Mary Boleyn: Wikis


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Mary Boleyn
Spouse Sir William Carey (m.1520-1528)
Lord William Stafford (m. 1534-1543)
Mistress of Henry VIII of England
Francis I of France
Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon
Catherine Carey, Lady Knollys
Anne Stafford
Edward Stafford
Father Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire
Mother Elizabeth Howard
Born c. 1499
Died 19 July 1543 (aged 44)

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

Mary was one of the mistresses of King Henry VIII. It has been alleged that she bore two of the King's children. Mary was also rumoured to be a mistress of Henry VIII's rival, King Francis I of France.[1]


Early life

Mary was probably born at the family seat in Blickling Hall, Norfolk and grew up at Hever Castle, Kent.[2] She was the daughter of a wealthy diplomat and courtier, Sir Thomas Boleyn and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Howard. There is no concrete evidence of her exact date of birth, but it was sometime between 1499 and 1508. Most historians suggest that she was also the eldest of the three Boleyn children who survived infancy.[3] The evidence suggests that the surviving Boleyns believed Mary to have been the eldest child; in 1597, her grandson, Lord Hunsdon, claimed the title of “Earl of Ormonde” on the grounds that he was the Boleyns’ legitimate heir. According to the strict rules of aristocratic inheritance, if Anne had been the elder sister, the title would have belonged to her daughter, Queen Elizabeth - since a title descended through the eldest female line in the absence of a male line. However, Queen Elizabeth was said to have offered Henry, Mary's son, the title as he was dying, but he declined it. If Mary was the eldest Boleyn, Henry would have had inherited the title upon his grandfather's death without the need to claim it.[4] Either way, most historians now accept her as the eldest child, placing the year of her birth as some time in 1499.[5]

It was once believed that it was Mary who began her education abroad and spent time as a companion to Archduchess Margaret of Austria; but it is now clear that it was her sister, Anne. Mary was kept in England for most of her childhood. She was sent abroad in 1514 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 Boleyn was allowed to stay, probably because her father was the new English ambassador to France. Even when Queen Mary left France after she was widowed on 1 January 1515, Mary Boleyn remained, joining the court of Louis's successor, Francis I and his queen Claude.

Royal affair in France

Mary was joined in Paris by her father, Sir Thomas, and also her sister, Anne, who had been studying in the Netherlands for the last year. Mary supposedly embarked on several affairs, including one with King Francis himself. Although some historians believe that the reports of her sexual affairs are exaggerated,[6] the French king referred to her as "The English Mare" and as "una grandissima ribalda, infame sopra tutti" ("a great prostitute, infamous above all").[7]

She returned to England in 1519,[8] where she was given the position of maid-of-honour to Catherine of Aragon, the wife of Henry VIII.


Royal mistress

Soon after her return, Mary was married to William Carey, a wealthy and well-connected courtier, on 4 February 1520, and Henry VIII was a guest at the couple's wedding. At some point, Henry and Mary began an affair, although the timing is unclear. The affair was never publicised, and Mary never enjoyed the fame, wealth and power that acknowledged mistresses in France and other countries sometimes had.[9] The affair is believed to have ended prior to the birth of Mary's second child, Henry Carey, in March 1526.[10] Her first child, Catherine was born in 1524.

During the affair or sometime after, 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 been briefly married to Henry's elder brother Arthur, but Arthur had died just a few months into the marriage, when he was a little over fifteen years old. Henry later used that as the justification for the annulment of his marriage to Catherine, on the grounds that her marriage to Arthur (assuming it was consummated) created an affinity between Henry and Catherine. When Mary became Henry's mistress, a similar affinity was created between Henry and Anne, according to some interpretations of church law. In 1527, during his initial attempts to obtain a papal annulment of his marriage to Catherine, Henry also requested a dispensation to marry his mistress' sister.[11]

Sister’s rise to power

Mary's sister, Anne, returned to England in January 1522, achieving considerable popularity at the royal court. The sisters are not thought to have been particularly close and they moved in different social circles.

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 to wait and not give in to his sexual advances until it was the most advantageous.[12] 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 Henry to be educated at a respectable Cistercian monastery. Anne interceded to secure Mary a small annual pension of £100.[13]

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 her first daughter (later to become Queen Elizabeth I) on 7 September. In 1534, Mary secretly married soldier William Stafford. Because Stafford was a commoner with a small income, most historians believe their union to have been a love match. When the marriage was discovered, Anne was furious, and the Boleyn family disowned her, probably for marrying without their permission and marrying beneath her station; the couple were banished from the royal 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. Henry, however, seems to have been indifferent to her plight; so, 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 came, since 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 the latter was imprisoned in the Tower of London. There is also no evidence that she sent 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 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 the following year. After 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.


Her marriage to Sir William Carey (1495 – 22 June 1528) resulted in the birth of two children (however there were rumours that King Henry VIII was the biological father):

Mary Boleyn's marriage to Sir William Stafford (d. 5 May 1556) resulted in the birth of a daughter named Anne, most probably in honour of Mary's sister, the Queen. In addition, a son, Edward, was thought to have been born in 1535 and to have died in 1545.


