Lady Elizabeth Howard Boleyn, the countess of Wiltshire, died on April 3, 1538 … almost two years after two of her three adult children and several years before Henry VIII. The Anne Boleyn Files did an excellent post on the potential cause of her death. I cannot help but think she was grateful to death when it came for her.
Lady Elizabeth is one of the historical figures who proves that money and position in life cannot spare you from the ravages of suffering. She was born the daughter of the 2nd duke of Norfolk, and had both wealth and status her whole life. Her marriage was, as far as historical records can show, not unhappy. Three of her children reached adulthood, which was better than a lot of noble families had so she probably felt blessed in that, as well.
She is not, in my opinion, given enough credit as a mother. Perhaps it is because the lies spread about her children – Mary the Great Whore, Anne the Seductive Harpy, and George the Rapist and Sodomite – don’t lend themselves to acknowledging that the Boleyn’s were raised well.
Mary had an affair with Henry VIII, but it is the only record or rumor of her supposed promiscuity that has any basis in fact. There is no one else with whom she is rumored to have cheated on her husband, the years of her widowhood at court with Anne have no blemish on them even from Anne’s enemies, and her second husband adored her. There is no historical evidence that she slept with the king of France except for rumors spread decades after the event would have occurred.
Anne left the court and returned home to her mother’s protection when Henry VIII began pursuing her. She stayed there for more than a year. Henry thought it amazing that she would not return to court even under her mother’s protection, which says something about how sure he was that the Lady Elizabeth would protect her chick from him. As for Anne’s reputation as a scheming home wrecker … I’ve written at length about how that is bullshit.
George was never accused of rape and according reputable historical sources, they had a reasonably good marriage. Neither was there any rumor or hint of homosexual activity until after his death (not that homosexual activity would make him a “bad guy”). The idea that he slept with his sister is, of course, poppycock and slander.
However, what convinces me the most of Lady Elizabeth’s maternal devotion is what Anne said when she was arrested:
“O, my mother, [thou wilt die with] sorrow?”
One of Anne’s first thoughts was for her mother’s pain. That is a sure indicator that Anne knew herself and her siblings to be loved. And considering that Lady Elizabeth had to stand helplessly by were her children with accused of incest and judicially murdered, I assume she thought she would die of sorrow at some point. As for myself, I would have committed suicide in Henry’s favorite palace and left the superstitious king live in terror of my ghost. I would also have left some sort of curse to wreck his peace of mind. That’s how I roll.
Rest in peace, Lady Elizabeth Howard Boleyn. It is my sincere hope that you are reunited with your children.