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George Boleyn

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George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford was an English courtier and nobleman, and the brother of queen consort Anne Boleyn. This made him the brother-in-law of King Henry VIII and the maternal uncle of Queen Elizabeth I of England.
A prominent figure in the politics of the early 1530s, he was convicted of incest with Anne during the period of her trial for high treason. They were both executed as a result.


 personal life
There is less known about George's personal life than his celebrated court career, but what is known is that he married Jane Parker sometime during 1525. They were certainly married by January 1526 because a note of that date in Wolsey's hand confirms that an extra £20 a year had been awarded to "young Boleyn for him and his wife to live on".

There has always been much speculation as to whether the marriage of George and Jane was a happy one, but there is no way of knowing for certain, as the state papers are virtually silent with regard to Jane. There is no mention of the couple having any children, which as the brother and sister-in-law to the King of England, there surely would have been if such a child existed. It had been thought that George Boleyn, dean of Lichfield, may have been their son; but it is more likely that he was a distant cousin. There is no record of the couple having a child, and Jane makes no mention of a child for whom she is responsible when she wrote a begging letter to Cromwell following George's death.

Whether or not the marriage of George and Jane was happy, George had a reputation as a womaniser. George Cavendish, Gentleman Usher to Cardinal Wolsey, in his poetry entitled Metrical Visions lambastes the young man for his womanising, saying:

I forced widows, maidens I did deflower.

All was one to me, I spared none at all,

My appetite was all women to devour

My study was both day and hour.

Yet in the same poem Cavendish, who, as a staunch Catholic, hated the Boleyns and all they stood for, cannot help himself from acknowledging George's good looks and intelligence, saying:

God gave me grace, dame nature did her part,

Endowed me with gifts of natural qualities:

Dame eloquence also taught me the art

In meter and verse to make pleasant ditties.

Likewise Thomas Wyatt in his poetry also recognises George's "Great wit" (although wit in the 16th century could suggest that a person was witty and charming, it mainly meant intelligence, and it is George's intelligence that Cavendish and Wyatt were referring to.) Wyatt's verse with respect to George reads:

Some say, 'Rochford, haddest thou not been so proud

For thou great wit each man would thee bemoan

Since it is so, many cry aloud

it is a great loss that thou art dead and gone.

Historian David Starkey recognised George's intellect when he referred to him as having "many of Anne's talents and all of her pride".

For all George's good looks and talent, as can be seen from the above verse, Wyatt, who was a friend of the Boleyns', also says that George was too proud. Although Wyatt's poem is often used to suggest George was hated due to his arrogance there is nothing to support this. Despite George's pride Wyatt acknowledges that at his death many cried out loud that his death was a great loss. It may also be that the allegations of George's womanising are exaggerated, because there was no scandal surrounding the Boleyns' marriage and no other Boleyn enemy felt that George's behaviour towards women was base enough to comment on. Likewise neither Cavendish nor the Imperial Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, who was actively looking for faults in order to demonise the Boleyns, make any mention of him being particularly arrogant. Chapuys only complaint was that George could not resist entering into Lutheran discussion whenever he was being entertained by him.

One modern historian, Retha Warnicke, believes that the men accused of being Anne's lovers were chosen because of ambiguity over their sexuality. This has led to an increasingly enduring myth that the men were charged with sodomy as well as treason. This is incorrect as none of them were charged with sodomy and there were no extant rumours of homosexuality relating to any of them. This theory was put forth in a 1989 biography of Anne Boleyn by American academic, Professor Retha Warnicke, but it has been criticised by many other historians due to there being no evidence to substantiate it.

However, recently Alison Weir has resurrected the theory regarding George's sexuality by using the same arguments that Warnicke used twenty years previously. In addition to this Weir also suggests that by his use of the phrase forced widows, Cavendish was insinuating that George was a rapist. As with the theory of George's sexuality there is no evidence to support the notion that he was a rapist. If he had been guilty of the criminal offences of rape, buggery and/or homosexuality, and if Cavendish knew about it, then so did the rest of the court. Yet no one ever commented on George's supposed bisexuality or even hinted at it, not even enemies of the Boleyns, such as Chapuys.

Metrical Visions are Cavendish's interpretation of George's scaffold speech when George said he was "a wretched sinner deserving of death". Despite the current vogue for believing Cavendish was speaking of homosexuality, his 16th century interpretation was that George was apologising for his promiscuity, which he may or may not have been. To use Metrical Visions and George's scaffold speech as the sole pieces of evidence to support an argument for homosexual activity is problematic in that it creates a paradox. The verses in metrical visions are on the basis of Cavendish's interpretation of George's scaffold speech, and now, nearly five hundred years later, Warnicke and Weir re-interpret George's scaffold speech on the basis of Cavendish's metrical visions; hence the paradox.

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Whole or part of the information contained in this card come from the Wikipedia article "George Boleyn", licensed under CC-BY-SA full list of contributors here.