Mary Boleyn Book Tour and Giveaway Day 3 – The Face of Mary Boleyn
Posted By Claire on April 15, 2015
I’m delighted to welcome Sarah Bryson to The Anne Boleyn Files on day 3 of her book tour for Mary Boleyn: In a Nutshell. Today, Sarah shares her thoughts on Mary Boleyn’s appearance.
To be in with a chance of winning a paperback copy of Sarah’s book on Mary Boleyn, all you need to do is leave a comment below saying what you imagine Mary Boleyn to look like. Leave your comment before midnight on 22 April. A winner will be picked at random and contacted shortly after – good luck!
Over to Sarah…
Mary Boleyn was the oldest daughter of Thomas Boleyn and Elizabeth Howard, and sister to Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII. Mary Boleyn was the older sister, being born in around 1500 at Blickling Hall, Norfolk. Sometime after this, Thomas Boleyn moved his family to Hever Castle and it was here that Mary spent her early years. Nowadays ‘Hever Castle, once the home of that great figure in Tudor history, Anne Boleyn, now has one of the best collections of Tudor portraits after The National Portrait Gallery’ (Starkey 2011). One of these magnificent portraits is said to be of Mary Boleyn.
Josephine Wilkinson, author of Mary Boleyn The True Story of Henry VIII’s Favourite Mistress doubts that the Hever Castle portrait is of Mary Boleyn and states that ‘tradition has it that Mary Boleyn was the most beautiful of the Boleyn sisters. Even she, however, did not conform to the Tudor ideal of feminine beauty, which preferred pale skin, blue eyes and blonde hair. One portrait of Mary, although it is of doubtful authenticity shows her to have a rounder and softer face than that of her sister. Her complexion is creamy, her eyes brown and, although her hair is hidden beneath her gabled hood, its colour is suggested by the shade of her eyebrows, which hint at a rich auburn or a chestnut brown.’ (Wilkinson p. 64).
The above image is the portrait from Hever Castle to which Wilkinson is referring. It is labelled as a portrait of Mary Boleyn painted after the Holbein style. Alison Weir, in her book Mary Boleyn The Mistress of Kings, also doubts the authenticity of this portrait as Mary Boleyn and proposes instead that it may be of Frances Brandon, daughter of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and his wife Mary Tudor, Dowager Queen of France.
As well as the Hever Castle portrait of Mary Boleyn I wanted to make a note of another portrait that has often been credited as being Anne Boleyn but when studied further may perhaps have more resemblance to Mary Boleyn than her more famous sister. This portrait was painted by Lucas Horenbout and will be described in more detail below.
Horenbout was a Flemish artist who studied his skill in painting under his father Gerard Horenbout. He moved to England sometime during the mid 1520’s and in September 1525 Horenbout is mentioned in Henry VIII’s royal accounts where he is referred to as a ‘pictor maker’. By 1531 he was being described as the King’s Painter and was very well paid for his paintings. Horenbout is best known for his intricate and beautifully detailed portrait miniatures.
One of Horenbout’s miniatures is of a woman painted in about 1525/26. Initially the young woman in the portrait, whose age is given as twenty five years, was believed to be Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife. Yet there is now some debate now as to whether the woman in the portrait is actually Anne. It has been proposed that in fact it may be Mary Boleyn. Francesco Sanuto, a Venetian diplomat described Anne as ‘not one of the handsomest women in the world; she is of middling stature, swarthy complexion, long neck, wide mouth, bosom not much raised, and in fact has nothing but the English King’s great appetite, and her eyes, which are black and beautiful’ (Calendar of State Papers Relating To English Affairs in the Archives of Venice October 1532, 824). In her book The Lady in the Tower, Alison Weir also describes Anne as being ‘slender and dark’ (Weir 2009, p. 160), whereas the woman in the Horenbout portrait appears to have a much rounder face and has a pale complexion with perhaps light brown eyebrows and possibly the same coloured hair.
Alison Weir, in her book Henry VIII King & Court argues that the above portrait by Horenbout cannot be of Anne Boleyn as ‘even allowing for traces of repainting, the sitter, with her fair hair, round face, short chin and full lips, bears little resemblance to Anne Boleyn as she appears in the National Portrait Gallery portrait. Secondly, her age is given as twenty-five. If this is Anne, and she was born around 1501 (a date now accepted by most historians), then the miniature was painted around 1526/27, when her role was little more than that of the King’s low-profile inamorata, which hardly qualified her to be one of the fashionable Horenbout’s first sitters. Thirdly, Anne did not adopt her crowned falcon badge until 1533, and the bird on her badge was rising to the right with wings elevated, while this bird is displayed apparently with wings inverted. Whoever this miniature depicts – and that still remains a mystery – it was not Anne.’(Weir p. 264 – 265).
The ideal Tudor woman was pale of skin with blue eyes and blonde hair and it is possible that those who did not conform to this traditional image had their features, such as hair and complexion lightened. However, it is known that Anne Boleyn was immensely proud of her long dark hair. Even if Horenbout did lighten the skin colour in the above portrait, the eyebrows seem far too light to be the dark hair Anne Boleyn was known to have. Also, Anne is said to have been slender, yet the woman in this portrait has a hint of a double chin and certainly rounder cheekbones.
In Roland Hui’s article “A Reassessment of Queen Anne Boleyn’s Portraiture”, Hui also argues that the Horenbout portrait does not resemble the image of Anne Boleyn presented at the National Portrait Gallery in London. Hui states that the National Portrait Gallery portrait of Anne Boleyn shows a woman with a long face and high cheekbones whereas the lady in the Horenbout portrait has broader features and a double chin. He also states that it was recorded that the lady in the portrait was twenty five years of age when her portrait was painted. Since Mary Boleyn was born in 1500 and the painting was painted in 1525/26 Mary’s age would fit the age of the woman in the miniature perfectly. Hui also proposes that it could have been Sir Thomas Boleyn who introduced the painter to the English court and that he may have commissioned Horenbout to paint his daughter.
Unfortunately unless a third portrait miraculously appears and is able to be accurately identified as Mary Boleyn, we may never truly know what this mysterious woman actually looked like. Yet when the evidence is examined I am led to believe that the Horenbout miniature of a young woman is indeed the real face of Mary Boleyn. A face which I think is indeed beautiful enough to capture the attention of the great Henry VIII.
Use this schedule to catch up with Sarah’s other stops on her book tour:
- 13 April – Gareth Russell’s Confessions of a Ci-Devant blog – http://garethrussellcidevant.blogspot.com – Sarah discusses the changing perceptions of Mary Boleyn.
- 14 April – On the Tudor Trail – http://onthetudortrail.com/Blog/ – Natalie hosts a Q&A with Sarah.
- 15 April – The Anne Boleyn Files – here! – Sarah discusses Mary Boleyn’s appearance.
- 16 April – QueenAnneBoleyn.com – http://queenanneboleyn.com/ – Sarah talks about her top six historical figures.
- 17 April – Nerdalicious – http://nerdalicious.com.au/ – Sarah discusses Mary Boleyn’s children.
- 18 April – The Tudor Society – https://www.tudorsociety.com – Claire interviews Sarah.
“MadeGlobal’s History in a Nutshell Series aims to give readers a good grounding in a historical topic in a concise, easily digestible and accessible way.
In Mary Boleyn in a Nutshell, Sarah Bryson discusses the controversies surrounding Mary Boleyn’s birth, her alleged relationships with two kings, her portraiture and appearance, and her life and death. Mary survived the brutal events of 1536 and was able to make her own choices, defying the social rules of her times by marrying for love. It is from Mary that the Boleyn bloodline extends to the present day.
Sarah Bryson, creator of the popular “Anne Boleyn: From Queen to History” Facebook page, brings together what is known about Mary Boleyn, the shadowy sister of Queen Anne Boleyn.”
Kindle File Size: 7407 KB
Print Length: 82 pages
Publisher: MadeGlobal Publishing (Kindle: March 17, 2015, Paperback: March 18, 2015)
ASIN (Kindle): B00UVBPAFS
Available from Amazon.com, Amazon UK and your usual bookstore.
- Calendar of State Papers Relating To English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, Volume 4, 1527-1533. Originally published by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, London, 1871.
- Fraser, Antonia (2002) The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Phoenix Press, London.
