BOLEYN (BULLEN), Sir James (c.1480-1561), of Blickling, Norf.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. c.1480, 2nd s. of Sir William Boleyn of Blickling by Margaret, 2nd da. and coh. of Thomas Butler, 7th Earl of Ormond. m. Elizabeth, da. and coh. of John Awodde or Wood of East Barsham, Norf., d.s.p. Kntd. 1520. suc. to entailed lands of bro. Thomas, Earl of Wiltshire 1539.1

Offices Held

J.p. Norf. 1511-d.; commr. musters 1511, subsidy 1512, 1514, 1523, 1524, relief 1550; other commissions 1514-53; feodary, crown lands, Norf. Nov. 1520; under steward, duchy of Lancaster lands, Cambs., Norf., Suff. 1527; jt. clerk of peace and crown, Norf. and Suff. Mar. 1533-?53; chancellor, household of Queen Anne Boleyn 1533-6; knight of the body by 1533; steward, Bury St. Edmunds abbey, manor of Aylsham, Norf. in 1535; custos rot. Norf. 1558-60.2


The Boleyn family had long been settled in Norfolk but it owed its ascendancy there and elsewhere to the successful mercantile career of Sir Geoffrey Boleyn and to such advantageous marriages as that of his grandson, Sir Thomas, to a daughter of the 2nd Duke of Norfolk. Sir Thomas Boleyn was himself to enter the peerage as Earl of Wiltshire and his younger daughter Anne became Queen of England.3

James Boleyn evidently owed his varied employment in Norfolk and at court, including his seat in the Parliament of 1529 as junior knight of the shire, to his brother Thomas and the Howard connexion. With little landed property of his own when first named to local commissions, his later appointment as joint clerk of the peace and of the crown suggests that he had received some legal training. He does not seem to have suffered from the fall of Queen Anne beyond losing his post as her chancellor. Whether by choice, or through failure to seize the wider opportunities offered to him, he largely confined his interests to his county. He did not even sit again at Westminster unless, in accordance with the King’s general request for the return of the previous Members, he did so in the short Parliament of 1536 and thereby shared in the attainder of his niece.

Boleyn’s failure in 1537 to wrest the office of custos rotulorum from Richard Southwell may reflect his loss of standing after that catastrophe. It was in this year, too, that a new patent was issued for the clerkship of the peace and of the crown in Suffolk, the county in which Boleyn seems to have acted, although he and his colleague did not surrender their own patent until 1553. On 31 Dec. 1539 he attended the 3rd Duke of Norfolk at the reception of Anne of Cleves and seven years later served on the jury that found against the Earl of Surrey. In February 1540 he received a grant of livery as heir male to his brother Thomas, Earl of Wiltshire, and two years later he was granted all the goods left at Blickling by Lady Rochford, whose husband, his nephew George, had been beheaded in 1536 and who herself suffered the same fate as an accomplice of Catherine Howard. This addition to the lands his marriage had brought him made Sir James Boleyn a considerable landowner and in March 1540 he consolidated his possessions by exchanging with the King his brother’s manors in Kent for six manors and other lands in Norfolk. During the next few years he sold a number of manors and in 1553 settled many of his other lands so that they would fall on his death and that of his wife to his great-niece, Princess Elizabeth, and his nephew, Sir John Clere. Some flaw in the fulfilment of the terms of the exchange of 1540 led to his being summoned before the Privy Council in 1558, with what result is unknown.4

Boleyn survived to see his great-niece ascend the throne. By his will, made on 20 Aug. 1561, he asked to be buried at Blickling and bequeathed £50 to the poor there. To the Queen he left a basin and gilt ewer and ‘my written book of the revelations of Saint Bridget’. There is no evidence that he had ever shared the reformist beliefs of other members of his family, and whether this gift implied any criticism of the Queen’s recent suppression of the Bridgettine house at Syon it is impossible to say. He relied on her favour so far as to ask her to provide out of the arrears of an annuity for his niece Elizabeth Shelton, to whom he also left 200 marks: in the following December Elizabeth Shelton was accordingly granted an annuity of £30. He left small bequests to others of his numerous nephews and nieces and was noticeably generous in his treatment of his servants. His old rival but ‘very good cousin and assured friend’, Sir Richard Southwell, John Callarde and the testator’s nephew, Thomas Payne, were named executors but renounced the duty, administration being granted on 21 Nov. 1561 to Boleyn’s great-nephew, Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon. Boleyn probably died late in August and was buried at Blickling on 6 Sept. 1561.5

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: Roger Virgoe


  • 1. Date of birth estimated from that of elder brother in 1477, CP, x. 137. Vis. Norf. (Harl. Soc. xxxii), 51-53; CPR, 1494-1509, p. 445; C1/388/35; . H. Leonard, ‘Knights and Knighthood in Tudor Eng.’ (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1970), 309; LP Hen. VIII, ii-iv, xv.
  • 2. LP Hen. VIII, i-iv, vi-viii, xi, xiii, xiv, xvi, xvii, xx; CPR, 1547-8, p. 87; 1550-3, p. 141; 1553, p. 356; 1553-4, pp. 22, 211; A. H. Smith, County and Ct., 36n; Statutes, iii. 81, 115; Somerville, Duchy, i. 595; E. Stephens, Clerks of the Counties, 137, 161; Val. Eccles. iii. 462.
  • 3. CP, x. 137n; HP, ed. Wedgwood, 1439-1509 (Biogs.), 90-91.
  • 4. LP Hen. VIII, xii, xiv, xv, xvii, xviii, xxi; Stephens, 137, 161; CPR, 1553-4, pp. 211, 361-2; PPC, vii. 310; C1/388/35; APC. vi. 356.
  • 5. PCC 35 Loftes; CPR, 1560-3, p. 327; Machyn’s Diary (Cam. Soc. xlii), 266.