The Tudor Society

The Sphere of Light: The Anne Boleyn saga as never told before – 1 July 2017, Cambridge, UK

Ann Henning Jocelyn, writer and director of "The Sphere of Light: The Anne Boleyn saga as never told before" has asked me to share this information about the play. If you can get to Cambridge in the UK then do go and see it and then let us know what it was like.

Here are the details:

To be presented as a rehearsed reading at the Howard Theatre, Downing College, Cambridge, on July 1st, 2017, at 4 PM and 8 PM.
Tickets at £12/10 from Tel: 01223 300 085.

Ann Henning Jocelyn's intriguing new play unfolds like a detective story, exploring the many mysteries surrounding the fate of the Boleyn family. Whilst thoroughly researched and historically accurate, the play is a character-driven drama focused on gender dynamics and as such timeless and universal.

The author's interest in the subject stems from the discovery that she is married to a descendant of Lord Hunsdon, son of Mary Boleyn and, presumably, King Henry VIII. Decades of research opened up many unanswered questions until finally, an ancient tombstone found at an Irish Tudor castle provided the cue to a highly plausible new scenario.

Her previous plays have been performed in various venues, at home and abroad, including the acclaimed West End production of Only Our Own: “…immensely powerful… it tackles a huge theme with dynamic artistry.” (Loyd Evans, The Spectator).


George Boleyn the Younger, Dean of Lichfield - Keith Chanter

Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford - Catherine Denning

Mary Boleyn - Eavan Murphy

George Boleyn the Older, Lord Rochford - Rob Madeley

Anne Boleyn, Queen of England - Sarah O’Toole

Elizabeth Boleyn, Countess of Wiltshire & Ormond - Elaine Montgomerie

Balladeer - Rob Madeley

DIRECTED BY Ann Henning Jocelyn.

Author's Notes

My interest in the Boleyn family stems from the discovery that I am the wife and mother of two direct descendants of Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon, son of Mary Boleyn and, presumably, King Henry VIII of England. Hunsdon, first cousin and presumed half-brother to Queen Elizabeth I, rose to eminence during his lifetime. As Lord Chamberlain, he was the patron of Shakespeare’s company, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men. On his death, he was given an impressive memorial in Westminster Abbey, and the Carey family remained close to the crown for centuries.

Having had my curiosity kindled by family sources and myth, I spent decades of research, reading all I could find of published material about the Boleyns. Like many others, I was intrigued by the mysteries surrounding this family: Why was Mary, the king’s sweetheart, suddenly dropped without an explanation? Why were Thomas and George Boleyn, favourites of the king, ignominiously stripped of their high offices in late 1525, only to be gloriously reinstated a few months later? What drove the king to risk so much to make Anne his wife? Why did the ambitious George settle for a loveless marriage of little material or social benefit? Why were Anne and George and four of the king’s friends and close associates executed, on apparently trumped-up charges of adultery, incest and treason? And what induced Jane, first to give fatal evidence against her own husband and sister-in-law, and, at a later date, to encourage Queen Catherine Howard to commit adultery, at the expense of her own head?

The various hypotheses put forward so far all failed to convince me. And then suddenly, to my great surprise, a breakthrough presented itself in the West of Ireland. A lecturer from Galway University mentioned in passing that, in the grounds of Clonony Castle in Co. Offaly, he had come across an old tombstone bearing the following inscription:


Another mystery: historians agree that no evidence exists of George and Jane Boleyn ever having had any offspring. One George Boleyn, documented in the late sixteenth century as Dean of Lichfield, has been dismissed as “some distant relation”. This tombstone, suggesting otherwise, led me to me to a highly plausible explanation that, amazingly, no one else ever seems to have explored. As a playwright, I chose to express my theory dramatically: THE SPHERE OF LIGHT is the result.

My Irish family is still in possession of the only known sixteenth-century painting of Mary Boleyn, as well as a rare oil portrait of Lord Hunsdon. The picture of Mary was stolen in 1990, in an aggravated burglary that cost my father-in-law his life. Twenty-three years later, in 2013, it surfaced in the catalogue of a Paris auction house. Scotland Yard and Interpol were alerted, but the consignor, a private French collector, claimed ownership under French law. It took my son a trip to Paris and some heart-rending negotiation to buy the picture back. Mary is now reunited with her son, tucked away in safe-keeping, though as I write, copies of their likenesses look down at me from the wall.

