Modern history



The marriage of Geoffrey Boleyn II to his first wife Dionise would have been entirely forgotten if it were not for its brief mention in Geoffrey’s will. Geoffrey’s second wife, Anne Hoo, the mother of all his surviving children, was considerably more prominent and brought the Boleyns to the fringes of the nobility for the first time.

Until the time of his great-granddaughter, Queen Anne Boleyn, Geoffrey Boleyn II was the most prominent and illustrious member of the Boleyn family. One historian has posited that Geoffrey’s father might also have been engaged in business in London.1 It is not impossible that Geoffrey Boleyn I did indeed have some business connections, as evidenced by the fact that his son was set up in trade in the capital. However, in the main Geoffrey Boleyn I’s interests were based in Salle, where he was a prosperous farmer. By the 1430s Geoffrey Boleyn II had been set up in London as a hatter.2 This was a respectable trade but one in which he was not destined to remain for long, instead becoming, in 1435, a member of the prestigious Mercer’s Company in London, indicating that, by that stage, his affairs had taken on a more general trading nature. He was already somewhat established as the entry in the wardens’ account book for 1435 for the Mercer’s Company also refers to his apprentices, of whom Robert Hastings and William Brampston are known for the period.3 He was able to pay the significant fee of over 5 pounds for his entry. Geoffrey quickly became an active member of the Mercer’s Company, with his name regularly featuring in company accounts, including a number of fines for defaulting on summons made on him to court in 1437–8, 1438–9 and 1440–1.4 Geoffrey evidently had a dislike of such appointments, as can be seen in the fact that, in October 1458 and again in July 1461, he received an exemption for life from the king for his good service to the king’s father:

From being put on assizes, juries, inquisitions, attaints or recognisances and from being made trier of them, taxer, collector or assessor of customs, taxes, tallages, fifteenths, tenths or other subsidies, knight, mayor, sheriff, escheator, commissioner, constable, bailiff or other officer or minister of the king against his Will.5

Geoffrey’s wife, Anne Hoo Boleyn, also benefited from the first of these grants, ensuring that she would not be forced into any official capacity against her will. The fines that Geoffrey received from the Mercer’s Company did nothing to hinder his rise in the company and by 1443 he had been appointed as one of its wardens. During his term of office Geoffrey had five apprentices admitted to the company, the highest number among the company members.6 In 1449 he was appointed as a Member of Parliament for London.7 In 1451 he was also one of five men who lent the king the combined sum of £1,246, a huge sum, to pay for the war in France, something which stands as a testament to his financial prosperity.8 He may have been less than committed to Henry VI’s Lancastrian cause, however, as in 1461, when the members of the Mercer’s Company agreed to together lend £100 to the prominent Yorkist the Earl of Warwick, Geoffrey supplied the highest sum.9 That same year the company also granted 1,000 marks to the new king, Edward IV, ‘for the speed of the earl of Warwick in to the North’ with Geoffrey this time supplying the joint-highest sum at over 13 pounds.10 In June 1453 he hosted the officers of the Mercer’s Company in his own house while elections were held for wardens of the company, another indication that he was one of the most prominent, and wealthy, of his fellows in the city.11

In 1457 Geoffrey reached the pinnacle of his career when he was elected as Lord Mayor of London.12 This role allowed him to mix with barons, abbots and chief justices in ceremonial processions and banquets and, in addition, provided him with a seat on the royal council.13 Although Geoffrey only served for a year, it was far from being a merely ceremonial appointment, with Geoffrey and his aldermen and sheriffs receiving a royal commission in November 1457 to raise 1,137 archers in London and its suburbs.14The following August he was given a commission with others to enter the dwellings, houses, warehouses and cellars of any Genoese merchants in London in order to make inventories and confiscate their goods and merchandise.15 As a merchant himself, this was not entirely to Geoffrey’s taste and the commission was later vacated because no action had actually been taken to carry out its commands.

