The dramatic rise and fall of the extraordinary Boleyn dynasty

Nusrat Ghani
ANNE BOLEYN: Played by Rafaëlle Cohen

Long before the Kennedys or the Kardashians we had the Boleyns, and a new BBC Two series aims to give an intimate look into the dynamics of one of England’s most notorious families.

The Boleyns: A Scandalous Family is a three-part series which will shine a spotlight on the iconic Boleyns, whose family seat was at Hever Castle.

A BBC spokesperson described the series as being ‘filled with intrigue, sex, rivalry, betrayal, and tragedy’.

“They were a family who did what no other Tudor family had done before, changing the fate of a nation for the promise of a crown.”

Using expert interviews with the likes of renowned historian Dr Owen Emerson and dramatic reconstruction, the series, made by BBC Studios, provides a unique perspective on a thrilling tale.

“The past is all too often reduced to the exploits of exceptional individuals,” continues the spokesperson, “but this series reveals how the rivalry of a few families changed the course of the Tudor age, focusing on the story of how one family dynasty was founded – only to spectacularly flounder.”

With gripping storytelling, the series takes an inside look at the social climbing, backstabbing and power games that ensured success at the Tudor court. The right move could make you the most powerful dynasty in England… the wrong move could lose you your status, or your head.

“Across three weeks we witness the rise of this extraordinary dynasty, who skilfully outmanoeuvre all their rivals, but who in the end paid a heavy price,” adds the BBC spokesperson.

HEVER CASTLE: Home of The Boleyns

Over the course of the series you will see familiar places such as Hever Castle and Penshurst Place featured as the backdrop for the dramatic docu-drama scenes. Hever Castle was Anne Boleyn’s childhood home, while King Henry VIII once owned Penshurst Place and is believed to have secretly courted Anne from there.


Filming at both locations took place earlier this year, in February.

“This was a very special production to be involved in, not least because of the sub-zero temperatures that we fought in early February during the filming,” a Penshurst Place representative told us.

The crew filmed at Hever Castle the week before.

On seeing the preview, Dr Emerson said: “I can’t tell you how special it is to see this complex and moving portrayal played out at the Boleyns’ stunning home of Hever Castle.”

So what’s it all about?

Well, in the first part we learn the story of Thomas Boleyn, a charming opportunist determined to make his mark at the Tudor court of Henry Vll. He is driven, talented and likeable, and seizes every chance to promote himself and the Boleyn family name.

The Boleyns had made their money as wool merchants, and all they needed now was for Thomas to make a good marriage match.

When he marries Elizabeth Howard, a girl from a noble family, it’s a match of mutual benefit – the Howard title for Boleyn money.

Anne spends her most formative years in France and, when she finally returns home, she is grown up, beautiful, intelligent, and full of ideas. She is unlike any woman the Tudor court has experienced.

At a lavish pageant organised by the Cardinal, one of the Boleyn sisters catches the eye of King Henry VIII. Mary, who is by now happily married, is the subject of the King’s advances and has no choice but to submit.

‘THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL’: Mary (Elizabeth McCafferty) with sister Anne

Her father, Thomas Boleyn, isn’t happy about the affair, but is amply rewarded by the King when he is made a Viscount. The Boleyns were well and truly on their way.

Part two sees the Boleyns ascending to the very top but making deadly enemies along the way. The Boleyn family rises to its zenith – and we see them at their sharpest, most unified and successful.

The Boleyn name has become more prominent, with Thomas Boleyn rising steadily through the ranks.

His daughter Mary has survived her short-lived affair with the King, and there is no doubt Thomas Boleyn has reaped the benefits. He is able to get his son George a job at court. A chip off the old block, George Boleyn benefits from the influence his father now wields.

ILL-FATED: Anne and her brother George (Sam Retford)

Anne, fresh from France, becomes part of Queen Katherine’s court, and it takes no time before she has dazzled the whole court, including the King.

Through intimate letters, King Henry VIII reveals his true desire for Anne. Realising they may never be in this position again, Anne and her family scheme to achieve what she wants… and she wants to be Queen.

It’s a bold move, as the King is still married to Katherine of Aragon, but Henry is obsessed and demands that his marriage be annulled.

Political changes in Rome and a new Holy Roman Emperor related to Queen Katherine means the annulment has now become impossible.

Cardinal Wolsey’s failure to deliver leaves him vulnerable and the Boleyns are ready to pounce. They turn on him, but once they have dispatched Wolsey, the ‘great matter’ of divorce remains unresolved.

The whole court is in uproar as Anne and the King’s relationship becomes common knowledge, and now the naked ambition of the Boleyns is clear for all to see as they plan their next move.

The final episode is a Tudor cautionary tale, showing that when a family rises so high eventually the only way is down.

The Boleyns move to fill the power vacuum left by Cardinal Wolsey. The King still wants his first marriage declared illegal, but the Pope refuses to play ball. Meanwhile, Henry has secretly married Anne and she has given birth to their daughter Elizabeth.

It is the young George Boleyn who delivers a well-argued and impassioned speech to the clergy, who agree that Henry should be the head of the Church and that the one true church should be the Church of England.

This gives the King authority to annul his own marriage to Katherine, make their daughter Mary illegitimate, and make Anne his Queen.

The Boleyns were now on top of the world. But as we all know that isn’t the final chapter for them, as another Queen, Elizabeth, takes the throne – who proves to be the greatest and most enduring Boleyn of them all…

POLITICAL UNCLE: To two queens! Thomas Howard (Philip Brodie)


PHOTOS: © BBC Studios

Share this article

Recommended articles


Please enter a search term below.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter