2016 Anne Boleyn Files Advent Calendar

December 7: 10 Facts about Mary Boleyn

Thank you to Sarah Bryson, author of Mary Boleyn in a Nutshell and Charles Brandon: The King's Man for joining us today with these Mary Boleyn facts.

1) Mary was the first child born to Thomas Boleyn and Elizabeth Howard. Thomas Boleyn, born in possibly 1466/1467 was a prominent member of King Henry VII’s court. Elizabeth Howard was the younger sister of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk. Thomas Boleyn and Elizabeth Howard married in approximately 1499, and according to Thomas, Elizabeth brought him a child every year. It is believed that Mary was the oldest of these children born in 1500 at Blickling Hall, the family residence at the time.

2) Mary’s education ensured that she could read and write and it is presumed that she would also have been taught the skills needed of a lady at the time including sewing, embroidery, singing and dancing. We know that during New Year’s 1533 Mary gave the King a gift of a blackwork collar that she had made herself. She must, therefore, have had quite some skill at sewing. She may also have learned how to play the virginal and lute, taught appropriate table manners and raised in the Catholic faith.

3) In 1514, Mary was appointed as a Maid of Honour to Mary Tudor, younger sister of Henry VIII and travelled to France with the young Princess. Mary travelled with the Princess from Dover to France as part of Mary’s entourage and was most likely present when the English Princess married King Louis XII. It is believed that it was her father’s influence at court which helped Mary gain her position as part of Mary Tudor’s entourage.

4) On 4th February 1520, in the Chapel Royal at Greenwich, Mary Boleyn married Sir William Carey. William Carey was a handsome young man who had become a gentleman of the privy chamber and was also a distant relative of Henry VII. The King attended the wedding and gave the couple 6s and 8d as a wedding present.

5) Mary was the mother of two children. Her first child, Catherine Carey was born in 1524 and her second child, a son was born in 1526. There is great debate over who fathered Mary’s children as between 1522 and 1525 Mary was the mistress of King Henry VIII as well as being married. There are strong arguments for and against Catherine and Henry being the illegitimate children of Henry VIII as well as reasons why they were not. Unfortunately, without DNA testing we will never know who fathered Mary’s children. In 1534 it was reported by the Spanish Ambassador Eustace Chapuys that Mary was pregnant but there is no record of the birth of this child, or if it was born that it survived infancy.

6) Mary became the mistress of King Henry VIII in approximately 1522. During the Shrovetide Joust of 1522, Henry VIII rode out wearing on his horse the motto “elle mon Coeur a navera” which means “she has wounded my heart”. It has been suggested that this statement was referring to Mary Boleyn and gives us an approximate date as to when the affair began. The affair was conducted in secret and with great discretion and probably fizzled out on its own sometime around 1525 when Mary was pregnant with her second child.

7) Mary’s husband, William Carey, died of the sweating sickness on 22nd June 1528. Mary was left a widow with two young children to care for and little means to support herself without the income of her husband. The sweating sickness had first struck in the 15th century and appeared on and off, one of the worst times being in 1528. The symptoms appeared to be something like influenza, with the patient having pains and aches all over the body, headaches, a great thirst and also breaking out in a horrible sweat. Many people that caught the sweat were dead within twenty-four hours. It is unknown where William Carey was buried.

8) Sometime during 1533/1534 Mary Boleyn left court and while she was away married a man named William Stafford. Stafford was a soldier in the garrison at Calais and later a gentleman usher to King Henry VIII. He was distantly related to Edward Stafford, the 3rd Duke of Buckingham who had been beheaded for treason in 1521. By marrying William Stafford Mary Boleyn had caused quite a scandal! She had taken a husband without the knowledge or consent of her family, without seeking permission from her father or her sister who was now Queen of England. In addition to this Mary had married a man who was far beneath her status and to further inflame her family she was pregnant by her new husband.

9) Due to her marriage to William Stafford and for not seeking permission from her father or sister, Queen Anne Boleyn, Mary and her new husband were banished from court. On the 19th December 1534 Eustace Chapuys, Ambassador for Charles V wrote to his master stating: “The Lady’s sister [Mary] was also banished from Court three months ago, but it was necessary to do so, for besides that she had been found guilty of misconduct, it would not have been becoming to see her at court enceinte [pregnant].”

10) Little is known about the details surrounding Mary Boleyn’s death and not even the reason for her death is known. What is known is that she died in July 1543 (on either 19th July or 30th July) aged approximately forty-three. She outlived her more famous brother and sister by seven years.