, as well as his extensive Irish estates.31 He was described by an eighteenth-century biographer as ‘the richest subject the king had, and left £40,000 in money besides jewels, and as much land to his two daughters in England, as at this day would yield £30,000 per annum’.32 This was an astronomical sum and, even if considerably exaggerated, the sheer extensiveness of the earl’s lands in both England and Ireland demonstrate vast wealth.

Margaret had a very close relationship with her eldest son, Sir Thomas Boleyn, who identified strongly with her prestigious family background. It is significant that when he was first ennobled by the king in 1525, he took the title of Viscount Rochford. Rochford, in Kent, had been one of his grandfather’s leading English manors and was also the location of the old earl’s only English peerage, that of Baron Rochford, which was the title the earl used when summoned to attend Parliament.33 Although Thomas was a Boleyn family name, it seems likely that Thomas Boleyn was named for his grandfather, who treated him as something of a favourite. In his will, drawn up shortly before his death, the seventh earl paid his younger daughter’s eldest son the compliment of leaving him a precious family heirloom: a white ivory horn, garnished with gold which, according to the earl ‘was mine ancestors at first time they were called to honour, and hath since continually remained in the same blood; for which cause my lord and father commanded me upon his blessing, that I should do my devoir to cause it to continue still in my blood’. The horn, quite apart from its obvious monetary value, was of great sentimental importance to the old earl, and was also rumoured to have been the cup from which St Thomas Becket drank.34 In the event that Thomas Boleyn did not leave male heirs of his own, the seventh earl asked that the horn be passed to another grandson, Sir George St Leger. In the event that this male line also failed, it was to pass first to any other male heirs of his two daughters, before being bequeathed to the male heirs of his father, the fourth earl, which were represented in the person of Piers Butler, a descendant of the fourth earl’s younger brother, ‘so that it may continue still in my blood hereafter as long as it shall please God’.35 In later life, Margaret continued to enjoy a happy relationship with her son, with Thomas paying 9s 8d to fur one of her gowns as a gift in late 1526, for example.36

At his death, the seventh earl’s two daughters were his heirs-general and co-heiresses to any property that was not entailed upon his heir male. It was necessary to look back several generations to the younger brother of the earl’s father, whose great-grandson in the male line was an Irish landowner named Sir Piers Butler, to find the heir male.37 With the earl’s death leaving separate heirs general and heirs male, there was an immediate dispute over just how the inheritance should be divided, with the two sisters, who were English resident, obtaining possession of the English estates, while Piers immediately took possession of the Irish lands, as well as declaring himself to be Earl of Ormond. To further complicate matters, Sir James Ormond, an illegitimate son of John Butler, 6th Earl of Ormond, who had acted as his uncle’s steward in Ireland, laid claim to the inheritance, retaining some of the Irish manors for his own use.38

It has been suggested that the attempts of the sisters, Margaret Butler Boleyn and Anne Butler St Leger, to obtain their inheritance were wrongful and this appears largely to be based on the prominence of Piers Butler’s branch of the family at court from the early sixteenth century onwards. An earlier biographer of the family accused the daughters of obtaining the English lands through trickery, acting with their father to suppress deeds which demonstrated that the lands should pass to his heir male.39 He also claimed that ‘this earl’s daughters endeavoured to dispossess Piers Earl of Ormond of all the Irish estates’, only being prevented when the king himself intervened and passed them to Piers. The Butlers were popular with Elizabeth I during her reign due to their kinship connection with her mother and the Boleyns, with it being considered by the early seventeenth century that the court was the ‘natural habitat’ of the family.40 In addition to this, Piers’s grandson, Thomas Butler, 10th Earl of Ormond, was educated with the future Edward VI at court and would have been known personally to the children of Henry VIII.41 In the early seventeenth century the Piers Butler branch of the family were ennobled as Dukes of Ormond and later writers were unwilling to offend the powerful family when discussing their dispute with the daughters of the seventh earl. The facts however do not support either Margaret, or her sister, acting in such an underhand way. They had a very strong claim to all the Ormond possessions, and the title itself, if they were strong enough to claim it.

