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.

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