Sunday, March 16, 2008

Question from Chad - Elizabeth Boleyn in Hester Chapman's bio of Anne Boleyn

Hello,

Recently I have come across a biography about Anne Boleyn by historian Hester Chapman. Though the book was written in 1974, I knew some of the information would be considered outdated but I thought nonetheless that it would be entertaining to read. When I read it information on the first page caught my eye. It was an account on Anne Boleyn's early childhood. It stated that Anne's Mother Elizabeth Howard Boleyn gave birth to the three Boleyn children and died of a fever in 1512. I knew this was inaccurate as recent history has found that Anne's mother lived until 1538 when she probably died from grief over her children's deaths.

The book further stated that Thomas Boleyn went on to marry another woman "whom history has found not to have recorded her name." Does anyone have any idea who this woman could be? I know Elizabeth Boleyn did not die in 1512, but why would it be assumed that she did? Modern history does eclipse many of the books information but I do not understand why it records Anne Boleyn's mother as dying during this age, and why is some unnamed stepmother taking the place that Lady Boleyn had in history? Is this stepmother a fictitious form of Tudor propaganda?

23 comments:

PhD Historian said...

Hester Chapman was a writer of both fiction and non-fiction. She was not a trained historian and thus seldom did any kind of archival or primary-source research for her books. Instead, she tended to draw from other writers like herself, i.e., untrained historical writers. Thus she often repeated the factual errors made by those before her. Read her books for entertainment as something akin to very high quality historical fiction and not as solid presentations of historical fact and expect there to be errors of fact.

Foose said...

I think Agnes Strickland originally introduced the stepmother in her "Lives of the Queen of England," and a lot of subsequent biographers and novelists picked up the error. I don't know where Strickland originally got her information from.

monica said...

The problem with Strickland's theory is that it is hard to disprove. A stepmother would have been referred to as a mother, so that does not discount the many references of Anne being chaperoned by her 'mother'. She would also have been referrred to by her titles - Lady Boleyn, viscountess Rochford, countess of Wiltshire and Ormonde, and so there is no confirmation of the lady's first name. Even if there was, Elizabeth was a common name. It is unfortunate that we have so little information about this woman who was at the centre of things for years, and who produced such notable children. It says it all that it is difficult to disprove Strickland's assertion.

However, I think it unlikely that 'she probably died from grief over her children's deaths'. It is a very romantic idea, and you must remember that sixteenth-century English people usually had very different relationships with their offspring to those we would consider 'normal'. In 1538, Mary Boleyn was probably around 39, so her mother would have been considered an elderly woman by sixteenth-century standards, in her late fifties or early sixties.

GarethR said...

However, whilst the Tudor mentality was very different to the current one, it was not entirely devoid of sentimentality. We do have recorded comments from Anne, made during her imprisonment, when she commented that her downfall would make her mother die of grief - hence the later suggestion that this was what hastened Elizabeth Howard-Boleyn's death, although nowadays we might refer to it by a more scientific name (nervous breakdown, depression, etc.) It seems unlikely that Thomas Boleyn, himself deeply ambitious, would have re-married an unknown woman rather than following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Geoffrey, who has used the death of his first wife as an opportunity to remarry to a woman with better connections - Lady Anne Hoo. Whilst it is impossible to prove a negative, there were so many connections between the Howards and Boleyns, that Elizabeth's continued prescence at its nexus seems more than likely. There is also no evidence that Thomas had a second wife.

Foose said...

And to be fair, biography is an ongoing art, constantly in revision. Many of us first got interested in Anne Boleyn and the whole Tudor saga by reading now-out-of-date biographies by Hester Chapman, Marie Louise Bruce, Alison Plowden, and yes, Agnes Strickland, as well as the works of novelists like Norah Lofts (good old Lady Bo!), Evelyn Anthony and Jean Plaidy. Mock them if you will, but they sparked the imagination and the will to investigate, speculate and produce new interpretations.

Even if they're incorrect, they provide often interesting information as to how the Tudors were viewed in previous generations. Perhaps Agnes and her sisters (the sisters did the actual research, I've read) simply couldn't believe, in their early Victorian hearts, that any mother would stand by while her daughters were prostituted or actively connive at it.

Elizabeth M. said...

I noticed on the Wikipedia entry for Anne Boleyn's mother, Elizabeth something I had not seen before. It says that Thomas and Elizabeth Boleyn had at least SIX children, including a short-lived daughter named Elizabeth. I always knew there were possibly two brothers who died young, Thomas and henry, but I had never seen a reference to a sister of Anne and mary named Elizabeth. Is there any truth to it?

Elizabeth M. said...