In the late nineteenth century the historian J. H. Round carried out a study into the dispute over the earldom of Ormond, coming to the conclusion that it was indeed Margaret and her sister who were the rightful holders of the family estates and titles. Round pointed out that the original earldom had been one of six created in Ireland before 1330 and that it then passed from father to son or brother to brother without interruption until 1515, something which served to obscure the true inheritance rights attached to the earldom.42 The seventh earl’s English barony of Rochford lapsed at his death without a son. However, the earldom of Ormond had never been limited to only the male line and, as such, should rightly have passed to the heirs general rather than the heir male, as Margaret and her sister claimed. While the sisters had legal right on their side, it was a different matter for them to actually claim their Irish inheritance. As Round pointed out ‘the two co-heiresses were widows, widows moreover of Englishmen and of commoners. The heir male, “the Red Piers”, in addition to all his local prestige, had, to support him, the anti-feudal feeling of the natives in favour of the heir male, the preference for an Irishman-born over unknown absentees, and the undoubted, but misleading fact, that, from the accidental circumstance of none of the earls having till then left female heirs, the earldom had never passed from the male line’.43 In 1515 Margaret Butler Boleyn and Anne St Leger had very little chance of winning in their battle for the Irish estates and title, particularly as Piers had already proved himself to be a prominent, and useful, supporter of English rule in Ireland.

In spite of the near impossibility of their claim, and the fact they were both, by 1515, advanced in age, Margaret and Anne laid claim to the Irish portion of their inheritance, assisted by Margaret’s eldest son, who was a prominent courtier. A surviving letter by Margaret to her son, makes clear the affection between them and the fact that she relied on him with regard to her claims to her inheritance:

And whereas I understand to my great heaviness, that my lord my father is departed this world to Almighty God, on whose soul I beseech Jesu to have mercy, wherefore I pray and heartily desire you that you will do for me in everything as you shall think most best and expedient. And in everything that you shall do for me after as you think best, I will, on my part, affirm and rate it in as like manner as though it were mine own deed.44

Margaret was evidently feeling her age by the time of her father’s death and was anxious to allow her eldest son to take as much of the strain as possible, further commenting that ‘and if hereafter you shall think it necessary for me to come up to London to you, I pray you send hereof to me your mind, and I shall pain myself to come; howbeit if you may do well enough without my coming in my behalf, then I were loath to labour so far’. Margaret’s sister, Anne St Leger, was also happy to hand matters to Thomas Boleyn. The sisters remained on good terms with Anne applying for a licence in April 1520 to found a perpetual chantry in Devon to pray for the souls of a number of family members, including her husband, parents and sister.45 Margaret’s health may also have been in decline by the time of her father’s death as, by at least 1519, she was considered to be a lunatic.46 The evidence for her condition is contained in an inquisition held into her lands in Cambridgeshire and perhaps accounts for her apparent willingness to hand over control of her matters and lands to her eldest son. Given her advanced age for the period in 1519, it seems not impossible that her ‘lunacy’ was some form of dementia, meaning that she may have retained some limited control over her own affairs.

Thomas Boleyn, like his father and grandfather, had made a prestigious match to Elizabeth Howard, the daughter of the 2nd Duke of Norfolk. In 1520 Thomas’s brother-in-law, the Earl of Surrey, was sent to Ireland to act as the king’s deputy there. Before he went, Thomas pressed his brother-in-law for his assistance in resolving the dispute over the Irish inheritance. Privately, Henry VIII was prepared to recognise the legal right of Margaret and Anne’s claim, writing in a personal letter to Surrey of ‘Sir Pierce Butler, pretending himself to be Earl of Ormond’.47 However he was certainly not prepared to offend the prominent Irishman, something to which Surrey, aware of the difficulty in maintaining English control over Ireland, concurred. Surrey found Piers to be a useful ally, writing to the king’s chief minister, Cardinal Wolsey, on 3 November 1520:

Beseeching your Grace to cause thankful letters to be sent from the King’s Grace to the Earl of Ormond [i.e. Piers Butler], as well for his diligence showed unto me, at all times, as also for that he showeth himself ever, with his good advice and strength, to bring the king’s intended purposes to good effect. Undoubtedly he is not only a wise man, and hath a true English heart, but also he is the man of most experience of the feats of war in this country, of whom I have, at all times, the best counsel of any of this land.48