Geoffrey Boleyn II, through his prosperity, mixed in higher social circles. His increasing prominence in the City of London brought about his marriage to Anne Hoo, the daughter of Lord Hoo and Hastings. This was the first time that the Boleyn family, which had only recently had aspirations to gentry status, had attempted to forge links with the nobility, although it must be pointed out that Anne’s father, Thomas Hoo, was only the first member of his family to hold a peerage and that his barony was a new creation. Anne was certainly not a member of an ancient noble family as later Boleyn wives would be. Her father had also not been ennobled at the time of her marriage. Lord Hoo and Hastings obtained his title when Anne was already twenty-three. Since Anne and Geoffrey’s eldest son, Thomas, reached his majority at some point between 1463 and 1466, he was evidently born between 1442 and 1445 when Anne was aged between seventeen and twenty. As discussed in the previous chapter, Thomas is most likely Anne’s son rather than that of her predecessor, Dionise, particularly given the fact that the name Thomas was a favourite in the Hoo family, with both Anne’s father and his half-brother confusingly bearing the name. The marriage of Anne and Geoffrey, who was twenty years older than his bride, took place before her father’s ennoblement and before Geoffrey became Lord Mayor of London in around 1442–44. It may even have occurred earlier as two of Anne’s younger half-sisters are known to have been married in their early teens, with one, another Anne, being widowed before she turned fifteen and a second, Eleanor, recorded as a wife when she was aged thirteen or fourteen.16 Anne Hoo Boleyn’s marriage could therefore conceivably have occurred as early as 1437 or 1438, particularly as she was then potentially a very great heiress. In the fifteenth century it was not that uncommon for gentlewomen to marry into the merchant classes and Geoffrey’s wealth more than made up for the fact that the match was beneath Anne socially. For Geoffrey, the marriage firmly cemented his status as a gentleman and provided links to Anne’s father, an important royal servant. He had hopes that Anne would prove to be her father’s sole surviving child, with Hoo’s third marriage only producing its first child in 1448, some years after Geoffrey and Anne’s marriage.17

Anne’s father, Thomas Hoo, was created Lord Hoo and Hastings by Henry VI in 1448 and had been elected as a Knight of the Garter a few years before. He had a somewhat complicated personal life, being married three times. His first marriage produced one son who died in his father’s lifetime, while his second, to Elizabeth, the daughter and heiress of Sir Nicholas Wychingham, produced one daughter, Anne Hoo, who was born in 1425.18 His third marriage allowed Hoo to ally himself with a more established noble family, when he took Eleanor, the daughter of Leo, Lord Welles, as his bride. This marriage produced a further three daughters: a second Anne, who married Sir Roger Copley; Eleanor, who married into the Carews of Beddington; and Elizabeth, the wife of Sir Thomas Massingberd and then Sir John Devenish.

Family members came to prominence as royal servants in the reigns of Edward III and his two successors. Anne’s own father, Thomas Hoo, served Henry VI in France for some years, spending thirteen years as Chancellor of France for the English king. The family had lived in Sussex since at least the reign of Edward II in the early fourteenth century.19 With the death of her elder half-brother, Anne Hoo Boleyn and her much younger half-sisters found themselves to be their father’s heirs on his death in 1455. The sisters had a rival in their uncle, another Thomas Hoo, who was his brother’s heir male. However Anne, as the eldest, was able to negotiate a beneficial settlement, with her own son, William Boleyn, being named as his uncle’s heir on his death in 1486 as a result of a settlement agreed between Thomas Hoo and Anne in 1474.20 Lord Hoo’s probate was a lengthy and disputed business and Anne was lucky to come out of it with anything from her father’s estate. Lord Hoo died so in debt that his chosen executors, his widow and his brother, ‘expressly refused to act’, with the Archbishop of Canterbury instead appointing a professional executor.21 Shortly after the death that executor complained that Hoo’s widow had carried away jewels, goods, chattels and anything else that was moveable and had refused to return them, leading to the deceased’s debts remaining unpaid. Anne Hoo Boleyn’s young half-sister, Eleanor, also found herself without the bequest that she received in the will when her first, unconsummated, marriage was followed by a second match without her family’s permission, providing her mother and uncle with a pretext for withholding her funds.22

The evidence of Geoffrey Boleyn’s will, which is discussed below and in which he displayed a great deal of affection and trust in his wife, suggests that the marriage immediately became close, as does the fact that at least five children were born to the couple: Thomas, William, Isabel, Anne and Alice. In addition to this, Geoffrey evidently forged bonds with members of Anne Hoo Boleyn’s family, making a bequest in his will of an annuity to ‘Dame Joanne Hoo my cousin, nun of the house of Barking’, who can be identified as a kinswoman of his wife.23 In return, he asked specifically that Joanne pray for his soul.

