George Boleyn Virtual Book Tour, Day 4: A Guest Post and a Giveaway!

George Boleyn cover
I’m delighted to be part of the George Boleyn Virtual Blog Tour for Clare Cherry and Claire Ridgway’s new biography of George Boleyn, a figure whose accomplishments and talents are too often overlooked, as we learn here. I’m also delighted to be able to offer a giveaway of one copy of their book! To be eligible, leave a comment here before June 5 (U.S. time), and I’ll pick a winner the following day.

And now, over to Clare and Claire!

George Boleyn: A single-minded and ruthless Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports

In June 1534, Henry VIII appointed George Boleyn as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and Constable of Dover Castle.

The Cinque Ports is a group of port towns on the southeast coast of England. The original five were Sandwich, Dover, Hythe, New Romney and Hastings, but Winchelsea and Rye were also added. The port towns were of strategic importance for the defence of the country from potential foreign invasion. As such, they were responsible for the fitting-out and manning of ships for the transport of the King’s army, and defence of the coast. In return, they received extensive immunities and liberties, which they guarded jealously. Every ambitious man in England wanted the distinction of being granted the position of Lord Warden, so much so that the post was held by princes of the realm such as Edward I, the Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III) and Henry VIII himself prior to becoming King. Ominously, the Duke of Buckingham had held the post prior to his execution in 1521 on trumped up charges of treason. In the sixteenth century, it was the most powerful appointment of the realm. The Lord Warden had “lieutenant’s powers of muster” and admiralty jurisdiction along the coast, and served as the Crown’s agent in the ports. His responsibilities included collecting taxes, arresting criminals and returning writs. He held court in St James’ Church, near Dover Castle, and the jurisdiction was similar to that of Chancery. The merging of the Constableship of Dover Castle with the office of Lord Warden meant that the Lord Warden also had a garrison at his disposal.

The appointment was made by the Crown, and the Lord Warden’s first loyalty was to the sovereign, who was often intolerant of any rival jurisdiction. This resulted in the Lord Wardens having conflicting loyalties, because they were also bound by their oath of office to maintain and defend the ports’ liberties. The ports looked to their Lord Wardens to be their protectors against external pressures, in particular those exerted by the Crown. This was not an easy balancing act for any Lord Warden, let alone one who was the King’s brother-in-law. George Boleyn’s position as Lord Warden meant that when he was not abroad on embassy, much of his time would have been spent in Dover. His influence is referred to in correspondence between England and Calais. The post was not a sinecure, and he was not merely a figurehead; he took a very active role. For example, in April 1535, two men, Robert Justyce and his son James, were ordered to make certain payments together with further penalties for other misbehaviour, including a verbal refusal to make payment to the complainants as ordered. On 8 May Sir Richard Dering wrote to Lord Lisle complaining that he was being blamed by the Justyce’s for the making of the order, when it was in fact “my Lord Warden’s own personal act and judgement, sitting in court, and sitting with him then there present Sir William Haute and Sir Edward Ryngeley, knights and divers other gentlemen”, whereby George “commanded them both to prison”. Dering goes on to say that George:

Not only at his departing from the Castle did straitly command me, but also by his several letters in like manner did command me that they both should satisfy the said parties complainants their demands adjudged and also pay the penalties and moreover be bound with sufficient sureties for their good abearing before they should depart out of prison.

Eventually, the two men paid the sums they were ordered to pay, less sums which the complainants relaxed, and were thereby released by Dering, even though they had not given the sureties George had ordered. Dering also discharged them from part of the penalties they had been ordered to pay.

The fact that the complainants themselves relaxed part of the judgement suggests that the amount awarded by the young Lord Warden had been excessive. Upon hearing the judgement, Robert Justyce had exclaimed that “he would rather be cut in two with a sword than pay the demands the complainants adjudged or pay the penalties” – hence the Lord Warden’s decision to command themto prison. Robert Justyce had been foolish enough to challenge the authority of George Boleyn in a court full of high-ranking officials, and such audacity could not be allowed. The fact that George sentenced both father and son to prison confirms our view of him as a young man capable of a single-minded ruthlessness, particularly when openly challenged. In this instance he went further. Not only did he verbally reiterate his orders to Dering, he also did so in several letters. This was not simply a question of making an example of the men. George was obviously furious, and he pursued the matter with a single-mindedness bordering on the vindictive. By the tone of Dering’s letter, and from his actions, he clearly thought the Lord Warden had over reacted. He wrote to Lisle, “Of my own zeal, good will, and contrary to the commandment of my said Lord Warden, I have… set them both at liberty”. However, he does express anxiety as to the “non-doing”, of the Lord Warden’s commandments.