I noticed on the Wikipedia entry for Anne Boleyn's mother, Elizabeth something I had not seen before. It says that Thomas and Elizabeth Boleyn had at least SIX children, including a short-lived daughter named Elizabeth. I always knew there were possibly two brothers who died young, Thomas and henry, but I had never seen a reference to a sister of Anne and mary named Elizabeth. Is there any truth to it?

Foose said...

I've been investigating the question of Elizabeth Boleyn's supposed death in 1512. Strickland footnotes her statement to Henry Howard's "Howard Memorials," sometimes known as "Memorials of the Howards," which was privately printed in 1834 by Henry Howard of Corby Castle. I've never seen this book or document, but it's cited quite often in 19th century and 20th century works on English history. "Howard's Memorials" might be more explanatory on this subject - the 1512 date might be a family tradition.

Elizabeth M. said...

I have read that when Elizabeth Boleyn died, she was buried in the Howard aisle of Lambeth Church. Is there a memorial to her there? Something with her date of death?

Lara said...

Her Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry also has her burial at Lambeth Cemetery and says her death date was 3 April 1538. Findagrave.com has a general photo of the cemetery, but not anything for her specifically.

Elizabeth M. said...

So where on earth did the stepmother come from? And just how accurate was Agnes Strickland? I have never read her.

Lara said...

I'm not sure where the stepmother thing originated (i.e. where Strickland either got it from or what caused her to think that) but it is interesting to trace how it got used later.

On the few things I've read of hers Strickland isn't very objective and not always accurate on her facts. I've got the chapter on Jane Seymour up on my website, which gives you an idea: http://tudorhistory.org/secondary/strickland/seymour.html

I think some of her stuff is available on Google books, since it is all public domain now.

Foose said...

According to Strickland's footnote, the stepmother story came from Thom's Traditions, Camden Society. The Camden Society was founded in the 19th century for "the publication of early historic and literary remains, [and[ named in honour of William Camden, the historian." It performed a valuable service, preserving the old stories about England's history.

Strickland describes Thom's Traditions as a "Norfolk [manuscript]" but there's no other info. I can't find any copies of this document either.

It looks like a lot of the information regarding Anne's early life was gathered by Strickland and her sisters from documents that preserve local traditions in Norfolk. In researching "Howard's Memorials," I've found there are a substantial number of criticisms regarding various inaccuracies in dates and other information. I would suspect the same is true about Thom's Traditions. On the one hand, these documents may preserve family and local information; but on the other, they transmit gossip and hearsay that may not be factually borne out.

Foose said...

Chad's original question -- "Is this stepmother a fictitious form of Tudor propaganda?" -- may hold the key. But it would actually be Howard propaganda.

In her footnote on the stepmother, Strickland says:

"The fact that the lady Boleyn, so prominent in history, who is evidently the person on whom scandal glances as the mistress of Henry VIII, was not Anne Boleyn's mother, throws a new light on the history of the court. It ought to be noted how completely Mr. Thom's Norfolk MSS and Howard's Memorials agree on this point."

Now this is rather confusing. Elizabeth Boleyn was smeared during the Divorce as having been Henry VIII's mistress early in the 16th century (with Anne as their joint child), but the alleged frolics took place before 1512, as I recall. Therefore the post-1512 stepmother, if she had existed, would not have been the guilty Lady Boleyn.

However, the author of Howard's Memorials -- a Howard himself -- might have been anxious to clear the family name by pinning the libel on a stepmother. I don't know what Mr. Thom's motivation might be, but he seems to have absorbed this tradition too. These documents might also have been the origin of story about the stepmother coming from a "humble origin" -- the lower orders and their carnal appetites, etc.

Elizabeth M. said...

Then there is the story of King Henry sheepishly admitting "Never with the mother" when asked about his carnal relations with Mary and Anne Boleyn. And could there be some confusion over Elizabeth Howard in the Howard memoirs? Elizabeth Tylney Howard, the first wife of the second Duke of Norfolk, died in 1497. Her husband then married her cousin, Agnes, who thus became the stepmother of the third Duke of Norfolk, and thus Anne Boleyn's step-grandmother. This was the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk whose laz living arrangements for her young charges, including little katherine Howard, got her into such trouble so many years later.

Foose said...

I was hoping that the research might go in the opposite genealogical direction and answer your question about Elizabeth Boleyn, a possible sister of Anne Boleyn -- that perhaps the Elizabeth Boleyn who "died in 1512" was a daughter and not the mother who lived until 1538. But there's still no evidence that I've come across.

Elizabeth M. said...

maybe it was a daughter Elizabeth who died in 1512.

