Mary Boleyn
Portrait of an unknown woman, possibly Mary Boleyn.

On Saturday 4th February 1520, Anne Boleyn’s sister Mary Boleyn got married to William Carey in the Chapel Royal at Greenwich Palace.

We know that the king attended and that he made an offering of “6s. 8d.” (6 shillings and 8 pence) at the service, because this is recorded in the 1520 King’s Book of Payments, but we don’t have any further details of the wedding.

The marriage was a good match for both the bride and groom. Mary was the the daughter of Thomas Boleyn, Henry VIII’s ambassador at the French court and a man on the rise, and his wife Elizabeth Howard, daughter of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk. William Carey was a member of Henry VIII’s Privy Chamber and an Esquire of the Body, and he was descended from Edward III, and his maternal grandmother was cousin to Henry VIII’s paternal grandmother, Margaret Beaufort. Both families must have been pleased with the match.

The couple would have lodged at court after their wedding, allowing Carey to continue his duties serving the King. They both attended the Field of Cloth of Gold in June 1520, serving the King and his queen consort, Catherine of Aragon, there. The couple went on to have two children: Catherine in around 1524 and Henry in 1526. Although it is often said that Mary’s children were actually fathered by Henry VIII, there is no firm historical evidence for this. All we know for sure is that Henry VIII slept with Mary at some point. Henry VIII may well have slept with Mary before February 1520 and then arranged her marriage with his loyal servant William Carey after he had ‘finished’ with her, rather than sleeping with her as a married woman. We just don’t know.

William Carey died in June 1528 of sweating sickness and Mary married again in 1534, taking William Stafford as her second husband. Mary died on 19th July 1543. You can read more about Mary Boleyn in my article Mary Boleyn – One Big Boleyn Myth. Adrienne Dillard has written a book on Mary Boleyn’s daughter Catherine – Catherine Carey: In a Nutshell.

Notes and Sources

  • The King’s Book of Payments 1520, LP iii p1539 (The King’s Book of Payments, 1520, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 3, 1519-1523, ed. J S Brewer (London, 1867), p 1539.

Related Post

21 thoughts on “4 February 1520 – Mary Boleyn gets married”
  1. This first marriage was indeed more relevant than the second with William Stafford.
    I did not even know there was such a firm evidence that Mary Boleyn was a royal mistress .
    KH’ s having fathered other bastard than the one with Elizabeth Blount ?
    I know there was some gossip – but it was very long after these children’s birth… – about one daughter named Audrey (aka Esther) Malte married to a Harrington and – better known -John Perrot (with a Berkeley girl).
    Those cases were discussed by then (just after K H’s death)
    Nothing about Carey’s children.
    Well Anne Boleyn worried about her nephew when she had become a queen.
    But the probable reason was that his mother, being widowed by then went through much difficulties .
    The king seemed to have just ignored him.
    Surprising if he had been his son when compared with how the young duke of Richmond was treated by his royal father.
    It was only under Queen Elizabeth’s reign that the Carey raised some flattering doubt about their birth . The so-to-say genitor, having died long before, could not protest …

    1. The evidence for Mary having slept with the king is the dispensation that Henry VIII applied for to marry Anne which listed the impediment of “affinity arising from illicit intercourse in whatever degree, even the first”, which means that Henry had slept with Anne’s sister or mother, and Henry’s reply to George Throckmorton. Throckmorton recalled a conversation he had had with the King about his troubled conscience over marrying his brother’s wife: “I told your Grace I feared if ye did marry Queen Anne your conscience would be more troubled at length, for it is thought ye have meddled both with the mother and the sister. And your Grace said “Never with the mother.”” So Henry didn’t deny sleeping with “the sister”.

      1. Thank you again Claire for bringing me some light on the matter.
        K H’s answer to Throckmorton is near to a confession indeed . Even if – I dont know if it’s true or not – Cromwell would have added “neither with the sister”.
        I believed first that this dispensation had been sought by K H because he was connected – even if rather distantly – with Anne’s mother Elizabeth Howard (this one could claim both legitimate and illegitimate descent from Plantagenet).

