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Mary Boleyn

Mary Boleyn



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Mary Boleyn, the daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn and Elizabeth Howard, daughter of the Duke of Norfolk, was born in Bilickling Hall in about 1498. Mary was the eldest of three surviving children. Anne Boleyn was born in 1499 and her brother George Boleyn, in 1504.

Sir Thomas was very ambitious for his two daughters. "Thomas Boleyn... wanted Mary and Anne to learn to move easily and gracefully in the highest circles and to acquire all the social graces, to speak fluent French, to dance and sing and play at least one instrument, to ride and be able to take part in the field sports which were such an all-absorbing passion with the upper classes, and to become familiar with the elaborate code of courtesy which governed every aspect of life at the top." (1)

In 1512 Sir Thomas Boleyn was sent on a diplomatic mission by Henry VIII to Brussels. During his trip he arranged for Mary in the household of Margaret, Archduchess of Austria. (2) In 1514 Mary Boleyn was one of the ladies-in-waiting who attended the king's sister Mary to France for her marriage to King Louis XII. She remained to serve Queen Mary and was joined by her sister Anne Boleyn. They were among the six young girls permitted to remain at the French court by the king after he dismissed all Mary's other English attendants.

After King Louis XII's death, his wife secretly married Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk, on 3rd March 1515. Mary Boleyn stayed in France. There is some evidence that she had a sexual relationship with King François. He boasted of having "ridden her" and described her as "my hackney". A representative of Pope Leo X described her as "a very great infamous whore". (3) As her biographer, Jonathan Hughes, has pointed out, "she seems to have acquired a decidedly dubious reputation." (4)

Anne Boleyn also remained in France but she seems to have avoided the kind of behaviour indulged in by her sister. Members of the Royal Court observed that she learned "dignity and poise". According to the French poet, Lancelot de Carle, "she became so graceful that you would never have taken her for an Englishwoman, but for a Frenchwoman born." (5)

Sir Thomas Boleyn eventually heard the rumours concerning Mary and brought her back to England. (6) Boleyn became a maid of honour to Catherine of Aragon. King Henry VIII had several mistresses. The most important was Bessie Blount and on 15th June 1519, she gave birth to a son. He was named Henry FitzRoy, and was later created Duke of Richmond. After the child's birth, the affair ended. It is believed that his new mistress was Mary Boleyn. The historian, Antonia Fraser, has argued: "The affair repeated the pattern established by Bessie Blount: here once again was a vivacious young girl, an energetic dancer and masker, taking the fancy of a man with an older, more serious-minded wife, no longer interested in such things." (7)

On 4th February 1520 she married William Carey, a gentleman of the privy chamber. Henry VIII attended the wedding and over the next few years gave Carey several royal grants of land and money. (8) David Loades has pointed out: "Whether this was a marriage of convenience, arranged by the King to conceal an existing affair, or whether she only became his mistress after her marriage, is not clear." (9) In 1523 he named a new ship Mary Boleyn. This is believed that Henry did this to acknowledge Mary as his mistress. (10) Mary's father was also rewarded by being elevated to the peerage as Viscount Rochford in 1525. (11) One historian has suggested that these "transactions might seem to turn Mary into the merest prostitute, with her husband and father as her pimps". (12)

Mary gave birth to two children, Catherine (1524) and Henry (1526). Some have argued that Henry was the father of both children. Antonia Fraser, the author of The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1992), has argued against this: "Despite later rumours to the contrary, none of Mary's children were fathered by King Henry: her daughter Catherine Carey and her son Henry Carey, created Lord Hunsdon by his first cousin Queen Elizabeth, were born in 1524 and 1526 respectively when the affair was over. We may be sure that Henry Carey would have been acclaimed with the same joy as Henry Fitzroy, if he had been the King's son." (13)

William Carey died of sweating sickness on 22nd June, 1528. Henry VIII ordered Thomas Boleyn to take Mary under his roof and maintain her, and assigned her the annuity of £100 formerly enjoyed by her husband. By this time Henry was having an affair with Mary's sister, Anne Boleyn. It is not known exactly when this relationship had began. Hilary Mantel has pointed out: "We don't know exactly when he fell for Anne Boleyn. Her sister Mary had already been his mistress. Perhaps Henry simply didn't have much imagination. The court's erotic life seems knotted, intertwined, almost incestuous; the same faces, the same limbs and organs in different combinations. The king did not have many affairs, or many that we know about. He recognised only one illegitimate child. He valued discretion, deniability. His mistresses, whoever they were, faded back into private life. But the pattern broke with Anne Boleyn." (14)

For several years Henry had been planning to divorce Catherine of Aragon. Now he knew who he wanted to marry - Anne. At the age of thirty-six he fell deeply in love with a woman some sixteen years his junior. (15) Henry wrote Anne a series of passionate love letters. In 1526 he told her: "Seeing I cannot be present in person with you, I send you the nearest thing to that possible, that is, my picture set in bracelets ... wishing myself in their place, when it shall please you." Soon afterwards he wrote during a hunting exhibition: "I send you this letter begging you to give me an account of the state you are in... I send you by this bearer a buck killed late last night by my hand, hoping, when you eat it, you will think of the hunter." (16)

Philippa Jones has suggested in Elizabeth: Virgin Queen? (2010) that refusing to become his mistress was part of Anne's strategy to become Henry's wife. She had learnt from the experiences of her sister that it was not a very good idea to give him what he wanted straight away: "Anne frequently commented in her letters to the King that although her heart and soul were his to enjoy, her body would never be. By refusing to become Henry's mistress, Anne caught and retained his interest. Henry might find casual sexual gratification with others, but it was Anne that he truly wanted." (17) Historians have suggested that Anne was trying to persuade Henry to marry her: "Henry found her not easily tamed, for it is clear that she had the strength of will to withhold her favours until she was sure of being made his queen... All the same it must remain somewhat surprising that sexual passion should have turned a conservative, easy-going, politically cautious ruler into a revolutionary, head-strong, almost reckless tyrant. Nothing else, however, will account for the facts." (18)

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Anne's biographer, Eric William Ives, has argued: "At first, however, Henry had no thought of marriage. He saw Anne as someone to replace her sister, Mary, who had just ceased to be the royal mistress. Certainly the physical side of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon was already over and, with no male heir, Henry decided by the spring of 1527 that he had never validly been married and that his first marriage must be annulled.... However, Anne continued to refuse his advances, and the king realized that by marrying her he could kill two birds with one stone, possess Anne and gain a new wife." (19)

Henry sent a message to the Pope Clement VII arguing that his marriage to Catherine of Aragon had been invalid as she had previously been married to his brother Arthur. Henry relied on Cardinal Thomas Wolsey to sort the situation out. During negotiations the Pope forbade Henry to contract a new marriage until a decision was reached in Rome. With the encouragement of Anne, Henry became convinced that Wolsey's loyalties lay with the Pope, not England, and in 1929 he was dismissed from office. (20) Wolsey blamed Anne for his situation and he called her "the night Crow" who was always in a position to "caw into the king's private ear". (21) Had it not been for his death from illness in 1530, Wolsey might have been executed for treason.

Henry's previous relationship with Mary Boleyn was also causing him problems in Rome. As she was the sister of the woman who he wanted to marry, Anne Boleyn. It was pointed out that "this placed him in exactly the same degree of affinity to Anne as he insisted that Catherine was to him". (22) However, when Henry discovered that Anne was pregnant, he realised he could not afford to wait for the Pope's permission. As it was important that the child should not be classed as illegitimate, arrangements were made for Henry and Anne to get married. King Charles V of Spain threatened to invade England if the marriage took place, but Henry ignored his threats and the marriage went ahead on 25th January, 1533. It was very important to Henry that his wife should give birth to a male child. Without a son to take over from him when he died, Henry feared that the Tudor family would lose control of England.

Elizabeth was born on 7th September, 1533. Henry expected a son and selected the names of Edward and Henry. While Henry was furious about having another daughter, the supporters of his first wife, Catherine of Aragon were delighted and claimed that it proved God was punishing Henry for his illegal marriage to Anne. (23) Retha M. Warnicke, the author of The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn (1989) has pointed out: "As the king's only legitimate child, Elizabeth was, until the birth of a prince, his heir and was to be treated with all the respect that a female of her rank deserved. Regardless of her child's sex, the queen's safe delivery could still be used to argue that God had blessed the marriage. Everything that was proper was done to herald the infant's arrival." (24)

In 1534 Mary secretly married William Stafford, a young man of little social standing and no fortune. Henry VIII was furious as he considered that it was a highly unsuitable match for the Queen's sister. Henry immediately cut off Mary's allowance, and Anne banished her and her husband from court. Mary sent a letter to Thomas Cromwell in which she confessed that "love overcame reason". However, she begged Cromwell to help her recover the "gracious favour of the King and Queen". She finished the letter with the words: "For well I might have had a greater man of birth, but I assure you I could never had one that loved me so well. I had rather beg my bread with him than be the greatest queen christened." (25)

Henry VIII continued to try to produce a male heir. Anne Boleyn had two miscarriages and was pregnant again when she discovered Jane Seymour sitting on her husband's lap. Anne "burst into furious denunciation; the rage brought on a premature labour and was delivered of a dead boy." (26) What is more, the baby was badly deformed. (27) This was a serious matter because in Tudor times Christians believed that a deformed child was God's way of punishing parents for committing serious sins. Henry VIII feared that people might think that the Pope Clement VII was right when he claimed that God was angry because Henry had divorced Catherine and married Anne.

Henry now approached Thomas Cromwell about how he could get out of his marriage with Anne. He suggested that one solution to this problem was to claim that he was not the father of this deformed child. On the king's instruction Cromwell was ordered to find out the name of the man who was the true father of the dead child. Philippa Jones has pointed out: "Cromwell was careful that the charge should stipulate that Anne Boleyn had only been unfaithful to the King after the Princess Elizabeth's birth in 1533. Henry wanted Elizabeth to be acknowledged as his daughter, but at the same time he wanted her removed from any future claim to the succession." (28)

In April 1536, a Flemish musician in Anne's service named Mark Smeaton was arrested. He initially denied being the Queen's lover but later confessed, perhaps tortured or promised freedom. Another courtier, Henry Norris, was arrested on 1st May. Sir Francis Weston was arrested two days later on the same charge, as was William Brereton, a Groom of the King's Privy Chamber. Anne's brother, George Boleyn was also arrested and charged with incest. (29)

Archbishop Thomas Cranmer declared Anne's marriage to Henry null and void on 17th May 1536, and according to the imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, the grounds for the annulment included the king's previous relationship with Mary Boleyn. However, this information has never been confirmed. (30) Mary's brother, George was executed on 17th May. Her sister, Anne, followed two days later. (31)

Mary Boleyn now lived a life of obscurity with her husband. She was reconciled to her father, Sir Thomas Boleyn, who allowed the couple the use of Rochford Hall, and this remained their principal residence until Mary's death there on 30th July 1543. (32)

It was naturally the height of every family's ambition to get a pretty and promising daughter accepted as one of the Queen's maids of honour, but unless a girl's rank automatically entitled her to a place in the royal entourage, competition was fierce, and much string-pulling on behalf of hopeful candidates was usually necessary. Sir Thomas Boleyn, however, encountered no difficulty when the time came to introduce his younger daughter into Queen Catherine's household.

A combination of shrewd business acumen and a series of advantageous marriages had, in three generations, transformed the Boleyn family from obscure tenant farmers into well-heeled gentry very much on the up and up. Thomas, a younger son, had come to Court at the turn of the century to make a career in the royal service and had established himself as a useful underling, capable and conscientious, a man who could be trusted to carry out instructions. He was, nevertheless, an ambitious man and, like his father and grandfather before him, had married well - to Elizabeth Howard, a daughter of the Duke of Norfolk, who "brought him every year a child". Three of these children survived, George, Mary and Anne.

Thomas Boleyn was a careful father who took a serious interest in his daughters' education, but he had no desire to see them become classical scholars. Nor would he have been impressed by the high-minded theories of Luis Vives, who advocated a Spartan upbringing and almost nunlike seclusion for the well-born maiden. Sir Thomas wanted Mary and Anne to learn to move easily and gracefully in the highest circles and to acquire all the social graces, to speak fluent French, to dance and sing and play at least one instrument, to ride and be able to take part in the field sports which were such an all-absorbing passion with the upper classes, and to become familiar with the elaborate code of courtesy which governed every aspect of life at the top. They must learn how to conduct themselves in the presence of royalty, how to cope with the vast quantities of rich food and drink served at royal banquets, how to avoid the obvious pitfalls lying in wait for a young woman exposed to the temptations of high society while, at the same time, attracting the attention of the right sort of man. Mary and Anne were, in short, to be groomed to make the kind of marriage which would add to the family's aristocratic connections and take the Boleyns another step up the social and financial ladder.

The best place to learn about Court life was, of course, at Court, but before launching his daughters on the London scene, Thomas Boleyn was able to make use of his official contacts to get them the special advantage of a Continental "finish". In 1512 he was sent on a diplomatic mission to Brussels and took the opportunity to secure a place for Mary, then probably about twelve years old, in the household of Margaret, Archduchess of Austria and Regent of the Netherlands. Two years later an even better opening appeared. The King's younger sister, the beautiful Mary Tudor, was to be married to the King of France and would be accompanied on her wedding journey by a numerous retinue of English ladies-in-waiting. What better experience could there be for a young girl, and the indefatigable Sir Thomas retrieved his elder daughter from Brussels and got her accepted into the service of the new Queen.

Elizabeth Blount had been succeeded in the King's bed by Mary Boleyn, the elder daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn and Elizabeth Howard, daughter to the Duke of Norfolk. Mary was married in 1520 to William Carey, a gentleman of the privy chamber. Whether this was a marriage of convenience, arranged by the King to conceal an existing affair, or whether she only became his mistress after her marriage, is not clear. Their relationship was over by 1525, and produced no acknowledged children. It was later alleged that Henry Carey, who was born towards the end of that year, was actually the King's son, but that is almost certainly untrue. Mary bore her husband two children in 1525 and 1527, which suggests that she did not begin co-habiting with him until late in 1524. It also suggests that the King's fertility was a rather hit-and-miss affair. Either his normally fertile mistress failed to conceive while sharing his bed, or else she suffered as the Queen had done from a miscarriage or stillbirth. Whichever is the case, it has significance for the whole saga of his married life. William Carey received generous royal grants every year from 1522 to 1525, which is also suggestive. Years later, when Henry was endeavouring to clear his way to a marriage with Anne Boleyn, Catherine's supporters accused him of having "had to do" both with her sister and her mother, to which the King could only reply somewhat lamely "never with the mother". The aspersion on Elizabeth Boleyn's honour probably arose, as Eric Ives suggests, from a confusion with Elizabeth Blount." After 1525 the King must either have resorted to casual liaisons which have gone unrecorded, or commenced a prolonged period of abstinence. By that time he had given up hope of Catherine having any more children, and had almost certainly ceased to have sexual relations with her.

The promotion of Sir Thomas Boleyn to the peerage as Viscount Rochford in 1525, just the latest in a string of honours accorded to a man who had been one of Henry's favourite courtiers since 1511. Yet this latest honour had undoubtedly been bestowed as a reward for services rendered to the King by Boleyn's elder daughter Mary, who had for some time been Henry's mistress. As usual the affair was conducted discreetly, and for this reason it is impossible to pinpoint when it began or ended.

Mary Boleyn, like Bessie Blount, was still quite young when she married: twenty-two, perhaps. Like Bessie Blount also, she was a high-spirited, rather giddy girl who enjoyed all the pleasures of the court on offer - including the embraces of the King. When she was fifteen she had gone to the French court in the train of Princess Mary Tudor where she had acquired an extremely wanton reputation. After Carey's death, she would make a second match for love..This was widely regarded as imprudt,fnt conduct both in principle and in practice; but she herself declared of this new husband: "I had rather beg my bread with him than be the 'greatest Queen in.Christendom"

Despite later rumours to the contrary, none of Mary's children were fathered by King Henry: her daughter Catherine Carey and her son Henry Carey, created Lord Hunsdon by his first cousin Queen Elizabeth, were born in 1524 and 1526 respectively when the affair was over. We may be sure that Henry Carey would have been acclaimed with the same joy as Henry Fitzroy, if he had been the King's son.) But the affair itself was no mere rumour. Throughout his life King Henry showed a rather touching reluctance to tell a direct lie, due maybe to that tender conscience on which he prided himself. Taxed many years later with having had an affair with three Boleyns, two daughters and a mother, the best he could do was to reply shamefacedly: "Never with the mother". It was his servant Thomas Cromwell who added sharply: "Never with the sister either".

Was Queen Catherine Howard guilty of treason? (Answer Commentary)

Henry VIII (Answer Commentary)

Henry VII: A Wise or Wicked Ruler? (Answer Commentary)

Hans Holbein and Henry VIII (Answer Commentary)

The Marriage of Prince Arthur and Catherine of Aragon (Answer Commentary)

Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves (Answer Commentary)

Anne Boleyn - Religious Reformer (Answer Commentary)

Did Anne Boleyn have six fingers on her right hand? A Study in Catholic Propaganda (Answer Commentary)

Why were women hostile to Henry VIII's marriage to Anne Boleyn? (Answer Commentary)

Catherine Parr and Women's Rights (Answer Commentary)

Women, Politics and Henry VIII (Answer Commentary)

Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (Answer Commentary)

Historians and Novelists on Thomas Cromwell (Answer Commentary)

Martin Luther and Thomas Müntzer (Answer Commentary)

Martin Luther and Hitler's Anti-Semitism (Answer Commentary)

Martin Luther and the Reformation (Answer Commentary)

Mary Tudor and Heretics (Answer Commentary)

Joan Bocher - Anabaptist (Answer Commentary)

Anne Askew – Burnt at the Stake (Answer Commentary)

Elizabeth Barton and Henry VIII (Answer Commentary)

Execution of Margaret Cheyney (Answer Commentary)

Robert Aske (Answer Commentary)

Dissolution of the Monasteries (Answer Commentary)

Pilgrimage of Grace (Answer Commentary)

Poverty in Tudor England (Answer Commentary)

Why did Queen Elizabeth not get married? (Answer Commentary)

Francis Walsingham - Codes & Codebreaking (Answer Commentary)

Codes and Codebreaking (Answer Commentary)

Sir Thomas More: Saint or Sinner? (Answer Commentary)

Hans Holbein's Art and Religious Propaganda (Answer Commentary)

1517 May Day Riots: How do historians know what happened? (Answer Commentary)

(1) Alison Plowden, Tudor Women (2002) page 41

(2) Antonia Fraser, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1992) page 120

(3) Alison Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (2007) page 150

(4) Jonathan Hughes, Mary Boleyn : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(5) Alison Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (2007) page 151

(6) Alison Plowden, Tudor Women (2002) page 42

(7) Antonia Fraser, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1992) page 101

(8) David Starkey, Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII (2003) page 274

(9) David Loades, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (2007) page 34

(10) Jonathan Hughes, Mary Boleyn : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(11) Alison Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (2007) page 156

(12) David Starkey, Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII (2003) page 274

(13) Antonia Fraser, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1992) page 101

(14) Hilary Mantel, Anne Boleyn (11th May, 2012)

(15) Retha M. Warnicke, The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn (1989) page 57

(16) Henry VIII, letter to Anne Boleyn (1526)

(17) Philippa Jones, Elizabeth: Virgin Queen (2010) page 19

(18) Christopher Morris, The Tudors (1955) page 79

(19) Eric William Ives, Anne Boleyn : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(20) David Starkey, Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII (2003) pages 430-433

(21) George Cavendish, The Life and Death of Cardinal Wolsey (1959) page 137

(22) Alison Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (2007) page 183

(23) Patrick Collinson, Queen Elizabeth I : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(24) Retha M. Warnicke, The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn (1989) page 168

(25) Alison Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (2007) page 273

(26) Retha M. Warnicke, The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn (1989) page 191

(27) G. W. Bernard, Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions (2011) pages 174-175

(28) Philippa Jones, Elizabeth: Virgin Queen (2010) page 25

(29) Retha M. Warnicke, The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn (1989) page 227

(30) Jonathan Hughes, Mary Boleyn : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(31) Antonia Fraser, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1992) page 254

(32) Jonathan Hughes, Mary Boleyn : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)


What was the social standing of each of Henry’s brides?

As a groom, Henry’s personal desirability decline dramatically during his life.

Katherine of Aragon happily married the most handsome prince in Europe. Katherine Parr reluctantly shared the bed of a morbidly obese tyrant.

But in truth, that hardly mattered. Throughout his reign, Henry’s principal offer to a bride never wavered. Marriage to him meant maximum promotion. The Queen was the first lady of the land. In Henrican England, a woman could rise no higher.

After marriage, each of Henry’s wives enjoyed the same exalted status. But their starting points differed wildly.

Henry’s wives different wildly in pedigree

How prestigious was the background of each of the six Tudor Queens? How would their status have been regarded by contemporaries? What would each of their marriage prospects have been had Henry failed to show an interest?

It’s a fascinating question. So, like all supercool people, I’ve conducted a little analysis. Here’s my stab at a pecking order.

1. Katherine of Aragon

Few could doubt that Henry’s first Queen should top the list. The daughter of the ‘Spanish Kings’ had a thoroughly royal pedigree and was related to many of Europe’s crowned heads. Through her great-grandmother, Catherine of Lancaster, she was even descended from England’s very own Edward III.

Katherine was always destined for a crown. Her parents successfully married off their many daughters to secure foreign alliances. In hindsight, it’s almost a tragedy that she didn’t end up elsewhere. She was certainly unlucky with both her English husbands.

2. Anne of Cleves

The heritage of Anne (or Anna) of Cleves is one I’d always failed to appreciate. I had casually dismissed her as the daughter of a minor German state. It wasn’t until I read the great biography by Elizabeth Norton that I realised how wrong I was. Anna’s genealogy included kings of France. She had connections to Burgundy. She was a descendent of Edward I of England.

Had Anne not come to England she would most likely have married within the Holy Roman Empire. A life as a German duchess could well have been on the cards. Through a union with Henry however, she achieved a crown. Even if only for a very brief period.

Anna of Cleves could claim descent from French and English Kings

3. Anne Boleyn

It is often said that the Boleyn’s had ‘come up’ only recently by the time Anne was one the scene. That’s partly true. But Anne was granddaughter of the duke of Norfolk. She also claimed noble heritage through her father’s side.

Three out of Anne’s four grandparents could claim to be from the nobility. Or at least, the very upper reaches of the gentry. Like all Henry’s wives, she could claim descent from Edward I.

Long before Henry ever seemed like a possibility, Anne looked set to make a great match. Her attempts to wed Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland were rebuffed. This, though, was not due to her heritage. The powerful Cardinal Wolsey intended her to marry her kinsman the Earl of Ormond to satisfy competing claims to the title. Percy certainly robustly protested that Anne was of good enough pedigree to become countess of Northumberland. It’s likely that, left to her own devises, she would have made a similar match.

Some speculate that Anne’s father, Thomas Boleyn was only raised to the peerage as Viscount Rochford and later Earl of Wiltshire because of his daughters’ ‘involvement’ with the king. In reality, his promotion to Viscount Rochford was almost certainly due to his heritage. The fact that Mary Boleyn may or may not have been the king’s mistress at this point is likely to be a coincidence.

Thomas might well have achieved an earldom even if Anne hadn’t caught the king’s eye. He did, to be frank, deserve compensation. Despite being (probably) the best candidate, he missed out on the earldom of Ormond.

4. Katheryn Howard

This list contains two controversial calls. The first is my decision to place Anne Boleyn ahead of her first-cousin Katheryn Howard.

Katheryn was a male-line descendent of the Duke of Norfolk. Her ancestry was impeccably noble and gentry on both sides. Anne was contaminated by a line which had so recently emerged from the merchant class. Katheryn was not. Through her mother’s line she could claim descent from some highly respectable baronial names. Clifford, Ferres and Beauchamp each get a name check on her family tree.

But how one’s social standing was perceived in Tudor England is difficult to judge. Particularly from this distance. As such, I’ve placed a great deal of emphasis on how likely each Queen would have been to ‘marry well’ before Henry was in the picture.

Anne was almost certainly destined for a coronet. Katheryn seemed more likely to make a modest match. Blood was important in the sixteenth century. But even then, blood wasn’t everything. Connections were powerful. The right people pushing you could make a difference.

A big part of Anne’s desirability might have been the money that Thomas Boleyn could offer as a dowry. Katheryn was from a mighty family. But her lowly position within it meant that she had little cash to bring to the table.

5. Katherine Parr

Henry’s last wife was of solidly knightly class. Her father was a significant landowner. She could claim descent from the mighty Nevilles – the family that had dominated the north in the 1400s. A descendant of Edward III through the Beaufort line, Katherine had a heritage to be proud of.

Henry VIII was Katherine’s third husband. She had already proven her worth on the marriage market. Her first marriage had been respectable. Her second, spectacular.

Katherine Parr was from a family on the fringes of the baronage

6. Jane Seymour

Jane may have been the Queen that lingered in Henry’s heart. But she was probably the humblest. I mentioned that this list contains two controversies. My decision to place Jane below Katherine Parr is the second. You could argue that there’s barely a sheet of tissue paper between them. Through her mother’s Wentworth line, Jane, like Katherine, could claim descent from Edward III.

Maybe it’s a tie. But to my eye the Parr family tree seems to more obviously resemble a family on the fringes of the baronage. As I said earlier, I’ve placed a lot of weight on the ‘pre-Henry’ marriage prospects of the ladies. Katherine was snapped up young and made two decent marriages. At 28, Jane was somewhat on the shelf. She seemed to be struggling to make a decent match.

Over to you geeks. What do you think? Have I been a bit harsh on Jane or Katheryn Howard? Are there important branches to the family tree I’m missing? I want to know what YOU think.

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Unravelling Mary Boleyn by Sarah Bryson

Today we have an article by Sarah Bryson, author of Mary Boleyn: In a Nutshell and a regular contributor to the Tudor Society.

Mary Boleyn is most certainly a woman of mystery. Her younger sister was Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII and Queen consort of England. Mary's brother was a well-known member of Henry VIII's court, who was evangelical in his religious beliefs and who, like his sister Anne, ended up on the scaffold. Mary's father was also an important member of Henry VIII's court. Thomas Boleyn was a talented man, who was fluent in French and who was sent on many missions as an ambassador for England. He was cunning and smart and used his skills and wits to provide a fantastic education for his children, as well as to further himself and his family at court. And yet when we look at Mary's life compared to her famous siblings and father so little is known.

Mary Boleyn was the first child born to Thomas Boleyn and Elizabeth Howard. She was most probably born in 1500 and she spent the first fourteen years of her life at Blickling Hall and then at Hever Castle in Kent. When she was approximately fourteen years of age, she was chosen as a maid of honour to Princess Mary Tudor and she accompanied the Princess to France. Mary attended the Princess when she married King Louis XII and stayed with the Dowager Queen after the death of the French King.

Frustratingly, we know very little about Mary's whereabouts between 1515 and 1520. History suggests that sometime during her time at the French court Mary Boleyn became the mistress of Francis I, the new King of France. This idea comes to us from a letter written by Rodolfo Pio, Bishop of Faenza on March 10th 1536. In his letter Pio writes that:

"Francis said also that they are committing more follies than ever in England, and are saying and printing all the ill they can against the Pope and the Church that “that woman” pretended to have miscarried of a son, not being really with child, and, to keep up the deceit, would allow no one to attend on her but her sister, whom the French king knew here in France ‘per una grandissima ribalda et infame sopre tutte.’ [a great prostitute and infamous above all]"

There are several inaccuracies in this letter. Firstly, we know that in 1536 Mary could not have been with her sister Anne as Mary had been banished from court in 1534. Secondly, Anne Boleyn did not pretend to miscarry a child, she really did miscarry in January 1536. Thirdly, this letter was written twenty years after Mary Boleyn had been in France, so why in the past two decades had not a single word been spoken about Mary Boleyn's alleged affair with Francis I? Within a close court it is hard to keep secrets, so how could Mary's affair have been kept a secret for more than two decades? Fourthly, how do we even know that the words written by Pio are the truth? So the question remains, did Mary Boleyn have an affair with King Francis I of France? There is no evidence to suggest that she did and it is most likely that the words of Rodolfo Pio are nothing more than a fabricated lie to discredit Mary and her sister Anne.

Mary's whereabouts between 1515 and 1520 also remain a mystery. It could be possible that she returned to England with the Dowager Queen of France, Mary Tudor, and continued to be a maid of honour. She may also have returned to England and become part of Queen Catherine of Aragon's household.

On February 4th 1520, in the Chapel Royal at Greenwich, Mary married Sir William Carey, a handsome young man who became a gentleman of the privy chamber. The King attended the wedding ceremony giving the couple a present of 6s and 8d.

It is also known that Mary Boleyn became the mistress of King Henry VIII. It is estimated that the affair began in 1522. Henry rode out during the Shrovetide Joust of 1522 wearing on his horse the motto “elle mon coeur a navera” which means “she has wounded my heart”. With this Henry VIII may have been referring to Mary Boleyn. The affair lasted for about three years and ended around 1525. During these years Mary gave birth to two children: first a daughter, Catherine, in 1524, and then a son, Henry, born in 1526. The conception dates of both these children coincide with Mary Boleyn's affair with Henry VIII. So the question is, did Henry VIII father Mary Boleyn's children? Again, frustratingly, we simply do not know. All that is known is that Henry VIII never acknowledged either child as his own.

Tragedy struck Mary on June 22nd 1528 when Mary's husband William Carey died of the Sweating Sickness. With her husband's death, Mary was left a widow without any means of supporting herself. Her young son became a ward to her sister Anne, who was at this time being courted by Henry VIII. It is presumed that Mary took her daughter Catherine Carey and returned to Hever Castle for a time. This may have been a difficult time for Mary as it is believed she was not well-liked by her parents, especially by her father Thomas Boleyn. Josephine Wilkinson, in her book The True Story of Henry VIII’s Favourite Mistress states that Mary's father turned his back on his oldest daughter as she was no longer mistress to the King and therefore not a means of advancement for the family.
We do know however that Henry VIII stepped in and asked Thomas Boleyn to support his daughter. He also granted Mary an annuity of £100 a year which has previously been given to her late husband William Carey.

Once more, we lose track of Mary Boleyn and we only see glimpses of her life between 1528 and 1534. During this period, Mary's sister was created Marquis of Pembroke and then, in 1533, married Henry VIII and became Queen consort of England. We know that during the New Year celebrations of 1532 Mary gave Henry VIII a gift of a shirt with a blackwork collar and in October 1532 Mary accompanied her sister and King Henry VIII to France where they went to meet King Francis I. Records state that Mary was one of the ladies participating in a masquerade to entertain the French King in a banquet held on October 27th. Mary also appears in the records during her sister Anne's coronation on June 1st 1533. During the procession, Mary rode in the third coach behind Anne, with their mother Elizabeth, and she wore a dress made of seven yards of scarlet velvet. Records also show that during the coronation ceremony Mary attended her sister wearing a gown of scarlet velvet and an ermine cloak and bonnet.

In 1534, Mary Boleyn caused quite a scandal by returning to court not only as a married woman but also as a pregnant one! Sometime in 1534, Mary had married William Stafford, a soldier at the garrison of Calais. As the sister of the Queen, Mary had married far beneath her station in life and, what's more, had dared to marry without her sister or father's permission. Outraged, Anne banished her sister from court.

What happened to the child that Mary was carrying is unknown, but most likely she either miscarried or the child did not live long after birth. Also, in another point of frustration, we do not know where Mary went after her banishment. Since her new husband was a soldier at Calais it is most likely that she returned there with him. We do know that in 1539 William Stafford was chosen as one of the members assigned to welcome Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII's fourth wife, to Calais.

On May 19th 1536, Anne Boleyn was executed with a French executioner's sword. She had been found guilty of trumped up charges of incest, adultery and treason. Her brother George had been found guilty of treason and incest with his sister and had been beheaded on Tower Hill two days previously. On the same day as George Boleyn's execution, Anne's marriage to Henry VIII was annulled, most likely due to his previous affair with Mary. Anne and Henry's daughter Elizabeth was declared a bastard. Mary's parents died in 1538 and 1539, and it appears that Mary had never been reunited with her parents. Sometime in early 1540, Mary and her husband William returned to England where Mary received some of her father's inheritance, including the lavish Rochford Hall. It was here that Mary spent her final years.
Mary died either on July 19th 1543 or July 30th, the exact date is not known. As to where Mary's body rests, that too remains a mystery. We can't even pay our respects at the resting place of this mysterious woman.

You can read about Mary Boleyn's inquisition post mortem, which was taken at Brentwood in Essex, in Claire Ridgway's article from 2014 over at The Anne Boleyn Files - click here. Claire also has a different view on Mary Boleyn's relationship with Henry VIII and you can read this over at the Anne Boleyn Files - click here.


Mary Boleyn: The True Story of Henry VIII's Favourite Mistress

I have been fascinated by Mary for a long time, I find her far more intriguing than Anne. You can&apost help but feel sorry for her, given how Anne and George always seemed to be favored by their father. Unfortunately this biography doesn&apost give any new information or insight into Mary&aposs life but that&aposs not entirely unexpected, given the time period. The trouble I have with this text is the leaps the author takes with the information we do have access to. Most notably, there is no concrete evidence I have been fascinated by Mary for a long time, I find her far more intriguing than Anne. You can't help but feel sorry for her, given how Anne and George always seemed to be favored by their father. Unfortunately this biography doesn't give any new information or insight into Mary's life but that's not entirely unexpected, given the time period. The trouble I have with this text is the leaps the author takes with the information we do have access to. Most notably, there is no concrete evidence that Mary and Henry had any children, despite their affair going on while she was married to get first husband they very well could have been the products of her marriage to her first husband.

Some reviewers seem to take issue with Mary not always being the focus of her own biography which is understandable. However, given the turbulent times and how entwined Mary's and Anne's lives were because of the situation, that backstory is important.

Overall, it's not a terrible introduction to the life of Mary Boleyn and is a very quick read, I finished it in a couple hours. . more

I have always been fascinated with Mary Boleyn. Compared to her sister Anne she may be the unknown Boleyn sister, but for me there is so much more to Mary Boleyn. For me Mary is a woman of depth and substance, a woman whom defied the common rules of the time, defied her parents and ultimately followed her heart.

Unfortunately there has not been a great deal of information recorded about Mary. What has been recorded is scant but I felt as though Josephine Wilkinson did a marvellous job of compili I have always been fascinated with Mary Boleyn. Compared to her sister Anne she may be the unknown Boleyn sister, but for me there is so much more to Mary Boleyn. For me Mary is a woman of depth and substance, a woman whom defied the common rules of the time, defied her parents and ultimately followed her heart.

Unfortunately there has not been a great deal of information recorded about Mary. What has been recorded is scant but I felt as though Josephine Wilkinson did a marvellous job of compiling the small details about Mary’s life together to create a broader picture of his incredible woman. Wilkinson writes about Mary’s early years, where she was born and where she spent her youth. There are records that show Mary Boleyn went to France to serve as a lady in waiting to Princess Mary Tudor and Wilkinson talks about what Mary may have experienced and learnt during her time in France. She also looks at how Mary became a mistress to King Francis I, although for how long it is impossible to say.

Wilkinson then moves on to talk about Mary’s return to England, her marriage to Henry Carey and how she caught the eye of Henry VIII and became his mistress. It is believed that she was the King’s mistress for approximately three or so years, during which time she bore two children, Katherine Carey and Henry Carey. There is a great deal of debate as to whether the two children are Henry VIII’s illegitimate children and Wilkinson goes into a lot of detail outlining the pros and cons as to why they might or might not be the children of Henry VIII. The reasons proposed that both children might be fathered by Henry VIII is that during the time when Katherine and Henry were conceived Mary was the mistress of Henry VIII and sleeping with the King. Also there were rumours that Henry Carey looked quite a lot like Henry VIII and that Henry VIII gave Mary’s husband Henry Carey a series of grants and appointments around the time each child was born. On the other hand the suggestions against the two children being fathered by Henry VIII are that it is quite possible during the time Mary was the King’s mistress she may have also been sleeping with her husband. Henry VIII never acknowledged Katherine or Henry as his children, where had had acknowledged Henry Fitzroy, a son he bore with his previous mistress Bessie Blount. Wilkinson also proposes that Henry VIII may have had low fertility and that the grants given to Henry Carey could have just been to keep him silent and happy about his wife sleeping with the King.

There are many reasons for and against Katherine Carey and Henry Carey being or not being the children of Henry VIII. Wilkinson draws the conclusion that both children were probably fathered by Henry VIII but personally I do not believe they were. I just do not think there is enough evidence to prove that the children were fathered by Henry and one of the biggest reasons is that he never acknowledged them as his own, especially Henry Carey a male child.

After this Wilkinson writes about how Mary’s husband Henry Carey died of the sweating sickness and left Mary with two young children. The wardship of Mary’s son was granted to her sister Anne who went about providing a good upbringing and education for the boy.

Wilkinson also details Mary’s second marriage, a marriage which shocked quite a few people including Mary’s sister and family. In 1534 Mary Boleyn married again, but this time her husband was not chosen for her by her father, nor was he even a man of equal status. In fact William Stafford was nothing more than a soldier and a gentleman usher to the King. He was man far below Mary in status and this combined with the fact she married without her father’s consent, found Mary and her new husband banished from court. I find this utterly incredible in a time when women were often reliant upon their fathers or family to make a marriage match for them, Mary took matters in her own hands and married for love. She followed her heart and although she faced the consequences we learn that she would have gladly repeated her actions all over again.

In the book is included a beautifully written letter by Mary outlining her plight, begging Thomas Cromwell for some financial assistance since she and her husband had been banished. She also wished for him to intercede with her sister and father because she is upset she has lost their affection. Yet she also states in the letter that she loves her husband and would gladly lead a poor woman’s life to be with him.

I think Mary’s letter to Thomas Cromwell is one of the most eloquent, most beautiful letters I have ever read. Even though Mary’s letter was written over four and a half centuries ago you can still feel the passion, the despair, the longing and the love contained within her words. It is a beautiful letter which tugs at the heart strings even to this day.

Wilkinson then moves on to look at Mary’s relationship with her sister Anne. Once again there is not a great deal recorded about Mary during her sister’s courtship with Henry VIII or her time as Queen. Unfortunately there is absolutely nothing written about Mary’s feelings on the charges of incest, adultery and treason brought against her brother and sister and we do not even know if Mary was allowed, or even wanted to visit them while they were in the Tower. My thought is that Mary probably would not have even been allowed to visit her siblings and she was probably kept away from court during this quite intense time.

After the death of her brother and sister Mary seems to slip into obscurity for a period of time. Wilkinson notes that her daughter Katherine became a lady in waiting to Anne of Cleves and that over the years Mary and her second husband William inherited some property and lands from Mary’s father after his death and were also granted some money from the King. It seems that in the end, even though Mary was banished from court for her marriage and at one stage was near financial ruin, she managed to live the last years of her life in at least some financial stability. Mary Boleyn died on July 30th 1543 and her place of burial is unknown.

At the end of this book I was left feeling both happy and sad. I greatly admire Mary Boleyn. Here is a woman whom dared to stand out on her own, she defied her father, her sister the Queen of England and her family, and married for love. She seems to have been the type of woman who followed her heart and although she faced many ups and downs overall it appears as though she ended her days happily. Yet the other part of me felt a little sad. Mary Boleyn was just as brave and ambitious as her sister Anne, but because she never became Queen of England, because her heart was set on love rather than the crown, so much of her life has been lost to history. Not even her final resting place has been recorded. I think Mary Boleyn deserves more recognition and credit than she has received and I am so glad that Josephine Wilkinson has written a book to shed a little more light on this fascinating woman.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Mary Boleyn. Wilkinson has a very smooth writing style which flows and draws the reader in making them want to learn more. I was so captivated by this book that I ended up reading it all in one day! I strongly recommend this book to any lover of Tudor history. Mary Boleyn is a fascinating person and one that people should learn more about.
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Mary Boleyn

"Mary Boleyn (c. 1499/1500 – 19 July 1543) was the sister of English queen consort Anne Boleyn and a member of the Boleyn family, which enjoyed considerable influence during the reign of King Henry VIII of England. Some historians claim she was Anne's younger sister, but her children believed Mary was the elder, as do most historians today.

Mary was one of the mistresses of Henry VIII, from a period of roughly 1521 to 1526. It has been rumoured that she bore two of the king's children, though Henry did not acknowledge either of them as he had done with Henry FitzRoy, his son by Bessie Blount. Mary was also rumoured to have been a mistress of Henry VIII's rival, King Francis I of France, for some period between 1515 and 1519.[1] She was the maternal aunt of Queen Elizabeth I of England.

Mary Boleyn was married twice: in 1520 to William Carey, and secretly in 1534, the year after sister Anne married the king, to William Stafford, a soldier of good family but few prospects. This secret marriage to a man considered beneath her station angered both Henry VIII and her sister, Queen Anne, and resulted in Mary's banishment from the royal court she spent the remainder of her life in obscurity. dying seven years after sister Anne's execution."

[S6] G.E. Cokayne with Vicary Gibbs, H.A. Doubleday, Geoffrey H. White, Duncan Warrand and Lord Howard de Walden, editors, The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, Extant, Extinct or Dormant, new ed., 13 volumes in 14 (1910-1959 reprint in 6 volumes, Gloucester, U.K.: Alan Sutton Publishing, 2000), volume I, page 400 volume VI, page 627. Hereinafter cited as The Complete Peerage.

[S16] #894 Cahiers de Saint-Louis (1976), Louis IX, Roi de France, (Angers: J. Saillot, 1976), FHL book 944 D22ds., vol. 11 p. 840.

[S20] Magna Carta Ancestry: A study in Colonial and Medieval Families, Richardson, Douglas, (Kimball G. Everingham, editor. 2nd edition, 2011), vol. 4 p. 63-64.

[S21] #226 The Peerage of Scotland: Containing an Historical and Genealogical Account of the Nobility of That Kingdom, from Their Origin to the Present Generation (2nd edition, 1813), Douglas, Sir Robert, (2nd edition. 2 volumes. Edinburgh: A. Constable, 1813 NOTE: Caution should be taken with this peerage, and compared with other peerages to obtain accurate information about the families. Some of the lineages are confused, but can be used for supplemental information.), FHL book Q 941 D22d FHL microfilm 1,440,956 items., vol. 1 p. 567.

[S25] #798 The Wallop Family and Their Ancestry, Watney, Vernon James, (4 volumes. Oxford: John Johnson, 1928), FHL book Q 929.242 W159w FHL microfilm 1696491 it., vol. 1 p. 110, 184, vol. 2 p. 473.

[S39] Medieval, royalty, nobility family group sheets (filmed 1996), Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Family History Department. Medieval Family History Unit, (Manuscript. Salt Lake City, Utah : Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1996), FHL film 1553977-1553985..

[S91] #972 The Berkeley Manuscripts: the Lives of the Berkeleys, Lords of the Honour, Castle and Manor of Berkeley, in the County of Gloucester, from 1066 to 1618. (1885), Smyth, John, (3 volumes. Gloucester: J. Bellows, 1885), FHL book Q 929.242 B398s FHL microfilms 496,546 i., vol. 2 p. 32.

[S100] #4500 Memoir of the Butlers, Burke, John Bernard, Sir, (Original manuscript in The Castle, Dublin, Ireland.), FHL microfilm 257807 item 4., p. 31.

[S117] #227 The History and Antiquities of the County of Hertford (1815-1827), Clutterbuck, Robert, (3 volumes. London: Nichols, Son and Bentley, 1815-1827), FHL book Q 942.58 H2c FHL microfilms 899,855-899. vol. 3 p. 181.

[S124] #240 Collins's Peerage of England, Genealogical, Biographical, and Historical, Greatly Augmented, and Continued to the Present Time (1812), Brydges, Sir Egerton,, (9 volumes. London: [T. Bensley], 1812), FHL book 942 D22be., vol. 3 p. 616.

[S227] #1838 The Four Visitations of Berkshire, Made and Taken by Thomas Benolte, Clarenceux, Anno 1532 by William Harvey, Clarenceux, Anno 1566 by Henry Chitting, Chester Herald, and John Philipott, Rouge Dragon, for William Camden, Clarenceux . . . (1907), Rylands, William Harry, (Publications of the Harleian Society: Visitations, volumes 56-57. 2 volumes. London: [Harleian Society], 1907), FHL book 942 B4h volumes 56-57 FHL microfilm 162. vol. 57 p. 204.

[S266] #379 [7th edition, 1992] Ancestral Roots of Certain American Colonists, Who Came to America Before 1700 (7th edition, 1992), Weis, Frederick Lewis, (7th edition. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, c1992), FHL book 974 D2w 1992., p. 4 line 1:36, p. 24 line 22:37.

[S347] Plantagenet Ancestry of Seventeenth-century Colonists: the Descent from the Later Plantagenet Kings of England, Henry III, Edward I, Edward II, and Edward III, of Emigrants from England and Wales to the North American Colonies Before 1701 (2nd ed., 1999), Faris, David, (2nd edition. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1999), FHL book 973 D2fp., p. 69 CAREY:3.

[S394] #230 [5th edition, 1999] The Magna Charta Sureties, 1215 (5th edition, 1999), Adams, Arthur, (5th edition. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1999), FHL book 973 D2aa 1999., p. 98-99 line 80:13.

[S452] #21 The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, Extant, Extinct, or Dormant (1910), Cokayne, George Edward (main author) and Vicary Gibbs (added author), (New edition. 13 volumes in 14. London: St. Catherine Press,1910-), vol. 1 p. 400 vol. 2 p. 139 fn. (a), 146 vol. 4 p. 445 fn. (b) vol. 5 p. 140.

[S880] #1785 The Visitation of the County of Devon in the Year 1620 (1872), Colby, Frederic Thomas, (Publications of the Harleian Society: Visitations, volume 6. London: [Harleian Society], 1872), FHL book 942 B4h volume 6 FHL microfilm 994,062 i., vol. 6 p. 48-49.


10 Facts about Mary Boleyn

1) Mary was the first child born to Thomas Boleyn and Elizabeth Howard. Thomas Boleyn, born in possibly 1466/1467 was a prominent member of King Henry VII’s court. Elizabeth Howard was the younger sister of Thomas Howard, 3 rd Duke of Norfolk. Thomas Boleyn and Elizabeth Howard married in approximately 1499 and according to Thomas Elizabeth brought him a child every year. It is believed that Mary was the oldest of these children born in 1500 at Blickling Hall, the family residence at the time.

2) Mary’s education ensured that she could read and write and it is presumed that she would have also been taught the skills needed of a lady at the time including sewing, embroidery, singing and dancing. We know that during New Year’s 1533 Mary gave the King a gift of a blackwork collar that she had made herself. She must therefore have had quite some skill at sewing. She may also have learned how to play the virginal and lute, taught appropriate table manners and raised in the Catholic faith.

3) In 1514 Mary was appointed as a Maid of Honour to Mary Tudor, younger sister of Henry VIII and travelled to France with the young Princess. Mary travelled with the Princess from Dover to France as part of Mary’s entourage and was most likely present when the English Princess married King Louis XII. It is believed that it was her father’s influence at court which helped Mary gain her position as part of Mary Tudor’s entourage.

4) On February 4 th 1520, in the Chapel Royal at Greenwich, Mary Boleyn married Sir William Carey. William Carey was a handsome young man who had become a gentleman of the privy chamber and was also a distant relative of Henry VII. The King attended the wedding and gave the couple 6s and 8d as a wedding present.

5) Mary was the mother of two children. Her first child, Catherine Carey was born in 1524 and her second child, a son was born in 1525. There is great debate over who was the father of Mary’s children as during the period of 1522 – 1525 Mary was the mistress of King Henry VIII as well as being married. There are strong arguments for Catherine and Henry being the illegitimate children of Henry VIII as well as reasons why they were not. Unfortunately without DNA testing we will never know who really was the father/s of Mary’s children. In 1533 it was reported by the Spanish Ambassador Eustace Chapuys that Mary was pregnant but there is no record of the birth of this child, or if it was born that it survived infancy.