- Hart, Kelly (2009) The Mistresses of Henry VIII, The History Press, Gloucestershire.
- ‘Henry VIII: June 1534, 26-30,’ in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 7, 1534, ed. James Gairdner (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1883), 326-357, accessed March 2, 2015, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol7/pp326-357
- Hever Castle (2001) ‘Hever Castle & Gardens’, viewed 13th August 2011, http://www.hevercastle.co.uk/.
- Hui, Roland (2000) ‘A Reassessment of Queen Anne Boleyn’s Portraiture’, viewed 21st March 2015, Available from Internet http://www.oocities.org/rolandhui_2000/ab_portraiture.htm.
- Ives, Eric (2009) The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.
- Lucas Horenbout (or Hornebolte) 2015, National Portrait Gallery, viewed 21st March 2015, http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/person/mp07130/lucas-horenbout-or-hornebolte?role=art.
- The Royal Collection 2001, ‘Lucas Horenbout (c. 1505-1544)’, viewed 21st March 2015, Available from Internet http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/eGallery/maker.asp?maker=12115&display=about.
- Weir, Alison (2011) Mary Boleyn The Mistress of Kings, Ballantine Books, New York.
- Weir, Alison (2009) The Lady in The Tower The Fall of Anne Boleyn, Jonathan Cape, London.
- Weir, Alison (2008) Henry VIII King & Court, Vintage Books, London.
- Wilkinson, Josephine (2010) Mary Boleyn The True Story of Henry VIII’s Favourite Mistress, Amberley Publishing, Gloucestershire.
82 thoughts on “Mary Boleyn Book Tour and Giveaway Day 3 – The Face of Mary Boleyn”
I imagine Mary as a brunette, with a lighter shade of brown hair compared to her sister Anne and hazel eyes.
Closer to the English rose standards than Anne, round face and beautiful.
I believe she was a blonde with blue eyes and light tone skin
As a descendants of Mary, my brother and myself are opposites. He has dark hair and I have blonde hair with blue eyes
Looking back at our family, we all seem to be equally split in this manner. Could Mary and Anne been the same. Entirely possible. So, I believe she and I may favor one another.
Honestly, I have always had an image in my head of Mary as dark blonde, maybe lighter brown hair, with pale skin, and more full figured than her sister Anne. I also imagine she had blue eyes, but I am not sure why, perhaps I have read about it so often the image stuck in my head. I haven’t been able to find a description of her mother, so speculation is all we have until/if a painting happens to turn up (which, I desperately hope one does!).
I imagine her as a blonde with beautiful smile. I think she has green eyes and long lashes!
Sumptuary laws were in effect during 16th century England although probably less restrictive than previously. It would be controversial, if indeed permitted, for a mistress or ex-mistress of Henry VIII to be wearing such a fur and therefore highly unlikely that the Hever portrait shown here is of Mary Boleyn.
Yes, they were, but Mary Boleyn was married to William Carey, an Esquire of the Body, and so according to Edward IV’s legislation Carey and his wife were allowed to wear ermine. Susan Higginbotham said in a discussion in the comments on her post http://www.susanhigginbotham.com/blog/posts/mary-boleyn-or-frances-brandon/:
“I looked through the Parliament Rolls of Medieval England. The sumptuary legislation from Edward IV’s 1463 Parliament reads, “And also to ordain and decree that no esquire or gentleman, or anyone else below the degree of knight, or their wives, except the sons of lords and their wives, the daughters of lords, esquires for your body and their wives, shall use or wear, from the said feast [of the Purification of Our Lady next], any velvet, satin brocade, or any cloth of silk simulating them, or any bands made to imitate velvet or satin brocade, or any fur of ermine, on pain of forfeiting 10 marks to your said highness for every offence. . . . Provided always that the steward, chamberlain, treasurer and controller of your honourable household, and the carvers and knights for your body, and their wives, may use and wear furs of sable and ermine.”
William Carey is also shown wearing fur in his portrait – see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Carey_%28courtier%29#/media/File:William_Cary.jpg
Costume expert Bess Chilver also noted that people made their own fake ermine using white rabbit fur.
I don’t believe that this portrait can be ruled out as being Mary just because of the fur when she would have been allowed to wear it anyway.
