Unknown woman said to be Mary Boleyn
Unknown woman said to be Mary Boleyn

According to an inquisition post mortem taken at Brentwood in Essex, Mary Boleyn, sister of Anne Boleyn, died on 19th July 1543. The translation of her inquisition post mortem in the Essex Record Office lists the property she held at the time of her death:

“property including manors of High Roding, Great Holland, Leigh, Wakering, Hawkwell, Doggetts [in Rochford], East Hall and South Hall [in Paglesham], Foulness, manor or barony of Rochford, lands called Southwick, Eastwick, Ormondeswick, Arundels Marsh, Monkebarne [Monkton Barn], Rugworth [Rugwood], and Nasewick, all in Foulness, and tillat in Walattis alias Tylforde in Watys [Tillettsmarsh in detached part of parish of Great Stambridge on Wallasea Island].”1

Mary and her second husband William Stafford had only been granted these lands on 15 May 1543, years after the deaths of her father, grandmother and sister-in-law:

“Wm. Stafford and Mary his wife, kinswoman and heir of lady Marg. Bolleyn, widow, dec., viz. daughter of Thos. late earl of Wiltshire and Ormund, son of the said Margaret. Livery of lands of the said Thomas and Margaret and of those held by Joan [Jane] late wife of Sir George Bulleyn lord Rocheford, dec., by way of jointure.”2

Mary’s heir was her son Henry Carey, who, according to the inquisition, was aged 17 years 15 weeks and 5 days on 22 July 1543.

Like so much with Mary Boleyn, we do not know what she died of, where she was when she died, where she was laid to rest, how old she was when she died… and it is speculation that she was allowed to live at Rochford Hall before formally inheriting it in 1543. Although it is said that Mary ordered a dovehouse to be built at Rochford Hall in 1540, I have not been able to find a primary source record for this.3

Mary is the perfect “blank canvas” for novelists to create a story around, but whatever the truth of her later life and death, she had a happier ending than her brother and sister.

You can find out some facts about Mary in my article Mary Boleyn – One Big Boleyn Myth.

Mary Boleyn Portraiture

I always get comments about this portrait of Mary Boleyn, which can be found at Hever Castle, because of Alison Weir’s theory about it not being Mary. If you have read Alison Weir’s biography of Mary you will know that one of the reasons she rules it out as a portrait of Mary is because the sitter is depicted wearing ermine, which she says was a “fur reserved exclusively for royalty and peers of the realm”.4 However, author Susan Higginbotham researched the sumptuary legislation dating back to Edward IV’s reign and according to the legislation of 1463 Mary Boleyn was permitted to wear ermine because she was married to an Esquire of the Body (William Carey). Susan could not find any mention of that law being changed. Costume expert Bess Chilver also pointed out that ermine was not restricted to the royal family and that people would also make their own fake ermine from white rabbit fur.5

Weir’s other reason, the fact that six versions of this portrait exist, may make us question whether it is Mary but she can’t be ruled out at the sitter.

Notes and Sources

  1. Inquisition Post Mortem of Mary Carey, late w. of William Stafford, esq., and daughter and sole h. of Thomas late Earl of Wiltshire and Ormond, Ref D/DU 514/29/5, Fonds MANORIAL RECORDS OF FOULNESS, Essex Record Office. The transcription online gives her date of death as 1542 but this must be wrong because we know Mary was alive in May 1543 when she was finally granted her inheritance.
  2. LP xviii. i. 623.66
  3. Weir, Alison (2011) Mary Boleyn: The Great and Infamous wh*re, Appendix II, p250
  4. Mary Boleyn or Francis Brandon? – Blog article by Susan Higginbotham (see comments below the main post for the sumptuary law legisation) at http://www.susanhigginbotham.com/blog/posts/mary-boleyn-or-frances-brandon/
  5. Bowman, Karen (2010) Essex Girls, Chapter Mary Boleyn: La Petite Boullain

Also on this day in history…

  • 1545 – Henry VIII’s flagship, the Mary Rose, sank right in front of his eyes in the Battle of the Solent between the English and French fleets. Click here to read more.
  • 1553 – Mary I was proclaimed Queen in place of Queen Jane. Click here to read more.
  • 1584 – Death of three year-old Robert Dudley, Baron Denbigh, son of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and his wife, Lettice, at Wanstead. He was laid to rest in the Beauchamp Chapel of St Mary’s Church, Warwick, and his tomb pays tribute to “the noble imp”.

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11 thoughts on “19 July 1543 – The Death of Mary Boleyn”
  1. Great informative article. What a pity that Mary fell out with her father and sister over her choice of husband and there was a long wait both for her dowry lands and her inheritance as well as being granted other lands to support themselves. And how sad that Mary did not live long enough to enjoy them more than a few months.

  2. I believe the painting in question is Mary. Every time I look at it I think that it is her without a doubt. I am not sure what it is that makes me think that but I do. Have you seen the actual painting? What are you thoughts on it?

    1. I have seen the painting very close up and it’s beautiful. It’s impossible to say though as we have no physical description of Mary – very frustrating!

  3. Iv seen the portrait at Hever Castle and I was looking for some resemblance to Anne but couldn’t see any, she has a soft round face if that is Mary most likely she took after her mother as Anne appears to have looked like her father, on his memorial brass he has a long face and pointed chin, features wich Anne inherited.

  4. Who knows, but that Mary may have led a more exciting life than her brother and sister. Definitely less intriguing & no doubt not nearly as exciting, but there is a lot to be said for peace and calm when you are trying to raise a family and live a normal, quiet life. It is incredibly sad the way her family ended up treating Mary. As much as I really do like Anne and George, i, too, liked Mary. She may easily have been the glu that held the family together before they were the famous (or infamous) Boleyns.

  5. I think it is Mary. There is a difference in the style of the portraits of Anne and this portrait, but if you look closely, Mary’s face is a softer, fairer version of Anne. We may never know. She seems to have been really overlooked by the family after her affair with Henry. That may have saved her life in the long run.

  6. Of the 2 Boleyn sisters, I think Mary was by far prettier than Anne. Although Anne had that certain something that made her stand out from the crowd. Before Anne returned to court, Henry was happy with a pretty face for a mistress, and he usually got bored with them after a while. But Anne’s arrival changed that and we all know what happened there.
    I agree with Maryann Pitman here, I do believe that her family saw her as a black sheep, after she chose to marry Stafford and a life in the country. As it says in the first “other Boleyn Girl” film, “I was happy being a nobody” and I really think she was too.
    It’s just a shame we know so little about her, as I feel that her life after her affair with Henry and her marriage with Stafford would be just as interesting. I do wonder though if Mary ever saw Elizabeth or if she ever managed to heal the rift between herself and her parents, before she died.

  7. I wonder if Mary having spent time in the french court would have worn a headress more associated with Katherine. In books I have read about Elizabeth there have been references to women who were direct descendants of Mary, I can only remember one name, Lettuce I think it was. Can anyone tell me what the rift was between Mary and the rest of the Boleyns? She certainly died young it seems, but at least she had her head.

      1. Which daughter do you mean? Mary Boleyn’s daughter, Catherine Carey, married Sir Francis Knollys and they had a few daughters, including Lettice Knollys, who, in turn, had a couple of daughters, Penelope and Dorothy.

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