William Stafford (courtier)

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Sir William Stafford
Bornc. 1508[1]
Died5 May 1556 (aged 47-48)
Geneva, Switzerland
Noble familyStafford
(m. 1534; died 1543)
(m. 1545)
IssueSir Edward Stafford
William Stafford
Sir John Stafford
Elizabeth Stafford
Ursula Stafford
Dorothy Stafford
FatherSir Humphrey Stafford
MotherMargaret Fogge

Sir William Stafford, of Chebsey, in Staffordshire (c. 1508 – 5 May 1556) was an Essex landowner and the second husband of Mary Boleyn, who was the sister of Anne Boleyn and one-time mistress of King Henry VIII of England.


Stafford was the second son of Sir Humphrey Stafford (died 22 September 1545) of Cottered and Rushden, Hertfordshire,[2] by his first wife, Margaret Fogge, daughter of Sir John Fogge of Ashford, Kent.[3] His family was distantly related to the mighty Stafford family, the Dukes of Buckingham and the Earls of Wiltshire until the fall of grace of Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham.[4] Though born to a prominent family of landed gentry, William Stafford was a mere gentleman and only a second son, and thus served Henry VIII as a soldier.[5]

In 1532, Stafford was listed as one of the two hundred people who accompanied Henry VIII to France. The purpose of the journey was for Henry and his fiancée, Anne Boleyn, to meet with Francis I so that he might show his public support and approval for the annulment of Henry's first marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Among the other travellers was Anne Boleyn's sister, Mary Boleyn, the eldest daughter of Thomas Boleyn, who was by then the Earl of both Wiltshire and Ormonde. With her connections, Mary had excellent marriage prospects.[6] Nonetheless, Mary and Stafford married in secret in 1534. When the marriage was discovered after Mary became pregnant, the couple were banished from court.

The couple initially lived at Chebsey in Staffordshire, but later moved to the Boleyn family home, Rochford Hall at Rochford, in Essex. They lived in relative obscurity until Mary died in 1543, after which Stafford served in Scotland. He was knighted there in 1545 - during the reign of Henry VIII - and, two years later, became an MP for Hastings.[7] Also in 1545, Stafford remarried, this time to his second cousin, Dorothy Stafford, the youngest daughter of Henry Stafford, 1st Baron Stafford and Ursula Pole (d. 1570).

During the reign of Mary I, Stafford and his family fled to Geneva. He died there on 5 May 1556, not living to see the reign of his first wife's niece, Elizabeth I, or to see his wife, children, and stepchildren become influential courtiers in Elizabeth's court.[8]

Marriages and issue[edit]

In 1534, William Stafford secretly wed, as her second husband, Mary Boleyn (c. 1499 – 1543), sister of King Henry VIII's second wife, Anne Boleyn. Mary Boleyn is said to have been pregnant at the time of her marriage to Sir William Stafford;[9] however if there were children of the marriage, nothing further is known of them.[10][11]

Stafford married secondly, in 1545, Dorothy Stafford (d. 22 September 1604), daughter of Henry Stafford, 1st Baron Stafford, and Ursula Pole, by whom he had three sons and three daughters:[12][13]


In popular culture[edit]

Films and television[edit]


  • Stafford appears as a principal character in The Last Boleyn, by Karen Harper, a book about the life of Mary Boleyn in the years before, during, and after her time as the mistress of Henry VIII . He was called "Staff" by all who knew him (in particular Henry VIII ).
  • Stafford (called "William") also was a main character in The Other Boleyn Girl, by Philippa Gregory, who escorts Mary Boleyn to Hever Castle, first starting in 1527. They become friends soon after the death of Mary's first husband, William Carey and William (Stafford) buys Mary's children, Catherine Carey, Lady Knollys, and Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon, their first ponies. Mary and William marry in 1533, and in secret, and Anne Boleyn, Mary's sister, doesn't discover it until a year later, when Mary discovers that she is pregnant for the third time with her daughter, also called Anne.
  • Stafford's marriage is mentioned in Wolf Hall, where Mary Boleyn is a prominent character. He appears briefly during a scene set in Calais.


  1. ^ The Boleyns: A Scandalous Family: Episode 3. "Mary has found love. She has found a man who is nine years younger than she is, the handsome young William Stafford, who was a soldier and from a mere gentry Family."
  2. ^ 'Parishes: Cottered', A History of the County of Hertford: volume 3 (1912), pp. 226–232 Retrieved 23 September 2013.
  3. ^ Richardson IV 2011, p. 64.
  4. ^ Humphrey Stafford was first cousin five times removed of Humphrey Stafford, 1st Duke of Buckingham.
  5. ^ Hart, Kelly (1 June 2009). The mistresses of Henry VIII (First ed.). The History Press. pp. 114–118. ISBN 978-0-7524-4835-0.
  6. ^ Not only was Mary the daughter of an earl, but also the niece of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk through her mother, Elizabeth Howard. Coupled with the fact that she was the future sister-in-law to a king, Mary could expect to marry very well.
  7. ^ Sir William Stafford (1512-1556), History of Parliament Online, accessed June 2018.
  8. ^ Mary Boleyn had two children during her first marriage to Sir William Carey, Henry and Catherine Carey. The children were both rumored to have been fathered by Henry VIII, but the claim is dismissed by most historians.
  9. ^ Hughes 2004.
  10. ^ Greenfield 1880, p. 304.
  11. ^ Emerson states that they 'may have had two children, Edward (1535–1545) and Anne'; see Emerson, Kate, 'Mary Boleyn (c.1498 – July 1543)' in 'A Who's Who of Tudor Women' Archived 5 June 2016 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 14 March 2013.
  12. ^ Richardson states that they had four sons, including Sir Edward, William, and Sir John, and two daughters, Ursula, who married Richard Drake, esquire, and Elizabeth, who married Sir William Drury and Sir John Scot; Richardson IV 2011, p. 64.
  13. ^ Adams 2006.
  14. ^ McDermott 2004.
  15. ^ Lipscomb 1847, pp. 153–4.
  16. ^ Adams states that two daughters likely died in infancy; however Richardson and other sources state that Ursula married Richard Drake.
  17. ^ Bridgeman 1883, pp. 18, 36; Ormerod 1819, p. 334.
  18. ^ Holmes 2004.
  19. ^ The Royal Descents of 500 Immigrants to the American Colonies or the United States, by Gary Boyd Roberts, 1993 Page: 231
  20. ^ Plantagenet Ancestry of Seventeenth-Century Colonists, by David Faris, 2nd Edition 1999, NEHGS Page: 50-51
  21. ^ Gower 1883, pp. 167–8; Nichols 1846, pp. 142–4.
  22. ^ Adams 2006.



  • Hart, Kelly. The Mistresses of Henry VIII. The History Press (1 July 2011); ISBN 978-0752458526
  • Bindoff, The Commons 1509–1558
  • Oxford DNB, Mary Boleyn