Thank you for your reply.
For any of your readers interested in learning more about this portrait and the debate surrounding its authenticity, the following site is very interesting:
But that article doesn’t take into account the sumptuary laws and the fact that Mary Boleyn WAS entitled to wear ermine. I don’t know who the portrait is and am not arguing that it’s Mary, but it can’t be said that it’s not Mary because of the sitter wearing ermine when Mary was allowed to wear ermine. I hope that makes sense, my brain isn’t working very well today!
I envision Mary as a beautiful ash blonde with hazel eyes and a full figure! I am sure it would be hard for Henry VIII to resist her attributes and her court intrigues too!
I see her as a golden blonde, with blue eyes and a slightly rounded face. She is petite but not delicate. She certainly had a strong will to survive and this makes me think she was not delicate at all.
I believe that Mary possessed honey blonde hair with a green/blue shade of eyes. I think her kind nature shone through her eyes which attracted Henry V111 and that Mary must have been a good listener to him. I also imagine Mary knew what she wanted out of life and was less ambitious than Anne. I think the sisters shared a similar handwriting style.
IMO, Mary matched the era’s conventional idea of beauty more closely than her sister —- lighter hair (light brown or auburn, maybe) and light brown eyes. Not sure about the age on the portrait … how do we know when Mary was born if we don’t know when Anne was born?
I never believed that portrait to be of Anne as it bears no resemblance to her whatsoever therefore I was surprised when it was said to be of her, I do believe it must be Mary as it does look similar to the Hever one, the round face and little chin and of course the lighter colouring, Anne had a much longer face with a stronger chin and was of course very dark, we don’t know if their parents were dark or fair, but as what sometimes happens each sister could have taken after a different parent, the image on Thomas Boleyns Brass Tomb shows also a long face so I like to think Anne resembled him and Mary maybe her mother, as for her colouring it does look a pretty shade of auburn know one who knew Mary mentioned her colouring but that she was the fairer of the sisters, but fair in those days meant pretty so she could have possessed softer features as her portraits show and I think her hair colour was mid auburn to light brown and hazel eyes as these are evident in her alleged portraits.
Light hair, blue eyes. Fragile looking.
I don’t imagine Mary was as beautiful as Scarlett Johansson, who played her in ” The Other Boleyn Girl” what with standards of cleanliness being as they were in Mary’s time. But she was probably pretty enough to attract Henry’s attention.
Since I’m fairly certain Mary was an ancestor, I look back and remember how some of my female relatives looked, and consider that they could look similar to this picture of Mary. Thanks for sharing.
I imagine Mary Boleyn as a cute woman with light brown/auburn hair, rosy cheeks and light brown eyes. Her unconventional beauty caught the eye of the king, so she was surely beautiful.
I imagine that Mary would of been a very pale skinned, mousey brown haired lady. I always think of her as being prettier than her sister Anne.
I see her as dumpy, with pasty skin and bad teeth, round face and possibly a rather large nose. Not terribly attractive to our eyes.
I imagine Mary to be fair, blue eyes, maybe dark blonde hair, a bit curvy in body in order to have caught Henry’s attention.
I love the idea of Mary being beautiful. But, our standard of beauty offs different compared to Mary’s time. But, I imagine all the Boleyn siblings to be handsome…
I believe mary was a english rose.warm brown eyes, hair golden brown.rounded face fair skinned.she turned two kings heads so she must of been lovely to look at.kind and warm hearted . sadly used by all.
I imagine Mary Boleyn as being the Tudor ideal beautiful: blonde hair, blue eyes, full of figure.
I don’t imagine Mary as blonde and blue eyed – that would make her the complete opposite of Anne, and as sisters they must have had some features in common! Or maybe I just think that way because I look a great deal like my sister. I did read the book on kindle already and enjoyed it, it was interesting to read more about Mary.
I picture Mary Boleyn as attractive, with light brown hair and golden brown eyes, fair, a rounded face, resembling Anne but closer to the standard of beauty at that time than Anne. She must have been striking with sex appeal too.
I believe Mary had medium brown hair and brown eyes.
I imagine Mary as slender with brownish hair and violet eyes. She must have been pretty to catch Henry’s eye!
