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22 June 1528 – Mary Boleyn loses her first husband

Posted By on June 22, 2016

William CareyOn 22nd June 1528, eight years into their marriage, Mary Boleyn lost her first husband, William Carey to sweating sickness.

Sweating Sickness, a disease that affected England with epidemics in 1485, 1508, 1517, 1528 and 1551, hit Henry VIII’s court in May 1528, causing the court to be broken up and the king and queen to flee to Waltham Abbey. According to Jean du Bellay, the French ambassador, by 18th June 1528 some 2,000 people in London alone were afflicted and this number grew to 40,000 by 30th June, although most survived (2,000 people are recorded as dying in the capital).

It was a horrible disease with symptoms including “a great sweating”, redness of the face and body, a continual thirst, fever, headache, breathlessness, muscle pain, abdominal pain, delirium, cardiac palpitations and a desire to sleep. What was shocking about the disease was the speed with which it could kill people. Chronicler Edward Hall recorded that “This malady was so cruell that it killed some within three houres. Some within two houres, some merry at dinner and dedde at supper”, and the Venetian ambassador wrote of how “many are carried off in 4 or 5 hours”.

Although Henry VIII and Queen Catherine of Aragon escaped the disease, many courtiers came down with it and the households of Cardinal Wolsey and the Archbishop of Canterbury were badly affected, with 18 members of the Archbishop’s household dying in just four hours. Prominent members of the court afflicted by the disease included the Marquis and Marchioness of Dorset, Sir Thomas Cheyney, Henry Norris, Sir John Wallop, George Boleyn and Thomas Boleyn, and they were fortunate to survive, as was Anne Boleyn, the King’s sweetheart. However, other courtiers were not so lucky. William Compton, Francis Poyntz and William Carey, all members of the king’s privy chamber, died of the disease, Carey being Mary Boleyn’s husband and also a relative of the king.

Mary Boleyn was left a widow with a four-year-old daughter and two-year-old son to provide for. In financial dire straits, Mary wrote to the king for help and he not only secured her financial help from her father but also granted the wardship of her son, Henry, to Anne Boleyn. It was standard practice for children to become wards of adults who could help them financially or help them advance in status, and Anne, being high in the king’s favour, was in a position to help her nephew and to take the financial burden off her sister. Anne provided little Henry Carey with an excellent education, hiring the French poet and reformer, Nicholas Bourbon, as his tutor. This was quite an opportunity for the boy and he was educated alongside Henry Norris (son of Sir Henry Norris, Groom of the Stool) and Thomas Howard.

Mary remarried in 1534, marrying William Stafford, a soldier in the garrison at Calais, in secret and turning up at court pregnant in the September of that year. Anne, who was queen by this time, was furious with Mary for marrying without her permission; Mary was banished from court and her allowance from Thomas Boleyn cut off, forcing her to write to Thomas Cromwell for financial help. Mary died on 19th July 1543.

You can find out more about the disease which killed William Carey in my book Sweating Sickness: In a Nutshell and also this video:

You can find out more about Mary Boleyn in Mary Boleyn: One Big Boleyn Myth, my Mary Boleyn Report, the Mary Boleyn category of articles here on the Anne Boleyn Files – click here – and Sarah Bryson’s book Mary Boleyn: In a Nutshell, as well as those by Alison Weir and Josephine Wilkinson.

Also on this day in history:

  • 22 June 1535 – The execution of John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, for treason after he refused to take the Oath of Succession and accept Henry as the Supreme Head of the Church of England. Click here to read more about his fall and execution.
  • 22 June 1536 – Mary, finally submitted to her father, Henry VIII, accepting him as Supreme Head of the Church in England and accepting the invalidity of her parents’ marriage. Click here to read more.

Notes and Sources

  • Ridgway, Claire (2014) Sweating Sickness: In a Nutshell, MadeGlobal Publishing.
  • Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume IV, 4440 and 4542.
  • Hall, Edward (d. 1547) Hall’s chronicle : containing the history of England, during the reign of Henry the Fourth, and the succeeding monarchs, to the end of the reign of Henry the Eighth, in which are particularly described the manners and customs of those periods. Carefully collated with the editions of 1548 and 1550, this edition published in 1809, J Johnson, p592.

