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Inside scandalous Boleyn family: from dad pimping out his daughter to incest claim and both sisters having sex with King

THE Boleyns were the most successful social climbers of the Tudors times – but they paid the ultimate price because of their insatiable lust for power, wealth and titles.

In four decades, they rose from prominent wealth to being part of the Royal Family but their ascension to the top was as slippery as it was treacherous. 


Their scheming led Anne Boleyn to become Henry VIII’s second wife in 1533, after controversially breaking away from the Catholic Church in order to annul his marriage with Catherine of Aragon. 

But within three years, it all came crashing down for the Boleyns amid claims of adultery, incest and treason.

As the first in a three-part docu-drama The Boleyns: A Scandalous Family airs tonight on the BBC, we reveal their rise and fall – and their most shocking bombshells along the way.

Father pimped out daughter 

King Henry VIII had ultimate power and the pick of any woman in the land – to refuse him would be a dangerous decision.

While married to his first wife Catherine of Aragon, the monarch noticed two stunning women during a performance at the Royal Court.

They were the Boleyn sisters and while future wife Anne caught his eye, it was her sibling Mary who charmed the King that night. 

King Henry took Mary as his mistress and rewarded her father with more money and a better title.

“I do think getting your daughter into the King’s bed is a good thing if you want political influence,” historian Professor Greg Walker explained.

Mary – who was married to William Carey, a senior courtier – prayed to be rid of her "voluptuousness" and "lusts of the body", according to her diaries.

Mary's husband couldn't refuse the arrangement but was paid generous royal grants as part of the deal.

However, it wasn’t long before the King got bored of Mary and quickly discarded her after another woman caught his eye. 

Marriage wrecking

King Henry became intrigued by Mary’s sister Anne, who was described as "exotic" as she spent seven years living in France.

Anne was set to marry her distant cousin James Butler to ensure her father became Earl of Ormond and later was engaged to nobleman Henry Percy.

When King Henry found out about her interest in other suitors, he got his right-hand-man Cardinal Thomas Wolsey to veto the marriage because he wanted Anne for himself.

Henry’s love notes

King Henry penned secret love notes in a Bible, which according to Dr Owen Emmerson was "a remarkable thing" because it was "defacing a religious book with sexual messages”.

She responded with a short but sweet poem under a sketch of an expectant mother – a coded message to promise she would give him an heir, unlike Catherine.

Dr Susan Doran explained: “He’s obsessed with her, he wants to possess her, he’s physically attracted to her.

“As for Anne, I would be surprised if she was in love with Henry VIII, I couldn’t see how anyone could be.”

King Henry offered to make Anne his official mistress – but she refused and eventually he proposed.

But he would need permission from the Pope to annul his marriage to Catherine, which was not unheard of but was no easy task.

Sister disowned by family

Ahead of the nuptials, the Boleyns contracted "the sweating illness", which was a deadly bout of flu, and all survived apart from Mary's husband.

Now a widower, who was a discarded King's mistress, she had no value to the family and was shunned.

Later, Mary caused controversy by getting pregnant with William Stafford, a soldier, who was nine years younger and from much lower nobility.

She was expelled from the Royal Court because they were not married when the child was conceived.

Baby heartache & 'God’s curse'

By 1533, King Henry had broken away from the Catholic Church and married Anne.

She "disappointed" her husband by giving birth to a girl, later Elizabeth I, after vowing to produce an heir and soon after became pregnant again.

Meanwhile, Catherine, King Henry's first wife, had died while in exile and on the day of her funeral, Anne lost the unborn baby – the child was a boy. 

Their misfortune led the monarch to question whether God opposed their marriage and cursed them with conception difficulties.

'Affair with brother' 

King Henry started looking for a new bride and fell for Jane Seymour, a quiet blonde who was considered the antithesis of Anne.

Those around the King started to plot against the Boleyns – believing they were too influential, too powerful and too corrupt.

Anne was aware of the King’s interest in Jane and soon rumours spread that she had affairs with five men including her brother, George.

Following her carnal lust she did procure various of the King's servants to be her adulterers

In 1536, she was taken to the Tower Of London by her uncle Thomas Howard, who relished "tut-tut-tutting" at her during the arrest.

At her court hearing, he claimed Anne “despised her marriage” among other damning things.

He said: “Following her carnal lust she did procure various of the King's servants to be her adulterers… [with] base conversation, touching, gifts and vile provocations.”

The evidence against Anne was considered “very dubious” by modern historians but those around King Henry were determined to oust her.

Later, she was accused of high treason after she allegedly joked about remarrying – they claimed this was proof that she wished to harm the King. 

Incest claim & fatal humiliation

Uncle Thomas also said: “The Queen incited her own natural brother to violate her… alluring him with her tongue in his mouth and his tongue inside hers, whereby he carnally knew the said Queen, his own sister.”

George found the allegations “outrageous” and humiliated the King in court saying Anne had joked that he "was not adept at copulation".

The remarks in front of a 1,000-plus audience doomed Anne and George, both of whom were both executed.

I have no hope of prolonging my life… My saviour taught me to die and he will strengthen my resolve

George was beheaded first and ahead of her death, Anne, who relentlessly protested her innocence, admitted her only sin was “jealous suspicion”.

Anne said: “I have no hope of prolonging my life… My saviour taught me to die and he will strengthen my resolve."

Professor Nandini Das felt the Boleyns' rise to power was remarkable but noted there was always “thunder rolling around the throne”.

She continued: “The Tudor public were used to the falls of kings and princes but even they might not have imagined a fall as graphic as that of the Boleyn family.”

The Boleyns: A Scandalous Family airs 9pm, Friday 13th August, on BBC Two.



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