There are 22 comments Go To Comment

  1. C

    There’s no evidence to suggest George did settle for a loveless marriage.
    Jane didn’t give fatal evidence against him.
    The Clonony Castle tombstone has already been dealt with in depth by Claire and me in our book.

    1. C - Post Author

      That’s why I’d love for someone to go to this play and review it for us as it would be interesting to hear the full story.

      1. J

        I’d love to Claire. Live about an hour’s drive from Cambridge.

        1. C - Post Author

          Yay! Thank you, Jess! We can publish your review on here or in the magazine.

  2. A

    Whether George’s marriage was loveless is a matter of opinion based on available documentation.

    Historians disagree on whether Jane gave fatal evidence against her husband. Again, this is a matter of opinion based on available documentation.

    More than one party can have a view on the Clonony tombstone. Its existence is not widely known and has not been adequately explained by historians.

    1. C - Post Author

      But there isn’t any actual documentation giving details on the state of the marriage.

      There isn’t any contemporary evidence that Jane gave “fatal evidence” against her husband. The ladies named by contemporary sources as giving evidence to the crown are the Countess of Worcester, Lady Wingfield (posthumously) and Nan Cobham. Jane would have been mentioned if she had, seeing as it would have been quite a scandal. John Guy and Julia Fox have successfully challenged the ‘evidence’ put forward by Alison Weir, for example.

      I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts on the Clonony tombstone. I corresponded with Lady Rosse about it and the Birr Castle portraits. Do you go with the local story that an illegitimate son of George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, was sent away from England to Ireland to protect him?

      1. A

        As a playwright my main aim is to produce good-quality drama. As such I am free to speculate, unlike historians who need to qualify each claim. Having said that, I take my research seriously and do not allow myself much in the way of poetic licence. I disapprove of the wild misrepresentation of historical fact seen in much Tudor fiction. My play represents a new theory that can never be proven but could well be true. And it will all be explained in Cambridge.

        1. C - Post Author

          Unfortunately, I live in Spain so can’t get to see your play so I’ll have to stay in the dark!

        2. C - Post Author

          Also, many of our members cannot get to Cambridge, so perhaps you’d be willing to share your theory here?

        3. C - Post Author

          I know your aim is to produce good quality drama and that of course it is fiction, but in your notes you say: “Why was Mary, the king’s sweetheart, suddenly dropped without an explanation? Why were Thomas and George Boleyn, favourites of the king, ignominiously stripped of their high offices in late 1525….”

          I’ve been researching the Boleyns for a long time now and I haven’t found any evidence regarding Henry VIII’s relationship with Mary Boleyn, apart from the dispensation he applied for and his words about never having slept with “the mother”, so I don’t believe that we can say that she was “suddenly dropped without an explanation”. And I’ve never heard of Thomas and George being stripped of their high offices in late 1525. Are you referring to the Eltham Ordinances of January 1526? That was a reorganisation of the privy chamber, which saw several men losing their positions, including George, but it didn’t affect Thomas in any way.

          1. A

            Well, having had access to family records, I am in no doubt that there was a relationship between Mary Boleyn and Henry VIII and that the son she bore in 1526 was his. And there is a remarkable lack of evidence as to when or why this relationship ended.
            It is my understanding that the reorganisation of the privy chamber that started around Christmas 1525 and resulted in the Eltham Ordnances did affect both George and Thomas, though Thomas was soon reinstated.
            As we all know, this 500-year-old history is full of black holes that are open to many different interpretations. I like to open people’s minds to different possibilities, rather than argue about what can or can’t be proved.

          2. C - Post Author

            There definitely was a sexual relationship between Mary and Henry because Henry applied for a dispensation covering the impediment of affinity to marry Anne. However, we do not know when it happened or how long it lasted. Are you saying that you have found conclusive evidence in the family records to give a date to this relationship? Do you believe that Catherine, born in 1524, was Henry’s daughter? I don’t think it’s remarkable that there is a lack of evidence regarding when the relationship ended as Mary was simply a mistress, like Bessie Blount, she really didn’t matter.

