William CareyOn 22nd June 1528, William Carey, husband of Mary Boleyn and an Esquire of the Body to King Henry VIII, died of sweating sickness.

The 1528 outbreak hit London in May 1528, causing the court to be broken up and the king and queen to flee to Waltham Abbey. We know from the reports of the French Ambassador, Jean du Bellay, that by 18 June some 2,000 people in London alone were afflicted and that this had risen to 40,000 by 30 June, although only 2,000 died.1 The London Charterhouse was badly affected and du Bellay reported that he himself had “sweated” at the Archbishop of Canterbury’s house in Lambeth and that while he was ill eighteen members of the archbishop’s household died in just four hours.2

Henry VIII managed to avoid the disease and his sweetheart, Anne Boleyn, survived it, but William Compton, Francis Poyntz and William Carey, all members of the king’s privy chamber, died and other prominent members of court, including the Marquis and Marchioness of Dorset, Sir Thomas Cheyney, Henry Norris, Sir John Wallop, George Boleyn and Thomas Boleyn also came down with it but survived. On 30 June, Du Bellay recorded that all but one of the king’s privy chamber had been afflicted.

It was an awful disease and Thomas Forrestier, a French physician living in London, wrote of the speed that it could kill people, recording that people dropping dead while walking down the street or playing with their children.3 Chronicler Edward Hall wrote of it killing some people within two to three hours, commenting “some merry at dinner and dedde at supper”.4

William Carey’s death left Mary Boleyn with two children, Catherine and Henry, to provide for and in considerable financial difficulty. She wrote to Henry VIII for help and the king obliged, securing financial help for her from her father, Thomas Boleyn, and granting the wardship of Mary’s son, Henry, to Anne Boleyn. Wardship was standard practice in Tudor times and other examples of it include Charles Brandon being granted the wardship of the teenage Catherine Willoughby, and Lady Jane Grey becoming Thomas Seymour’s ward. In the case of a woman being widowed, it was quite usual for a son who was not ‘of age’ to become the ward of another adult or family. Anne provided the boy with a good education, appointing the French poet and reformer, Nicholas Bourbon, as his tutor. Carey was educated along with Henry Norris (son of Sir Henry Norris, Henry VIII’s Groom of the Stool) and Thomas Howard.5

Mary Boleyn went on to marry William Stafford in 1534.

Here’s a video I made on sweating sickness and you can also find out more about it in my book Sweating Sickness: In a Nutshell

Also on this day in history…

  • 1535 – John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, was beheaded on Tower Hill. Click here to read more about it.
  • 1536 – Henry VIII’s eldest daughter, Mary, finally submitted to her father and accepted her father as Supreme Head of the Church in England and the invalidity of her parents’ marriage. Click here to read more about this.

Notes and Sources

  1. Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume IV, 4440.
  2. Ibid., 4542.
  3. Tractatus contra pestilentiam thenasmonem et dissinteriam, Thomas Forestier, Rouen 1490, quoted in “The English Sweating Sickness (Sudor Anglicus): A Reappraisal”, John A. H. Wylie and Leslie H. Collier, J Hist Med Allied Sci (1981) XXXVI (4)
  4. Hall, Edward. Hall’s Chronicle, p592.
  5. Ridgway, Claire (2014) Sweating Sickness: In a Nutshell.

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