Georgie Porgie?

Two of the most bewildering (to me) myths bandied about concerning George Boleyn is that he was 1) a monster who frequently committed sexual assault and 2) he was as gay as a monkey on nitrous oxide.

The first one of these myths, the legend of Lord Rochford the Rapist, made me always makes me think of the nursery rhyme Georgie Porgie:

Georgie Porgie, Pudding and Pie/ Kissed the girls and made them cry/ When the boys came out to play/ Georgie Porgie ran away

Even as a child this bit of Mother Goose bothered me. I didn’t understand why the girls would cry if Georgie Porgie kissed them or why he ran away from the boys afterwards.  When I was older I began to intensely dislike it because it seemed “rapey” to me. At the very least, I  thought it was doggerel about a sneaky coward and have never read it to my children.

This is not to say that I think George Boleyn was the inspiration for Georgie Porgie, of course. Although rumors abound that Georgie Porgie was named after various historical figures none of them have a shred of evidence behind them and George Boleyn isn’t even on the list of possible suspects.

So how did Lord Rochford become a “Georgie Porgie like” villain who kissed the girls and made them cry? It was a very popular belief among historians in the Victorian era, but since the 20th century scholars have dismissed the allegations as pure poppycock. If it has been soundly debunked by academics, why does this idea continue to flourish? Furthermore, in light of the fact there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that George Boleyn was homosexual, or even bisexual occasionally just for the kinky enjoyment, why is he still portrayed in some books of historical fiction as a Renaissance version of Liberace?

It appears these beliefs were born from a manuscript published by George Cavendish, which was accepted uncritically by historians in the days of long ago but then was later found to be baseless by more modern scholars. Nevertheless, Cavendish’s works and the opinions of nineteenth century histories are still used as resource material for at least one of today’s most widely read “popular” historians, who then presents these slanders as potentially legitimate truths in his/her work. Since the theoretically non-fictional books of this popular historian are used as research material by some authors of historical fiction — authors who are sincerely trying to be as accurate as possible in their work, by the way — the result is that George Boleyn is erroneously depicted as a rapist/homosexual in otherwise excellent stories. These stories are consumed by many people who enjoy both the narrative and the historical facts they trust the authors have gotten correct because many of the books are clearly written by people who do their absolute beat to achieve reasonable historical accuracy. Thus, the myths about George Boleyn are constantly perpetuated.

Inasmuch as I have the Asperger’s obsession with facts/truth, these unceasing inaccuracies are enough to make me tear my hair out.

Why was the veracity of Cavendish’s work rejected in the first place? In part because there is no other evidence to support the idea that George Boleyn raped anyone (and this would not have been a crime that would have been inspired Justice and/or gossip to turn a blind eye, especially against Ladies of the court; he might have gotten away with raping commoners but he would have at least been charged before he was pardoned by his friends in high places) and in part because he was a devoted ally and servant of Cardinal Wolsey, and as such hated the whole Boleyn family’s ever-loving guts with an intense fervor. He, like many others, blamed the Boleyn faction for Wolsey’s downfall, rather than Wolsey’s own greed for power and his covert shenanigans against King Henry VIII. In Cavendish’s mind nothing was so horrible that a Boleyn couldn’t be suspected of doing it. His accusations were based on a flimsy composite of sensationalist rumor and muckraking gossip that grew taller with each telling, but he doubtlessly considered every over-the-top disparagement as having its basis in solid fact.

Basically, to put a modern spin on it without suggesting that the situations behind the scenes are in any way similar, the misrepresentations of George Boleyn are tantamount to believing everything Chelsea Handler says about Angelina Jolie.

There is another reason to doubt the rumor that George Boleyn was a homosexual. During the Tudor Era (and until relatively recently in fact) there was no such thing as a “homosexual”. The idea that a person could be born with an instinctive attraction to, and love for, members of the same gender was not something that was considered possible back then. Hell, there are plenty of people today who can’t grasp it. During George Boleyn’s lifetime homosexual acts, which were commonly called “buggery” or “sodomy” because dude on dude anal sex was the only thing they thought of as being able to occur between men, was considered a “perversion” done by the degenerate for their own twisted thrills. In the hierarchy of perversions, depraved men were supposed to go from women, to raping, to bestiality, and then to buggery. They thought that a guy only had anal sex with another man when sexual congress with a goat was no longer exciting and deviant enough. Women were only supposed to be perverted if they were witches who sold their soul to the Devil, and even then their sexual partners were considered to be animals and Satan, not each other. As for the idea that men could have oral pleasure with another male partner, well that was just crazy talk! Married men and woman who indulged in oral sex with their lawfully wedded spouses could get in big trouble for that, let alone two men with each other.

Did you know that oral/anal sex between married and/or heterosexual couples was still illegal in Texas until 1974, and in Tennessee until 1989? And that the laws against homosexual intercourse of any kind were not overturned until the The United States Supreme Court ruled that banning consenting acts between adults was unconstitutional in 2003? Yeah, this proof positive that the sixteenth century continued in parts of the USA until the twenty-first century. But I digress from George Boleyn.

In short (too late!) the beliefs that Lord Rochford was a sexual predator, a homosexual, or had sex with his sister are false as Washington’s wooden teeth.









2 thoughts on “Georgie Porgie?

  1. Actually, Lord Rochford The Rapist didn’t really come into currency until Alison Weir decided to describe him as a rapist in one of her books, based on one line by Cavendish “I forced widows, maidens I did deflower.” Since Cavendish was writing after George’s death, it’s hard to know how much of this was hindsight — “there MUST have been something wrong with him!” It’s a pretty thin reed to hang rape accusations on, especially since Cavendish’s phrasing is very vague. However, Cavendish did know George and his testimony has been by no means universally discredited, although it has to be treated with caution — note the good qualities he also ascribes to George early on. At least on the Protestant side, George has received heroic treatment until quite recently and I can’t think of any old Catholic sources calling him a rapist. What Victorian histories do you have that call him that?

  2. Although I cannot name them off the top of my head (I read a LOT of stuff researching this book) there were SOME (not all by any means) Victorian historians who took Cavendish at his word and blithely assumed he was telling the truth about Rochford. Weir does much the same thing. In her new book Bordo points out that whether or not historians believed/averred Cavendish (and Sander) were telling the truth about the Boleyn family fell along Catholic v/s Protestant lines even into the 20th century. There was certainly no contemporary evidence linking Rochford to any sexual assaults or homosexual relationships.

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