Foose said...

Thom's Traditions may have to be acquitted of being erroneous on the point of Anne's stepmother. Strickland seems to have been the one who made the mistake.

In Philip Sergeant's "Anne Boleyn: A Study," the author states, "Miss Strickland ... misreading a note by Thoms [sic] the antiquarian ... and combining this error with a wrong date given in a privately printed memorial of the Howard family, made Elizabeth Howard die in 1512 and her husband marry at some subsequent unknown date 'a Norfolk woman of humble origin.'"

The footnote to this states "Thoms's note is that 'Queen Elizabeth had numerous maternal relatives, and many of them among the inferior gentry (particularly in Norfolk), an inconvenience which arose from her father having selected for his second consort a subject of no very elevated extraction.' It is perfectly clear that Thoms is referring to the second marriage of Henry VIII. He does not even mention Sir Thomas Boleyn."

Sergeant's book also discusses the question of whether Anne or Mary was the elder sister, mentioning that the patent of creation for Anne's elevation as Marquess of Pembroke described her as "one of the daughters of Thomas, Earl of Wiltshire and Ormond ... The suggestion never seems to have been made that there were originally three daughters, of whom the elder died quite young."

Sergeant's book is old (1934) but it's conscientious, citing the sources known to that period and weighing the evidence; he was also able to actually see a copy of Thom's/Thoms' Traditions and thus dispute Strickland's assertion.

Elizabeth M. said...

Regarding Anne Boleyn's creation as marquess of Pembroke, if she were the eldest daughter, would iy not have been logical for her patent to say "the eldest daughter" rather than "one of the daughters"?

Elizabeth M. said...

I found the whole of Agnes Strickland's Lives of the Queens of England on line, and I found the passage about Anne Boleyn's mother. It says Elizabeth Boleyn died in 1512 of childbed fever, and that at some unknown point, Thomas Boleyn married probably an unknown Norfolk woman, thus the reference to Queen Elizabeth Tudor's "mean" relatives stemming from her grandfather's second marriage.
But I have to take this with a grain of salt. Granted Strickland gives The Howard memorials as her source in her footnotes, I spotted some other errors, notably that she says Elizabeth Howard's mother was named Margaret Tylney when all other sources say her name was Elizabeth.
There were several other Elizabeth Boleyn, as well. Anne's paternal uncle, Edward Boleyn, the brother of her father Thomas, had a daughter named Elizabeth. Thomas's brother, Sir James Boleyn, had a wife named Elizabeth, and I believe it was this Lady Boleyn who was attendant on Queen Anne in her final days in the Tower of London.
There is a specific date of April 7, 1538 as the burial date of Elizabeth Boleyn in the Howard aisle of Lambeth Church. Had this been a step-mother of lowly birth, she would never have been buried in with the Howard family, but rather with her husband Thomas Boleyn, who is buried at the Hever Church.
I also find it hard to believe that if Thomas's wife Elizabeth died in 1512 and he remarried, he would choose a second wife of lowly family origins. Thomas Boleyn was an ambitious man, not only for himself but for his children. Up until 1536, he was in high favor with the King. Only if he was in disgrace would he have had to choose a wife of lowly birth. But when he was in high favor, it is logical to assume he would have used that favor to gain permission to marry a woman of good family and wealth--someone from whom he could gain something in the way of more wealth and prestige. His daughter held out for and gained a crown, while his daughter Mary he practically disowned for marrying beneath her (her second husband William Stafford).

ladymuriel said...

It appears that Elizabeth Boleyn has been confused with her sister, Lady Muriel Howard, who was married to Sir Thomas Knyvett and really did die in childbirth in 1512.

mikeb4t said...

One can understand professional historians ignoring Agnes Strickland. Her excellent biography Queen Elizabeth has no bibliography, no index and no source references. Always bad signs for reliability of a writer.
However she researches remarkable, even shocking original material not even referred to by the Gloriana perpetuating mythology of historians.
There is the letter from Walsingham and Secretary Davison to the custodians of Mary Queen of Scots Sir Drew Drury and Sir Amias Paulet that Elizabeth expected them to "shorten the life of the Scottish Queen"
Strickland then produces Davison's own account that Elizabeth had told him she had considered having it done secretly. Davison states she insructed him with Walsingham to write the letter.

There is a letter of Elizabeth's instructions to the Earl of Sussex ordering the killing of 800 poor people caught up in the uprisings of the northern counties.
Not much about this side of Elizabeth from Hollywood or the BBC

Lara said...

mikeb4t - the question was about Elizabeth Boleyn, the mother of Anne Boleyn, not about Queen Elizabeth I.