6) Mary became the mistress of King Henry VIII in approximately 1522. During the Shrovetide Joust of 1522 Henry VIII rode out wearing on his horse the motto “elle mon Coeur a navera” which means “she has wounded my heart”. It has been suggested that this statement was referring to Mary Boleyn and gives us an approximate date as to when the affair began. The affair was conducted in secret and with great discretion and probably fizzled out on its own sometime around 1525 when Mary was pregnant with her second child.

7) Mary’s husband William Carey died of the sweating sickness on June 22 nd 1528. Mary was left a widow with two young children to care for and little means to support herself without the income of her husband. The sweating sickness has first struck in the 15 th century and appeared on and off, one of the worst times being in 1528. The symptoms appeared to be something like influenza or phenomena, with the patient having pains and aches all over the body, headaches, a great thirst and also breaking out in a horrible sweat. Many people that caught the sweat were death within twenty four hours. It is unknown where William Carey was buried.

8) Sometime during 1533/1534 Mary Boleyn left court and while she was away married a man named William Stafford. Stafford was a soldier in the garrison at Calais and later a gentleman usher to King Henry VIII. He was distantly related to Edward Stafford, the 3 rd Duke of Buckingham whom had been beheaded for treason in 1521. By marrying William Stafford Mary Boleyn had caused quite a scandal! She had taken a husband without the knowledge or consent of her family, without seeking permission from her father or her sister whom was now Queen of England. In addition to this Mary had married a man who was far beneath her status and to further inflame her family she was pregnant by her new husband.

9) Due to her marriage to William Stafford and for not seeking permission from her father or sister, Queen Anne Boleyn, Mary and her new husband were banished from court. On the 19 th of December 1534 Eustace Chapuys, Ambassador for Charles V wrote to his master stating: “The Lady’s sister [Mary] was also banished from Court three months ago, but it was necessary to do so, for besides that she had been found guilty of misconduct, it would not have been becoming to see her at court enceinte [pregnant].” (Wilkinson 2010, p. 148).

10) Little is known about the details surrounding Mary Boleyn’s death and not even the reason for her death is known. What is known is that she died in July 1543 (on either 19 th July or 30 th July) aged approximately forty three. She outlived her more famous brother and sister by seven years.


The Downside of Marrying for Love: Mary Boleyn

When Mary Boleyn returned to court married and pregnant the King and Queen were none too pleased. Mary had not asked permission to remarry which was a huge faux pas for someone who was the sister of the Queen. It did not matter that Mary had met the love of her life She had just ruined a potential political match for the king and another ally for the Boleyn family.

Mary Stafford to Thomas Cromwell:

Master secretary, after my poor recommendations, which is smally to be regarded of me, that I am a poor banished creature – This shall be to desire you to be good to my poor husband and to me. I am sure it is not unknown to you the high displeasure that both he and I have, both of the king’s highness and the queen’s grace, by reason of our marriage without their knowledge, wherein we both do yield ourselves faulty, and do acknowledge that we did not well to be so hasty nor so bold, without their knowledge. But one thing, good master secretary, consider, that he was young, and love overcame reason and for my part I saw so much honesty in him, that I loved him as well as he did me, and was in bondage, and glad I was to be at liberty: so that, for my part, I saw that all the world did set so little by me, and he so much, that I thought I could take no better way but to take him and to forsake all other ways, and live a poor, honest life with him. And so I do put no doubts but we should, if we might once be so happy to recover the king’s gracious favour and the queen’s. For well I might have had a great man of birth and a higher, but I assure you I could never have had one that should have loved me so well, nor a more honest man and besides that, he is both come of an ancient stock, and again as meet (if it was his grace’s pleasure) to do the king service, as any young gentleman in his court.

Therefore, good master secretary, this shall be my suit to you, that, for the love that I well know you do bear to all my blood, though, for my part, I have not deserved it but smally, by reason of my vile conditions, as to put my husband to the king’s grace that he may do his duty as all other gentlemen do. And, good master secretary, sue for us to the king’s highness, and beseech his highness which ever was wont to take pity, to have pity on us: and that it will lease his grace of his goodness to speak to the queen’s grace for us for, so far as I can perceive, her grace is so highly displeased with us both that without the king be so good lord to us as to withdraw his rigour and sue for us we are never like to recover her grace’s favour: which is too heavy to bear. And seeing there is no remedy, for God’s sake help us – for we have now been a quarter of a year married, I thank God, and too late now to call that again wherefore it is the more alms to help. But if I were at my liberty and might choose, I ensure you, master secretary, for my little time, I have tried to much honestly to be in him, that I had rather beg my bread with him than to be the greatest queen in Christendom – And I believe verily he is in the same case with me for I believe verily he would not forsake me to be a king.

Reported image of Mary Boleyn

Therefore, good master secretary, seeing we are so well together and does intend to live so honest a life, though it be poor, show part of your goodness to us as well as you do to all the world besides for I promise you, you have the name to help all them that hath need, and amongst all your suitors I dare be bold to say that you have no matter more to be pitied than ours and therefore, for God’s sake, be good to us, for in you is all our trust.

And I beseech you, good master secretary, pray my lord my father and my lady to be so good to us, and to let me have their blessings and my husband their good will and I will never desire more of them. Also, I pray you, desire my lord Norfolk and my lord brother to be good to us, I dare not write to them, they are so cruel against us but if, with any pain that I could take with my life, I might win their good wills, I promise you there is no child living would venture more than I. And so I pray to you report by me, and you shall find my writing true and in all points which I may please them in I shall be ready to obey them nearest my husband, whom I am most bound to to whom I most heartily beseech you to be good unto, which, for my sake, is a poor banished man for an honest and godly cause. And being that I have read in old books that some, for as just causes, have by kings and queens been pardoned by the suit of good folks, I trust it shall be out chance, through your good help, to come to the same as knoweth the (Lord) God, who send you health and heart’s ease. Scribbled with her ill hand, who is your poor, humble suitor, always to command,

Mary Stafford.

The thing I take most from this letter was how poorly she was treated by her family for marrying without permission and the love that was shared between Mary and William. The part of the letter that stands out the most, to me, and shows the love they shared is: ”I had rather beg my bread with him than to be the greatest queen in Christendom – And I believe verily he is in the same case with me for I believe verily he would not forsake me to be a king.” She was not willing to give up her husband even to become queen, nor would William want to give her up to be king.

Bryson, Sarah Mary Boleyn: In a Nutshell

Cherry, Clare & Ridgway, Claire George Boelyn: Tudor Poet & Diplomat

Evans, Victoria Sylvia Ladies-in-Waiting: Women Who Served at the Tudor Court


The Face of Mary Boleyn

New research by the Jordaens Van Dyck Panel Painting Project has been announced that identifies an unlabelled portrait in the Royal Collection as Mary Boleyn a copy of which hangs at Hever Castle, Mary’s childhood home.

Since William Waldorf Astor restored Hever Castle from 1903, two portraits of the Boleyn sisters – Anne and Mary – have hung in the Castle’s magnificent Inner Hall. However, historians had long disputed that either portrait was labelled correctly.

The portrait of Anne Boleyn was painted from a sketch by the famous court artist Hans Holbein however, this was only labelled as ‘Anne Bullen’ in the 17th century.

The portrait of Mary Boleyn, similarly inscribed, was held to be after Holbein but had long been rejected on the basis that there was no surviving original of the portrait and that the extant examples were much later in origin.

It was also rejected on the basis that the sitter was wearing ermine fur, which some historians had suggested Mary would have been exempted from wearing owing to the strict sumptuary laws which governed clothing by status. However, research by Maria Hayward in 2009 appeared to contradict the idea that Mary would have been precluded from wearing the fur, with no sumptuary exemptions for the fur being made since 1463. As Susan Higginbotham pointed out, Mary would have been permitted to wear the fur as her husband, William Carey, was an Esquire of the Body. This earlier research re-established the possibility that the portrait could indeed be Mary.

