02 January 2013

George Boleyn: Viscount Rochford

George Boleyn had shared a very close relationship with his sister Anne. The two siblings had always been close, and eventually excluded their sister Mary.  But what might have then been a painful estrangement for Mary would later save her very life.

The infamous character of George Boleyn, popularized in modern media is likely exaggerated. George was probably not the vicious misogynist of the series, The Tudors, portrayed by the handsome Padraic Delaney. However, George was known in his days as an inveterate womaniser, and he didgive some indication of youthful riotous living in his poignant scaffold farewell speech.  But he probably was not the nasty creature who used woman and brutally mistreated his wife, as he is commonly portrayed. 

In reality, it is most likely his wife, the villainous Lady Rochford who deserves such notoriety.

To be certain, Lord Rochford and his Lady had no love lost between them. It was a most unhappy marriage. Lady Rochford would demonstrate her depth of hatred for her husband when she made a monstrous accusation against him to Cromwell. The lady's horrific complaints against George may have been encouraged, prompted, or even created by the increasing anti-Boleyn faction at court. But in any case, Lady Rochford stood on her incredible claims, and did not back away from them full knowing that her testimony would likely cost George his life.

The icy Lady Rochford would have her own date on Tower Greene in a few short years. It is likely that she would then recall her own unjustly put to death spouse, with more than a little anguish.

A birthdate for George Boleyn is difficult to determine as most historians are not entirely in agreement as to the actual birth order of Anne, George and Mary.  George may have been born around 1500, possibly as late as 1504. George Boleyn was likely born and raised at Blickling Hall, the otherworldly beautiful mansion which is just short of two miles north west of Aylsham. Blickling Hall is a place of fairy tale beauty, surrounded by lush green woodlands, and old garden parks. It can be imagined that George, Anne and Mary spent many happy moments of childhood in such dreamy surroundings. This halcyon setting couldn't have given the Boleyn family an inkling of the tragedy which lay in wait for all of them, save Mary. Though Mary died not die with Anne and George, she had to have been deeply affected by the brutal end of her brother and sister. They had not been close those last years, but she likely loved her siblings dearly.

 Two other sons had been born to Thomas and Elizabeth Boleyn,  Henry and Thomas. In fact, Elizabeth Boleyn was rather fertile. Her husband once commented, (or complained,) that his wife brought him every year a new child. But George was the only male child to reach maturity. The Boleyns were likely very proud of their only son. Interestingly, Thomas was not one to teach his daughters to speak only when spoken to, and take a quiet back seat to men as many fathers instructed daughters in Tudor times. Of course, his ambitions for his daughters were not entirely honourable and it seems he rather used them for his own personal promotion.

It is hard to imagine what George Boleyn may have looked like, as so little remains in terms of portraiture of the Boleyn family. By the end her life there was such hatred for Anne Boleyn, (or fear,)  that nearly every image of her had been destroyed. Given Anne's dark features, it is possible that George also had Anne's shining black hair and flashing dark eyes. Or he may have been fair complexioned with light eyes, as Mary is assumed to be. But these are only assumptions, and save for Anne, of which precious little imagery remains, it is difficult to determine how George and Mary Boleyn may have looked. (Given Mary's long term position as King Henry's mistress, and possible mother to one or two of his children, it is probable that she was anything from fairly attractive to beautiful, whether olive coloured or blonde.)  George's popularity with the ladies could indicate he wasn't hard on female Tudor eyes.  Perhaps his allure rested in the fact that he became very powerful at court when his sister was queen, as women have always been attracted to prestige and power. But given contemporary descriptions, (excepting a few of those of her detractors,) of Anne as very attractive, and the fact that Mary had a lengthy tenure as the mistress of the king, it may be assumed that the Boleyn girls were beauties increasing the likelihood that George was also a handsome man.

Much like Anne's, George's fall was meteoric. At one time George was one of the king's close confidants, and when Anne would reduce the huge king to tears, he often resorted to asking George to intervene with his sister, or Thomas to talk some sense to his daughter. It must have been a harrowing sensation when George first began to realise that the tables were turning against the Boleyn faction. As brother-in-law to the king, George had enjoyed incredible fortune and prestige. And he struggled mightily to hold onto his gain, as did his father Thomas, until it became obvious that all had been lost. For even as Jane Seymour was visibly eclipsing his sister, Lord Rochford tried to give every indication that all was well with the Boleyns. He was likely hoping against hope for a positive turn in their fortune. George was likely under intense pressure, trying to be a supportive brother to his miserable sister, and also dutifully following his demanding father's instructions.

On 18 April, Chapuys arrived at court and Rochford greeted him with such saccharine friendliness as to be off-putting to Chapuys. There had long existed a relationship of mutual loathing between the sharp Spaniard and the Boleyns. So the sudden magnanimous display on the part of Anne's brother and father was telling. Chapuys was acutely aware that something was amiss in the English court. And there was. George was living under threats that were following the Boleyn family, and these were growing more menacing by the day.

And soon enough Lord Rochford would find himself tottering at the edge of destruction, accused of some of most vile of offences.

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