With his success in trade, Geoffrey was determined to fully cement his position as a member of the gentry and, as such, he required a family seat. In 1452 Geoffrey opened negotiations with Sir John Falstolf, a wealthy landowner and a member of the king’s council, for the purchase of the manor of Blickling in Norfolk.24 A letter survives among the famous Paston letters, which was sent by Geoffrey to John Paston in 1460, detailing some of his business dealings with Paston’s patron and friend, Sir John Falstolf.25In the letter, which is written in the hand of a scribe but signed personally by Geoffrey, he pointed out that he had purchased the manor of Blickling from Falstolf both for a ‘great payment’ and for an additional yearly annuity, which was, as Geoffrey explained, ‘to me great charge’. The negotiations for the purchase had taken place at Falstolf’s house at Southwark and, at the same time, due to the great sums that Geoffrey committed to pay for Blickling, Falstolf made an oath on his primer that he would also allow him first refusal to purchase a second manor, that of Guton in Norfolk, ‘for a reasonable price’. With Falstolf’s death, Geoffrey had trouble in securing this manor, writing to Paston as Falstolf’s executor ‘to pray you to show me your good will and favour in this behalf, wherein ye shall discharge my said master’s soul of his oath and promise, and I shall do you service in that I can or may to my power’. The manor meant enough to Geoffrey that he was prepared to ‘wait on you at any time and place where ye will assign’. However it was perhaps convenient for Geoffrey that he was the only surviving witness to Falstolf’s alleged oath, which he used to his advantage to push his claims to a desirable manor. Paston may well not have been favourably disposed to Geoffrey since it appears that he had not readily paid the purchase price for Blickling, with Falstolf petitioning the king’s chancellor in 1452 to complain that he had only received half of the sums agreed.26 Blickling became the Boleyn family’s primary seat, with Geoffrey commissioning a chapel, dedicated to St Thomas, on the north side of the chancel in Blickling church, which stood beside the manor.27 In his will, Geoffrey also left sums to pay for improvements to the church.

Geoffrey was well known to John Paston and his family by 1460 and there is some indication that the two families were not on entirely favourable terms. In 1452, for example, while Geoffrey was busy with his negotiations with Sir John Falstolf, Agnes Paston wrote from Norwich to her son, John Paston, to report that

Sir John Fastolf hath sold Heylysdon to Boleyn of London; and if it be so, it seemeth he will sell more. Wherefore I pray you, as ye will have my love and my blessing that ye will help and do your devoir that something were purchased for your ij brethren. I suppose Sir John Falstolf, and he were spake to, would be gladder to let his kinsmen have part than strange men.28

There was some jealousy between the families over Geoffrey’s land acquisitions. In November 1454 Thomas Howes, an agent of Sir John Falstolf, wrote to John Paston to say that he had raised the possibility of a marriage between Paston’s daughter and a young ward of Falstolf’s. Matters had moved so far that Howes had ‘enquired after the said child, and no doubt of but he is likely and of great wit, as I hear be reported of sundry persons’.29 However, Howes also had a warning for Paston that, while this promising child would evidently be perfect for a Paston daughter, ‘I am credibly informed, that Geoffrey Boleyn maketh great labour for marriage of the said child to one of his daughters’. Howes assured Paston of his own personal support, declaring that while he wished well to Geoffrey, he wished better to Paston.

Both the famous Paston family and the Boleyns had strong Norfolk interests and, with their similar backgrounds, it is perhaps not surprising that they regularly came within each other’s spheres of influence. The Pastons originated from the village of Paston, only 20 miles from Norwich and, thus, not far from Salle. The John Paston who was executor to Sir John Falstolf was a lawyer although, like the Boleyns, the family had some less than illustrious ancestry, with one fifteenth-century description of the family claiming that they were descended from one Clement Paston, a husbandman, who ploughed his land and ‘rode to mill on bare horseback with his corn under him and brought home meal again under him, and also drove his cart with diverse corn to Wynterton to sell’.30The family farmed a few acres at Paston and, on the basis of this description, does not sound very far removed from Geoffrey’s own grandfather, the builder of the church at Salle, Thomas Boleyn I.

