George Boleyn was the son of Thomas Boleyn, an English diplomat, and his wife Elizabeth Howard, a member of one of the most powerful families of the time. We don’t know his exact date of birth but it is thought he was the youngest of the three surviving Boleyn children. George was always close to his sister Anne. They were both bright and well-educated, shared a love of poetry and the arts and were both passionate about religious reforms. Unlike his sisters, which were probably educated at home, George went to Oxford and then, still young, started his career at the court of Henry VIII as a page.
In around 1525, (or maybe in late 1524 as Alison Weir writes in her book, “The Lady In The Tower”), George married Jane Parker, the daughter of Henry Parker, Baron Morley. The marriage has generally been considered by future generations to have been very unhappy. It is also allegedly thought that Jane, jealous of Anne, gave evidence against both her husband and sister-in-law at their trial. However, we don’t really know anything about the relationship between husband and wife so we can’t really say whether their union was so miserable as usually portrayed or, instead, relatively happy for Tudor standards. In any case, like many husbands, George wasn’t faithful to his wife and had affairs with other women at court. Some go as far as to say that he wasn’t just a womanizer but also bisexual and had sexual relationships with men too, which was considered a hideous sin at the time. Again, this is just speculation and we don’t know if there is any truth in it.
George was a popular member of Henry VIII’s court and, like other members of his family, greatly benefited from his sister’s relationship with the King. He was a leading diplomat at the court and received many offices including Gentleman of the Privy Chamber (1528), Constable of Dover, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and master of the Buckhounds. In 1529 he gained a place in the Privy Chamber and the courtesy title of Viscount Rochford. From the king, he also received the Palace of New Hall, renamed Beaulieu, in Essex. He was a talented court poet, and often accompanied the king shooting and played bowls, cards and other games with him. He was a very influential man at court, at the centre of the Boleyn faction and Henry VIII obviously held him in high regard. So, what went wrong?
The King was tiring of Anne and falling for Jane Seymour. While the Seymour’s fortune was rising, the Boleyn family was starting to lose royal favour. Proof of this came on 29th April 1536. On this day, George Boleyn was supposed to be made Knight Of The Garter, but the king decided to appoint Sir Nicholas Carey, a supporter of Jane Seymour instead. This was a huge shock and blow to the Boleyns but the worst was still to come. Cromwell was plotting Anne’s fall and was determined to bring down with her all her supporters too. He managed to extort a confession out of Smeaton and soon afterwards, Lord Rochford was arrested discreetly. So discreetly that very few people knew about it. It seems that he was taken to the Tower to await trial without being interrogated.
George Boleyn was accused of having committed incest with his sister Anne. One of the dates cited on the indictment was 5 Nov.27 and it may have been chosen to imply that it was George, and not the King, the father of the baby Anne miscarried in 1536. The dates chosen didn’t really make any sense as Anne was with the King and or in a different place but none of that mattered at the trial. George wasn’t a commoner so, unlike Norris, Brereton, Smeaton and Weston who were tried by a commission of oyer and terminer, he, together with his sister, was tried by a jury of his peers on 15th May. The other men had already been found guilty three days before so George and Anne couldn’t possibly be found innocent, could they? Lord Rochford proclaimed his innocence and strongly defended himself but to no avail. He was found guilty and beheaded on 17th May 1536.