Sir Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire

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Sir Thomas Boleyn as played by Nick Dunning

born c. 1477 - died 12 March, 1538/9
Character's backstory: The eldest of four children, born to his mother when she was only 12 years old. Thomas entered into royal service early; he fought for Henry VII against Cornish rebels (who were protesting against heavy taxation) when he was 20, was present at Katherine of Aragon's marriage to Prince Arthur in 1501 and helped escort Princess Margaret north to Scotland in 1503 (where she was to be married to James IV). Although the prospective heir to great wealth (Boleyn & Hoo estates,half the Ormonde & Butler fortunes) in his early years Thomas had to exist on 50 pounds annuity & whatever his wife (Howard family) could bring him. Married the daughter of the second Duke of Norfolk: the Howard family's fortunes were then low, as the second Duke fought for Richard III (York), not the future Henry VII (Lancaster, founder of the Tudor dynasty), at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Only three surviving children: "she [Elizabeth Howard] brought me every year a child", for five years. Two sons died in infancy. Although not penniless, he had nowhere near the income necessary to sustain a high court profile. Since his father had died in 1505, his private fortune now looked good. By the time Henry VII died in the spring of 1509, he had risen at court to the importance rank of 'squire of the body' & he walked in the king's funeral procession. He was knighted in 1509 at the coronation of Henry VIII. He was an excellent jouster, and took part in the joust celebrating the birth of Prince Henry in 1511 (the son of Katherine of Aragon and Henry VIII; sadly, he died soon afterwards). He was also a joint constable of Norwich Castle and Sheriff of Kent in 1512. He had a talent for languages - making him useful for diplomacy. His first diplomatic mission was to Margaret of Austria, regent of the Netherlands for Charles V, to deal with the planned invasion of France. It was on this visit that it was arranged for his daughter Anne Boleyn to be educated in Brussels, then in the Netherlands, as one of Margaret's demoiselles d'honneur.

He typified the accomplished, silver tongued diplomat, in the tradition of Castiglione's "The Courtier" . Cardinal Thomas Wolsey targeted him & tried to taint Thomas with disloyalty early in 1515 although nothing came of the insinuation. He was posted to Paris as the English ambassador in France from January 1519 to 1520. Anne Boleyn would have been there also. He was present & involved in the arrangement of the Field of Cloth of Gold. He also went on to meet Charles V at Gravelines with Henry VIII. This talent for languages and diplomacy may have been a family trait, handed on by Sir Thomas' great-uncle, the 6th Earl of Ormonde. He also spoke fluent Latin; Anne Boleyn inherited her father's gift of languages, being fluent in both French and English; as well as a good understanding of Latin. After sending pleas to Wolsey for favour, saying that neither he nor the King would regret it, he achieved the highly prized post of Controller of the Royal Household. In June 1525, Thomas at last achieved his peerage.

Gentility: Ancestor's include Earls of Ormonde and Barons of Hoo.

Position: Tudor diplomat and politician, Henry VIII's ambassador. Earl of Wiltshire and Earl of Ormonde.

Personality type:
Ambitious, adept, & charming. He was extremely frugal, but that was quite good in a diplomat, according to Fraser ("given the unorthodox way in which ambassadors were financed"). He was hard-working and industrious.

Signature look: No known portrait of the real Thomas except for the brass on his tomb. In the series he is white haired and richly dressed.

Endearing trait(s):
Was extremely well educated & Erasmus considered him learned. Talented at languages and jousting. He was known as the best speaker of French in the Tudor court. He had been careful to ensure that Anne & George had the best available education. He was adept at courtly entertainments particularly the tournament..."This experience and skill, and his knowledge of other things courtly - horses, hawks, bowls, shovelboard - allowed Boleyn to pass anywhere and gave him the final accolade of the humanist, courtier, usefulness to his prince.
A man of intelligence, gifts and capacity,
with a loyalty only to himself (and so to the King) and a willingness to take on a heavy workload, was a courtier worth having "

Annoying trait(s):
Ambitious, but close to his family: Anne Boleyn, upon her arrest, asked for her father and brother. Sat on the jury of the men tried with his son and daughter, but recused from the jury presiding over his children. Whereabouts unknown when the executions took place, but was not recorded as being in London, and did not witness the deaths. Most likely to have withdrawn to Hever in seclusion with his wife. Reappeared in court c. 1538 with renewed ambitions, and, as a widower, perhaps considered marriage to Margaret Douglas, Henry VIII's niece.