While there was evidently some rivalry between the two families, it was the Boleyns who outstripped their Norfolk rivals. Sir John Falstolf’s executor, John Paston, left two sons: Sir John Paston, the elder, and his younger brother, another John. Sir John Paston soon established himself as a leading member of Norfolk society while his brother, the younger John, attempted to build on his own social position and career by making a prestigious marriage. Interestingly, the first object of the younger John’s affections was Alice Boleyn, the youngest daughter of the by then deceased Geoffrey and his widow, Anne.

John Paston, as a younger son, had little to recommend him when he first approached Anne to suggest a match with her daughter. As a result, the younger John went to his brother for advice and Sir John in turn went in person to speak with Anne in March 1467. He found her unmoved at his pleas, writing to give his brother the disappointing news that

as for my Lady Boleyn’s disposition to you-wards, I cannot in no wise find her agreeable that ye should have her daughter, for all the privy means that I could make, insomuch I had so little comfort by all the means that I could make, that I disdained in mine own person to common [i.e. speak] with her therein.31

The best that Sir John could obtain from Anne, who was seeking a more prestigious husband for her daughter, was that she assured him that ‘what if he [younger John] and she [Alice] can agree I will not let it, but I will never advise her thereto wise’. This was hardly approval from the prospective mother-in-law, although it does show some degree of indulgence in Anne as a mother that she was prepared to allow her daughter to make her own choice with regard to the match. Anne was indeed an indulgent mother, who was close to all her children, with her eldest son, William, later requesting to be buried close to her.32 Her second daughter, Anne Boleyn Heydon, inherited a silver-and-gilt bowl with a cover which bore the arms of the Hoo family from her mother, something which she treasured all her life, eventually passing it on to her own granddaughter in her will: a testament to the close relationship between Anne Hoo Boleyn and her daughter and namesake.33 It may well be that Anne was concerned about her daughter’s suitor’s motives: it is perhaps telling that the Paston family held the manor of Kirkhall in Salle at the time and that young John, after his pursuit of Alice came to nothing, later married Margery Brewes, the daughter of Sir Thomas Brewes, who held the manor of Stinton in Salle.34 It seems improbable that he just happened to fall in love with two young ladies with close landed connections to Salle, an area in which he wished to extend his interests.

Anne’s words did not dissuade the young man, in spite of the fact that she was negotiating another marriage for her daughter at that time with a man named Crosseby. Soon after her meeting with Sir John Paston, Anne returned home to Norfolk with her daughter. She was overtaken on the road by Sir John’s letter to his brother in which he advised him to continue in his pursuit of Alice, both by seeking out and charming the mother, as well as taking more immediate steps to win the daughter herself. According to Sir John, who had fully weighed up his brother’s advantages:

Ye be personable, and peradventure your being once in the sight of the maid, and a little discovering of your good will to her, binding her to keep it secret, and that ye can find in your heart, with some comfort to her, to find the mean to bring such matter about as shall be her pleasure and yours, but that this ye cannot do without some comfort of her in no wise.

Both brothers had high hopes that the younger John would win Alice’s affections, although Sir John finished by counselling his brother that ‘bear yourself as lowly to the mother as ye list, but to the maid not too lowly’.

The younger John was not as forthcoming as his brother wished and, instead, the following month wrote to complain that he could not possibly speak to the formidable Lady Boleyn unless his brother came home and was with him.35 His timidity cost him a meeting with Anne, who, on her return to Norfolk, travelled to Norwich for the week after Easter, accompanied by both her married daughter, Anne Boleyn Heydon, and her youngest daughter, the desirable Alice. This was a missed opportunity for John, who was then at Caistor and claimed not to have been aware of the visit until it was too late. According to reports of Anne’s servants that reached the younger John, ‘she had none other errand to the town but for to sport her; but so God help me, I suppose that she wend I would have been in Norwich for to have seen her daughter’. Given Anne’s earlier response to young John’s suit, this seems unlikely. He did not receive another opportunity and Anne took no steps to promote the match.

Alice’s father, Geoffrey Boleyn II, had died in 1463. He had divided his time between London, the centre of his business interests, and his Norfolk estates, decreeing in his will, which was made only shortly before his death, that he hoped to be buried in the church of St Lawrence in the capital ‘if it happen me to decease in London or elsewhere within the Realm of England, saving always that if I decease within the shire of Norfolk, I will that then my body be buried in the Church of Blickling’.36 Geoffrey went into considerable detail in his will as to how he was to be buried, with his specifications indicating that he was a man of fairly austere tastes. He asked that his body be buried with black candlesticks and that thirteen torches be carried aloft by the same number of poor and needy people. These torchbearers, who Geoffrey specified should be poor householders rather than beggars, were to each be given a rosary, a gown lined with russet or black and a hood of black, as well as 12 pence. At the same time, Geoffrey specified that there was to be little other ceremony for him, stating that:

I will not that any hearse or gilt candlesticks be ordained or set about me not any great feast made, but a dinner to my wife and to my brother Master Thomas and to my executors and such other friends and neighbours as my said wife, my brother and executors will call unto them.

Evidently Geoffrey trusted his wife and brother’s judgement in this regard and it can be inferred that his relationship with Anne was a close one. He left her a wealthy widow, bequeathing her a significant share of his goods and chattels, including one half of his silver plate. In an age where married women were not permitted to hold any property personally he significantly left Anne all her own clothes, ornaments and jewels, a bequest which, while it seems natural to modern eyes, was not something that all fifteenth-century husbands would have condescended to do. Geoffrey’s own clothes and other personal goods were to be sold to pay for bedding, clothes, linen and woollens for poor people. Geoffrey left extensive sums to charity, something that both attests to his charitable disposition and his wealth at his death.

His children were also not forgotten, with his sons, Thomas and William, each receiving the sum of 300 marks. Geoffrey’s daughters, Isabel, Anne and Alice, each received the substantial sum of 1,000 marks. In addition to this, Anne Hoo Boleyn and her brother-in-law, Thomas Boleyn, were given the discretion as to how the remaining half of Geoffrey’s silver was to be divided between his sons and daughters. The bequests to Geoffrey’s children were all conditional on them either reaching the age of twenty-five or marrying, a common enough provision where large sums were involved, with Isabel’s to be held by Geoffrey Randolf, a merchant and friend of Geoffrey Boleyn’s. Two apprentices of Geoffrey’s took on the role of trustee for the younger daughters’ legacies. Significantly, although Anne Hoo Boleyn was not appointed to act as trustee for any of her children, she was given considerable control over the futures of all her offspring, with Geoffrey declaring that:

I will and ordain by this my testament that none of my foresaid children be married within his age of twenty-five years without the will and assent of Anne my wife, her mother, and of my brother Master Thomas and of my executors or of the more part of them, so that the same Anne my wife while she standeth sole [i.e. unmarried] and my said brother be of the same more part. And if any of my said children be married against the form aforesaid, or be governed in otherwise than by the will and assent of her said mother while she standeth soul, and of my said brother and of my executors or of the more part of them in form aforesaid, I will and ordain that then the bequests by me abovemade to such of my said children as happen to be married or governed contrary to my Will aforesaid rehearsed be utterly void and of none effect.

To hammer home the point, Geoffrey declared that such forfeited sums should be used charitably for the good of his soul. It is clear from this part of the will why the consent of Anne Hoo Boleyn was so crucial to John Paston: it was an extraordinary concession on her part that she was prepared to allow her daughter to potentially marry for love, even if she could not recommend the match, given the power that the will gave her to control her youngest daughter’s choice so effectively. As a final proof of Geoffrey’s affection for his wife, she was the first named executor to his will, which was proved on 2 July 1463, only eight days after the will was drafted. The claim in an eighteenth-century work on the history of Norfolk that Anne Hoo Boleyn remarried in 1501, taking a Thomas Fenys as her second husband, is groundless, with Fenys actually taking another member of the Hoo family as his wife.37 Instead, Anne remained a widow until her own death.

Alice Boleyn, as the youngest daughter of Geoffrey and Anne, was the last to marry, eventually taking Sir John Fortescue as her husband.38 The second daughter, Anne, married Sir Henry Heydon, who had been associated with her father at least as early as 1452 when it was falsely rumoured that he had asked Geoffrey to purchase Blickling on his behalf.39 Heydon enjoyed prominence as the steward of Cecily, Duchess of York, the mother of Edward IV and Richard III. He was also a Norfolk landowner. He owned a house at West Wickham in Kent and was knighted in 1485. Sir Henry died in 1503, requesting that he be buried in Norwich Cathedral, and leaving Anne Boleyn Heydon a widow at a fairly advanced age.