    2. The arguments for and against the Carey children being fathered by the king are at
      Other people linked to the king by rumours include Ethelreda Malte, Elizabeth Tailboys (Bessie Blount’s daughter), John Perrot, Thomas Stukeley and Richard Edwards. Henry had no reason to acknowledge any other illegitimate children as he had Henry Fitzroy. However, there is evidence of him making sure that Ethelreda Malte was well provided for and links between him and Elizabeth Tailboys.
      The King didn’t ignore Mary Boleyn’s financial difficulties, he and Cromwell put pressure on Thomas Boleyn to help her and he assigned an annuity to her of £100 (£32,000), which had once been paid to her husband.
      There were rumours regarding Henry Carey in the 1530s, to do with him looking like the king, but no firm evidence.
      Henry Carey never claimed to be related to Elizabeth and I haven’t found any evidence of him raising doubts about his paternity.

      1. Thank you again for these precisions.
        I think the most interesting track is this Ethelreda – being of a rather low rank by birth (well, official birth), it is astonishing to see she was so well provided for her (not less surprising high) wedding .
        Yes, correction, first rumours about Henry having been fathered by K H can be traced from Anne’s fall – but did not spread much if I am right, being considered ill-willed against the Boleyns.
        I feel pretty sure Henry Carey by then Lord Hunsdon would never had made official claims about his so-to-say royal father, in fear of his genuine royal cousin, Elizabeth I’s reaction (when recalling the Grey sisters’ fate, on can fancy that a half-bother, even illegitimate would have been much spied on during her long reign) .

        Last of all, I did not mean K H would have ignored Mary Carey’s difficulties, but showed no special interest in her children .
        Catherine’s wedding – with a Knollys – was just about the same rank.
        Her brother, a Morgan .
        Nothing special .
        It is clear by then (in the 40s) nobody thought they were royal bastards .
        And thank you for adding Elizabeth Talboys – being born so long after her (half?)brother Richmond, I just thought she was by Elizabeth Blount’s husband.
        And so, did not know the king favoured her so much .
        Thank you again

      2. I find Ethelreda quite interesting, wasn’t her mother the washer woman? I read some where she was low born and I wonder how Henry met her mother, but she disappears from history after that and we dont know if she married and had children herself or wether she new that her father could well have been King Henry, as for John Perrot he was said to have very handsome and tall and resembled the king quite a bit, so there were many rumours about him being one of Henrys bastards, but I’m sure had Henry another son he would have acknowledged him to, I think Richmond was being groomed as heir though Queen Katherine was not told of this possibly to spare her feelings, but I think had he not died he would have been placed in the succession, of course Henry later had Edward but if Henry had stuck with Katherine no divorce or Anne Boleyn aside, then he may well have made Richmond his heir.

        1. I feel exactly the same as you, Christine – except that queen Catherine could probably not ignore Richmond’status (and what that special treatment meant in her husband’s mind). If I am not mistaken, Joan Dingley’s (Ethelreda’s mother, though even her name is not certain) is rather an unknown character. Ethelreda (Audrey) married to the treasurer J. Har(r)ington, but died few years later, leaving an only daughter, who herself died without leaving issue (it seems when still a teenager ?) . By naming this lady Harington Esther, I mixed it with her daughter’s name in fact. Anyway there was a Lady Harington among the ladies who accompanied Elizabeth Tudor during her incarceration in the Tower of London .
          Not sure it was this Ethelreda, or Harington’s second wife, Isabella Markham .
          However,from this Ethelreda Malte there would be no offspring to K H .

        2. Christine and Bruno,
          I did a talk on Ethelreda a few weeks ago for the Tudor Society so have quite a lot of information on her. Here are a few facts about her:

          • She was described in royal records of grants as being the “bastard daughter of the said John Malte by Joan Dyngley alias Dobson”. Malte being one of Henry VIII’s tailors. However, in Sir John Harington’s “Nugae Antiquae”, written by Ethelreda’s husband’s son, the editor notes that she was “the king’s natural daughter” and that she was committed to Malte’s care by the king.
          • There were rumours that she was the King’s. In 1656 Jonathan Lesley, Deputy Clerk, wrote to a descendant of Harington describing how “the great King Henry the VIIIth matched his darling daughter to John Harington, and though a bastard, dowered her with the rich lands of Bath Priory.” Adding that he got his information from Sir Andrew Markham, a collateral descendant of Harington’s second wife.
          • There is no firm evidence that she was the king’s but Henry VIII was very generous to Malte and Ethelreda. I’ve got quite a list of grants that Henry granted to them, including two grants of £1300 and if you think that £1000 then is well over £300,000 in today’s money then these seem incredibly generous. These grants were in late 1546 and early 1547, so just before Henry VIII’s death, so could be seen as the king providing for his daughter’s future.
          • Ethelreda and her husband, John Harington, both attended Elizabeth when she was imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1554 in her half-sister Mary I’s reign and were close to her.
          • We know nothing about her mother, she is not named as the chief naper laundress but could have been an assistant who is not named in the records.
          • Ethelreda had a daughter Esther/Hester by Harington but she disappears from the records after 1568. Ethelreda must have died before the end of 1559 because John Harington then married Isabell Markham.