Surrey had no intention of alienating Piers, regardless of his family loyalty to his brother-in-law. Even before this letter was written, however, Surrey had put his mind to ways in which the dispute could be brought to an end, writing to Cardinal Wolsey on 6 October of that year to suggest that a marriage should be arranged between Piers Butler’s eldest son, James, who was conveniently then resident in England and a member of Wolsey’s household, and Thomas Boleyn’s remaining unmarried daughter, the future Queen Anne Boleyn.49 Surrey hoped that this would cause ‘a final end to be made’ between Thomas Boleyn and his Irish cousin. This solution was, to the English government, an excellent one, with the king writing back to his deputy to confirm that:

And like as ye desire Us to endeavour ourself, that a marriage may be had and made betwixt the Earl of Ormond’s son, and the daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn, knight, Comptroller of our Household; so we will ye be mean to the said Earl for his agreeable consent and mind thereunto, and to advertise Us, by your next letters, of what towardness ye shall find the said Earl in that behalf. Signifying unto you, that, in the meantime, We shall advance the said matter with our Comptroller, and certify you, how We shall find him inclined thereunto accordingly.50

Faced with the king’s own personal interest in the matter, Thomas Boleyn could do very little but acquiesce, and he recalled his daughter from France where she had spent some years serving in the household of the Queen of France. On the face of it, the match had much to recommend it and James Butler, who was born in around 1496, was only approximately five years older than his French-educated cousin.51 He was highly educated himself and later evidence suggests that he was a well-liked and personable young man.

The future Queen Anne Boleyn had arrived in England by early 1522, joining the household of Queen Catherine of Aragon. She had little interest in her Irish suitor, quickly beginning her own relationship with a more prestigious potential husband. It is not impossible that she played a role in the stalling of the marriage negotiations: as her sixteenth-century biographer, the favourable George Wyatt pointed out, ‘she was indeed a very wilful woman’.

The fact that the marriage negotiations came to nothing strongly suggests that the Boleyn family, headed by Thomas and his mother, were not favourable to the proposed solution, offering, as it did, only the possibility that one of Thomas’s daughters would be Countess of Ormond, rather than actually securing the title and lands for the family. This position must have looked hopeless however when, in March 1522, Piers Butler was appointed to act as Deputy in Ireland following Surrey’s return to England.52 Although apparently initially favourable to the Boleyn marriage, by May 1523, Piers had come to understand that it was unlikely to occur, with the Earl of Kildare writing to the king that he had heard that he intended to defend his claim to the earldom by force if necessary.53This was something that the king could not sanction and it may have been an attempt to compensate the Boleyn family, as much as the king’s then romantic interest in Thomas’s eldest daughter, Mary Boleyn, that he created Thomas Viscount Rochford at a lavish ceremony in June 1525, at the same time that the king’s own illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, was given two dukedoms and an earldom.

The Butler family’s old English barony, upgraded to a viscounty, was no compensation for an earldom and the family continued to push for the restitution of the title. It was only with the relationship between Henry VIII and Thomas’s daughter, Anne Boleyn, which led to the couple becoming betrothed in 1527, which resolved the matter. In 1527 Cardinal Wolsey was instructed to draw up articles of an agreement to be entered into by Margaret and her sister and Piers Butler.54 The three parties signed in February 1528, agreeing that the earldom of Ormond would be placed entirely at the king’s disposal. The family estates were divided equally between the two sisters, save where it could be demonstrated that their deeds required them to pass to the heir male. At the same time, the sisters agreed that the bulk of the Irish lands would be leased to Piers and his family: a compromise which saved the face of all involved given that Piers had no intention of giving them up. Six days later the king created Piers Butler, Earl of Ossory, in compensation for the loss of his hopes of the Ormond title and in recognition of his efforts in Ireland. That this settlement was legally fair can be seen in the fact that the two sisters were treated equally, with the elder, Anne St Leger, being given precedence in the document. However, the settlement cost Henry VIII financially with the need to bestow and endow a new earldom and it seems highly unlikely that he would have brokered its terms if it was not for the influence of his fiancée: rather, he would probably have allowed the status quo to continue, regardless of the Boleyn family’s protests. At the end of the following year, after a decent interval, Henry VIII created Thomas Boleyn as Earl of Ormond, as well as resurrecting the old Butler title of Earl of Wiltshire. This was the culmination of all Margaret Butler Boleyn’s hopes, particularly as her own son was granted the family titles in preference to her nephew. It also suitably aggrandised the king’s fiancée.