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After Story :

What became of Thomas Boleyn?

After Anne's arrest - "From the start, her family was uppermost in her mind, not only her 'sweet brother' but her mother and the father we think of as deserting her. Perhaps he did, but Anne was evidently concerned that her whole family would be destroyed with her - as it very largely was. Thomas Boleyn would, in fact, end with little to show for his lifetime of service to Henry VIII except his earldom. Not that he gave up in May 1536. Despite losing his place in Henry's inner circle and its many benefits, he set himself with enthusiasm once more to climb the greasy pole. He helped to suppress and punish the rebels of 1536, paid his subsidy in full and promptly buttered up and co-operated with ministers (even lending Cromwell his chain and 'best' Garter Badge), was assiduous at the Order's functions, active in royal ceremonies and by January 1538 was back at Court and 'well entertained'. There was even talk of his marrying the king's niece, Margaret Douglas. Thomas also promised Henry that he would settle the Ormonde lands on the (then) illegitimate Elizabeth, although in the end he thought again and they went to his surviving daughter ( Mary

[excerpt from E.Ives : The Life & Death of Anne Boleyn]


"Wiltshire was certainly an accomplished diplomat and courtier in the tradition of Castiglione - a superb linguist, adept, charming, highly intelligent and accomplished; the only negative was his parsimony, as diplomats were paid very little. Yes, he was ambitious, but no more so than any other member of Henry VIII's court: he never pushed either daughter in the King's way. Anne Boleyn was very much her father's daughter, and a consummate, ambitious courtier, as well. Wiltshire recognized George and Anne Boleyn as having exceptional potential - this lead to his securing a position for Anne in Margaret of Austria's brilliant court. I suspect he approved of Anne's secret betrothal to Henry Percy - Boleyns always married well. He did quarrel with his strong willed daughter, but more over strategy rather than overall goals. He was in the Westminster jury that presided over the trials of the four accused men, but recused from the Tower trials of his son and daughter; no, he never witnessed the executions, having left London, most likely to Hever - in deep seclusion, with his wife. He remained close to his children - Anne, upon her arrest, anxiously asked for her father and brother. In terms of intervening - absolutely impossible. The jurors would have likely faced arrest, confiscation of property, poverty, disgrace and possible imprisonment or capital punishment for defying the pre-ordained verdict. No one could produce any sort of evidence - trials were completely different then. Within a year, he tried again to succeed at court (after his wife's death), with minimal success. Rumour had it he might have married Margaret Douglas, Henry VIII's niece, but he died in 1539. No evidence indicates he was as heartless as in the series."
~ Historian Irene Rheinwald


Mother: Margaret Butler
Father: William Boleyn
Maternal Grandfather: Thomas Butler, 7th Earl of Ormonde
Wife: Elizabeth Howard
Daughter: Mary Boleyn
Daughter: Anne Boleyn
Son: George Boleyn

Married Elizabeth Howard, daughter of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk. They had at least five children, although only three survived childhood.
Elizabeth Howard died in April of 1538, and is buried at the Howard aisle at Lambeth parish church, London.
[It is a Myth that Elizabeth Howard died c. 1512, and Sir Thomas remarried a low born woman of local gentry - based on Agnes Strickland and a misreading of Howard family records]

Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk

Thomas Wolsey
Charles Brandon
The Seymours
Sir Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire as played by Nick Dunning


  • "The cardinal stands between us and everything. It is now in your power to do him a great hurt and we expect you to do so."
  • "Do you miss the court Your Grace? Perhaps you don't. Down here in this green space, you have so much leisure to enjoy, so many idle pursuits. Yet, I have heard it said by some that the King's presence is like the sun, and when you're away from it, there is only eternal night."
  • "Perhaps you could imagine a way to keep his interest more … prolonged." (to his daughter Anne)



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Thomas Boleyn - promo still
Sir Thomas Boleyn
This illustration is from a Brass Rubbing from Thomas Boleyn's tomb is the only authenticated likeness of him
(Holbein's drawing of a man with a red cap, labelled, 'Ormonde', is no longer believed to be of Sir Thomas Boleyn)
Thomas Boleyn as played by Nick DunningSir Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire - The Tudors Wiki
tells his daughter, Anne Boleyn to get in the King's way
Sir Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire - The Tudors Wiki
Henry bestows the Earldom of Wiltshire on Thomas Boleyn
Sir Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire - The Tudors Wiki
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See also:
The Tudors Cast | The Tudors Episode Guide