          I concluded my talk with:
          “So, was Ethelreda the illegitimate daughter of King Henry VIII?
          It’s impossible to say. Henry gave 100s of thousands of pounds to her and her father so he definitely provided for her, but was it because she was his daughter or was it because the king had taken a shine to the family? Was John Malte simply a lovely man and brilliant tailor? Did the king just want to help him with his situation of bringing up an illegitimate daughter? I think it will always be a mystery.”
          I think there’s a stronger case for Ethelreda being the King’s than for Stukeley, Perrot and Edwards, but I also think that Elizabeth Tailboys is likely to have been the King’s as Elizabeth Norton has shown that she was born before Elizabeth Blount’s marriage to Tailboys and there’s evidence of him taking an interest in her too.

        3. Both women served Elizabeth, it was how Harington met Isabell, but Ethelreda was Harington’s wife in 1554 when Elizabeth was imprisoned.

      1. Ok Anyanka thank you for every reader’s sake – maybe one can hope finding further information with, I don’t know family papers (he was “of Aldenham” and so on) .
        I paid a visit to the site thank to your link and found Henry (William’s son) was born in 1525 .
        Now we take for sure he was rather born in (march of) 1526.
        That is about two years after his sister.
        And it makes me wonder about historical dates.
        I know that we can find them written in “old style” in original documentation.
        Sometimes they wer corrected, sometimes not .
        Of course, I know that the present site have them duly corrected .
        But, if we happen to consult more ancient papers, they don’t always give dates in “modern style” – so, how can we know ?

        1. The dating of 1525 is due to the fact that he was born at the beginning of March and the Tudor calendar year did not begin until Lady Day, 25th March. So in Tudor times, 1526 did not begin until 25th March so Henry was born in 1525, but for us he was born in 1526 because we have the year starting on 1st January. Some websites just go with the dates on tombs and in documents without taking this into account.

  2. That’s really interesting Claire thanks, I’d love to join The Tudor Society but iv no job at the mo so can’t afford it, it’s such a shame there’s no portraits of Ethelreda as it’d be great to be able to spot a likeness to the King, it’s quite romantic but I believe she was his daughter that’s a hell of a lot of money to spend on his tailor and his family, as for Elizabeth Tailboys that’s a strong likelihood that she was Henrys also, there seems to be a pattern here of only daughters, Henrys sons didn’t survive and the only two who did Edward and Richmond, only got to their teens and as we all know Richmond was acknowledged as his son, the fact that he didn’t acknowledge his daughters if Ethelreda and Elizabeth were his then we can say there’s a strong possibility that they were, Henry wouldn’t bother publicly naming them as his but he made sure their mothers made good marriages and that they were well provided for, it’s quite strange when you consider that he did make sure his bastards were looked after better then the daughters of Anne and Katherine, Mary was treated quite cruelly and after Anne’s death her governess had to write to Cromwell on several occasions as Elizabeth was growing out of her clothes so fast, he seemed to just want to forget about her in Hatfield, most Kings have sired offspring by women other than their wives, and it’s often those who were the hardiest, living longer than their Royal siblings and going on to have numerous children, maybe proof that Royal blood being of the blue variety is somewhat weaker maybe?

    1. I wasn’t suggesting you join, I was just meaning that I’d got a lot of info on her because I’d just done a talk on her.
      I think Mary suffered simply because she supported her mother and Henry felt he needed to punish their defiance and disobedience. So sad.

