Saturday, August 28, 2010

Question from Monica - Elizabeth Boleyn's reputation

Elizabeth Boleyn had a 'suspect reputation' according to Weir in The Lady in the Tower. What is she basing this on? She gives no references.


Alia said...

I'm not sure exactly what she was referring to, but it could have been that Elizabeth Boleyn had an affair with King Henry VIII. It was rumored that this was so.

Lucretia said...

"Reginald Pole reported the following - in 1528, a member of Parliament insulted the king's morals by accusing Henry of sleeping with Anne's mother AND sister. Undoubtedly flustered, the king replied: 'Never with her mother.'"

From http:/

I think that most historians consider the rumor of Henry's affair with Elizabeth Boleyn to have been nothing more than that, and perhaps a fabrication of the Catherine of Aragon faction. If Henry had slept with Anne's mother, the argument is, he would never have tried to get the pope's approval to divorce Catherine because divorce wouldn't have been allowed in those circumstances, and any evidence of it would have come out. Alison Weir's vague, unsubstantiated comment is the sort of thing that I find frustrating about her writing.

Gareth Russell said...

Yes, I'm afraid the "suspect reputation" is based off as fact in 'The Lady in the Tower,' but the citation must be Weir's previous book 'Henry VIII: King & Court,' where she resurrected the vague and ludicrous rumours about Elizabeth Boleyn as being possible. Highly doubtful given that Pole was not in a position to know what happened in Parliament in 1528, even if an MP had been so suicidally stupid as to say the things he suggested - and Pole was not exactly as disinterested party.

Foose said...

I'm pretty sure Pole accused Henry of sleeping with Mary Boleyn, but not with Elizabeth Boleyn.

George Throckmorton, a member of Parliament, claimed to have been hauled before the king and Cromwell for an interview in 1532; he said he had told the king that the projected marriage with Anne was unlawful: "it is thought ye meddled with both the mother and the sister. And his grace said, 'Never with the mother.'" (G.W. Bernard thinks that Throckmorton never dared say any such thing, but was merely making up the scene to impress his friends with his bravery and integrity.) Throckmorton's information allegedly came from Friar Peto, a fiery Franciscan opponent of the divorce.

Peto claimed he had told the king to his face (following a public sermon in which he compared Henry to Ahab) that "it was said that he had meddled both with Anne Boleyn's sister, Mary Boleyn, and their mother." (G.W. Bernard, The King's Reformation,)

Two Catholic polemicists, Nicholas Harpsfield and Nicholas Sander, did major damage to Elizabeth Boleyn's reputation in their respective works, not exactly contemporary with Anne Boleyn's life but circulating later in the 16th century.

In Harpsfield's Treatise on the Pretended Divorce between Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, which was allegedly written at the end of Mary Tudor's reign and circulated only in manuscript form during Elizabeth's queenship, we have:

"Yea, I have credibly heard reported that the King knew the mother of the said Anne Bulleyne," [with "knew" obviously in the carnal sense] "which is a fourth impediment, and worse than the precedents." G.W. Bernard suggests that Harpsfield had probably picked up on Peto's accusation.

Sander's Rise and Growth of the Anglican Schism is more detailed and presents the allegation that Anne was the king's own child. "Sir Thomas Boleyn saw that he must not provoke the king's wrath, nevertheless he did not yield obedience to his orders before he learned from his wife that it was the king who tempted her to sin and that the child Anne was the daughter of no other than Henry VIII." Sander returns to this theme throughout his book, which was published in 1585. I found various sources that said Sander claimed to base this explosive allegation on information found in a book about Sir Thomas More by "one Rastal," More's nephew or step-nephew (possibly William or John for a first name) - but apparently no one has ever seen this book but Sander.

Foose said...

According to Sander (also rendered Saunders and Sanders), the king asked Sir Francis Bryan ("the Vicar of Hell" and Anne Boleyn's cousin) what he thought of a man who debauched a mother and her child.

"Bryan replied that it was a sin like that of eating a hen first and then its chicken afterward. The king burst forth into loud laughter, and said to Bryan, 'Well, you certainly are my vicar of hell.'" The quip may have been lent offensive point by the French words for hen and chicken, poule and poulet, being slang terms for whore. I am not sure this usage was current in the Renaissance, though.