Now, the Jordaens Van Dyck Panel Painting Project has concluded that a version of the portrait in the Royal Collection is of Mary Boleyn. While researching a set of paintings of 17th Century “Beauties” that once decorated the bathroom of Queen Anne at Windsor Castle 300 years ago, the research team were able to identify that the portrait of Mary had once belonged to the set by using dendrochronology (the scientific dating of tree rings to the year they were formed). Mary had been separated from the set of “Beauties” owing to it being the only portrait in the set wearing 16th Century dress. The team were then able to find images of a similar version of the painting with a named inscription from the collection of Lord Wharton, who was a descendant of Mary Boleyn. This inscription matched that of a portrait of Margaret Smith, Mrs Thomas Carey, who married Mary Boleyn’s great-grandson. The research team will be publishing the full details of this exciting discovery of Mary Boleyn, with the full results of their study of the 14 “Beauties,” in a future publication.

The confirmation of Mary’s likeness is a welcome addition to the all too little we know about the “other Boleyn girl”. Eric Ives, the celebrated biographer of Anne Boleyn, once stated that what we know of Mary “could be written on the back of a postcard with room to spare.” We do not know Mary’s birthdate, her place of burial, or when her affair with Henry VIII began and for how long it lasted. We do know that she had two children, which some historians believe one or both were fathered by Henry, although this is heavily disputed. We also know that Mary’s children, Catherine, and Henry Carey, went on to have successful careers at the court of their cousin Elizabeth I, daughter of Anne Boleyn. It is, then, likely that these portraits of Mary – of which we now believe there are twelve known copies – were created by or for the ever-growing descendants of Mary, who flourished due to the successful careers of Mary’s children during the reign of the Boleyn heir, Queen Elizabeth I.


She was rumored to have had an affair with a French king.

While Anne was in Europe, Mary, 14, was chosen to join the court of 19-year-old Princess Mary Tudor, Henry VII's youngest sister, who had married a 52-year-old French king, per Brittanica. Anne later joined her sister at the new French court. "At this point you begin to see Anne and Mary's lives diverge. Mary is the home-loving one. She doesn't catch on to the quick, barbed intrigues of court life," Williams said on Absolute History.

After King Louis XII of France died, Mary caught the attention of his successor, Francis I. "François was similar to King Henry in many ways. They were both young, incredibly vain, and eager to establish themselves as significant players on the political stage in Europe," Wilkinson writes in Mary Boleyn: The True Story of Henry VIII's Favourite Mistress.

Mary is rumored to have had an affair with Francis, the extent of which cannot be determined. "Her youth, beauty and inexperience led her into a series of short-lived encounters as she was passed from the King, who quickly tired of her, to his favorites," Wilkinson writes, adding that Mary's own thoughts on the matter were unrecorded. However, her liaisons with the king may have earned her an "undesirable reputation" and alienated her from her family, per Wilkinson.


Did Henry VIII father Mary Boleyn’s children?

I was inspired to write this article after reading another chapter of new book by David Loades, ‘The Boleyns’. In chapter entitled ‘Mary & the King’s Fancy – in and out of Favour’ professor Loades states that

”Mistress Carey’s charms may have faded, or been replaced by those of her sister, but the indications are that Mary was handed over to her husband at some point in the summer of 1525. Her son, Henry Carey, was born on 4 March 1526, and that suggests that she began to sleep with William at some time in June or July of 1525.” / p. 52 /

”From 1526 onwards Mary is overshadowed by her sister Anne, and glimpses of her in the records become few. She must have spent quite a lot of her time on pregnancy leave, because a few months after Henry’s birth, she had conceived again, and bore William’s second child, a daughter Catherine, at some time in 1527.’ / p. 53/

I have to say that I always thought that Catherine Carey was born c. 1524 and thus was Mary Carey’s first child. In her book ‘Mary Boleyn : The True Story of Henry VIII’s Favourite Mistress’ Josephine Wilkinson states that

”Mary in fact, was pregnant twice during the time she was Henry’s mistress. The eldest child, Katherine, was born in 1524. The year of her birth is easy to establish from a portrait of her which was painted in 1562. This notes that the sitter was thirty-eight years of age at the time, giving her a birth date of 1524”. / p. 79/

In her new book about Mary Boleyn, Alison Weir also states that Catherine Carey was born c. 1524.

As usually when I have doubts, I reached profesor Eric Ives’ book ‘The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn’ . Profesor Ives states that

”Once Mary had begun to cohabit with William Carey, her two children came in quick succession.” /p. 17/

In the notes for this chapter, profesor Ives explains that Henry Carey was Mary’s first child and he was born in March 1526. This makes Catherine Carey the second child.

For centuries historians tried to guess wheather Mary’s children were also Henry VIII’s children. We don’t actually know when Mary’s relationship with the king started and when exactly it ended. We can only guess the time of their romance. David Loades states that in the summer of 1525 Mary was reunited with her husband and she conceived children by him. But another historian, Josephine Wilkinson, claims otherwise :

”However a child born in March would have been conceived in June of the previous year when Henry had not yet discarded Mary. /p. 80 /

The important question is – did Henry VIII father Mary Carey’s children? We should first take a look on Henry VIII’s children : during his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Henry fathered at least six children, but only one of them – princess Mary – survived infancy. At some point Henry VIII knew that his wife will not be able to provide him more children, and he took a mistress – young lady-in-waiting, Elizabeth ‘Bessie’ Blount. Bessie gave birth to a healthy baby boy in June 1519, and the king acknowledged baby as his son. The boy received a name Henry – after his royal father, and a surname ‘Fitzroy’ that meant ‘son of the King’. He was the first son of 28-year-old Henry VIII and the king soon bestowed a title of Duke of Richmond on him.

Henry VIII never aknowledged Mary’s children as his own. They received Mary’s husband’s surname, Carey, and perhaps this is an indication that they were indeed William Carey’s children.

Other possible explanation of why Henry VIII never acknowledged Mary’s children as his own is the fact that he developed his interest in Mary’s younger sister, Anne Boleyn. At the Shrovetide in 1526 the king appeared at joust displaying a motto ‘Declare I dare not’ which was a clear indication towards Anne Boleyn and Henry’s respect for Anne’s decision of preserving her virginity.

How could Henry VIII acknowledge Mary’s children ash his own, when he was pursuing her sister? That would have caused a scandal, considering the fact that king wanted to marry Anne Boleyn and his previous affair with Mary caused some problems – Henry must have appealed to Rome for a dispence.

The other possible explanation is the fact, that Henry VIII knew that he must have a legitimate son. He believed that a woman can never wear a crown and thus was eager to provide a male heir. But Catherine of Aragon was already barren, with no chance of conceiving another child. That is why Henry turned his back on her, and took mistresses. But even if Henry recognized Bessie Blount’s son as his own, Henry Fitzroy was only an illegitimate son, who would probably never inherit the throne. Henry knew that so he didn’t need more illegitimate children.

And what about the rumours that young Henry Carey looked like king Henry VIII? Did he really bear resemblance to the king? John Hale, Vicar of Isleworth wrote to the Council in 1535 that :

“Moreover, Mr. Skydmore dyd show to me yongge Master Care, saying that he was our suffren Lord the Kynge’s son by our suffren Lady the Qwyen’s syster, whom the Qwyen’s grace myght not suffer to be yn the Cowrte.” / LP, VIII. 567/

Profesor Eric Ives pointed out that such rumours were spread by Catherine of Aragon’s supporters.

And what about the fact, that Anne Boleyn became Henry Carey’s ward after William Carey’s death? It could have been an act of mercy since Anne was Mary’s sister, and Mary found herself in a difficult financial position after her husband’s death. But it could have been also a sign that Henry VIII wished to take care of his illegtimate son.

Whatever the case is, I think that today it is really hard to say if Henry and Catherine Carey were Henry VIII’s children. Perhaps they were, perhaps not – but certainly they both played a political role during Elizabeth I’s reign. Elizabeth was very fond of her Boleyn relatives but it doesn’t meant that it was because they were Henry VIII’s children. I think that for Elizabeth they were mostly the Boleyns, family of her mother. Henry Carey knew Anne Boleyn when he was a boy, and he certainly had a lot to tell Elizabeth about her mother.

Eric Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn

Alison Weir, ”Mary Boleyn : The Great and Infamous Whore”

Josephine Wilkinson, ”Mary Boleyn : The True Story of Henry VIII’s Favourite Mistress”


Watch the video: История двух сестер Анна и Мария 2018 (August 2022).