Portrait of Mary Boleyn
|Spouse(s)||Sir William Carey, Aldenham
William Stafford, of Chebsey
Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon
|Father||Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire|
|Mother||Lady Elizabeth Howard|
Blickling Hall, Norfolk
|Died||19 July 1543 (aged 43-44)|
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. 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. She was the maternal aunt of Queen Elizabeth I of England.
Mary Boleyn married twice: in 1520 to Sir William Carey, and secretly in 1534 to William Stafford, a commoner and a soldier. This secret marriage to a man so far 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.
Early life 
Mary was born at Blickling Hall, the family seat in Norfolk, and grew up at Hever Castle, Kent. She was the daughter of a wealthy diplomat and courtier, Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Howard, Countess of Wiltshire, the eldest daughter of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk.
There is no evidence of her exact date of birth, but it occurred sometime between 1499 and 1508. Most historians suggest that she was the eldest of the three surviving Boleyn children. Evidence suggests that the Boleyn family treated Mary as the eldest child; in 1597, her grandson, Lord Hunsdon, claimed the title of "Earl of Ormond" on the grounds that he was the Boleyns’ legitimate heir. Among the nobility, a title may often descend through the eldest female, in the absence of an immediate male line. If Anne had been the elder sister, the title would have descended to her daughter, Queen Elizabeth I. However, it appears that Queen Elizabeth offered Mary's son, Henry, the title as he was dying (which he declined).
If Mary was the eldest Boleyn, Henry would have inherited the title upon his grandfather's death without a new grant from the queen. There is more evidence to suggest that Mary was older than Anne. She was married first, on 4 February 1520; an elder daughter was traditionally married before her younger sister. In 1532, when Anne was made Marchioness of Pembroke, she was referred to as "one of the daughters of Thomas Boleyn". Were she the eldest, that status would likely have been mentioned. Most historians now accept Mary as the eldest child, placing her birth some time in 1499.
Mary was brought up along with her brother George and her sister Anne by a French governess at Hever Castle in Kent. She was given a conventional education deemed essential for young ladies of her rank and status, which included the basic principles of arithmetic, grammar, history, reading, spelling, and writing. In addition to her family genealogy, Mary learned the feminine accomplishments of dancing, embroidery, etiquette, household management, music, needlework, and singing, and games such as cards and chess. She was also taught archery, falconry, horseback riding, and hunting.
It is possible Mary began her education abroad and spent time as a companion to Archduchess Margaret of Austria, Regent of the Netherlands, but it is believed that it was Anne who was chosen to go to the court of the Archduchess. Mary remained in England for most of her childhood, until she was sent abroad in 1514 around the age of fifteen when her father secured her a place as maid-of-honour to the King’s sister, Princess Mary, who was going to Paris to marry King Louis XII of France.
After a few weeks, many of the Queen's English maids were sent away, but Mary was allowed to stay, probably due to the fact that her father was the new English ambassador to France. Even when Queen Mary left France after she was widowed on 1 January 1515, Mary remained behind at the court of Louis' successor, Francis I and his queen consort Claude.
Royal affair in France 
Mary was joined in Paris by her father, Sir Thomas, and her sister, Anne, who had been studying in the Netherlands for the past year. During this time Mary is supposed to have embarked on several affairs, including one with King Francis himself. Although some historians believe that the reports of her sexual affairs are exaggerated, the French king referred to her as "The English Mare" and as "una grandissima ribalda, infame sopra tutte" ("a great slag, infamous above all").
Royal mistress 
Soon after her return, Mary was married to William Carey, a wealthy and influential courtier, on 4 February 1520; Henry VIII was a guest at the couple's wedding. At some point, Mary became Henry's mistress; the exact date is unclear, but it probably began some time in 1521. The liaison was never publicised, and Mary never enjoyed the fame, wealth and power that Henry's earlier mistresses, such as Bessy Blount, enjoyed, and which was usual for other acknowledged mistresses in France and other kingdoms. Her first child, Catherine, was born in 1524. Henry's involvement is believed to have ended prior to the birth of Mary's second child, Henry Carey, in March 1526, at which point his involvement would have lasted for five years.
During this time, it was rumoured that one, or both, of Mary's children were fathered by the king. One witness noted that Mary's son, Henry Carey, bore a resemblance to Henry VIII. John Hale, Vicar of Isleworth, some ten years after the child was born, remarked that he had met a 'young Master Carey' who was the king's purported bastard child. No other contemporary evidence exists to support the argument that Henry was the king’s biological son.
Henry VIII's wife, Catherine of Aragon, had first been married to Henry's elder brother Arthur when he was a little over fifteen years old, but Arthur had died just a few months later. Henry later used this to justify the annulment of his marriage to Catherine, arguing that her marriage to Arthur had created an affinity between Henry and Catherine; as his brother's wife, under canon law she became his sister. When Mary's sister Anne later became Henry's wife, this same canon law might also support that a similar affinity had been created between Henry and Anne due to his earlier liaison with Mary. In 1527, during his initial attempts to obtain a papal annulment of his marriage to Catherine, Henry also requested a dispensation to marry Anne, his former mistress' sister.
Sister’s rise to power 
Anne had returned to England in January 1522; she soon joined the royal court as one of Queen Catherine's Maids-of-Honour. Anne achieved considerable popularity at court, although the sisters already moved in different circles and were not thought to have been particularly close.
Although Mary was alleged to have been more attractive than her sister, Anne seems to have been more ambitious and intelligent. When the king took an interest in Anne, she refused to become his mistress, being shrewd enough not to give in to his sexual advances. By the middle of 1527, Henry was determined to marry her. This gave him further incentive to seek the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. A year later, when Mary's husband died during an outbreak of sweating sickness, Henry granted Anne Boleyn the wardship of her nephew, Henry Carey. Mary's husband had left her with considerable debts, and Anne arranged for her nephew to be educated at a respectable Cistercian monastery. Anne also interceded to secure her widowed sister an annual pension of £100.
Second marriage 
In 1532, when Anne accompanied Henry to Calais on a state visit to France, Mary was one of her companions. Anne was crowned queen on 1 June 1533 and gave birth to their daughter Elizabeth on 7 September. In 1534, Mary secretly married a commoner and the second son of an Essex landowner, William Stafford. Since Stafford was a soldier, his status so far beneath hers, his prospects as a second son so slight, and his income so small, many believed the union was a love match. When Mary became pregnant, the marriage was discovered. Queen Anne was furious, and the Boleyn family disowned Mary. The couple were banished from court.
Mary's financial circumstances became so desperate that she was reduced to begging the king’s adviser Thomas Cromwell to speak to Henry and Anne on her behalf. She admitted that she might have chosen 'a greater man of birth and a higher', but never one that should have loved her so well, nor a more honest man. And she went on, 'I had rather beg my bread with him than to be the greatest queen in Christendom. And I believe verily ... he would not forsake me to be a king.' Henry, however, seems to have been indifferent to her plight. Mary asked Cromwell to speak to her father, her uncle, and her brother, but to no avail. It was Anne who relented, sending Mary a magnificent golden cup and some money, but still refusing to receive her at court. This partial reconciliation was the closest the two sisters attained; it is not thought that they met after Mary's court exile.
Mary's life between 1534 and her sister's execution on 19 May 1536 is difficult to trace. There is no record of her visiting her parents, nor did she visit her sister Anne or her brother George when they were imprisoned in the Tower of London, nor is there evidence of any correspondence. Like their uncle, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, she may have thought it wise to avoid association with her now-disgraced relatives.
Mary and her husband remained social outcasts, living in retirement at Rochford Hall in Essex, which was owned by the Boleyns. After Anne’s execution, their mother retired from the royal court, dying in seclusion just two years later. Her father, Thomas, died a year after his wife. Following the deaths of her parents, Mary inherited some property in Essex. She seems to have lived out the rest of her days in obscurity and relative comfort with her second husband. She died in her early forties, on 19 July 1543.
- Catherine Carey (1524 – 15 January 1569). Maid-of-Honour to both Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard, she married a Puritan, Sir Francis Knollys, Knight of the Garter, by whom she had issue. She later became Chief Lady of the Bedchamber to her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. One of her daughters, Lettice Knollys, became the second wife of Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, the favourite of Elizabeth I.
- Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon (4 March 1526 – 23 July 1596). He was ennobled by Queen Elizabeth I shortly after her coronation, and later made a Knight of the Garter. When he was dying, Elizabeth offered Henry the Boleyn family title of Earl of Ormond, which he had long sought, but at that point, declined. He was married to Anne Morgan, by whom he had issue.
Mary's marriage to William Stafford (d. 5 May 1556) resulted in the birth of two children:
- Anne Stafford (b. 1536?–?), probably named in honour of Mary's sister, Queen Anne Boleyn.
- Edward Stafford (1535–1545).
Depictions in fiction 
Mary was depicted in the 1969 film Anne of the Thousand Days, and was played by Valerie Gearon.
A fictionalised form of her character also features prominently in the novels:
- Brief Gaudy Hour: A Novel of Anne Boleyn by Margaret Campbell Barnes (1949)
- Anne Boleyn by Evelyn Anthony (1957)
- The Concubine: A Novel Based Upon the Life of Anne Boleyn by Norah Lofts (1963)
- Anne, the Rose of Hever by Maureen Peters (1969)
- Anne Boleyn by Norah Lofts (1979)
- Mistress Anne: The Exceptional Life of Anne Boleyn by Carolly Erickson (1984)
- The Lady in the Tower by Jean Plaidy (1986)
- I, Elizabeth: the Word of a Queen by Rosalind Miles (1994)
- The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn by Robin Maxwell (1997)
- Dear Heart, How Like You This? by Wendy J. Dunn (2002)
- Doomed Queen Anne by Carolyn Meyer (2002)
- Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (2009)
Mary has been the central character in three novels based on her life:
- Court Cadenza (later published under the title The Tudor Sisters) by British author Aileen Armitage (Aileen Quigley) (1974)
- The Last Boleyn by Karen Harper (1983)
- The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory (2001)
Philippa Gregory later nominated Mary as her personal heroine in an interview to the BBC History Magazine. Her novel was a bestseller and spawned five other books in the same series. However, it was controversial, since many historians found the work inaccurate in regards to historical events and individual characterizations. For example, Gregory characterizes Anne, not Mary, as the elder sister, and makes no mention of Mary's relationships prior to her affair with Henry.
Mary is also a subject in three non-fiction books:
- Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings by Alison Weir (2011)
- The Mistresses of Henry VIII by Kelly Hart (2009)
- Mary Boleyn: The True Story of Henry VIII's Mistress by Josephine Wilkinson (2010)
- Mistress Mary Boleyn (1499/1500–1520)
- Lady Carey (1520–1529)
- Lady Carey; Lady Mary Carey (1529–1532)
- Lady Mary Stafford (1534–1543)
Mary Boleyn became Lady Carey upon her marriage to Sir William Carey in 1520. She then became Lady Mary Carey when her father was granted the titles of Earl of Ormond and Earl of Wiltshire.
- Letters and Papers of the Reign of Henry VIII, X, no.450.
- Letters of Matthew Parker, p.15.
- Ives, p. 17; Fraser, p. 119; Denny, p. 27. All three scholars argue that Mary was the eldest of the three Boleyn children.
- Hart, Kelly (1 June 2009). The Mistresses of Henry VIII (First ed.). The History Press. ISBN 0-7524-4835-8.
- The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: The Most Happy by Eric Ives
- Antonia Fraser, The Wives of Henry VIII, p.119, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1992
- Wilkinson, Josephine (2009). Mary Boleyn: The True Story of Henry VIII's Mistress. The Early years, 1500-1514: Amberley. p. 13.
- Weir, Alison (2011). Mary Boleyn: Mistress of Kings. Footnote 29: Ballantine Books.
- Weir, Alison (2002). Henry VIII: The King and His Court. Ballantine Books. p. 216. ISBN 978-0-345-43708-2.
- Weir, Alison (2002). "Henry VIII: The King and His Court", p. 216. New York: Ballantine Books
- Charles Carlton, Royal Mistresses (1990)
- Denny, p. 38
- Marie-Louise Bruce, p. 13
- Weir, Alison (2002). Henry VIII: The King and His Court. Ballantine Books. p. 216. ISBN 978-0-345-43708-2.
- Weir, Alison (2002). "Henry VIII: The King and His Court", p. 216-217. New York: Ballantine Books
- Alison Weir, pp. 133 – 134
- See Letters & Papers viii.567 and Ives, pp. 16 - 17.
- Ives, Eric William (2004). "The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn", p. 369 (note 75). Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.
- Weir, Alison (1991). "The Six Wives of Henry VIII", p. 133-134. New York: Grove Weidenfeld
- Kelly, Henry Angsar: The Matrimonial Trials of Henry VIII pp42 ff
- Weir, p. 160
- Karen Lindsey, p. 73
- Weir, Alison (2011). Mary Boleyn: Mistress of Kings. Footnote 10: Ballantine Books.
- Hart pp.60-63
- Sally Varlow, "Knollys, Katherine, Lady Knollys (c.1523–1569)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn, Oxford University Press, Oct 2006; online edn, Jan 2009 , accessed 11 April 2010
- Gregory, Philippa, "The Other Boleyn Girl"
- ISBN 1-84868-089-9
- Lady Elizabeth Howard, Anne Boleyn's mother, was the sister of Lord Edmund Howard, father of Catherine Howard (fifth wife of King Henry VIII), making Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard first cousins.
- Elizabeth Tilney is the paternal grandmother of Catherine Howard.
Further reading 
- Weir, Alison. (2011). Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings. Ballantine Books. ISBN 978-0-345-52133-0
- Wilkinson, Josephine. (2010). Mary Boleyn: The True Story of Henry VIII's Favorite Mistress. Amberley. ISBN 978-1-84868-525-3
- Harper, Karen. (2006). The Last Boleyn: A Novel. Three Rivers Press. ISBN 978-0-307-23790-3
- Lofts, Norah. (1979). Anne Boleyn. Coward
- Gregory, Philippa. (2003). The Other Boleyn Girl. Touchstone. ISBN 0-7432-2744-1
- Adair, Anne. (2011). Mary Boleyn: Sister to Queen Anne Boleyn and Sister in Law to King Henry VIII. Webster's Digital Services. ISBN 978-1-241-00378-4
- Denny, Joanna. (2004). Anne Boleyn: A New Life of England's Tragic Queen. Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-306-81540-9
- Fraser, Antonia. (1992). The Wives of Henry VIII. Vintage. ISBN 978-0-14-013293-9
- Bruce, Marie-Louise. (1972). Anne Boleyn
- Hart, Kelly. (2009). The Mistresses of Henry VIII The History Press. ISBN 978-0-7524-5852-6
- Ives, Eric.(2004). The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-1-4051-3463-7
- Lindsey, Karen. (1995). Divorced Beheaded Survived: A Feminist Reinterpretation of the Wives of Henry VIII. Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-201-40823-2
- Weir, Alison.(1991). The Six Wives of Henry VIII. Grove Press. ISBN 978-0-8021-3683-1