The Henry VIII and Mary Boleyn of The Tudors series
The Henry VIII and Mary Boleyn of The Tudors series

After I had posted my article marking the anniversary of Mary Boleyn’s marriage to William Carey on 4th February 1520, I received lots of questions about Mary’s relationship with the King – When did it start? Why do historians date it to 1522? How long did it last? Were her children fathered by the King? etc. – so I thought I’d write a brief article looking at the evidence for Mary’s relationship with Henry VIII.

Mary Boleyn is a shadowy figure and although she has been the subject of biographies, novels and movies, very little is actually known about her. Although she is often portrayed as Henry VIII’s favourite mistress or the Boleyn woman he really loved, we actually have no details at all about the King’s affair with Mary. We only know that they had a sexual relationship because of the fact that the King applied for a dispensation from the Pope in 1527 to enable him to marry Anne Boleyn and in this dispensation was listed the impediment of “affinity arising from illicit intercourse in whatever degree, even the first”.1 There was the impediment of affinity in the first degree due to Henry having slept with Anne’s sister.

Mary is not named and some people may argue that this dispensation could also cover Henry VIII sleeping with Anne’s mother, Elizabeth Boleyn (née Howard), but when Sir George Throckmorton said to the King, “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,” the King replied, “Never with the mother”.2 See “Was Anne Boleyn Henry VIII’s Daughter?” for more on this.

In her biography of Mary Boleyn, Alison Weir comments “Henry VIII’s affair with Mary Boleyn was conducted so discreetly that there is no record of the date it started, its duration, or when it ended”3 and she’s right. Apart from the dispensation, all we have is gossip and hearsay, most of it resulting from news of the dispensation:

  • Dr Ortiz, the Imperial ambassador in Rome, wrote to the Empress in 1533, “that some time ago he [Henry] sent to ask his holiness for a dispensation to marry her, notwithstanding the affinity between them on account of his having committed adultery with her sister.”4
  • Charles V spoke to Dr Richard Sampson, one of Henry VIII’s ambassadors, in January 1530 about Henry’s quest for an annulment and mentioned that “the said king had kept company with the sister of her whom he now, it was stated, wanted to marry.”5
  • Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial ambassasor in England, wrote that “Even if he could separate from the queen, he could not have her [Anne], for he has had to do with her sister.”6
  • Cardinal Pole reproached Henry VIII for sleeping with Mary in his 1538 treatise pro ecclesiasticae unitatis defensione, accusing Henry of “seducing her, and then with retaining her as his mistress.”7
  • John Hale, Vicar of Isleworth, wrote in 1535 of how a monk at St Bridget’s Priory Abbey had pointed out “yongge Master Care”, Mary’s son, as being the King’s bastard son.8

It appears to have been a known fact that Henry VIII had slept with Anne’s sister, but this doesn’t help us to date the relationship in any way. Most historians date the relationship to the 1520s, beginning in 1522. This is because at the Shrovetide joust of 2nd March 1522 Henry VIII rode out with the motto Elle mon Coeur a navera, or “She has wounded my Heart”, embroidered on the trappings of his horse. A woman had obviously rebuffed his advances, but we cannot be sure that it was Mary, who, by this time, was married to William Carey. Mary could well have been just a one night stand when Elizabeth Blount, the King’s former mistress, was pregnant with the King’s son in 1519, they may not have had a long-lasting affair at all but the King still needed to declare the impediment whether the relationship had been one night, two nights or many nights.

Evidence that is used to back up the idea that Mary was Henry VIII’s mistress from 1522, during her marriage to William Carey, and that one or both of her children were fathered by the King, is the list of grants and offices that Carey was granted between 1522 and his death in 1528. Carey was indeed awarded many lucrative grants and offices, including keeperships and manors, and he also kept his post of Gentleman of the Privy Chamber through Cardinal Wolsey’s 1526 purge, the Eltham Ordinances. However, Carey was related to the King and was a favourite. Henry Norris, another Gentleman of the Privy Chamber at this time, also survived the Eltham Ordinances, being promoted to Groom of the Stool, and was granted a host of royal grants, keeperships and offices, but nobody suggests that his wife, Mary Fiennes, was sleeping with the King or that his children, born between 1524 and 1526, were the King’s bastards.9 Henry VIII was generous to those who served him and William Carey was a loyal servant to him. We can’t read too much into these rewards.

