The Boleyn Girls of Clonony Castle: Elizabeth and Mary

boleyn-girls

Boleyn Girls:

portraits at colnony castle
Image credit: Tales of Irish Castles / Netflix

In Ireland, at Clonony Castle, there is a story of two Boleyn girls. No, not the Anne and Mary Boleyn we all know so well but the Irish Elizabeth and Mary Boleyn – possible descendants of George Boleyn, Lord Rochford.

Wait. Did she just say George Boleyn, Lord Rochford?  But he didn’t have any children, you say. Indeed, you heard me right. However, there are no records that indicate Jane Boleyn every had children, let alone a child.  Is it possible that George Boleyn had an illegitimate son who grew up in Ireland?

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Clonony Castle

I recently watched episode three of Tales of Irish Castles on Netflix. In it, they talked about Clonony Castle and the story of two Boleyn girls who died there. The girls were Elizabeth and Mary Boleyn. In this TV series they called the girls cousins to Anne Boleyn who fled England after the execution of Anne and George and lived out their days in Clonony Castle. Their relationship to Anne Boleyn is currently uncertain and I’m truly surprised that this TV series says that they fled England for Ireland, when in fact they were most likely born in Ireland.

Let’s start off by taking a look at the portraits from Birr Castle that were used of Elizabeth and Mary in the TV series. First off, their clothing in the portraits do not fit the Henrician period as suggested. To me (and I’m not expert on clothing), the two women shown in the two portraits are dressed more in the Elizabethan style of clothing since they are wearing ruffs, or collars. In a book by Claire Ridgway and Clare Cherry called, “George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier & Diplomat” that came out in 2014, they point out that they believe the women portrayed in the portraits are not Mary and Elizabeth Boleyn at all. Which would make sense since I also believe the portraits are from the wrong period.

mary boleyn colnony
Alleged Mary Boleyn; Image credit: Tales of Irish Castles / Netflix

Supposedly, as told in Ireland, Thomas Boleyn (Mary, Anne & George’s father) was given Clonony Castle by Henry VIII after it was given to the king by John Óg MacCoghlan. In 1536, when Anne and George were executed, George’s apparent illegitimate son was moved to Clonony Castle to be kept safe.

Elizabeth and Mary Boleyn were descended from this illegitimate son. So, the idea that the girls left England for a safe haven in Ireland is out of the question, if this is the case. They would have been born in Ireland, not England.

As the story goes Elizabeth Boleyn died young and Mary was devastated by the loss of her sister. She is said to have committed suicide by throwing herself from the tower. Both girls were buried together near the castle.

Their grave was found in 1803, approximately 300 feet from the castle. The inscription on their stone read:

“HERE UNDER LEYS ELIZABETH AND MARY BULLYN DAUGHTERS OF THOMAS BULLYN SON OF GEORGE BULLYN THE SON OF GEORGE BULLYN VISCOUNT ROCHFORD SON OF SIR THOMAS BULLYN EARLE OF ORMONDE AND WILTSHIRE.”

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Alleged Elizabeth Boleyn; Image credit: Tales of Irish Castles / Netflix

It has been said that Elizabeth and Mary Boleyn were the granddaughter’s of George Boleyn, Dean of Lichfield — the man who is believed to be the illegitimate son of George Boleyn, Lord Rochford. We do not have a date of birth for the Dean of Lichfield, but we can assume he was born no later than March 1537. I say that because Lord Rochford was executed in May 1536 – if he was conceived (at the very latest) just prior to his father’s execution he would have been born no later than March 1537.

The Dean of Lichfield had also referred to himself as kinsman of the Carey and Knollys families, which as you probably already know are descendants of Mary Boleyn. He also named Mary’s son, Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon as an executor in his will — however, he never once claimed to be the illegitimate son of George Boleyn, Lord Rochford.

In conclusion, after reading George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier & Diplomat, I have to agree with the authors. There is no evidence that points towards Elizabeth and Mary Boleyn of Clonony Castle being descendants of George Boleyn, Lord Rochford. On the other hand, I truly want to believe that George Boleyn did have an illegitimate son who lived on after his downfall and death. It is most likely that the residents of Clonony Castle were indeed Boleyn relatives but not the ones suggested in the TV series.