I always imagined Mary as the complete opposite of Anne in appearance. Given the ideals of female beauty then, she would have been light skinned, with dark blonde hair and perhaps eyes with a hint of green. She would not have been thin and angular as Anne may have been as that was not desired! It’s entirely possible for sisters in the same family to look totally different. We have Annes and Katherines and red headed Elizabeths in mine
I like to think of Mary as being much lighter and golden than her sister Anne. I also think of her as being plump not in the sense of being overweight but not thin. Since Anne is said to have been slender, I think of Mary as being more of the norm for most women then she had curves and was the more becoming of the two sisters. If the picture is of Mary she was very lovely and it is such a shame that she was overlooked.
I am almost as interested in Mary Boleyn as I am her famous (or infamous) sister. I have a book about Mary. I think one of the things that makes Mary Boleyn interesting, at least to me, is that there IS so much less information about her than there is, obviously, about Anne. Still waters and all that.
As to what Mary truly looked like, is anybody’s guess. I like the image that I see when I think of Scarlett Johansen, in The Other Boleyn Girl. Scarlett is very pretty. Whether or not the real Mary Boleyn resembled her in any way, again, no-one really knows. But I think Mary may have been prettier than her famous sister. Definitely nicer, in many ways. But…..that is the mystery of Mary. We don’t know much about her at all.
I believe Mary was fair with blue eyes. Probably light brown hair. My older sister is much fairer complected than I and has bright blue eyes where as my hair used to be dark and my eyes are hazel. She had my mother’s turned up nose, while I favored my father, being darker complected and a more “classic” profile. Genetic deviation is an amazing thing.
Could it be possible to take portraits of Harry Carey and his sister Elizabeth and compare their features to their mother’s? Discounting the paternal contribution, I am curious if Harry or Elizabeth have some of their mother in them.
I had the tv on in the background the other day and was surprised when something called The Other Boleyn Girl came on and it *wasn’t* the Natalie Portman / Scarlett Johansson film.
It turns out the BBC did a tv version in 2003, starring Jodhi May as Anne and Natascha McElhone as Mary.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to pay close attention, but from what I did notice, it seemed pretty good.
Is the portrait of Mary Boleyn? I believe it may show the face of Mary. I’ve always imagined Mary as having a light shade of auburn hair. Possibly her true color being a shade of brown, made lighter by whatever lightening agent she may have applied to it, in an effort to attain that shade of auburn thought perfect, at the time. Her mother’s, Elizabeth Boelyn’s, brother, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, was described by the Venetian ambassador, Falieri, in 1531 as ‘small and spare of stature and his hair black’. It’s possible Elizabeth Boleyn had some shade of brunette hair as well. I think Mary’s eyes were blue. Mary was probably slender, well made, and an enjoyable, pliant, companion. Henry V III was attracted, yet it may well have been Mary’s dubious fame, as having lain with Francis I, that was the motivating factor in Henry’s desire to ‘know’ her.
I imagine Mary Boleyn to be shorter than Anne Boleyn but with a bigger chest and a little more junk in the trunk, so to speak. Not pale, but not dark or swarthy either. Large brown eyes with rounded cherub features and long golden brown hair. Also with a broad smile and possibly dimples. I imagine her to have been charming, fun loving and trusting. Also, very kind.
Mary Boleyn was shorter. Facial features resembled Anne, but were more delicate. More of a demure, fragile, petite lady.
It has never made any sense to me that in any publication, fiction or nonfiction, Mary is described as being blonde and blue eyed while her siblings are always described as being dark in looks. I think she probably would have had medium brown hair and brown eyes like that of her siblings since the brown eye gene is dominant. But since she bore at least three children I always imagined her as being rounder than Anne was said to be. I think it was her reputed willing nature and perhaps family ambition that first recommended her to Henry VIII. It is unfortunate that we will probably never know for certain.
I think Mary may have been a brunette with hazel eyes and a little more of a round figure than her sister Anne. This is what may have made her appealing to royalty because she didn’t conform to the Tudor standard of blonde hair and blue eyes.
From all the portraits we have to look at I imagine Anne was the “odd man” out among the siblings as far as looks were concerned, with Mary and George having a closer resemblance. At any rate Henry must have admired the Boleyn family more than any other in his orbit, to make them spouses, lovers, and high-ranking councillors.
