I’m honored to be the next stop on Clare Cherry and Claire Ridgway’s George Boleyn Virtual Book Tour!
The authors have offered a free copy of the book, so click over to the form and leave your email address: “George Boleyn: Poet, Courtier and Diplomat” book give-away (The contest will be closed on Sunday June 15 at noon US central daylight time.) Update: The contest is now closed. More information on the book is available at GeorgeBoleyn.com
Our Favourite George Boleyn Sources by Clare Cherry and Claire Ridgway
People often assume that there is not much primary source information about George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, but that is simply not the case. George was a diplomat, an important courtier, a member of the King’s Privy Chamber and Privy Council, and brother-in-law to the King, so he is regularly mentioned in the state papers in the 1520s and 30s.
We used a whole range of primary sources in researching for George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier and Diplomat but today we’d like to share our favourite ones, ones that we feel give us an insight into what George was really like.
Clare – The Lisle Letters
My personal favourite primary source. where I found a great deal about George as both a public figure and a person, is The Lisle Letters.
The Lisle Letters is a set of volumes containing letters written between England and Calais (to Lord Lisle and his wife), and they include a number of letters written by George Boleyn. These letters provide details of his foreign diplomatic career and six missions to France, and also his position as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and Governor of Dover Castle.
I love reading letters written by George, and this is where the majority can be found. He has a style of writing which is particular to him. His letters are warm and often humorous, and show an enthusiastic young man in the prime of life. They show how he enjoyed the trappings of wealth, such as fine horses and his passion for falconry. His letters, although exhibiting a certain pride, are also always courteous, and offer the recipient to help them if they should ever need his help. They really do give us a glimpse of the man George Boleyn was. He had his faults, of that there is little doubt, but he was essentially a decent young man living in a brutal world, and that shows in his writing. They exhibit his personality like nothing else, and I think they exhibit like nothing else why George deserved a biography of his own.
Here’s a letter from George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, to Lord Lisle from June 1534:
“My very good lord, I heartily recommend me unto you, desiring you to have me recommended unto my good lady your wife: certifying you that I have received your present which I have delivered unto the Queen’s Grace, who thanks you heartily for them and is very glad of them, for they were the first that her Grace had this year. My lord, I understand by your servant that the horse which was Highfield’s is sold, wherein I do desire that your lordship to do me some pleasure, and if it be possible to get him of him that hath bought him, paying for him as he paid, and if the price be reasonable, which I refer to your discretion, to do for me as you would I should do for you in like case. And if you can get him at a reasonable price, then to let him be sent unto me, and I will not only pay for his charges that shall bring him but also I will be glad to do you or any of yours such pleasures as in me lieth. As knoweth God, who send you both long health to your most honourable hearts’ desires.
From Hampton Court, the fourth of June.
All your owne Assurydly to my powre,
(Lisle Letters Volume 2, p175-176, letter 207)
Clare – The Privy Purse Expenses
The Privy Purse Expenses of King Henry the Eighth, from November 1529 to December 1532 give details of money paid out of the Privy Purse by Henry VIII to his favourites over a three year period. George features heavily, regularly receiving large sums for archery, bowls, shovelboard and cards. I spent many happy hours looking through the expenses, and I think they give a wonderful view of all Tudor characters as human beings, at relaxation and play, rather than just names on a page.
Here are some examples of payments made to Lord Rochford from the Privy Purse Expenses:
“Itm the xv daye paied to my lorde of Rocheford for shoting at hunsden ffyve pound in Angell … v li. xijs. Vjd.” (Privy Purse Expenses, 72)
“Itm the xvj daye paied to my lorde of Rocheford upon his bille for that he wanne of the king grace at Shovillabourde … xxxvj li.” (Privy Purse Expenses, 195)
Claire – Les Epistres et Evangiles des cinquante et deux sepmaines de l’an
My favourite source is the presentation manuscript which George had produced for his sister Anne Boleyn in late 1532 or early 1533. It was based on the work by French Reformer and theologian Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples and consisted of the dates of the liturgical calendar followed by the Epistle or Gospel in French and an exhortation, or homily, by Lefèvre. Les Epistres had been banned by the Sorbonne in 1525 because it emphasised the following doctrines: justification by faith alone and the idea that good works did not contribute to a believer’s salvation; salvation by the grace and goodness of God alone; Jesus Christ as the sole mediator between God and man; and the idea that only the Word of God should be preached and taught by the church.
George left the text in French but translated the exhortations into English. We know George had the manuscript produced for Anne because a passage prefacing the dedication was discovered by means of ultraviolet light by James Carley. It read:
“To the right honourable lady, the Lady Marchioness of Pembroke, her most loving and friendly brother sendeth greetings.”
The reason I love this source is because George’s dedication gives us insight into the siblings’ relationship. It is affectionate and very tongue-in-cheek:
“Our friendly dealings, with so divers and sundry benefits, besides the perpetual bond of blood, have so often bound me, Madam, inwardly to love you, that in every of them I must perforce become your debtor for want of power, but nothing of my good will. And were it not that by experience your gentleness is daily proved, your meek fashion often times put into use, I might well despair in myself, studying to acquit your deserts towards me, or embolden myself with so poor a thing to present to you. But, knowing these perfectly to reign in you with more, I have been so bold to send unto you, not jewels or gold, whereof you have plenty, not pearl or rich stones, whereof you have enough, but a rude translation of a well-willer, a goodly matter meanly handled, most humbly desiring you with favour to weigh the weakness of my dull wit, and patiently to pardon where any fault is, always considering that by your commandment I have adventured to do this, without the which it had not been in me to have performed it. But that hath had power to make me pass my wit, which like as in this I have been ready to fulfil, so in all other things at all times I shall be ready to obey, praying him on whom this book treats, to grant you many years to his pleasure and shortly to increase in heart’s ease with honour.”
I bought myself a copy of Lefèvre’s Les Epistres so that I can read what Anne Boleyn was reading and understand the texts which were impacting the beliefs of the Boleyns. It’s a challenge to read, being French and with 16th century spelling, but I love it.
This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday and if anyone wants to read what Anne Boleyn was reading on that day then you can turn to John 14: 23-31.
Claire – The Lamentations of Matheolus
My next favourite source is a manuscript containing a translation in French by Jean Le Fèvre of Mathieu of Boulogne’s thirteenth century poem Liber lamentationum Matheoluli (The Lamentations of Matheolus) followed Le Fèvre’s Le Livre de Leesce (The Book of Joy/Gladness), which is inscribed “thys boke ys myn George Boleyn 1526”. It also contains scribblings and inscriptions by Sir Thomas Wyatt and Mark Smeaton.
Lamentations is a satire on marriage, while Le Livre appears to be a refutation of Matheolus’s work. There is controversy over Le Livre de Leesce, with some scholars taking it at face value as a pro-feminist defence of women and a rebuttal of Matheolus’ misogynistic arguments, while others see it as playful and tongue-in-cheek, with “a heavy dose of make irony” to amuse male readers. Whatever the case, George and his friends obviously passed it around and Wyatt’s verses, which are rather teasing, suggest that it was read with amusement. It shows a lighter side to Henry VIII’s court, ten years before the brutal events of the Boleyns’ fall.
Linda Burke has translated Le Livre de Leesce into English in The Book of Gladness/Le Livre de Leesce: A 14th Century Defense of Women, in English and French, by Jehan Le Fèvre (McFarland & Company, 2013) for those of you interested in reading it.
Clare Cherry and Claire Ridgway