We’re left with more questions than answers when we delve into the subject of Mary Boleyn’s relationship with the King. All we know for certain is that they had a sexual relationship at some point. Although the relationship is always dated to 1522, it could well have taken place earlier, before Mary Boleyn married William Carey.

What do you think? Please do share your thoughts.

What about Mary’s alleged relationship with Francis I? See Mary Boleyn – Was she really the Mistress of Francis I? for more on this. You may also be interested in Mary Boleyn Part Two: The King’s Children?

Talking of Shrovetide jousts and declarations of love, on this day in 1526 Henry VIII rode out in cloth of gold and silver “richely embraudered, with a mannes harte in a presse, with flames about it, and in letters were written, Declare ie nos, in Englishe, Declare I dare not”, the first indication of Henry VIII’s courtly pursuit of Anne Boleyn. See The Shrovetide Joust of February 1526.

Notes and Sources

  1. Ansgar Kelly, Henry (2004) The Matrimonial Trials of Henry VIII, p47
  2. Quoted in Weir, Alison (2011) Mary Boleyn: The Great and Infamous Whore, p30
  3. Ibid., p107
  4. Friedmann, P (2010) Anne Boleyn, p262
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ellis, Henry (1827) Original letters, Illustrative of English history, Volume 2, p43
  8. Henry Fitzhugh, A History of the Fitzhugh Family
  9. Norris’ grants included: 1515 – Recived his first royal grant, 1518/19 – bailiff of Ewelme, 1519 – Awarded an annuity of 50 marks, 1523 – Granted the keepership of Langley New Park, Buckinghamshire, and was made bailiff of Watlington, 1529 – received a grant of £100 a year from the revenues of the see of Winchester, 1531 – Made chamberlain of North Wales, 1534 – Made Constable of Beaumaris Castle, 1535 – Grants of manors once held by Thomas More, made constable of Wallingford Castle.
    Carey’s grants included: 1522 – keepership of Beaulieu and bailiff of the manors of New Hall, Walkeford Hall and Powers, 1522 – Wardship and lands of Thomas Sharpe, 1523 – An annuity of 50 marks, 1523 – Receiver and bailiff of Writtle, Keeper of Writtle, 1523 – Constable of Pleshy, 1524 – Made keeper of Wanstead Manor and awarded the grant of several manors in Essex, 1526 – granted several manors in Buckinghamshire, Hampshire and Wiltshire.

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83 thoughts on “Mary Boleyn and Henry VIII”
  1. well … seems certain that Mary had “something” with Henry, but otherwise no evidences enough to say how long and how, I don’t think that her is relevant as Bessie Blount, moreover if his children was of Henry , why he not “recognized” them? because she was married? because he was not sure?

    1. If Mary Boleyn was having intercourse with her husband and the King concurrently, could the King be expected to claim these children as his own. I think not.

  2. Oooh, it’s all a bit vague, isn’t it? The only thing that stands out for me is Henry’s statement “Never with the mother” which implies with the sister. Everything else, to me, is simply conjecture.

    The much maligned Mary may have only been meddled with the once!

  3. I really enjoy reading the articles here. Especially since I am a direct descendent of Catherina of Aragon. But it seems to me that a woman could ever say”NO” to King Henry VIII. Did any woman ever say “NO” to his advances? And if she did, were there any consequences? I am a lover of History. And although King Henry the VIII reign is quite controversial, and very interesting to read and study about, I don’t get the attraction these women had to him. From what I’ve seen, he wasn’t that handsome. Maybe it was his power of presence. Or was it the way he addressed the women? I don’t know. But if I had lived at the time of his reign and I was a Lady at Court, married or not. I would not have given King Henry VIII the time of day.

    1. Hi Caetlyn – I’m not sure how you can be a direct descendant from Catherine of Aragon? Her only child, Mary, did not have any children. I’d be interested to hear your connection.

    2. Hi Caetlyn,

      That is a mystery to me as well.
      Maybe it was power, but my.
      Perhaps it was also fear? Sometimes I think women today take for granted the utter dependence they had on a mans, especially the kings, favor.

