Who was Madge Shelton and was she Henry VIII’s mistress?

Trigonometry's Thalissa Teixeira plays royal mistress Madge Shelton in the Channel 5 series Anne Boleyn.

Anne Boleyn

Channel 5’s psychological thriller Anne Boleyn closely follows its lead character, played by Jodie Turner-Smith, and charts Anne Boleyn’s swift downfall and eventual beheading in 1536.

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While many of Anne’s former allies desert her, one woman develops a close bond with her during her final weeks: Margaret “Madge” Shelton, her cousin and a mistress to her husband, Henry VIII.

Anne was initially scornful of Madge during the beginning of the series, using her as a means to distract Henry from his latest interest, Jane Seymour. However, the Queen comes to respect and love Madge.

Trigonometry’s Thalissa Teixeira plays Madge Shelton in the Anne Boleyn cast, and she recently told RadioTimes.com that the casting of Anne Boleyn as a Black woman and the inclusion of actors of colour in Anne Boleyn was not an example of colour-blind casting but instead an example of being “identity-conscious”.

On her casting as real-life historical figure Madge Shelton, Teixeira said: “Actually, when I went to my casting, and I asked Kharmel Cochrane [casting director] why I was there, she was like, ‘I just can’t wait. I just want to cast BAME people’. And then we can start seeing them more, and then we’ll maybe write some more stories about Black storylines. It’s a movement, of course, but I don’t think it’s something that takes away from what we’ve already got. Because I just think it’s really beautiful to be able to say we’re telling parallel stories in one.

“Never any moment did I think, ‘Oh, I’m not brown,’ whilst I was playing Madge. I’m still me. Granted, the the themes might shift if we were doing a modern telling, but we’re just using the themes of Anne Boleyn to tell a completely different story, I suppose.”

But who was Madge Shelton, and was she really Henry VIII’s mistress in real life? How does her storyline in Anne Boleyn differ from historical fact?

Who was Madge Shelton and was she Henry VIII’s mistress?

Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn
Channel 5

Margaret “Madge” Shelton was a Tudor-era noblewoman and cousin to Anne Boleyn, the queen consort to Henry VIII, and Anne’s brother George Boleyn (played by Paapa Essiedu in Anne Boleyn). Both Anne and George were executed in 1536.

Madge’s mother was Lady Anne Shelton (played by Amanda Burton in the series), who was in charge of the household established for Mary (Henry VIII’s daughter by his first wife) and Queen Anne’s daughter Elizabeth (the future Elizabeth I).

There’s now debate among modern historians as to whether it was actually Madge’s sister, Mary Shelton, who was in fact Henry VIII’s mistress – but it was once widely thought that Madge was the king’s mistress.

Madge also served as one of the maids-of-honour in Anne Boleyn’s court, but according to records, she was not one of the ladies-in-waiting who attended Anne in the Tower of London during her early imprisonment.

In the Channel 5 series Anne Boleyn, Madge attends Anne inside the Tower during her last days, offering her comfort and a familiar face. It’s not clear which noblewomen attended Anne on her execution day, but in the series Madge is among them.

“This sort of solidarity that Madge’s character has with Anne [in the TV series], there’s obviously an instant sisterhood between them that is on the page, but also having the casting that we’ve had, I think you instantly see that she feels a lot more comfortable with Madge when she finally comes into the Tower of London and looks after her,” Teixeira said.

Want more show content? Check out our location guide to where Anne Boleyn was filmed, or for an overview of the series, you can read our Anne Boleyn review.

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Anne Boleyn is set to air on Channel 5 from Tuesday 1st June at 9pm. Check out what else is on with our TV Guide. Visit our Drama hub for all the latest news.