Anne Boleyn Heydon’s will survives and demonstrates something of the wealthy and comfortable life that she led as a widow. She lived to a good age, dying in May 1510 in the second year of Henry VIII’s reign. In her will, which was dated less than six months before her death, Anne declared that she was in full and whole mind, before requesting that ‘my sinful body to be buried in the chapel of Saint Luke in the Cathedral church of the Holy Trinity of Norwich if I die in Norwich or in Norfolk’.40 Anne Boleyn Heydon obviously had an affinity with Norwich which had, of course, been the town closest to her childhood home at Blickling and which she visited with her mother during the early years of her marriage. She also left a bequest for the repair of the cathedral, on the condition that she was indeed granted a burial there as she wished and that a solemn dirge and requiem Mass were said for her soul. Gifts were given to the prior, sub-prior and to each of the monks in order for them to pray for her. Anne was living in Norwich at the time of her death and had evidently involved herself with the poor of the city, further requesting that her executors should give alms to poor householders there, especially those ‘that be dwelling within the parish that I dwell in’. There were gifts to the black friars, white friars, grey friars and Austin friars of the city for the good of her soul – a pious gift but, given the fact that each order was to receive the same amount, suggests that she had no particular interest in any over the other.

She was clearly pious, as can be seen by the religious apparatus listed in her will. One bequest, for example, involved a gift to Thomas Landons in recompense for a primer that she had received from his father. She possessed a number of rosaries, including one made of amber beads. While she lived, Anne Boleyn Heydon presented herself as a great lady and she was determined that this continued after her death. Like her father, she took a great interest in preparations for her own funeral, declaring in her will that

there be provided xij beadmen of the poorest persons to hold light about mine hearse and each of the to have a black gown of frieze and 5d in money, and each of them to say a dirge and mass at my burying our Lady’s psalter and 5 pater noster 5 avas and a creed.

Her grave was to be marked with a slab of marble displaying her image and her arms. Anne made a great deal of charitable donations to the church in her will, as well as arranging for an ‘honest and virtuous’ priest to be found who would sing and pray for her at Cambridge while also attending to his learning there. During her lifetime she had already been responsible for funding the studies of one scholar, Master English, who was a priest and she specifically requested that he be appointed to sing and pray for her after her death, a reasonable request by a patron. During her lifetime, Anne was wealthy enough to employ her own chaplain, a Sir John Caley, and she also had a household of servants and attendants. These household servants were to receive black gowns from her executors, providing that they attended her funeral. Charitably, Anne ordered that her household be kept in place for three months after her death, a period calculated to give her servants sufficient time to find new employment for themselves although some way below the usual one year’s wages that servants in a royal household could expect.

While Anne Boleyn Heydon’s charitable gifts give an insight into her character, it is the bequests that she was able to make that demonstrate the wealthy lifestyle that she led. As well as living mainly in Norwich, Anne kept a house in Kent, leaving her household goods there to her eldest son, John. Her daughter, Dorothy Cobham, received

three goblets of silver and gilt with one cover to the same, a psalter covered with blue velvet, one pair beads of gold, my chain of gold, one seler [i.e. a bed canopy] and tester with the covering of blue damask, iii curtains of blue sarcenet, one cushion of tawny and purple velvet, one pair fustions, vi pair sheets, mine hanging of cloth of arras.

Her daughter, Bridget Paston, received rich household furnishings, as well as a feather bed and two of the best sheets. She received two salts of silver and gilt, as well as a silver gilt cover and two pillows. Bridget’s husband, who was favoured by his mother-in-law, received two silver pots. For a third daughter, Anne Dymoke, there was a standing cup with a cover and a cross of gold while her husband received a silver-and-gilt bowl. A younger son, Henry, gained a silver basin and ewer, as well as two feather beds and bedding. He also received hangings of yellow and red which had decorated his mother’s own great chamber. An unmarried daughter, Margaret, received blankets, as well as a tapestry coverlet and fine cushions. Margaret may have had a pious reason for the fact that she remained unmarried, as her mother also passed her some of her religious paraphernalia, including two silver chalices and a vestment made of fine cloth of Baudkin, which was a particularly rich fabric interwoven with threads of gold. She received a specific bequest of all other goods ‘that pertaineth to the altar except that is bequest before and after’. Anne Boleyn Heydon remained on good terms with all her children, also remembering her grandchildren in her will. A grandson, George Cobham, for example, was to receive two salts of silver and gilt with a cover, to be delivered to him when he reached the age of twenty-one, with his father keeping the items safe for him in the meantime. Anne took steps to provide for George’s upbringing, leaving him an annuity of 10 shillings per year for five years to be delivered to his mother. George’s sister, Anne Cobham, received 66 shillings for her marriage, which was to be paid to her mother in the meantime, while another granddaughter, Frances Gurney, received an annual sum for her living expenses until she married. Frances also received a number of rich bequests and a sum to be paid on her marriage. She was a particular favourite of her grandmother, who bequeathed her all her gowns and furs, save those that had otherwise been disposed of in her will.

