4 February 1520 – Mary Boleyn ties the knot

On this day in history, 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.

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Also on this day in history, in 1555, John Rogers, clergyman and Biblical editor, was burned at the stake at Smithfield. Rogers was the first English Protestant burned in Mary I’s reign after being condemned as a heretic. Click here to read more.

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5 thoughts on “4 February 1520 – Mary Boleyn ties the knot”
  1. The fact that Mary Boleyn married before her sister would seem to be conclusive evidence that she was the elder daughter. However, this was not always the case: Jane Seymour’s younger sister married before Jane became involved with Henry VIII, and Lady Jane Grey and her younger sister got married on the same day. In this case, however, it seems fairly likely that Mary was older than Anne, but we cannot say for certain. I tend to believe that Mary was born by 1501, especially given the settling of her mother’s jointure the year before, which would indicate that Thomas Boleyn’s marriage to Elizabeth Howard was fairly recent.

    I do wonder why so many are fascinated by Mary Boleyn, when her brother and sister were a dazzling duo, learned, sophisticated and lively, two young people who adored dancing, singing and music, but were also fascinated by the reformist movement and were actively involved in it. We have no evidence that Mary shared the religious or political inclinations of her younger siblings. And yet there have been several biographies published about Mary, and a host of novels. Is it because of the letter she wrote to Thomas Cromwell, in which she daringly defended her choice of her husband and perhaps made a slighting remark about her sister Anne? Or is it due to the success of Philippa Gregory’s novel?

    Mary’s second choice of husband was not controversial nor unprecedented. Margaret Tudor, Frances Brandon, and Katherine Willoughby are three women who defied social custom by remarrying lower-status husbands. Frances’ daughter, Mary Grey, married a palace porter, which scandalised the court and led to her imprisonment at the hands of Elizabeth I. So what makes Mary Boleyn stand out? Not very much, and modern views of Anne and the Boleyn family as selfish, grasping and cruel because they banished Mary from court are ridiculous – contemporaries would have agreed that Anne behaved correctly in expelling her sister from the court. At the very least, Mary should have asked her sister’s permission, and by failing to do so, she embarrassed both the king and the queen.

    But all of this, of course, was way ahead in the future when Mary married William Carey in 1520. Did he father both of her children? I tend to think so – there is very little evidence that Henry VIII was the father of either Katherine or Henry Carey. I think very much has been made of Mary’s relationship with Henry VIII, but it was not a great romance and Henry’s other mistress, Bessie Blount, was more well known than Mary.

  2. Mary was different in character from her more famous siblings who appeared to take after their father, being highly intelligent and ambitious, whearas Mary possibly took after their mother and was of a more serene nature who was content with her life as a country gentlewoman, and whilst there has been several biographies of her over the years she does remain a mystery, like all the children of Sir Thomas there is no record of her birth and we do not even know where she is buried, the info regarding her is scant and we only know she travelled to France and was one of Mary Tudors ladies and the rumours about her alleged affair with King Francois, we do not know when her affair with King Henry began only that she did replace Bessie Blount in his affections, she was born possibly about 1499c so it is believed and there is evidence she was the eldest as in the reign of her niece Elizabeth 1st, her grandson Lord Hundson applied for the title the Earldom of Ormond as he was the rightful heir, his grandmother Mary Boleyn being the eldest daughter, ( had Anne been the eldest it would surely have gone to Queen Elizabeth his cousin) there is no evidence at all that her children were Henrys just court gossip and really her son was born well after Mary had married Carey, I doubt if Carey would have agreed to let the King make a cuckold of him who was after all a friend and companion of his for many years standing, also Henry had a deep sense of chivalry and it is unlikely he would have carried on his affair with her after she was married, when Bessie Blount became pregnant she was sent away from court to the country and married one of his courtiers, it could have been that Katherine Carey was his as Alison Weir believes there is a strong likelihood, the several grants he made to Carey for instance, was this money intended for the upbringing of his bastard child? She was married to him after so it is believed her affair with the King began to fizzle out as with Blount therefore we can maybe say to ourselves maybe it ended when she fell pregnant to, just as in her predecessors case, Henry would not have needed to acknowledge a bastard daughter and bring her mothers reputation into disrepute, as for her younger brother he was born six years after her marriage so we can safely say he was William’s, she was not particularly close to her sister but when she was banished from court after the disgrace of her secret marriage to Stafford Anne did send her a purse of gold coins so she did not completely desert her, as in the case with her father who refused to have anything to do with her, I think they got on at times but maybe as with most sisters there was a sort of rivalry there, Mary summed it up herself in a letter to Cromwell regarding her banishment from the court when she states quite clearly she could have had a greater man but one not more loving ( a dig at Anne maybe and her tumultuous marriage to King Henry) and she says she saw the world set so little by her and he so much… This tells me how most of her family regarded her throughout her life, in a family where your siblings are much brighter than you there is a sense of failure, there is no account of her being especially talented at singing or dancing or playing musical instrument,( unlike Anne and her brother George who was a poet as well as a musician) she had not bought any honour to her family except a rather unsavoury reputation she acquired in France, she then indulged in a love affair with the King after she returned home, there’s evidence that Sir Thomas was not happy with this especially after she never benefited from it or her family, she had merely sullied her reputation further and it appears her father was displeased with her, then the disastrous affair with Stafford, in fact Mary appears to have resembled her tragic cousin Catherine Howard who displayed the same rather heedless traits of character, Mary didn’t make much of an impact on the English court at all neither in the history books but she comes across as a sweet natured lovable girl, perhaps rather too lovable for her own good and much more likeable than her fiery brother and sister, there are no known portraits of her but the one pictured said to be of her shows a round raced fine featured fresh looking girl with large expressive eyes and a rosebud mouth, her colouring seems to be auburn as the eyebrows are tawny and the eyes hazel, the sitter does not resemble portraits said to be of her younger sister Anne who had a longer thinner face with high cheekbones, and whose colouring was dark, I have seen this portrait in Hever and it’s very beautiful as is Hever Castle and the gardens.

  3. I find Mary Boleyn gets an unfairly poor press. She was also poorly used by her family and the King. Although Henry provided money and gifts either as provision for his children, or to reward William Carey, he didn’t acknowledge either of them. He wrote them off as the children of William and Mary, discarding Mary when she had her children. Henry rode into a tournament that declared his love for someone other than the Queen and some historians guess this was Mary. How long their relationship went on is also a mystery but it had to be over by mid 1526 as by this time Henry was moving onto Anne. Mary does not seem to have really benefited from her relationship with Henry and she was lucky that she had an advantageous marriage.

    Mary and William probably had a conventional marriage, but we don’t know much about that either. Henry attended the marriage as both families were important and in favour/royal service and Henry was a friend to Carey and the Boleyn family. It wasn’t usual for Henry to have a mistress who was married, but with a married mistress could come options, especially with children, who would be presumed to be the product of the husband, so Henry could choose to acknowledge them or not. It is possible that he did intend to acknowledge them, but his subsequent relationship with Anne complicated things. If he was to have a child who would succeed with Anne, for Henry at least it was important that he had no lasting ties to her sister. He was prepared to use Mary for his own convenience, by naming her on the appeal to Rome, without naming her. It is Mary who is implied as his former lover with whom he has a link within forbidden rules on who you could marry and who you can’t marry. Henry was going to have a sexual relationship with two sisters, he would commit incest if he married one of them, without being released from the other by the Church. Henry used Mary again when he annulled his marriage to Anne before her execution.

    I think her family were content to have Mary make a good marriage and be the King’s mistress but once Henry got fed up, they didn’t gain as financially as they hoped. When they realised that Henry found Anne fascinating and that he was interested in her, they saw a new opportunity, particularly if she could keep his interest long term. I am not suggesting that they pimped her out or pushed her, but they were ambitious, human, courtiers, aware of the talk that Henry was looking at his marriage; this could be good for them to rise even further. Anne may not have wanted to be Henry’s mistress, but she did see the chance to be his Queen as a realistic one. Fortunately Anne and Henry were good for each other, got on well, had a lot in common, shared intellectual pursuits as well as fun, leading to them falling in love and Anne giving Henry an answer to his marriage dilemma. Her family rose and so did anyone connected to them. Even had Anne not married Henry, I think she would have gotten what she could first and still made it big.

  4. It is very sad that Henry and Anne who were matched well intellectually (they both had an interest in reform) as well as a shared love of music and hunting and it seems they were matched physically as well, that they could not overcome the pitfalls that nature bestowed on them, part of her attraction to Henry was her brain, she was quick witted and loved to discuss religion and politics, he found it fun and no doubt was a bit besumed to have this clever lady in his court, willing to enter into debate with him, it was fresh and exciting and then there was her grace and elegance and French style which made her so different from the other women like Bessie Blount and her sister Mary, she was polished and like the full blown rose, made the other ladies appear like drooping violets, it is a tragedy that she could not conform to the role of queen and learnt humility, nor give the King the heir he so desperately wanted, as we have seen they were so well matched in other ways, in fact had he decided to marry Mary she would have made a much better consort for him, her very character being that of a submissive nature, she could even have given him a few sons as she did not miscarry her children unlike her unfortunate sister, and her own children had large family’s, we know nothing of her first marriage and sadly she was widowed young when her husband died suddenly of the sweat, leaving her with two small children to provide for but they could have been happy, Carey’s portrait shows a handsome looking man and he was well connected so Mary must have been pleased with her marriage, she could have been tied to a doughty old Lord and be forced to live hundreds of miles away from the court, then she met Stafford who was not particularly high born but had an impressive lineage, being connected to the old Duke of Buckingham and the Staffords in medieval times had been a great baronial family, there is no portrait of Stafford which is a shame but after Marys death he did marry again and had children, we do not know if Mary had children with him either, some writers allege she was pregnant when she married Stafford, ( obviously the reason for the marriage) but nothing is heard of this child therefore the infant could have died soon after if it ever existed, then she disappears from history and nothing more is known about this lady whose sister caused such turmoil to the country, we know wher her tragic siblings are buried as they died as traitors and we know where her father is buried, he has an impressive brass plaque on his tomb at Hever, in his tomb are also buried the other children he lost, one whose name is inscribed ‘Thomas’ who was possibly the eldest and who died young, his wife Lady Elizabeth was laid to rest in the Howard crypt at Lambeth which I find odd unless of course they had a falling out and the latter chose to be buried next to her Howard relations, after losing both their children it is not unusual for parents to each blame the other and Elizabeth died not long after the executions, grief can cause resentment and put a strain on relationships, Mary as the sole heir of the Boleyns inherited Rochford Hall and could well have chosen to be buried in the church nearby, if that is so a memorial plaque should bear her name but none has ever been found, maybe one day we shall find her tomb it would be quite exciting.

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