We have no surviving portraits identified as George, nor any physical descriptions of him. I like to think he would have had the same beautiful dark eyes as his sister.
He was the only son of Thomas Boleyn and his wife, Elizabeth Howard Boleyn, that survived to adulthood. Two brothers, Henry and Thomas, died in childhood.
Whatever the order of their birth, the Boleyn children seem to have been remarkably close. In an age in which parents might not speak to their children for years, their familial affection for one another was notable, especially between Anne and George. Their earliest years were spent at Blickling Hall in Norwich, moving to Hever Castle in Kent after their father inherited it.
Next door lived the Wyatt family. Thomas Wyatt and his sister Margaret may have become close friends with the Boleyn siblings. There are ancient rumors that Thomas fell in love with Anne during this time and never truly got over her.
But approaching adulthood separated the children. Mary, then Anne, were sent to France, first to serve the king's sister, who'd just become the French queen, and later, Queen Claude. George was brought to court at the tender age of ten, and he impressed the king enough to have him appointed as a pageboy.
Like his sister Anne, George received an excellent education, learning to speak Latin, French, and Italian. George is said to have attended Oxford, where he reportedly "was educated in all kind of polite learning" and discovered his affinity for poetry.
George also had Anne's evangelical fervor, and so he and his sister may have been educated by the same chaplain. There's a tradition they were tutored by Thomas Cranmer, but the evidence for it is shaky.
George appears to have been very witty. His intelligence is noted in some contemporary accounts. Thomas Wyatt remembered his friend in one of his poems:
For thou great wit each man would thee bemoan.
Since it is so, many cry aloud
it is a great loss that thou art dead and gone.
George Cavendish - who was no fan of the Boleyns - noted George's talent with verse:
God gave me grace, dame nature did her part,Endowed me with gifts of natural qualities:
Dame eloquence also taught me the artIn meter and verse to make pleasant ditties
In about 1519, George's sister, Mary Boleyn, became Henry's mistress and the whole family began to benefit from the king's favor.
Around 1525 - about the same time his sister, Anne, caught the attention of the king - George married Jane Parker. It was around this time that George received his first gift from the king, a manor house, which may have been a wedding gift.
The marriage of George and Jane Parker has always been the subject of intense speculation. Was the marriage unhappy? On this point, the records are silent - there are scant facts about Jane at all. All we have are a few roughly contemporary accounts, and those written long after the fact.
There's no reason to suspect George was a bad husband. There are no contemporary allegations that he was cruel to his wife. He seems to have been a nice enough fellow, popular at court ... and with the ladies. But this was an expected part of any Tudor marriage. Nor was there ever any hint that George was "unnatural" in his appetites, as Retha Warnicke alleged.
The king seems to have enjoyed George's company, because there are a lot of mentions of him in the king's accounts, his majesty having lost bets to George at cards, or sporting games. It's interesting to note that the accounts indicate George seems to have lost a roughly equal amount to the king, which may be a further sign of his intelligence.
In the same year as his marriage to Jane, George was appointed a gentleman of the privy chamber, one of the king's closest servants. But Cardinal Wolsey was alarmed by the Boleyn family's rise in the king's favor and made sure George was one of the gentlemen who lost his position when Wolsey reorganized the king's household as a costs savings measure. He appointed George as the royal cupbearer in "compensation" for the loss of the important and lucrative post.
By 1527, Henry was determined to marry Anne Boleyn, and he continued to heap honors and posts on the Boleyns. Two years later, George was knighted, then created Viscount Rochford before he was sent to France as an ambassador.
He was very young for this responsible position. While he was there, he met the Imperial Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, who liked George until he found out George was the brother of the "concubine" trying to usurp the place of the rightful queen, Katharine of Aragon. He referred to George's evangelical faith as being "more Lutheran than Luther."
|After George's ennoblement, he signed himself|
Between his diplomatic appointments, George acquired a reputation at the English court as being a poet of some merit and a bit of a womanizer. But he continued in his religious zeal, translating two religious texts as a gift for his sister, Anne, who was now the queen.
He was called to parliament in 1533 and was known to be very dutiful in attending sessions. He was also one of the judges who presided over the trial of Thomas More, and of a group of monks who refused to accept the king as head of the church.
His fall from favor was swift and brutal. In late 1535, Henry began focusing his attentions on Jane Seymour, one of Anne Boleyn's ladies in waiting. In January of 1536, on the same day as Katharine of Aragon's funeral, Anne Boleyn had a miscarriage, and the Boleyn family was cast into a downward spiral. In April, George was supposed to receive the honor of becoming a Knight of the Garter - it went to Nicholas Carew, an enemy of the Boleyns, instead. On May 2, he was arrested and sent to the Tower, charged with incest and plotting to kill the king.
All of the men charged with being the queen's "concubines" made the verdicts against Anne and George a foregone conclusion. The case against them was shoddily constructed of evidence easily proven false, but it did not matter. The king wanted convictions and that's what the jury gave. George was tried immediately after his sister. Eyewitness reports say he put on such a good defense that bets were made in the courtroom ten-to-one he would be acquitted.
But if there ever was any hope of that, George threw it away with one last defiant gesture.
The verdict came down: guilty.
George was beheaded along with the other men on May 17, 1536. There are a couple different versions of his scaffold speech, but they contained what a noble was supposed to say before dying: an exhortation for the witnesses to live Godly lives and asking forgiveness for sins. (Presented with modernized spelling.)
"Christian men, I am born under the law, and judged under the law, and die under the law, and the law hath condemned me. Masters all, I am not come hither for to preach, but for to die, for I have deserved to die if I had twenty lives, more shamefully than can be devised, for I am a wretched sinner, and I have sinned shamefully. I have known no man so evil, and to rehearse [rehash] my sins openly, it were no pleasure to you to hear them, nor yet for me to rehearse them, for God knoweth all.
Therefore, masters all, I pray you take head by me, and especially my lords and gentlemen of the court, the which I have been among. Take head by me, and beware of such a fall, and I pray to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost-- three persons and one God-- that my death may be an example unto you all, and beware, trust not in the vanity of the world, and especially in the flattering of the court. [Another version continues the line "...or the favour and treacheries of fortune.]
And I cry God mercy, and ask all the world forgiveness, as willingly as I would have forgiveness of God. If I have offended any man that is not here now, either in thought, word, or deed, and if ye hear any such, I pray you heartily in my behalf, pray them to forgive me for God’s sake.And yet, my masters all, I have one thing for to say to you: men do commonly say that I have been a setter-forth of the word of God, and one that have favored the Gospel of Christ. Because I would not that God’s word should be slandered by me, I say unto you all, that if I had followed God’s word in deed as I did read it and set it forth to my power, I had not come to this. I did read the Gospel of Christ, but I did not follow it. If I had, I [would] had been a live man among you. Therefore I pray you, masters all, for God’s sake stick to the truth and follow it, for one good follower is worth three readers, as God knoweth.”
I forced widows, maidens I did deflower.All was one to me, I spared none at all,
My appetite was all women to devourMy study was both day and hour.
George was buried in the floor of the chapel of St. Peter-ad-Vincula. The records indicate Anne was buried next to him only two days later, but when the Victorians excavated the chapel, they did not find any remains they could identify as George Boleyn. They speculated that his remains had either been removed, or were buried close to the north wall, an area left unexcavated for fear of destabilizing the Blount monument there.