8 thoughts on “22 June 1528 – Mary Boleyn loses her first husband”

  1. Christine says:

    It sounds like a truly dreadful illness and it’s the breathlessness that I find interesting, I’m not a medical person yet it seems to have infected the lungs, the symptoms sound dreadful, endless sweating and pain makes me think it could have been the epidemic they called Spanish Flu in the early 20c which many soldiers bought back gone unwittingly from abroad after the First War had ended, one survivor who was on tv related how she found she couldn’t breath and another recalled seeing a victim collapsing dead in the street, these symptoms sound similar to the Sweating Sickness, they now know it was Avian Flu as they examined the DNA of the long dead victims to those recent sufferers who were hospitalised, the disease terrified people so much they worked themselves into a frenzy just at the thought of it, the picture of William Carey shows a rather handsome man and I should imagine Mary thought she was a lucky girl in having such a husband, then the tragedy struck, both her father brother and sister caught the disease to yet all survived, a rarity I think and it goes to show the Boleyn’s must have had good genes, both Anne and George survived this most terrifying of diseases only to die brutally in the future.

  2. Maryann Pitman says:

    If Weir is to be believed, Mary’s life was close to hell after Carey’s death-for a long time…no wonder she more or less eloped.

  3. Miladyblue says:

    I’m curious how Mary was left destitute after William’s death. He was one of Henry’s gentlemen. Didn’t you have to be pretty well off to be able to survive with minimum comfort at court at that era? Or did he spend all their money to survive at court, which caused the financial distress Mary found herself in?

  4. Christine says:

    Maybe Carey was a gambler and lost all his money, Harry Percy Anne’s old flame died destitute also because he had incurred debts.

  5. BanditQueen says:

    The Sweat was a terrible frightening disease and it does indeed sound something like the Spanish flue of 1918, but it killed very quickly and most people may even have died as much as a result of fear as anything else. Mary was the second victim of this terrible killer as she was left poor and with two small children. What a dreadful state of affairs, especially as she was a knights daughter and her husband a favourite of the King and had a place at court. The sweat was a big killer, even Anne Boleyn and Sir William Compton, another royal favourite got it. Henry even sent Katherine off to Ludlow to be safe from this killer. Anne of course lived, but she did have a bad case and Henry sent his top doctors to care for her. That Norfolk and Wolsey also got it, even though they lived shows this disease was no respecter of persons or wealth or status; anyone could get it and die. The court was broken up and fled to the Midlands to escape it and Henry was afraid to get it. What a terrible way to go.

    It does seem that William did have bad habits when it came to money and was in debt. Mary had to appeal to the King and to her family for help. She needed to provide for her children, but also as a widow she had certain legal rights to payments from her husbands estates and to the return of her jointure. She could not get these if her husband had used all of her money. What a mess for the poor lady.

    One last thing: if this is a true likeness of William Carey, wow, wot a hotty!!!

  6. Maryann Pitman says:

    If I understand it properly, the property , if any would belong to the eldest son, who would then be placed by the King, as a ward, usually to someone with influence, or the highest bidder. The widow would survive on her jointure, a sum of money agreed upon by the parents/guardians as part of the marriage agreement, if this contract was made or at this time up to one third of the estate of the husband. If either party fails to pay up, the widow is left penniless or if no jointure is agreed on, again, the widow is left penniless, on her parents’ hands. It is said Carey was in debt at the time of his death. This was likely the result of extravagance, trying to keep up with the Joneses. Many a courtier in Tudor England ruined themselves financially while seeking advancement. And he was a second son, so he may have lived beyond the means provided by the King. They were at the Field of Cloth of Gold, which was known to have beggared many a richer man than Carey. It is possible that at the time of the marriage, the Boleyns thought the dower option would be larger, as the jointure share would have been lower, but as it fell out, there was no money at all at the time, an event the Boleyns did not count on. Sir Thomas was quite mean with Mary when he was called on(shades of King Ferdinand with Katherine of Aragon).

    Failure to pay up on her jointure is why Elizabeth Woodville is supposed to have sought out Edward IV. Her first husband’s family refused to pay up when he died, so Elizabeth waylaid Edward to ask him to intercede. This was not all that uncommon an occurrence. It was risky business to be a widow back in the day.

  7. Ana Gomez says:

    An incógnito ! Were Mary Boleyn’s children really her husband’s ? Ir were they the daugther and son of Henry the VIII ?

    1. Banditqueen says:

      Nobody actually knows, but grants from the King coincide with the birth or early infancy of the two children. They could either be payments for the children or rewards for service and a coincidence, again nobody knows. Henry never acknowledged his supposed children and it is usually assumed they were William Carey’s as would be the case then as the husband was the father under the law unless they were denied and claimed by another. A number of historians consider Catherine Carey to be the daughter of Henry Viii and she was often honoured by Elizabeth I as if she was more than a cousin but she was never acknowledged as her sister. There is also some anecdotal evidence that Catherine and her children and brother Henry considered themselves royal. A question of inheritance of some titles later on also suggested that they thought of themselves as royal. Other than that, unfortunately there is no evidence to help us to answer this question decisively.

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