      1. It’s ok Claire I know you didn’t mean that, I just meant when I get a job hopefully I would like to join, yes Henry was very angry and I believe he felt quite hurt that Mary openly supported her mother and flouted him, there’s been other instances in history where Royal off springs have flouted their fathers, namely the sons of Henry 11 who as you know rose up in rebellion against him, I think Mary was foolish in opposing Henry she should have stayed right out of it even though her sympathies lay with her mother, she would have been a rock for Katherine when times got so bad as I doubt Henry would have stopped her from seeing her if she had accepted Anne, with Katherine and Mary it was all or nothing, Mary maybe thought her inheritance was at stake and she was upset at the thought of her mother being discarded, she was a hormonal teenager to and in fact research has shown that when parents split up it’s teenagers who suffer more than younger children, I just wonder if Chapyus who was a wise man and good friend to both Katherine and Mary discussed with the latter how unwise it was to oppose Henry? He was a sensible man so I’m sure he would have but you think different at sixteen than you do at twenty six, Mary had inherited the same stubborn streak that her mother had but Mary was Henrys daughter, she really was duty bound to obey him it’s a shame she was not married off maybe to a foreign Prince or Duke as then she would have been living abroad and be involved with her husband and prospective motherhood rather than worrying about her parents marital affairs.

        1. Christine, you no doubt know that by then princesses’s were wed by their royal parents .
          If Mary was not married at 20 and later, was because K H did not want .
          She was his prisoner
          As long as her parents went on very well, there were many matrimonial projects about her.
          Sometimes to french, sometimes to austrian, princes (certainly Catherine peferred the latter).
          Depending on her father’s own alliance and war projects .
          I think by the time you are refering to, things had gone too far and their was a break between two points of view (Catherine and Anne’s) .
          The same problem – for an english queen or heiress to get married – lasted.
          Elizabeth did not make the same mistake as her sister Mary and chose not to find some master – other than her royal duties .
          She for sure had seen that a princely husband could be a rival to her own power.
          And a Dudley was ridiculously under her condition to become a proper husband .
          All the more when coming from a family greedy of power

    2. Surprisingly enough, I have the same feeling about this Ethelreda being K H’s bastard.
      What I find especially disturbing is the fact that John Malte, twice married had other – and these, legitimate – daughters who were less well provided, married just according to their rank.
      How is it that his own only illegitimate daughter (by a rather unknown woman, Joan, herself married to a Dobson) would have been so favoured by the king, as a sign of thankfulness for her father ?
      In his will (proved about 1547), the royal tailor acknowledged “Awdrey” would be his illegitimate daughter and in the same act he names the mother Joan Dyngley, otherwise Dingley, but married by then to a Dobson .
      Another point is that we find another Joan Dingley in the Rich family, this lady being another Ethelreda’s (born Rich) grandmother.
      I don’t know if we can find some links or not.
      I prefer believing that this obscure miss Malte was named Ethelreda in memory of ancient saxon princesses (that would be an indication about her genitor, who knows ? ).
      Of course, I am just assuming …
      But this given name suggesting noble breed (beginning with Ethel, in german Adel) and these great favours together …
      For this Elizabeth Talboys, I didn’t know about Elizabeth Norton’s argument this girl would be born as soon as in 1520 (Elizabeth Blount married only in 1522).
      However, Elizabeth Talboys, though twice married, herself had no children.
      So, even if K H might have left illegitimate progeny, this one soon died out

  3. I’m trying to research my ancestry and came upon the story of Ethelreda Malte today. In my research, I found an interesting puzzle and I’m hoping one of you will have a theory on it.

    I have an ancestor that showed up on my timeline, named Joan Dingley (1472-1567). She married a man named Richard Rich around 1495, and had a son named after his father. I’ll call him Richard Jr. Richard Sr passed away in 1503.

    King Henry supposedly had his daughter in the 1520s. That would have put my ancestor Joan in her 50s. The likelihood is slim, though do-able, and would explain how she disappeared from history shortly after.

    Here’s the interesting part. Richard Jr became King Henry’s solicitor. Richard Jr also named one of his daughters Audrey Ethelreda (Rich). She married Robert Drury. It was common practice to pass down names amongst relatives, but it’s also possible that Richard Jr liked the name, or wanted to kiss up to the King by naming his own child identically.


  4. WOW is all I can say. This is just the most awesome conversation. I have long been a Tudor and Elizabethean fanatic and have been following this site for over a year now. The information is just wonderful. Now thanks to this conversation I have a new thread to pull. On my way and again, thanks for all the insight.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *