GEORGE BOLEYN, Viscount Rochford (d. 1536), was the son of Sir Thomas Boleyn, earl of Wiltshire, and brother of Anne Boleyn. Of the date of his birth we have no record, and the earliest notice of him is in the year 1522, when his name appears, joined with that of his father, as the holder of various offices about Tunbridge granted to them by patent on 29 April.1 On 2 July 1524 he received a grant to himself of the manor of Grimston in Norfolk.2 Four years later, on 26 Sept. 1528, he further received an annuity from the crown of fifty marks, payable by the chief butler of England out of the issues of the prizes of wines, and on 15 Nov. of the same year a number of offices in connection with the royal palace of Beaulieu, or Newhall, in Essex; to which was added, on 1 Feb. 1528-9, that of chief steward of the honour of Beaulieu.3
By this time his sister Anne had become the avowed object of the king's [Henry VIII] attentions, and there can be no doubt to what influence these honours were due. In the summer of 1528, while with the king at Waltham, he and some others attending the court fell ill of the sweating sickness, causing the king at once to remove to Hunsdon; but another courtier, William Cary, the husband of Anne Boleyn's sister Mary, was carried off by the disease, and the offices above referred to at Beaulieu were rendered vacant by his death.4 At this time Boleyn was also master of the buckhounds.5 On 27 July 1529 he was appointed governor of Bethlehem Hospital.6 Towards the end of that year he was sent to France with Dr. Stokesley, who was shortly afterwards made bishop of London, to consult with Francis and the Duke of Albany on various modes of counteracting the Emperor's influence, and how to prevent the assembling of a general council.7 His allowance as ambassador was forty shillings a day.8
As yet his designation was only squire of the body or gentleman of the privy chamber; but just about this time he appears to have been knighted and received the title of Viscount Rochford, by which name the fallen Cardinal Wolsey granted him, by Cromwell's advice, an annuity of two hundred marks out of the revenues of his bishopric of Winchester to secure his favour. By this name also he signed, along with the rest of the nobility, a memorial to Pope Clement VII, urging him to consent without delay to the king's wishes on the subject of his divorce from Catherine of Arragon.9 On 15 July 1531 he was joined with his father in a grant of the stewardship of Rayleigh and other offices in Essex.10 In February 1533 he received a summons to parliament as Lord Rochford. Next month he was again sent on embassy to France, to inform Francis I that King Henry had married his sister Anne Boleyn, and trusted to him to support him against any papal excommunication.11
He returned early in April, and in less than two months was sent abroad again, in company with the Duke of Norfolk and others, to dissuade Francis from his proposed meeting with the pope at Marseilles, which, however, actually took place later in the year. He went back to England, and returned while Norfolk remained in France.12 He was at home again in September, and was present at the christening of his niece, the infant Princess Elizabeth, at Greenwich. In October he set up his household at the royal manor of Beaulieu, from which the king ordered the Princess Mary to remove to make way for him. In 1534 he was twice sent over to France, mainly about an interview which Henry was eager to have with the French king, but which it was necessary in the end to put off.13 In June of that year he was made warden of the Cinque Ports, and in November he received the French admiral Brion, who was sent to Henry VIII in embassy on his landing at Dover, where he entertained him four days till his whole train had disembarked and conducted him to Blackheath.14
On 10 April 1535 he obtained a grant from the crown of the manor of South, in Kent, which had been granted to Sir Thomas More.15 Soon after his services were once more employed in a mission to France, to qualify some of the conditions on which Henry had offered the hand of his infant daughter Elizabeth to the Duke of Angouleme.16 This is the last we hear of him in any public capacity before his melancholy end.
On May day in 1536 he was one of the challengers in that tournament at Greenwich from which the king abruptly departed; next day he was arrested and taken to the Tower, the queen, his sister, being arrested that day also and consigned to the same fortress. The two were arraigned together on Monday, 15 May, for acts of incest and high treason, and judgment of death was pronounced against each. Two days later (17 May) Lord Rochford, with four other alleged paramours of Anne Boleyn, were beheaded on Tower Hill, the execution of Anne herself being deferred till the 19th.
1. Calendar of State Papers, Henry VIII, iii. 2214.
2. ib. iv. 546.
3. ib. 4779, 4993, 5248.
4. ib. 4403, 4413.
5. Calendar, v. pp. 306, 312, 321.
6. ib. iv. No. 5815.
7. ib. 6073.
8. ib. v. p. 315.
9. ib. iv. No. 6513.
10. ib. v. No. 364.
11. ib. vi. Nos. 229, 230.
12. ib. Nos. 613, 661, 831, 918, 954, 973.
13. ib. vii. Nos. 469, 470, 958.
14. ib. 1416, 1427.
15. Patent Roll, 26 Hen. VIII, pt. 1, m. 32.
16. Herbert in Kennett, ii. 179.
Gairdner, James. "George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford."
Dictionary of National Biography. Vol V. Leslie Stephen, Ed.
New York: Macmillan and Co., 1886. 319-320.
Other Local Resources:
Books for further study:
Ives, Eric. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn.
Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005.
Weir, Alison. Henry VIII: The King and His Court.
New York: Ballantine, 2001.
Wilson, Derek. In the Lion's Court: Power, Ambition,
and Sudden Death in the Reign of Henry VIII.
New York: St. Martin's Press, 2001.
George Boleyn on the Web:
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