In November 1534, there were signs of a rather fraught relationship between George Boleyn, as Lord Warden, and Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell had attempted to undermine the young Lord and the following letter shows George’s unrestrained indignation:

On Sunday last the mayor of Rye and others were with me at court, and I have taken such order and direction with them as I trust is right and just. I have commanded the mayor to return to Rye, and see the matter ordered according to the order I have taken in it before. He now advertises me that you have commanded him to attend you, and not obey this order. If you have been truly informed, or will command the mayor to declare you the order I have taken, I trust you will find no fault in it. Touching the last complaint put up to you by one of London, I never heard of it before; but when the mayor goes down he may cause the other party to appear before you at your pleasure.

Cromwell had countermanded one of George’s orders given as Lord Warden, and this was something the young Lord was not prepared to tolerate. The young man was not only angry, but also probably humiliated at being made to look as if he were subservient. The tone of the letter is quite obviously self-righteous indignation. Dangerously, he was not afraid to show his anger to the King’s chief minister, or to make no attempt to camouflage his displeasure.

For George Boleyn to have undertaken the position of Lord Warden would be today’s equivalent of appointing a 30 year-old with no legal experience as a leading High Court judge. The Boleyn self-assurance and self-confidence meant that the high responsibility was merely viewed as a challenge to be embraced. To be able to undertake the role with panache and competency would further endorse the perception held both by the court and the general public that the Boleyn brother was an intelligent and gifted young man in his own right, not one who had to rely on his sister for preferment.

George clearly embraced the role of Lord Warden. Examples of writs he issued and examples of his influence are contained in the state papers. The energy and efficiency required to fulfil the duties of Lord Warden, while still maintaining a political and ambassadorial role and a high court profile, confirm what a hardworking and remarkable young man George Boleyn was.

Notes and Sources

Fleming, Peter, Anthony Gross, and J. R. Lander. Regionalism and Revision: The Crown and Its Provinces in England, 1200-1650. Bloomsbury Academic, 1998., 124.

Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 7: 922 (16), 1478.

St Clare Byrne, Muriel, ed. The Lisle Letters. Vol. 2. University of Chicago Press, 1981., p180, p480–481.

Clare and Claire

33 thoughts on “George Boleyn Virtual Book Tour, Day 4: A Guest Post and a Giveaway!”

  1. Thanks for this article; I keep reading about the office, but it is nice to know more about it. Henry VIII originally had great confidence in George, even though he was comparatively young. Pity that Henry’s confidence tended to indicate a bad end.

    Esther Sorkin

  2. I never would have thought that George would be such a fascinating character…This biography is just what he needs and the ladies did a fantastic job.

  3. Charlie Fenton

    My name is Charlie Fenton, I love the tudor times and specifically the Boleyn family, there are books on Anne and Mary but this is the first (that I know of) on George. I’d love to read it and find out more about him as the way they show him in things like The Tudors and The Other Boleyn Girl always make him a bad person, someone that either raped his wife or slept with his sister (which we know has to be wrong anyway). Need to read about the real George 🙂

  4. nicola gilmour

    Would really love to learn more about George Boleyn as he is a very misunderstood character in history especially when seen in certain books and television productions. I find him an intriguing character and definitely more needs to be learnt about him

  5. I’m really glad you took a pen to paper for his story. Too often he is in the shadows of Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn and because of that treated as a mere footnote. I look forward to reading the book! Thanks for digging in and bringing history to life.

  6. Kris Milashus

    Thank you for writing this book – cannot wait to read it. There are so many fascinating characters that are not royalty throughout history that just don’t get the attention they deserve. George Boleyn is one of them; Anthony Woodvillle is another (to me at least).