Even though I don’t believe these women in the portraits are Elizabeth and Mary Boleyn, I can’t help but see a resemblance to other Boleyn relatives, especially Catherine Carey. Here I put their images next to Catherine Carey and Lettice Knollys:

Clockwise: Catherine Carey, Elizabeth, Mary, Lettice Knollys
Clockwise: Catherine Carey, Elizabeth, Mary, Lettice Knollys

Jane Boleyn: Victim of History



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Lady Jane Parker was born in Norfolk around 1505 to Henry Parker, 10th Baron Morley and Alice St John. Her family was wealthy, well-connected, and respected by their peers.

As a noblewoman, we can assume that Jane’s education included reading, writing, religious instruction and courtly entertainment like… dancing, singing and playing an instrument.

Jane joined the English court in her teens to likely serve as a Maid-of-Honor to Queen Katherine of Aragon. We first hear of her when she is listed as attending the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520.

In 1524/25 Jane Parker married George Boleyn. Jane’s marriage with George was most certainly arranged by their parents to benefit them one way or another — we do not know for certain whether or not the marriage was a good match. There is no evidence to prove whether George was homosexual, or whether he was a womanizer. Many authors have picked a side, but we’ll stay neutral in the matter since there is no definitive proof one way or another.

25B602CA00000578-2954991-The_portrait_of_Anne_Boleyn_which_after_being_analysed_using_fac-m-61_1424072576506Around 1534, as a Lady-in-Waiting, Jane worked with her sister-in-law Queen Anne Boleyn when it was discovered Henry VIII was having an affair with an unknown woman. Together, they conspired to have the lady removed from court. However, when Henry found out about their scheming he banished Jane from court. We do not know for certain when Jane was allowed back at court, but most likely she was only gone a few months. Just enough time for Henry to forget about the incident and move on to his next mistress – quite possibly Madge Shelton, cousin to Queen Anne. Some have suggested that Madge was a puppet for Anne Boleyn. Anne supposedly pushed her cousin to be a mistress to the king so she could make sure her position was safe as queen.

In Alison Weir’s book, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, she states that Jane Boleyn was instrumental in the downfall of her husband and Queen Anne. Weir claims that Jane was envious of the relationship between George and Anne.



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Jane and her husband George were married eleven years when he was arrested in May 1536. He was charged with incest and plotting to kill the king. It has been said that Jane gave testimony against her husband, but again, there is no evidence to corroborate that statement, however, author Antonia Fraser suggests that Jane was the one who was responsible for Anne and George being charged with incest. Never was Jane mentioned by name, nor George’s wife mentioned as someone who gave testimony against him.  If Jane had given testimony against her husband and sister-in-law, it was only verbal – there is no written testimony available from her.

George’s trial was after Anne’s and the evidence against him (per Weir’s book) was based on a time that he and Anne had once been witnessed to be closeted alone together for an extended period of time, in addition to what others had verbally claimed (true or not).

Rochford said he knew that death awaited him and would say the truth, but raising his eyes to Heaven denied the accusations against him

Rochford was not tried at Westminster, but at the Tower, with the Queen. His calm behaviour, and good defence. More himself did not reply better. The judges at first were of different opinions, but at last one view overturned the other and they were unanimous. The duke of Norfolk as president, though maternal uncle of the accused, asked them if he was guilty or not, and one replied guilty. Rochford then merely requested the judges that they would ask the King to pay his debts. via – Henry VIII: June 1536, 1-5

Jane Boleyn was most likely interviewed about her husband and sister-in-law, but we cannot verify what she said or did not say. It’s obvious that history has made her out to be the wicked wife who sought revenge on her unfaithful husband by accusing him of incest and treason. The truth is we just don’t know…and never will, unless new evidence comes forward. It’s unfair to judge her in this situation until we have more facts.

Of course, later on in history she was executed for her involvement in the affair between Katheryn Howard and Thomas Culpeper – but that’s a story for another time.

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Sources:

The Six Wives of Henry VIII, by Alison Weir
Who’s Who at the Tudor Court, by Victoria Silvia Evans
Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser

http://thetudorenthusiast.weebly.com/my-tudor-blog/understanding-jane-boleyn-viscountess-rochford https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jane_Boleyn,_Viscountess_Rochford
http://www.tudorplace.com.ar/Bios/JaneParker(VRochford).htm
http://under-these-restless-skies.blogspot.com/2013/09/jane-parker.html
http://onthetudortrail.com/Blog/2012/02/13/how-the-mighty-have-fallen-jane-boleyn-and-her-role-in-anne-and-george-boleyn%E2%80%99s-downfall/

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