QAB Interview: George Boleyn Biographers Clare Cherry and Claire Ridgway
Today, QAB is delighted to host biographers Clare Cherry and Claire Ridgway, who both currently are enjoying a whirlwind blog tour in celebration of the release of their new book George Boleyn, Tudor Poet, Courtier and Diplomat. Recently, QAB caught up with Clare and Claire to discuss “all things Lord of Rochford”.
Given how prominent an historical figure George Boleyn, Lord of Rochford was during the reign of King Henry VIII, why do you think that your book George Boleyn, Tudor Poet, Courtier and Diplomat is the first biography of this very fascinating young man? To be honest, I found that fact astounding.
Clare: I’m not really sure why George has no other contemporary biographer. There was Bapst writing towards the end of the nineteenth century, but that’s all. Male historians tend to write about the more predominant characters such as Cromwell, Cranmer and Henry himself. Female historians have a tendency to write about female characters, hence we have two biographies on the little known life of Mary Boleyn. I also think that George has been so demonised by fiction in the last thirty years that perhaps no one felt him worthy enough to be researched.
I was quite surprised to learn that the Lord of Rochford was an accomplished poet. Given we have exquisite examples of both Sir Thomas Wyatt’s and Henry Howard, Lord of Surrey’s verses, why does so little of George Boleyn’s poetry survive? After all, the Earl of Surrey was also executed.
Claire: Yes, George was listed in 1575 with the likes of Chaucer, Surrey and Wyatt as a talented poet. We only know about his talent because his contemporaries wrote of it; his poetry is lost or has been attributed to another Tudor poet. Sir John Harington, a 16th century author, attributed “The Lover Complaineth the Unkindness of his Love” to George, so it may well be that we do have one poem by George.
We believe that George’s poetry was deliberately destroyed after his fall, and other poets took the credit for any remaining pieces. George had not only died as a traitor to the Crown, his name had been completely blackened by Henry VIII and Cromwell so his poetry would not have been lauded around the court. Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, also died as a traitor but his name was not blackened by charges such as incest and he was executed just a few days before the death of Henry VIII and the start of a new era.
You very comprehensively articulate the Lord of Rochford’s resounding success as a courtier and favorite of King henry VIII. What are the most important skills and attributes of a respected courtier? Besides the Lord of Rochford’s relationship with his sister Anne Boleyn, why do you believe the King enjoyed his company?
Clare: A courtier, as opposed to a politician/diplomat, needed to be able to keep Henry entertained. They were there for the gratification of the King, and if Henry didn’t like them then they wouldn’t last long. They needed to be bright, witty and good company. They also needed to be good sportsmen, and able to joust. George was intelligent, charming and witty. He was also good at tennis, archery etc, and could joust. I think Henry liked him and enjoyed his company. That is shown by the references to payments to George out of the Privy Purse Expenses.
Do you believe that the Lord of Rochford was a true reformer of the Church of England? Or, in contrast, was his religious belief system opportunistic? Just how important was religion to George Boleyn?
Claire: I do believe that George was a true Reformer and not just following a trend or using it for political means. Historian Eric Ives described George’s scaffold speech as George speaking “the language of Zion” and he was really preaching to the crowd. He described himself as “a setter forth of the word of God” and Chapuys backs this up when he complained about George always wanting to enter into “Lutheran” discussions with him.
George prepared two beautiful illuminated manuscripts for Anne and both were based on the works of French reformer Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples. Lefèvre believed that sinners were justified and pardoned by faith alone, through the divine grace of God and Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and that all the glory should go to God for his mercy and grace. Lefèvre also saw scripture as the highest authority, being the Word of God, and wanted renewal of the Church through scripture and the dissemination of the Bible in people’s native languages. These are texts that George and Anne were reading in private, what they chose to read and what they risked importing from the continent. George was an enthusiastic Evangelical with a true faith.
The Lord of Rochford made several diplomatic missions to France on behalf of King Henry VIII. Why did King Henry trust such a young man with these duties when far more experienced men, such as Sir Francis Bryan and Thomas Boleyn, Lord of Wiltshire were both available?