            The Eltham Ordinances did not affect Thomas Boleyn at all. George, as one of the young men who Wolsey felt was having too much influence on the king, was affected. This was in January 1526 and he was made cupbearer as compensation.

            Yes, history is full of black holes and some of it is open to interpretation, but as someone who is a teacher and who works hard to challenge myths and to teach the importance of research and using the primary sources, it is important to me to back up views with primary sources. Historical debate is good, challenging other’s views is good, discussing what the sources say is good.

          3. A

            No, I do not have conclusive evidence as to the details of Mary’s relationship with Henry. And I do not believe that Catherine was Henry’s daughter. Those suppositions are based on what you would probably dismiss as myth. However, this is a concept that has an intrinsic value as the inspiration of much art.

          4. C - Post Author

            Yes, definitely, Mary Boleyn is a blank canvas for playwrights and novelists.

    2. C

      There is no evidence as to George’s marriage, and there is no evidence that Jane gave evidence. If so, provide it rather than make statements.
      You also suggest above that the Clonony inscription is ‘new’ evidence. “And then suddenly, to my great surprise, a breakthrough presented itself in the West of Ireland.” But that’s not correct. You are entitled to your views on it, but not to suggest it’s just come to light.

  3. C

    So Catherine wasn’t Henry’s daughter, born in 1524, but you are in no doubt that Henry, born 1526 was Henry’s son? How does that work?
    Also, ‘I like to open people’s minds to different possibilities, rather than argue about what can or can’t be proved’, and ‘However, this is a concept that has an intrinsic value as the inspiration of much art’ actually means that, ‘thoroughly researched and historically accurate,’ is a bit of a moot point?

  4. D

    I’ll jump in real quick just to say for the record that there are at least two lines of evidence that George Boleyn was on good terms with his wife Jane, at least in the 1530s which is when the evidence dates from, one being the letter Jane wrote to her husband when he was imprisoned in the Tower and the other being a record of Parker family baptisms showing both George and Jane acting as Godparents to some of Jane’s nieces and nephews, something that arguably would not have happened if they were on bad terms as a couple, or if George was on Lord Morley’s disapproval list because he was a bad husband to Jane as suggested by Weir. Granted, the baptismal evidence is relatively unknown so I wouldn’t expect a lot of folks to know about it. I came across it in my own research on Lord Morley and passed it on to Adrienne Dillard who mentioned it in the preface to her recent historical novel and used it in the plot of the book.

  5. D

    Regardless of the nitpicking over this or that fact or interpretation, the play sounds fascinating and I’m sorry I live on the wrong side of the ocean or I’d find a way to attend! Are there arrangements to film/record the production at all?

  6. A

    Whether George loved his wife is a question only George himself could have answered. Letters and social occasions could have had other motivations and need not be a record of his feelings for his wife. I am personally suspicious of primary sources, especially at this time in history, as they were often influenced by ulterior motives.

    And yes, we are going to record the Cambridge performance and make the video available to those interested.

  7. D

    One of the things really like about the Tudor Society is that folks here are both honest and polite when they agree to disagree – especially compared with what passes these days as discourse out on the internet. I have very much enjoyed this whole set of comments. 🙂 And you are quite right: even with evidence that they got along in public, we have no proof of how George felt in his heart about Jane.

    I am glad you’re recording your production! I’m looking forward to being able to see it someday in the near future.

  8. L

    Interesting discussion! I would like to question why George Boleyn would have left his sister, Mary, his property (any possessions that did not revert to the crown) in his will, rather than leaving them to his wife – who had to petition the crown for whatever she could? Thank you

  9. L

    Additionally – if the Viscount was a bit of a rake, who says he couldn’t have fathered two boys named George? I believe the Dean of Lichfield was born around 1529, based upon the age most children entered college in those days. Perhaps another son of his ended up being sent to Ireland, born even after his execution in 1536.

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The Sphere of Light: The Anne Boleyn saga as never told before – 1 July 2017, Cambridge, UK