Anne Boleyn Heydon evidently delighted in her family in her old age, spending time with her children and grandchildren. Her will notes that she acted as godmother to a number of her grandchildren, something that suggests a particular closeness towards them and their parents. Furthermore, she made a gift of 20 shillings to one Elizabeth Thomas, a servant of her daughter, Dorothy Cobham: clearly, mother and daughter were frequently enough in each other’s company for them to be familiar, and even friendly, with each other’s servants.

Anne Hoo Boleyn’s eldest daughter, Isabel, who was born in 1453, married William Cheyne, esquire, of the Isle of Sheppey. Cheyne was the second son of Sir John Cheyne and his elder brother, who was also knighted, became a knight of the Garter.41 William was a member of the gentry and it was a solid, but far from spectacular, match. Isabel bore her husband two sons, Francis and William. She died in 1485, while still only in her early thirties, and significantly chose to be buried at Blickling, demonstrating her continuing attachment to her birth family. In her funeral brass she is depicted in fashionable clothes, with her dress and headdress resembling the Yorkist queen Elizabeth Woodville in style, something that is indicative of the fact that she aspired to the nobility and also that she was a fashionable woman.

The sleeves and collar of Isabel’s gown are furred, with a decorative veiled cap and ornate belt. Her low-cut dress, with a pleated skirt, shows a darker under-dress at the chest and she also wears an elaborate necklace with five dangling jewelled pendants visible. Isabel was depicted with a stylishly high forehead, with her hair largely hidden by her cap: such an effect would have been achieved through the plucking of her hair on her forehead. Interestingly, unlike the other memorial brasses at Blickling, of Isabel’s aunt, Cecily, and niece, Anne, Isabel’s facial expression appears striking and proud, rather than pious with downcast eyes. Her hands display an open gesture as opposed to the praying posture of the two other ladies depicted. From the evidence of the brass it would appear that Isabel had no wish to be depicted as a particularly pious woman, instead choosing to be portrayed to display her beauty, wealth and status.

Isabel’s husband survived her and both he and his brother proved to be staunch supporters of Henry VII, with her husband receiving a number of grants from the king after his accession in August 1485.42 He also served as sheriff of Kent in 1477 and was again carrying out this office in 1485 at the time of Isabel’s death.43 Given that the role of sheriff required a personal presence in the county it would seem probable that Isabel was also resident in Kent at the time of her death and that her death may have happened unexpectedly while she was visiting her family at Blickling.

All indications suggest that Anne Hoo Boleyn busied herself with her children, as well as managing the family estates, after the death of Geoffrey Boleyn II. Her eldest son, Thomas, succeeded his father while still legally a minor. He had reached his majority by 1466, suggesting that he was at least eighteen at the time of his father’s death.44 This Thomas Boleyn III was short-lived, dying in April 1471. His death was not unexpected. He was able to make a will, something which suggests ill health. In his will he asked to be buried with his father in London, leaving his mother as his executor and asking her to use his funds to provide for his soul’s health.

Anne Hoo Boleyn died in Norfolk in 1485.45 She was buried in Norwich Cathedral with her grave marked by a memorial brass. Sadly, her memorial has been moved since the sixteenth century and all that survives is the outline of a woman on the re-positioned stone. As the daughter of a nobleman, she brought an added level of prestige to the rising Boleyn family. This was followed by the even more spectacular marriage made by her eldest surviving son, William Boleyn, to Margaret Butler, whose father became Earl of Ormond.

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