Clare: Initially George was sent to France with a mentor, but after that first embassy he clearly exhibited a capacity for the role because time and again Henry sent him on delicate missions to France as the diplomat Henry ‘especially loveth and trustith’. George’s intelligence was recognised by the whole court, and I think that irrespective of his age, Henry respected that.
Can you speak to the close relationship between George Boleyn and his sister, Queen Anne Boleyn? Why was Lady Mary Boleyn “odd sibling out” within that family dynamic?
Claire: Unfortunately, we know very little about Mary Boleyn’s relationship with either of her siblings. Anne and George had lots of opportunities to be together, with George serving the King and Anne being queen-in-waiting and then queen, but Mary appears to have steered clear of court after the death of her first husband. Her secret marriage in 1534 caused uproar in the Boleyn family because she should have sought Anne’s permission, or let Anne find her a suitable husband. She married for love and bore the brunt of her family’s wrath as a result, being banished from court. Mary’s words to Cromwell about her family, including her brother, being “so cruel against us”, make it clear that George was also angry with Mary. We don’t know if George ever saw Mary again.
There is a theory that Mary’s alleged misbehaviour in France and her affair with Henry VIII caused the Boleyns to distance themselves from her, so perhaps that’s why she appears to be the “odd sibling out”.
In your book, you eloquently detail the dramatic fall of the Boleyn family, as well of the course of events specific to the Lord of Rochford’s arrest, interrogation, imprisonment, trial and execution. Can you share with browsers why contemporaries developed a strong respect for George Boleyn in how he comported himself during these darkest and obviously acutely anxiety provoking days?
Clare: George was incredibly brave at his trial and execution. Most people knew he was innocent, and so I think he was greatly respected for how he handled the whole travesty of justice.
What do you believe is the Lord of Rochford’s greatest legacy?
Claire: In a physical sense, the two manuscripts he produced for Anne: Les Epistres and The Ecclesiaste. They are exquisite and his dedication to Anne is beautiful, and very tongue-in-cheek. That short dedication gives us an insight into his personality and the siblings’ close relationship.
George was a man of real courage and conviction. He had his faults, but in his last days in the Tower he showed compassion for others when he worried about those he owed money to and those who owed him, and his scaffold speech is incredible. His warning to “trust not in the vanity of the world, and especially in the flatterings of the court, and the favour and treacheries of Fortune” is as true today as it was then.
EDITOR’S NOTE: To check out QAB’s review of George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier and Diplomat, CLICK HERE.
Clare Cherry: (Source: George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier & Diplomat) Clare lives in Hampshire with her partner David. She works as a solicitor in Dorset, but has a passion for Tudor history and began researching the life of George Boleyn in 2006. She started corresponding with Claire Ridgway in late 2009, after meeting through The Anne Boleyn Files website, and the two Tudor enthusiasts became firm friends. Clare divides her time between the legal profession and researching Tudor history. Clare has written guest articles on George Boleyn for The Anne Boleyn Files, Nerdalicious.com.au, and author Susan Bordo’s The Creation of Anne Boleyn website.
Claire Ridgway: (Source: George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier & Diplomat) Claire is the author of the best-selling books On This Day in Tudor History, The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown, The Anne Boleyn Collection, and The Anne Boleyn Collection II, as well as Interviews With Indi Authors: Top Tips From Successful Self-Published Authors. Claire was also involved in the English translation and editing of Edmond Bapst’s 19th century French biography of George Boleyn and Henry Howard, now available as Two Gentleman Poets at the Court of Henry VIII.
Claire worked in education and freelance writing before creating The Anne Boleyn Files history website and becoming a full-time history researcher, blogger and author. The Anne Boleyn Files is known for its historical accuracy and Claire’s mission to get to the truth behind Anne Boleyn’s story. Her writing is easy-to-read and conversational, and readers often comment on how reading Claire’s books is like having a coffee with her and chatting about history.
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