  7. Susan Kelleher

    I am facinated by Henry the VIII, Anne Boleyn and all those that surrounded them. Thank you for always having such amazing information!

  8. Cyndi Williamson

    What a great article. I am so glad someone finally did a definitive biography on George. Hopefully this will help dispel the many myths about him.

  9. Thank you to both Claire & Clare for enlightening and educating us on the true stories in Tudor history. The Boleyns in particular are favorites of mine and to finally know more about Anne’s beloved brother George is exciting and I am so looking forward to your new book. Thank you Susan for hosting the tour today. I’m a fan of your work and was thrilled to find “History Refreshed”!

  10. I’m sure George was doing his best to be a good warden and honour his King! He was an honourable and special man.

  11. I love this period in history, but don’t know much about George Boleyn. I’m really looking forward to your book!

  12. I always liked a man that spoke his mind. 😉 Thanks for sharing. Would love a copy.

  13. Anne Barnhill

    Thanks so much for another great bit of info on George Boleyn. I would LOVE to win a copy of this book! Awesome!

  14. This sounds like an important addition to Tudor studies. Thanks for taking it on.

  15. Peggy Michaels

    This article has increased my determination to read this book. If I don’t win the giveaway, I will purchase it immediately.

  16. Denise Duvall

    George Boleyn seems to have been a responsible person, who worked hard at the jobs to which he was appointed, and did not merely rely on his sister’s relationship with the king, to get ahead. What a waste to have him executed, along with all the others!
    Thank you for the giveaway.

  17. The King quite obviously held George in high esteem and deemed him capable of holding this coveted post, it is such a pity script and some writers paint such a different picture of him.
    I hope this book will banish the myths that have been built up about George.

  18. How wonderful this is. I’m more and more fascinated with this person and can’t wait to read more. Cheers!

  19. I did not realize that there was a book on George Boleyn in the works. I’m looking forward to reading it since you folks do such a splendid job of relying upon and weighing the available primary sources. 🙂

  20. I love Claire’s books on Anne Boleyn! I would love to win her book on George. Thank you for hosting a giveaway.

  21. I am really looking forward to reading this book. The Boleyn siblings are ciphers, and while people have taken a swing or three at Mary (with mixed results IMO), no one yet has done a real take on George.

  22. I’m glad George finally has a biography of his own! I look forward to reading it! 😀

  23. I would love to win this book and have been looking forward to it coming out.I can’t wait to see what new things the authors have discovered about George.He is such a little known personalty in all the stories I always thought it would be amazing to learn more about him.

  24. I’m glad the book is finally out — I’ve been looking forward to it. I’ve been trying to gather info on George for fiction reading (and writing) purposes and it’s maddening how he always seems to be glimpsed just at the corner of your eye.

  25. Nancy L. Smith

    It’s about time that someone wrote a biography just about George! It seems like he was a fascinating person, like his sister Anne!

  26. This is very interesting. The fact of it is, as made evident by this article, this book, and what remnants of letters and logs at Dover Castle as well, that George Boleyn was not just a man who was doled out offices of extreme importance because his sister happened to be the wife of Henry VIII, but because he was an extremely capable young man. A real up-and-comer some would say. One wonders if Henry’s marriage to Anne had remained stable, what other honors might have been bestowed on him? It seems clear by the sources that Henry rather doted on George, maybe not quite to the same extent as Anne (wink :P) but obviously enough to entrust him with offices previously reserved for royalty. Julia Fox mentioned a bit about this in her book Jane Boleyn, although not quite as full in detail as this book since hers was obviously meant to revolve around his wife. I always thought George got a very poor deal not just in his eventual fate on the block, but in history. Many don’t even realise that Anne Boleyn had a brother, much less that he had his head cut off for false accusations of incest! Poor guy. If he lived today, he’d probably be running a Fortune 500 company with a cushy salary and benefits (pretty much the modern equivalent to his 16th century position. Lol!) Very interesting stuff, ladies! I look forward to reading it (and if I won a copy, well that would be just grand!) Keep up the good work Ms. Ridgeway (loved the books about Anne) and Ms. Cherry and thanks Susan for a wonderful blog, as always!

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