Mary Boleyn is a distant ancestress of many notables including Winston Churchill, John Davison Rockefeller, P. G. Wodehouse,[15][16] Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, Diana, Princess of Wales, Sarah, Duchess of York, Charles Darwin and Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr.

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 The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn by Robin Maxwell, I, Elizabeth by Rosalind Miles, The Rose of Hever by Maureen Peters, The Lady in the Tower by Jean Plaidy, Mistress Anne by Norah Lofts, The Concubine by Norah Lofts, Anne Boleyn by Evelyn Anthony, Dear Heart, How Like You This? by Wendy J. Dunn, Brief Gaudy Hour by Margaret Campbell Barnes, and Young Royals: Doomed Queen Anne by Carolyn Meyer.

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, Karen Harper's The Last Boleyn, and The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory. 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, especially with historians who found the work imprecise in regards to historical events and individual characteristics.

The Other Boleyn Girl was made into a BBC television drama in January 2003, starring Natascha McElhone as Mary and Jodhi May as Anne. A Hollywood version of the book was released in February 2008, with Scarlett Johansson as Mary and Natalie Portman as Anne.

Perdita Weeks portrayed Mary in the Showtime original drama series The Tudors.


Mary is also the subject of two non-fiction books, The Mistresses of Henry VIII by Kelly Hart and Mary Boleyn: The True Story of Henry VIII's Mistress by Josephine Wilkinson.[17]


  • Mistress Mary Boleyn (1499-1520)
  • Lady Carey (1520-1529)
  • Lady Carey; Lady Mary Carey (1529-1532)
  • Lady Mary Stafford (1532-1543)

Mary Boleyn became Lady Carey upon her marriage to Sir William Carey in 1520. She then became Lady Mary Carey when her father was promoted to the title of Earl of Wiltshire.


  1. ^ Letters and Papers of the Reign of Henry VIII, X, no.450. She was also the maternal aunt of the famous Elizabeth I.
  2. ^ Letters of Matthew Parker, p.15.
  3. ^ Ives, p. 17; Fraser, p. 119; Denny, p. 27. All three scholars argue that Mary was the eldest of the three Boleyn children.
  4. ^ Hart, Kelly: The Mistresses of Henry VIII The History Press
  5. ^ Antonia Fraser, The Wives of Henry VIII, p.119, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1992
  6. ^ Denny, p. 38
  7. ^ Charles Carlton, Royal Mistresses (1990)
  8. ^ Bruce, p. 13
  9. ^ Alison Weir, pp. 133 – 134
  10. ^ See Letters & Papers viii.567 and Ives, pp. 16 - 17.
  11. ^ Kelly, Henry Angsar: The Matrimonial Trials of Henry VIII pp42 ff
  12. ^ Weir, p. 160
  13. ^ Karen Lindsey, p. 73
  14. ^ a b Hart pp.60-63
  15. ^ Charles Mosley, Burke's Peerage and Baronetage, 107th edition
  16. ^ - Person Page 3638
  17. ^ ISBN 1848680899


  • Bruce, Marie-Louise: Anne Boleyn (1972)
  • Denny, Joanna: Anne Boleyn: A New Life of England's Tragic Queen (2004)
  • Fraser, Antonia: The Wives of Henry VIII (1992)
  • Hart, Kelly: The Mistresses of Henry VIII The History Press (2009)
  • Ives, Eric: The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn (2004)
  • Lindsey, Karen: Divorced Beheaded Survived: A Feminist Reinterpretation of the Wives of Henry VIII (1995)
  • Lofts, Norah: Anne Boleyn (1979)
  • Weir, Alison: The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1991)

Simple English

Mary Boleyn

Mary Boleyn (about 1499 - 19 July 1543) was the elder sister of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII. They had a brother called George Boleyn.


Early Life

Mary Boleyn was the daughter of Thomas Boleyn and Elizabeth Howard. She was born in Hever in about 1499. She was kept in England until 1514, when she was fifteen. She was sent to be a maid of honor to Mary Tudor, the sister of King Henry VIII. Mary Tudor was going to be married to King Louis XII of France. Only a few months after the wedding, Louis died and Francis I became king. It is thought that Mary Boleyn became Francis I's lover for a while.


Mary was sent back to England when her parents found out about her affair in France, but she ended up being the lover of King Henry VIII. Some people think that King Henry was the father of Mary's children, Catherine Carey and Henry Carey, but it is more likely that her husband, William Carey, was the true father. Mary married William Carey in 1520.

Anne Boleyn becomes queen

After Mary's husband died, Mary's luck ran out. Her sister Anne took Mary's place as King Henry's favourite lover, and Henry divorced his wife in order to marry Anne. After this, Mary became really poor. Her first husband died, but she met another man, William Stafford, who was also poor. They married for love and this upset Anne Boleyn, who banished Mary from court. Mary and William Stafford had two children, but both of them died.

After her sister's downfall

After Anne Boleyn had been married to King Henry for a short time, he grew tired of her. She was accused of having had other lovers and was executed. George Boleyn, the brother of Anne and Mary, was also executed, but Mary and her husband William Stafford were not blamed for anything as they were not at the royal court. They lived happily together until Mary died in 1543.


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