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 uncertainand 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.

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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 g 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.”

elizabeth boleyn colnony castle
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 Rochfordwas 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

21 thoughts on “The Boleyn Girls of Clonony Castle: Elizabeth and Mary

  1. If you read the grave stone carefully, their father was Thomas Boleyn, the son of George boleyn, son of George boleyn ,Lord Rochford. That would mean the Anne’s brother George would have been their GREAT GRANDFATHER. If you follow this line of reasoning, then the portraits of Birr Castle might actually be within the correct time frame. George could have had a child by some servant or some other woman, maybe either before or during his marriage to Jane Parker at some point in time. There is some reason that the inscription was placed on the stone.I don’t think the person who carved did it on a whim. They were probably told to do so by some servant or family member.Don’t think anyone has really deleved into the history of the Boleyns in Ireland. This certainly merits research also into George Boelyn, the Dean of Litchfield and his connection as well.There may people bearing the family name in England today who are distant cousins of Anne Boleyn.

  2. Perhaps a comparison of the portraits with those of Thomas Boleyn shows a more reliable likeness to the family.

  3. It is hard to imagine that George never had any illegitimate children due his popularity with the ladies. I too would like to think that Elizabeth and Mary are descendants of the Boleyn dynasty, what a great research project this could be. Even better a fictional story…

    1. The problem with DNA is that these families married in to one another a lot. I’m a descendant of another Irish Boleyn – Anne, possibly a sister or first cousin of Mary and Elizabeth above. But I am also descended from Lady Frances Howard so I would match descendant of Thomas Boleyn and Elizabeth Howard anyway.

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