Thomas Boleyn’s acquisition of the Ormond title had obviously been assisted by the prominence of his daughter. With the fall of Queen Anne Boleyn in May 1536 and the execution of her only surviving (and childless) brother, George, at the same time, Thomas Boleyn quite understandably retreated from court for a time. Although it was never suggested that he should lose his titles of Earl of Wiltshire and Ormond, he had lost the king’s favour. Piers Butler and his son, James, on the other hand, had continued to grown in esteem and had proved themselves great allies to the English in Ireland. James Butler, who was recorded in a grant of land in October 1537 to have ‘shed his blood in the wars against the Geraldines and other rebels’, also proved to be a successful treasurer of Ireland.55 After being disappointed in his marriage to Anne Boleyn, he had married the heiress of the Earl of Desmond and proved to be a loyal and useful ally to the English.

In 1537 a further agreement was finally reached in which it was agreed that, since Piers had been found to be the seventh earl’s heir male and that he had been reputed and accepted as the Earl of Ormond for some time, he should be allowed to make use of the title again, receiving a new creation of the earldom of Ormond.56 In recognition of the undoubted rights of Margaret and her son, this creation did not in fact strip Thomas of his own Irish earldom, with it instead being noted that ‘the Earl of Wiltshire is contented he [Piers] be so named Earl of Ormond in Ireland, semblably as the two Lords Dacres be named the one of the South and the other of the North’. That it was intended that there were to be two independent earls of Ormond – one in England who was also Earl of Wiltshire and one in Ireland who was also Earl of Ossory – is clear from the fact that Thomas Boleyn’s grandson, Lord Hunsdon, felt confident enough to appeal for the return of the Boleyn earldom of Ormond during the reign of his cousin, Elizabeth I, on the basis that the title could pass to heirs general and that he was the eldest son of Thomas’s eldest daughter, Mary Boleyn.57 That Hunsdon was prepared to do this in spite of the prominence and favour shown to the Butler Earl of Ormond at the time is testament to the fact that it was envisaged that there were to be two earls bearing the same title.

Thomas Boleyn and his mother, if she was well enough, were aware of the practical difficulties of remaining in control of their Irish estates and, shortly before Piers acquired the earldom of Ormond in 1537, it was also agreed between the two earls that Piers would lease certain lands in Ireland which nominally belonged to the original earldom, but which Piers had taken back from squatters who had apparently occupied the lands for over 200 years.58 Such lands were never reasonably going to yield any profit to Margaret and Thomas without Piers’s aid and they accepted his tenancy without demure. In any event, the coincidence of Thomas’s return to court in October 1537, when he played a role in the christening of the king’s son, Edward, Prince of Wales, which occurred at a similar time as his agreement with Piers, may have been used to persuade him of the wisdom of agreeing to the king’s demands – with the prospect of a return to his role of courtier being offered if he acquiesced. His hopes were indeed met, with there even being rumours that he would be allowed to marry the king’s niece, Lady Margaret Douglas, after the death of his wife in April 1538.59

Margaret Butler Boleyn inherited her father’s longevity and lived to see a number of great-grandchildren, as well as outliving many of her children and grandchildren. She continued to be involved in relation to her own estates up until the end of her life, for example joining her son Thomas and granddaughter-in-law Jane Parker Boleyn, Viscountess Rochford, as a party to a sale of land in Buckinghamshire in October 1538, which had made up part of her inheritance.60 The extent of her actual involvement must however be questionable, given the evidence of the precarious state of her mental health. Her eldest, and apparently favourite, son, Thomas, died in 1539, something that must have caused Margaret considerable grief if she was well enough to understand. She was living with her son at Hever when he died, remaining at the castle until her own death.61 Thomas had also shown enough concern for his mother that only a year before his own death, he made a grant to her of 400 marks a year from the Ormond lands, ensuring that she remained comfortable in her old age.62 She died in March 1540, aged around ninety.

Margaret Butler Boleyn was one of the most important women to marry into the Boleyn family and she brought the family considerable wealth. She was not the most prestigious Boleyn bride, however, and that honour must go to her daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Howard, who married Thomas Boleyn in the last years of the fifteenth century.

You can support the site and the Armed Forces of Ukraine by following the link to Buy Me a Coffee.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!