Today, I’m proud to host Day 3 of Clare Cherry and Claire Ridgway’s book tour for their new book about George Boleyn! The authors (below) were kind enough to bring us a teaser today, so I hope you enjoy!
(The following is an excerpt from George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier, and Diplomat)
A close but non-sexual relationship between two men.
We know all about Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’s relationship – a seven year courtship of romantic love letters, a three year marriage of sunshine and storms – but what about the King and his brother-in-law? Was George just the brother-in-law the King tolerated? Did he just put up with him for Anne’s sake?
Well, no, actually, the two men appear to have been relatively close.
George was about ten years old when he made his first appearance at court and about twelve when he was chosen to serve as the King’s page, making him a member of the King’s Privy Chamber and giving him access to the King. Although he was expelled from the Privy Chamber in Cardinal Wolsey’s 1526 purge, he was made Henry VIII’s cupbearer, a position which meant serving the King at every state occasion. By the time Henry VIII noticed Anne Boleyn at Shrovetide 1526, he had known her brother for at least 10 years.
Between 1526 and autumn 1529, when George undertook his first diplomatic mission, George Boleyn’s main role was keeping the King entertained, and it appears to have been one in which he was highly accomplished. Henry VIII and his court enjoyed a wide range of entertainments, including archery, hunting, card games, shovel board, dice, bowls, tennis and jousting. In addition to his acknowledged intellectual prowess, George was particularly adept at archery, bowls and shovelboard, winning large sums of money from the King on numerous occasions. Henry VIII’s Privy Purse Expenses from November 1529 to December 1532 show that when George was not on embassy abroad, he was the King’s constant companion. One of the King’s favoured few, the high regard in which he was held is obvious from these entries. The first occasion upon which George (by then Lord Rochford) is mentioned is on 28 March 1530, when he was shown to have received “xx Angells” (an Angel being 7s. 6d.), denoted as a reward. Although there is no indication as to why he received the reward, George had just returned from embassy in France, and it would seem highly likely that the money was paid for services rendered to the Crown in this regard.
Although it is supposed that Henry VIII hated losing, and that his courtiers took pains to deliberately lose when playing him, the Privy Purse Expenses show this was not the case. The King regularly lost at all kinds of games, and he lost huge sums of money to George Boleyn at a variety of different pursuits. Payments were made to George in August and September of that year for the hunt, and for archery at Hunsdon on 15 September, when he was awarded £5. On 8 July 1531, George received £58 from the Privy Purse “for shooting [archery] with the Kings Grace at Hampton Court”, and in August he received £6 in Ryalles (a Ryalle being 11s 3d), again for shooting.
1532 continued to show George regularly receiving money for beating the King at a variety of games. In January and February, he won nearly £60 for playing the King at shovelboard, and on 17 April he, his father, Francis Bryan and Edward Baynton won £36 from the King at the same game. Shovelboard is a game in which coins or discs are slid by hand across a board toward a mark; clearly George was highly accurate while his heavy-handed monarch was not. On the 20th and 22nd of that month, George is shown beating the King at bowls. On 20 April, he played the King in a one-on-one match, while on 22 April he and his father played the King and Edward Baynton, winning £30. On 28 June, George won £18 for beating the King “at the Pricks [archery] and by betting at the same”, and on 12 July payment is again shown for hunting in Sussex. George appears to have excelled at any game which required accurate hand-to-eye co-ordination.
The King prided himself at being excellent at all sports, but by the amount of money his future brother-in-law won from him, George was clearly a match for him. Of course by the early 1530s, Henry had reached his forties and was beginning to put on weight, whereas George Boleyn was in his late twenties and in the prime of life.
The final entry relating to George Boleyn for the period available is dated 6 October 1532, for playing and beating the King at the new card game primero, and for winning a wager of the King “with a brace of greyhounds”. Primero was a popular gambling card game of the day and is believed to be the direct ancestor of poker. George was clearly unafraid of beating the King and was more than happy to take his money on a variety of bets. Obviously these sports and games would have continued into 1533 and beyond, but the Privy Purse Expenses are only available up to December 1532. There is no reason to suppose that George Boleyn did not continue to be the King’s companion and confidante almost to the last. The Privy Purse Expenses put to rest the notion that George enjoyed royal favour purely because of his sisters’ relationships with the King. Henry was a selfish, self-centred man with little patience. He would never have suffered the continued presence of a courtier whom he did not personally like, or one from whose company he did not derive pleasure. Yet George was a regular companion to the King and favour continued to be bestowed upon him until a month before his death.
In a letter of diplomatic instructions given to George in 1534, Henry VIII referred to George as “one whom his grace specially loveth and trustith” and show the respect and affection in which the King held him:
“First the Kings Majesty, knowing the approved wisdom fidelity and diligence, which is and ever hath been in the said Lord Rochford, with the propence good will mind and heart to serve his Highness in all things that may tend to his Graces contentment and pleasure, hath now appointed the said Lord Rochford, as one whom his grace specially loveth and trustith.”
But not only did the King trust George to undertake important diplomatic missions and negotiate with people like Francis I and Convocation, he trusted him on a personal level. In the late 1520s, when Henry VIII was sending Anne Boleyn love letters, it was George who acted as a courier and as the bearer of news that Henry felt was better coming from George than through lengthy correspondence:
““I heartily recommend me to you, ascertaining you that I am not a little perplexed with such things as your brother shall on my part declare unto you, to whom I pray you give full credence, for it were too long to write.”
Henry was trusting George with delicate information at a time when the couple’s courtship had to be kept secret.
Unfortunately, the men’s friendship and George Boleyn’s years of loyalty and devoted service were entirely forgotten in 1536. Just as Henry VIII was able to sacrifice father-figure Thomas More for the cause of the Supremacy in 1535, he was able to sacrifice his wife and best friends in 1536 in his haste to remarry and get a son.
Notes and Sources
Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 7, 958.
Love Letters of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn, Fredonia Books, 2006, xxxvii
Nicholas, Nicholas Harris. The Privy Purse Expenses of King Henry the Eighth, from November 1529, to December 1532. London: W Pickering, 1827.