4 February 1520 – The Wedding of Mary Boleyn and William Carey

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

On this day in 1520, Mary Boleyn, sister of Anne Boleyn, married William Carey, an Esquire of the Body and a relative and close friend of Henry VIII, in the Chapel Royal at Greenwich. The King attended the wedding.

Carey was descended from Edward III, and his maternal grandmother was cousin to Henry VIII’s paternal grandmother, Margaret Beaufort. He was a suitable husband for a Boleyn/Howard girl, particularly as he was a member of the King’s Privy Chamber. 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 Queen there.

In early 1522, Mary began a relationship with the King, a relationship which is still causing controversy today as historians argue over the paternity of her children: Henry and Catherine Carey, the meaning behind the grants which were given to her husband in the 1520s, the King’s real feelings for Mary and even the length of their relationship. It is likely that their affair began sometime around Shrovetide 1522 when the King rode out to the traditional joust with the motto “Elle mon Coeur a navera”, she has wounded my heart, but we don’t know. Mary may have rebuffed the King’s advances at first, but there is no evidence that the King forced himself on her or pursued her relentlessly.

Mary’s husband was rewarded a series of royal grants between 1522 and 1526, and it is all too easy to see these as payments for the use of his wife, but the King was in the habit of rewarding those who served him, and Carey was an up and coming courtier. Mary gave birth to two children in the 1520s: Catherine in 1524 and Henry in 1526. The King did not acknowledge either child as his, and although historians and authors argue over their paternity, it is impossible to say when we don’t even know when Mary was involved with the King or for how long.

Mary was widowed in June 1528 when Carey died of sweating sickness.

You can read more about Mary Boleyn in my article Mary Boleyn – One Big Boleyn Myth and the series of Mary Boleyn: The Unknown Sister articles by Sarah Bryson.

(Extract taken from On This Day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway

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27 thoughts on “4 February 1520 – The Wedding of Mary Boleyn and William Carey”
  1. ‘Henry VIII’s maternal grandmother, Margaret Beaufort.’ Sorry to be pedantic, but wasn’t Margaret Henry VIIIs paternal grandmother? It is very confusing, but I thought she was the mother of Henry VII?

      1. No. typo is a slip of the fingers. This was in the head – more like a written slip of the tongue. ‘p’ and ‘m’ are too far apart on Qwerty for it to be a typo.
        Sorry to be pedantic and, also, a good deal less useful.

    1. There is no typo. You wrote that HenryVIII’s PATERNAL grandmother was Margaret Beaufort and this is entirely correct. People ought to make certain that they’ve read something correctly before rushing to issue criticism. I would like to thank you and congratulate you on your fine website. I wonder if the slipshod critics will have the grace to apologise?

  2. This is interesting, thanks Claire! I didn’t realise that Mary was married to Henry Carey before/during her relationship with the King. I thought she was married off to him when the King was starting to tire of her, although I knew there must have been some overlap given the paternity rumours.

    What’s the evidence for the start of their affair?

    I have a bit of a soft spot for Mary Boleyn!

    1. Always understood Henry was interested in her before she was married, and he never forced himself on his women. The parents of the girls were far too keen to have their daughters have his attention; it meant personal advancement in government for the Howards in particular.

    2. The partial reason I believe that he would have waited until she was married, or maybe forced to wait? Was because at the time virginity was very revered so her being ‘used’ by the king and then married off could not have happened. When she was married she could have been used and not suspected? That’s my theory anyways.

  3. Claire: Great post, but I am curious how the Henry-Mary affair got dated as around 1522. If Mary was married when Henry approached her, it is the first time he expressed interest in a married woman until the end of his life (with Catherine Parr). How often did Henry announce his “interests” by means of something embroidered on his jousting horse’s trappings? Was there any similar “announcement” consistent with an earlier relationship (such that the marriage to William Carey was the “taking care of an old mistress”, similar to what happened to Elizabeth Blount)?

    1. Well, Henry used to wear Catherine of Aragon’s colors in the joust when they were younger, which was quite unconventional (not supposed to declare devotion to your wife by the most commonly understood courtly rules). I don’t know if he did anything like this with Bessie Blount, though.

      As for Katherine Parr, I don’t believe she came to court until Lord Latimer died, and thus was widowed when Henry took an interest in her (I doubt he used her colors or made any such [veiled or otherwise] announcement then, as that was generally done with the jousting, and he was unable to do so any more).

        1. Mine wasn’t a criticism, it was a genuine question! Many apologies if it was seen as such, that wasn’t my intention. I’m interested in how the 1522 date was evidenced, not trying to dispute it. I’m certain that Claire knows more than I do!

        2. I think they were talking about the typo issue, not your question. I will answer questions tomorrow, I’ve been out most of today. Thanks!

  4. I’m always so curious on Mary and what little is known about her. To think that May have decline the Kings romances?- What is even more disturbing is that he, if she did decline, didn’t do anything about it! Thank you, Claire for your posts I always look forward to the posts, today’s was very intresting!

  5. actually I always thought that henry had his affaire with mary a good time before she married William carey ,this scenario sounds creepy to me ,the fact that mary was married for about 2 years and then henry came along and decided he liked the look of her .

  6. I spent a wonderful afternoon in Salle church last week, in a very remote part of Norfolk paying my respects to the graves of Queen Anne’s great-great grandparents.

    1. I think I’m actually going to write an article about Mary and the King as I’ve had quite a few people asking, both on here and on Facebook. I’ll try and write it to post it here tomorrow.

  7. Is there any possibility that either child belonged to the King? Henry did not acknowledge them and Mary was married when they were born so with no DNA the husband would have legally been presumed to be the father of both children and there is no sign that William Carey was reluctant to accept either of the children. Mary had a reasonably lenghed relationship with the King and he obviously treated her well. It is always said that as Mary Boleyn did not ask for anything she did not receive much but as the article states her husband got some grants of land and offices and these would have fees and revenues to go with them. I do not think that the couple lived in poverty and Sir William was obviously seen as a good enough match for the Boleyn family whose star was starting to rise. Thomas Boleyn may not have thought very much of his second son in law, but by the time she married her second husband; the Boleyns were members of the royal family as Anne was Queen. (Sorry mind has gone blank as to name of second husband) Mary’s grandchildren were relatives of Queen Elizabeth and did very well for themselves as did her children.

    I think there is some evidence that Mary and William were happy as convention allowed and he certainly was not going to complain about her being the King’s mistress as it would not have been to his advantage. Even if William did feet put out by Mary having an affair with the King he seems to have been sensible enough to not have complained in public at least. What he said to his wife in private is a different matter and I am sure he did not always keep quiet in the bedroom. But we have little detail of this so one can only guess. Any husband whose wife ended up in the King’s bed must have had to bite their tongues; whether they accepted the situation or not.

    I am also not so sure that Mary Boleyn completely deserved the name of the great wh*re as although Francis I claimed he rode her often; men do like to boast even if it is not true. Mary may have been the mistress of both Kings of France and England, but that does not mean that she was a cheap wh*re. She was fairly young when she went to France and Francis was a charmer and very persuasive. Henry could also be the same. With her family putting pressure on both girls to succeed for the family name; how do we know that Mary was not seen by the Boleyn’s as a weapon to gain their own fortune? She may have been pleased to be the attention of the King but I do not think that it was initially her choice: she cannot be in the King’s bed unless she is taken to court and placed in a position to get her noticed. I also do not feel that she deserves the title as if she only slept with two Kings as well as her husbands she is hardly a wh*re. And what does that make the Kings? I do not know if there is a male version of the name wh*re, but you could certainly apply it to Francis of France and to a lesser degree to King Henry as he did not have that many mistresses.

    Is it Kelly Jones who wrote The Other Tudors: the mistresses, wives, children of Henry VIII who suggests that not only were both children of Mary Boleyn and her husband at least most possibly the King’s but several others were as well that are not claimed as such?

    If Henry did not believe the children belonged to him; then why did he lavish so many grants on their assumed father? I know William Carey was a friend of his and he was deeply saddened by his death of the sweat in 1528 but it does seem odd that he would lavish attention on a couple who were not even connected to him, and a former mistress that he had discarded if at least one of the children did not belong to him. I also believe that Mary Boleyn had a loving and giving personality and that Henry confided in her for some time to come.

    One thing that also puzzells me? Did Mary Boleyn have any imput in caring for Elizabeth after her sister’s death; or was Elizabeth merely packed off to her household and put into the care of a governess? I recall at the end of the Other Boleyn Girl the silly scene where Mary comes and takes Elizabeth home; which of course she could not have done; but it shows that Mary did care enough to have concerns about her neice and I just cannot believe she would not make some gentle enquireis about her wellbeing at least.

    1. Sir William Stafford, husband number two and a good man to take on Mary and hee children and care for them, without support from her family; and they were also happy.

  8. what I cant understand is this ,mary married to William carey THENhenry arriving on the scene so to speak,affair starting in or around 1521 0r 22 ,why no pregnancies until 1524,another thing ,when henry broke affair with mary she was still able to make a successful and loving marriage later on to second husband .now when henry later had anne in his sights she refused his advances and would not sleep with him ,supposedly because her chance at marriage with someone else would be non existant ,mary did not have this problem and if she did not why would anne think that she would i.e.no marriage prospects,i still believe that Thomas Boleyn pushed both daughters at the king and when mary s affair ended pushed anne in his direction and that anne was definitely coached to keep henrys passion rising,and not giving in to him did this.the Boleyn family did receive many boosts up the ladder because of anne and for sure it was the way families got ahead and acquired ,land grants and so forth.

  9. Sorry to rehash this but you did not make a typo. If those people had of gone back and reread what you had written, they would have seen that you actually said, that William Careys maternal grandmother was cousin to Henry viii’s paternal grandmother.

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