I think Mary would have to have been remarkably different from Anne for Henry to have been so captivated by the younger sister after having been with the older sister. I think Mary would have been pretty and personable enough to engage Henry for a while. Perhaps fairer than her sister Anne, more to the common attributes he would have found pleasing. Anne would have to be a vibrant, intellectual alternative to have strung Henry along for years. I imagine Mary to have been the blander, less lit sister.
I imagine that she was what we now class as ‘mousy’ in colouring. This would bring her closer to the Tudor ideal of beauty (hence her being the more beautiful of the Boleyn girls) but not quite. ‘Mousy’ people tend to have skin that is pale but when exposed to sun will tan easily. So again, more like the ideal but not quite. As for her eyes – I’m honestly not sure. Anne’s eyes were said to be very dark but it doesn’t follow that Mary’s were the same. Indeed if I continue with my theory that she was ‘mousy’ then it is more likely her eyes were a shade of blue or even grey. This is an interesting question and great reading other opinions.
I think that Mary had reddish brown hair with blue eyes! Pale skin and was medium height.
I agree with the people who say that Mary would have looked more like an English rose than her sister Anne. I have always imagined that Mary resembled Elizabeth of York somewhat and that’s why Henry gravitated toward her. I like to think that Mary smart when it came to knowing what was best for her. She chose happiness over ambition and that is why she was able to survive May 1536. She may not have been book smart but she may have been smart in other ways.
I have always imagined Mary as having dark golden hair with hazel eyes. Long hair with waves and a fair complexion . She must of been beautiful with a kind and gentle nature.i think all the Boleyn family were very attractive but in different ways. The Kings of two countries certainly thought so.
I see Mary as being the prettier one with light eyes and light colored hair and lacking Anne’s intelligence and charisma.I’m sure she was charming in her own way to the King but I always end up seeing her as a pale version of Anne.
I enjoy the fact we do not know what Mary Boleyn looked like. It makes her all the more fascinating. But I think she would have had light brown hair and brown eyes, been of average height and pleasingly rounded.
I see Mary as a strawberry blonde hazel eyes a full pouty mouth round face with high cheek bones. A creamy complexion a fuller bosom than Anne but thin and good hips for birth giving.
I just figured she was a looker for the time, or Henry wouldn’t have had much interest in her.
I always imagined Mary to be fair based mostly on portrayals seen in TV/movies, including “Wolf Hall”.
I always thought of her as an English Rose with dark blond with wide greyish eyes, and with a smile to match her sweet personality.
I think Mary would have been very petit fair hair with blue grey eyes and
Very pretty x
I’ve always imagined Mary as being short with light brown hair, hazel eyes, and a rounder face. Overall pretty with a sweet laugh and quick smile. I feel the more natural beauty would have attracted people to her while Anne was maybe a more unusual beauty.
Like most people I originally conceived a blond haired blue eyed buxom beauty.
But now I think she must have shared some of her sisters characteristics maybe a more slender figure and long glorious hair with hazel eyes instead of black ones
I’ve always imagined Mary Boleyn to have had light brown hair, hazel eyes, and fair skin. I believe she must have been very attractive to draw the King’s attention before he fell in love with her sister Anne.
I alos think that Mary was a fair hairded person adn ahd fair skin . Ann was alwys prortrayed as a french mysterious beauty …as we know .
I always imagine Mary as a petite and dainty, but not fragile looking woman, a little more curvaceous than her sister Anne but not buxom as such. I would imagine light chestnut hair and hazel eyes, and she would have an appealing sparkle, but was softer and gentler and not as ambitious as her sister. Nevertheless a subtly strong woman who survived all the tragedies and turmoil that surrounded poor Anne and George.
To describe May Boleyn would be to say she had brown hair flowing above an oval face that featured green eyes below thin but arched eyebrows. Her nose was elegantly long, but not overly so. Her cheek bones were high so that her smile appeared to invite while her round chin confirmed charm and dignity.
My idea of Mary’s charm is more the ‘girl next door’ kind of beauty than the English rose kind as I don’t recall that she had alot of suitors clamoring for her hand in marriage. I envision her with caramel colored hair and light brown eyes and a pouty mouth that smiled easily. I think she was probably prettier than her sister Anne, with an easy -going, more carefree and less serious personality and more voluptuously endowed. I also think Henry’s attraction was mainly fueled by his competitive relationship with French king and her rumored knowledge of “French ways” in the bedchamber, as well as her proximity in the court, being the daughter of a court diplomat rather than a common chambermaid. She was probably less ambitious and calculating than Anne, making her less threatening to the power players within the court and which turned out well for her descendents
In my mind and when thinking about what Mary may have looked like I feel that she must have looked like a younger softer version of Catharine of Aragon. In most books that I have read it is stated that Henry did have some affection for Catharine when she first came to court. While married to his brother and upon his death Henry saw fit to take her as his wife. She bore many children for him albeit most died I believe he cared for her. As time passed and multiple births etc caused her to change I think Mary became his mistress and that she was similar in appearance to Catharine, auburn hair soft featlures etc. much like Catharine when Henry first saw her. Perhaps I am forever a romantic but that’s what I think.
I imagine Mary’s hair to have been a little lighter and more chestnut than Anne’s and her face and eyes softer.
Art Historian Bendor Grosvenor has made a impressive case (on his blog) that the Holbein sketch identified as Anne Boleyn but disputed over the centuries actually is Anne. If so, the Horenbout miniature does resemble the sketch in terms of the nose, the double chin and lighter coloring. That said, it is possible that the sisters did look somewhat alike. and the miniature could well be of Mary. The circumstances of Mary’s second marriage show that she was also a strong-minded individual.
Unashamed Romantic, me. “Beauty in Tudor Times” shows the ‘Birth of Venus’ by Botticelli and kicks off with a quote saying how Renaissance woman used cosmetics and devoted particular attention to the hair, esp. in Venice, dyeing it a shade of blonde that often tended towards red. The Goddess Beauty had flowing red gold hair and big wide sparkling eyes, soft lips, was graceful in movement and talented in singing…a Venus Muse indeed. So my Mary Boleyn, who has to compete with the goddess Elizabeth Blount if she will capture Henry’s roving eye, is very like Botticelli’s Venus…perhaps a bit more plump, given Tudor diet. She followed Elizabeth into Henry’s bed and Lord Herbert thought her “the beauty and mistress-piece of her time.” Some act to follow!!
I definitely imagine Mary as a bit shorter than Anne, fairer skinned, with lighter eyes and hair.
I believe Mary had medium blonde to light auburn colored hair. Big round dark green eyes. Long eyelashes. Curvy but not really heavy maybe just bigger boned than Anne was. Her complexion being not quite fair but not dark either maybe like a nude shade now. I think she may have been a little on the shorter side. Sweet, loving, compassionate, sexy, pliable but not weak willed and a lot less ambitious than the rest of her family.
Here’s an article I wrote going into more detail as to why the Horenbout miniature may be of Mary Boleyn (and another of her father Thomas):
My older article discussing this miniature is at:
I always imagined her as blonde, blue eyes and pale skin,and not too thin.
I have always thought of Anne as slender, longer face, maybe similar to the Brass of Thomas. so it is very possible that portrait could be Mary Boleyn. It looks much of what in my mind’s eye I think she must have looked like.
I always pictured her as prettier than Anne, with very light brown/auburn hair and blue/green eyes.
I always thought that Mary and Anne must have been similar in facial structure and varying only in coloring. And I bet it wasn’t by all that much. However, Mary may have had a finer head of hair of a lighter color that may have visually seemed quite a bit lighter than her sister’s. And, yes, I’m sure her eyes might have been light colored but as someone with eyes that have blue irises surrounded by gold, which I call green and other people call hazel or blue or green or aqua or gray or…. well, let’s just say that eye color can be deceiving at best and by candlelight it might have been downright misleading at times.
I think it’s definitely plausible that Mary had auburn hair (as the painting at Hever shows), based off of portraits of her father that show him with similar coloring. Since I haven’t found any portraits of Elizabeth Boleyn, we can only speculate what she looked like, but I imagine her with dark eyes since Thomas Boleyn has been painted with green eyes, and Anne had to get her dark eye coloring from somewhere. So I imagine Mary had green eyes or perhaps hazel, since she would have looked too similar to her sister if her eyes were darker, and since Mary was considered the more attractive Boleyn sister, I imagine Mary had to have lighter coloring which would make her look more pleasing to a culture that revered blonde hair and blue eyes. My bet would be that Mary Boleyn had auburn hair, hazel eyes, a rounded face and a full figure.
I imagine Mary Boleyn be fairer than her sister Anne and yet you could see the resemblance that they were sisters . Brown eyes, light skin,light or med.brown hair,small mouth, average nose,not a beautiful or striking woman but average.Maybe 5’3″ or 5’4″, weight 130-140.I think she was slow to react to stressful situations,held her tongue,unlike her sister Anne.More content in who she was,very obedient to her parents,loved her family. In that she would even sleep with the King,if prodded by her father and Uncle.I really feel she lacked self esteem partly because of Anne being over bearing from what I’ve read about Anne.I feel she walked in her shadow even if she could of been the oldest.I truly believed she loved the king,especially after bearing him a son.Also,was hoping to remain his mistress but knew Anne destroyed all hope for that.But she did love Anne,and maybe was hoping for her happiness with the king.I think she was a remarkable woman of her time and obedient to whatever was asked of her.I hope she found some happiness after Annes death and her brother.Iwish I could go back in time and meet and talk with her.
and obedient to whatever was asked of her
I agree with you on their looks :), but actually I don’t think Anne and Mary spent much time together as children, they were both sent to other households when they were very young, so maybe Annes stunning character didn’t have much bearing at all on Mary. And there is no contemporary evidence that she bore Henry’s child, Henry Carey was born in the final year of their liason, I believe Henry would have spent more time and attention on Mary and her son, and perhaps lavished some titles on them, as he did Henry Fitzroy, his only official bastard child. Instead he sent them off, and never recognised the little Carey even when he was old and getting a little paranoid over the succesion issue. He also didn’t become really serious about Anne until after Henry Carey was born so he wouldn’t have ignored him because of his love for Anne. It’s possible, but not very probable. An argument in favor of Mary’s son could be that Henry wouldn’t recognise Carey when he was rid of Anne because of the connection, but then again, the Earl of wiltshire (Thomas Boleyn), got back in the king’s grace after some years. Perhaps Mary didn’t because of the scandal of marrying beneath her status, but again, some titles and time could have washed all that away… I don’t know…
I have always pictured Mary as blonde and blue-eyed, but now I guess this is caused by the habit of the novels and movies to make a difference between the heroine and her rivals.
So I guess Mary and her sister were not opposites, but Mary had brown hair and eyes and more round face and figure.
I think of Mary as very pretty, but perhaps less “striking” than Anne, with lighter brown hair and brown or hazel eyes. Certainly pretty enough to catch the attentions of Kings!
I think for Mary to have been called more beautiful than her sister, she must have had some more plumpness, and somewhat lighter hair than Anne. But I also recall Anne as being described as a little ‘scrufalous’ around the time of her corronation (although she was pregnant then, and I don’t remember the source to be a reliable one, Chapuys?). The nose in the miniature resembles the nose of Anne in the Hever portrait, which is a clue in favor of this being her sister indeed. Also the brown eyes could have been a Boleyn tradesmark :). I think this miniature really is the most likely to be Mary
She had unique reddish hair and hazel eyes-the kind of eyes that change color based on what she was wearing
Mary is so fascinating to me as much as Anne. I hope to make it to Never Castle oneday.
I think of Mary with hazel eyes, round face, pale skin, and beautiful.
Thank you Claire for all your work. I love this site!
i imagine Mary as a brunette, with a pale skin and more round face and figure than Anne. i think they must have resembled each other..after all they were sisters.
I think Mary had ash blonde hair and hazel eyes with pale skin. Somewhat of a contrast to Anne’s appearance.
I imagine Mary to have been the exact opposite of Anne in every way.
Congratulations to Sharon (Shaz56) for winning.
I came across this portrait—supposedly of Mary Boleyn. The mature woman in the portrait has the “black and beautiful” eyes of Anne and the narrow face of Elizabeth. If Mary was fairer than Anne, could it be a portrait of their mother? What do you think?