      Also not a fan of the Boleyn family who seemed to rear their daughters specifically for the ambition of the families, not that all families of that time didn’t want good marriages for their daughters, but this family seems to go to great lengths in turning their daughters into glorified Courtesans.

      I think for myself I might have slipped/sneaked quietly from Court back to the country.

      1. Anita,
        If you haven’t already read them, there are two good books written by established historians that have conducted thorough research on the Bolelyn family:

        “The Bolelyns: The Rise & Fall of a Tudor Family” David Loades
        “The Bolelyn Women” Elizabeth Norton

        I think you might find both interesting reads.

    3. When younger he was considered the most handsome “King/Prince” in Europe. Of course when older not so much. After Anne I believe he became heavy and not a woman’s dream of a man.

  4. My father’s family is from Spain. Our surname traces back to Catherine of Aragon’s family. We are related. We are descendents of her family. She is like a distant cousin to me. That’s what I meant to as being related to her.

    1. Catherine’s sisters Joanna and Maria both have living descendants, although the former were surnamed Habsburg and the latter Avis.

      However, Catherine’s great uncle Henry had legitimate descendants with the cognomen ‘of Aragon’. The same designation was used for the illegitimate children of Aragonese rulers and their descendants, including those of Catherine’s father and grandfather. Perhaps you are related to her through one of these lines?

      1. I don’t have the time or the energy to do s family tree. But I do know from researching my surname, Catherine of Aragon appears as part of the ancestors of my surname.

  5. The only reason I could think of regarding why we do not know too much about Mary Boleyn is that she may have been an “average” lady of the court. In other words, no particularly outstanding characteristics (other than probably being very pretty). Only later, when Henry turned his attention to Anne, did Mary take on the importance that she later did. If she had light hair with a light complexion, then she might have been considered just another lady about court-except, of course, drawing Henry’s attention for a while.

    I find the idea that one of her children was Henry’s to be fascinating. He had no problem in recognizing (and advancing) Bessie Blount’s son. Was the child in question a daughter? Then if so, Henry had little incentive to make a fuss over the babe. If a boy, then it becomes problematic.

    I just love these historical questions and “what ifs”! It makes our past so fascinating.

  6. I am convinced that Mary’s two children were Henry’s. I realise that there is not much proof except Elizabeth I recognising them as cousins/brother (was that because Mary was Aunt or because Henry was father ??
    Catherine Duchess of Cambridge is directly descended from the male child whilst Prince William comes from the lass – when Prince George becomes King …. watch out … !!!

    1. I think you are bit confused there, John. Prince William is a direct descendent of both Catherine and Henry Carey. The Duchess of Cambridge is not.

      There was some discussion a few years back that the Duchess of Cambridge descended from Elizabeth Knollys, Catherine Carey’s daughter, but that has now been disproven.

      1. oh didn’t know that ,I read all the pomp about Catherine having royal blood from way back but did not know it had been disproven .

        1. Not to be rude but I see billions of comments about people claiming to be related to such and such or,this person is related to such and such royal person etc. Has it ever occurred that everyone in England appears to be related in some way or another?? I mean even Jane Seymour was like a 5th cousin to Henry Viii yet had she not become Queen no one would have ever remembered her name… Sorry it just gets tiring to read comment after comment of people claiming to be descendants of whoever. Do people really care if Catherine is a descendant from Knollys??? I can understand wanting to trace your own lineage and possibly “mentioning” your relation and not boasting but whoever cares whether Catherine is or not. I doesn’t apear very special if “everyone” seems to be related to someone in the royal,family from 500 years ago…

          Now, on the subject of Mary. I found this article because I was wondering where in the world is there evidence that Henry ever had an affair with Mary??? And whatbi found is that there is LITTLE to none .. And at any rate, it could have been any year at any time that he slept with her IF HE DID at all. So, certainly I agree that it was probable being before 1522. And most certainly could have been just some night dalliance. I mean would Anne immediately start dating Henry after he just finished with her sister? It just doesn’t seem so with whY we know of Anne’s proud, self respecting character….

      2. I recall reading several years ago that Diana was more British than Charles by virtue of having been descended from Charles II (and one of his mistresses), whereas today’s royal family are descended from the German line. Not having seen a complete family tree in quite some time, however, I cannot recall if any of Diana’s ancestors included the Carey’s. However, I have long wondered where Prince Harry got his ginger hair. If one or both of the Carey’s were Henry VIII’s children, and they were among Diana’s ancestors, that would be one possible explanation, because it seems to me that no one in the royal family has had that trait since Henry VIII and his line died out with Elizabeth I. The only other way that trait could have survived as a recessive one is if it was passed on through his sister’s descendants, in which case, it could have been passed on through Charles II via the Stuart line. In that case, Harry got it through his mother. Perhaps his hair colour was why they decided to name him Henry.

  7. I’m on the fence about who fathered Marys children, but it seems ironic that with the exception of Henry’s son with Jane, his only sons were bastards.
    That might have been a good sign to him to stop tweaking providence, and understand that it would be a Queen that would sit the throne after him.

    A couple of observations in terms of psychology that I’ve heard put forward on both Henry and his daughter, Elizabeth that I thought was interesting.

    Henry: Many have said that this man, who so revered his mother, Elizabeth of York, may have had relationship “issues” because no one would ever compare to her.

    Elizabeth: Another reason she never married was a deep-seated fear and insecurity of losing control of her fate, given the traumas in her life.

    1. If Mary’s children Catherine (born 1524) and Henry, Lord Hunsdon (born 1526) were really King Henry’s, there seems to be no reason why he would not have acknowledged them as such, as he did with Henry Fitzroy. He would surely have a strong incentive to do this at a time when he was keen to prove that he could sire healthy children, especially sons, and that his lack of progeny was due to the alleged invalidity of his marriage to Queen Catherine.

      Elizabeth I’s favours to Catherine and Henry can be easily explained by the fact that as her first cousins, they were her closest living relatives. They had also proved themselves loyal to her, a quality which the Queen was keen to reward.

      1. It seems about as vague as the argument as to whether she was the mistress of Francis 1!

        With Fitzroy’s mother being a single woman when he was born I can see why Henry would confidently claim paternity. Unless Mary had been living apart from her husband at the time her children were conceived, Henry would have had no way of knowing if they were his. Also, I wonder, while it might have been acceptable to acknowledge a single woman’s child as his, how would it look, for either of them, if a married woman claimed to be pregnant by him?

        1. Why mortify his wife by announcing more illegitimate children? Also, that would mean rubbing his friend’s nose in his affair, and washing his really dirty linen in public. Not Henry . FitzRoy was his, unquestionably. He had, it would seem, ideas of legitimizing the boy as his heir if need be. Why muddy the waters with other acknowledged children? There are so many reasons for him to say nothing. Catherine resembled him, so perhaps she was his. Hard to say with Hunsdon, who resembled Anne, and so took after the Boleyns. DNA anyone?

  8. I like to think, that whatever the paternity of her children, she married for love the second time, and achieved some happiness and stability well away from the court and her scheming father.

  9. “Never with the mother,” I don’t know why, but I laugh every time I read that line. It’s just so ‘damning with faint praise.’ Henry VIII was a randy goat, but it seems that was what was expected of male rulers, so he was just doing his part . . . 🙂

  10. I think that even if one or both of marys children were henrys (I think they were} henry could never have said they were his ,because mary was married unlike Bessie blount there would always be a question mark as to their paternity,and ,even if mary never slept with William carey i.e. marriage of convenience,others would doubt their paternity

    1. That’s a very good point. I saw an interview with the singer James Blunt a while back. He said his family’s name was originally Blount, and they made given 100s of years’ faithful service to the monarchy. I wonder if he could claim distant cousinship to Bessie?

  11. Great post, as always, Claire. Seems to me that Henry and Mary may have had their fling before she married William Carey. When Henry ended his fling with Elizabeth Blount, he found a husband for her. He may have done something similar for Madge Shelton … who may well have married Henry Norris if he had escaped Anne Boleyn’s fall. Furthermore, until close to the end of his life, all women that Henry pursued were single when he was chasing them: not only the three he married (Anne, Jane and Catherine Howard) but Mesdames Blount and Shelton. Why should Mary Boleyn be the glaring exception?

  12. I guess it doesn’t really matter who fathered Mary’s children. She found a gentleman that loved her & her children, and just as important, she survived Henry’s rule, court, reign, with her head still in tact. It had to have been horrible days for her when Anne was in the tower, and then her subsequent execution. Although Anne and Mary, I don’t think were as close as Anne & George, I still believe they got along well, and loved each other. Did not Mary & her husband then raise Elizabeth?

    1. No, Elizabeth was brought up in one of the nursery palaces as the King’s daughter. At various times, she shared the household with her brother Edward and his establishment even joining in his lessons.

    2. Don’t confuse what you see depicted in a television program or movie (particularly one based on a novel by Phillipa Gregory, which, aside from the historical existence of the characters and the basics of everyday life in the relevant era, is almost pure fantasy), with genuine history. They may be fun to watch, but don’t take everything you see depicted in them seriously. There’s a lot of creative license added to these things for various reasons. After the closing credits roll, start researching the facts if you want to know the truth. And don’t necessarily trust information more than 10-20 years old because new discoveries are being made all the time.

  13. A comment above states that Elizabeth Blount’s child was recognized by Henry, one of the reasons being that Elizabeth Blount was single. But I was under the impression that she WAS married.

    1. I’m pretty sure she was married after the baby was born.

      As for Mary — she’s a mystery. I’ve always wondered why she’s portrayed as having a long-standing affair with both Henry and Francois I when she may not have slept with the latter at all and we only have the petition for annulment on the former. She and Henry could easily have had a one-night stand and gone their separate ways afterwards.

      1. Yes, there have been some really derogatory things said and written about Mary Boleyn. My guess is that these were mostly made up by Anne’s enemies, who wanted to stress the “fact” that Anne was as promiscuous as Mary supposedly was. Even Francis I was said to have made a very negative comment about Mary Boleyn and his own adventures with her.

        When there are such enemies around, no one knows what to believe.

  14. Henry seemed to be only able to father 1 child per woman, I thought this was from a medical condition, that made it impossible for a woman to carry any further pregencies to term, this being the case if Mary did have a child by Henry V111 would it not have been her son? Did she have more children when she remarried?

    1. Lydon62,

      Digressing slightly – I’m aware this post is about Mary Boleyn – Elizabeth Blount disproves that theory.

      In 2012 author Elizabeth Norton suggested that Blount’s daughter, thought to have been born after the marriage to Gilbert Tailboys, had actually been born earlier than previously thought, and suggested Henry could have been the father.

      By her first husband Elizabeth Blount had: Elizabeth Tailboys, 4th Baroness Tailboys of Kyme (whose second husband was Ambrose Dudley, brother of Queen Elizabeth’s favourite, Robert Dudley); George Tailboys, 2nd Baron Tailboys of Kyme; Robert Tailboys, 3rd Baron Tailboys of Kyme.

      Elizabeth Blount married as her second husband Edward Clinton, earl of Lincoln, by whom she had: Bridget Clinton, Lady Dymoke; Catherine Clinton, Baroness Burgh; Margaret Clinton, Baroness Willoughby of Parham.

      Judging from the number of children she had, it would seem that Elizabeth Blount conceived relatively easily. She died aged about 42 in 1540, the year Henry married Anne of Cleves AND Katherine Howard, still longing for a large family of his own.

  15. Oh and if Henry V111 looked like Jonathon in the Tudors I would totally have had a fling with him. Guess ppl wouldn’t watch if the lead character was bloated and unattractive.

    1. yes I would too as well have had a fling with him or rather I would have flung myself in his direction ,jonathan that is ,not henry!

    2. That’s what I think I think Jonathan’s gorgeous, totally unlike Henry tho, I’m surprised they didn’t dye his hair red and given him a beard cos then he would have resembled him a bit more he still would have looked handsome, but the women who portrayed his wives were much more attractive than the real ones.

      1. Yes the woman were but who knows obviously for the times this is what was beautiful. Just look how times and beauty has changed just in our lifetime.

  16. Are not we digressing somewhat? I have deliberately not watched these soaps of the Tudors because they are not getting to the true information, which is what our site is all about. I shall unsubscribe if we continue to debase by discussing various actors.

    1. no one can really say what the truth is about these people ,we can only guess what they were truly like and sometimes information whether it is today or 500 yrsago can be very biased depending on whom ever has written it ,and a tv show can be the exact same,its really up to one personally to decide for themselves what they read, watch and believe.

    2. I really don’t want to censor people’s comments but would hate for you to leave the website when my articles are based on history rather than fiction and the TV series, please stay!

  17. What a kick in the teeth for Henry if he knew his line died out so quick and the royal line now can be linked to the Boleyns 🙂 🙂 x

  18. Can’t really see the point of Henry applying to the Pope for dispensation to marry Anne Boleyn in 1527 when he refuses to permit divorce from Catherine of Aragon?

    William Carey was one of Henry’s best jousting buddies and esquire to the body of the king, He was married to Anne Boleyn’s sister. Why shouldn’t Henry show favour on the birth of their children?

    Ladies participating in a masque on March 3, 1521/2: (The French Queen, Countess of Devon, Anne Boleyn, Mistress Carre [Mary Boleyn Carey], Mrs. Parker [Jane], Mistress Browne, Mistress Dannett)

    All a bit speculative.

  19. I once read somewhere that King Henry VIII VERY very stingy with his own flesh and blood, and that once Mary fled court life for good, he could not give a rat’s @$$ about his offspring’s financial/physical/emotional well being as most dead beat fathers do. Especially married ones!

    I want to know how old Henry was when he met and molested the Boleyn girls, and what was their age? Interesting how he founded a church built on adultery and pedophilia and people since then have actually signed up for the same faux religion (men’s club). I guess they conveniently crossed out 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 in their bibles?

    1. Henry was not a pedophile. None of his wives were under age and the age of consent in those days was 14 in any case. Both Boleyn women were grown women, and all of his wives were women, not young girls. Even the much debated Katherine Howard was at least 17 when she married Henry VIII; an adult, not a child. There is no evidence that Henry molested anyone or forced himself on any of these women; they were not raped by him and gave their consent for this relationship. He may have courted and chased them a little, but he did nothing without their consent and that of their families. The treatment of his daughters at times left much to be desired; but he was not a child molester. He was an adulterer yes, but so are the women in this case as it takes two to tango and not just one party. But with Henry he was not going after women as often as it is believed and he did not chase after young girls. I am afraid both of these portraits are myths.

  20. Henry was born in 1491 so would have been 32/33 yrs old in 1522. Mary Boleyn is believed to have been born in 1499/1500 which would make her 22/23 yrs old in 1522. So it’s not very accurate to call him a paedophile! It was very common in Tudor times to marry younger girls. Henry’s own grandmother gave birth at 13 to his Father! X

  21. The article is very detailed as is the one from yesterday and very informatiive. I have also been reading the others as Mary Boleyn is much in the shadow of her more famous sister, Anne.

    It cannot be proven that Mary and William Carey’s children were either theirs or the King’s as there is no clear evidence either way and Henry did not claim the kids as his own. There was no DNA at the time and it would be difficult now to prove a relationship with DNA due to time and possible contamination. I know we have done this with Richard III, but I am not sure if it is even possible in these cases; although it would be an interesting one for our scientists.

    The point has been made that Mary was married at the time of the birth of her children and this may have some bearing on the reasons why the King did not claim either Henry Carey or Katherine Carey. It would not have been difficult for him to do so, but he may have felt it inappropriate when Mary was a married woman and William was a close servant and a friend. Elizabeth Blount was not married when she gave birth to Henry Fitzroy and she did not marry for another couple of years. Henry still did not have a living son at the time of his birth in 1519 and he still hoped to have a son with Katherine. Historians believe that Henry stopped sleeping with Katherine around 1524; 6 years after her last known pregnancy and that she was unable to have any more children by this time. Henry Fitzroy’s birth just one year after Katherine’s last child may have been significant for a number of reasons; security in the King’s mind, during 1518 Henry was having a dynastic crisis in his mind; proof that the King was fertile; and proof to himself that he could have male children even if poor Katherine could not. By the time Mary had Henry Carey between 1522 and 1524; may-be he did not feel the desperate need to claim a male son that was illigitimate as his own; he was more anxious to resolve the new concerns about the legitimacy of his marriage and the lawful succession.

    Personally I believe that Mary Boleyn was the mistress of King Henry for at least 12 months if not longer as he gives some indication in later claims that he needs to make sure he is free first to marry Anne and then to invalidate their marriage at the time of her execution that they had a sexual relationship and a relationship that may stand in the way of his marriage to Anne. I also believe that like it or not, Henry Carey was his son but that he had valid reasons for not claiming him as such. He wanted to move on and begin a relationship with her sister; he did not want complications such as a child with someone related to her to get in the way. It was also evident in his mind that Mary’s husband was the father as this meant he did not have to lavish honours on the boy and the family beyond what they had earned in service.

    Anne herself is meant to have given credance to a relationship with Henry and her sister Mary, by proclaiming that she did not want to be as her sister and become the King’s mistress. I think Cavendish gives us this story in her conversation with Cardinal Wolsey. Anne’s reluctance to become the King’s mistress is often linked to her concerns that she is not disregarded later on as her sister had been. Mary may have been Henry’s mistress and even that of King Francis but I do not believe that she was a loose moral woman or that she slept around. Both Henry and Francis were handsome and were charming and powerful. They could both probably have swept a woman off their feet in these years of their youthfulness. And by 1526 if Henry was in the market place for a new wife; he must have been even more irrestistable as the crown would be a powerful lure to accepting him as Anne later did. Mary, of course was not in the picture at that time; but Anne would certainly have weighed up the prospect before taking the King’s courtship serious.

    What qualities would Henry have found in Mary Boleyn? I believe he found her willing to listen and a woman of great compassion and understanding. It may have been a sexual relationship that he primarily wanted but it was also one that developed beyond the bedroom; as it seems to have been more than a one night stand or just a fling. The Boleyn family were in a position to encourage such a relationship and to ensure that Mary was attractive to the King for a few months at least. And if that resulted in pregnancy then all the better for there was the hope that if the King acknowledged the King that position, wealth and a future would also follow. And Mary Boleyn was not merely a mistress that filled a need while Katherine was pregnant as she could no longer have children. So Henry’s interest in her as another woman could be more exclusive and longer. The information is not there for us to know this; but I believe that it can be constructed as such as case.

    Thank you for the articles on Mary Boleyn: it is good to see her emerge from the shadow of her multi talented and famous sister once more.



    1. While I am not a fan of the Tudors, I find this website fascinating. Thank you to all the respondents for your knowledgable replies. I look forward to learning more about this period in history.

    2. I agree that it is likely that Henry’s affair with Mary was probably more than a ‘one night stand’ – if it had been, others were unlikely to have known about it and Henry would have been saved the embarrassment of applying for a dispensation. However, I find the arguments that the King was the father of Mary’s children difficult to accept.

      The main stumbling block is his failure to acknowledge them as his. At the time, it was expected that a king would accept paternity of his illegitimate children and provide for them. His grandfather Edward IV and great-uncle Richard III had done this and of course Charles II would go on to lavish estates and titles on his numerous progeny in the next century. Contemporary rulers such as Charles V did likewise. It would have been considered bad form not to do so, and Henry was sensitive to what people thought of him.

      And why would Henry make such a fuss of Henry Fitzroy to the extent that people even talked of him as a possible heir in the place of Princess Mary and ignore Henry Carey? The timing of the latter’s birth – March 1526 – also weakens the case for the King’s paternity. Although there is debate about when Henry first showed an interest in Anne Boleyn, some historians (e.g. David Starkey) have argued that he was courting her by the summer of 1525. If this is correct, it would surely have harmed his chances of making her his mistress – ‘I want you but I’m still sleeping with your sister’ isn’t a great chat-up line!

      Although it is possible that Catherine Carey could have been Henry’s child due to her earlier birth (1524) and her sex, I still think that it is more likely that she was William Carey’s daughter. Illegitimate daughters of royalty were useful in forming alliances – Charles V’s daughter Margaret of Austria, born in 1522 and acknowledged by him in 1529, was engaged to various Italian nobles before being married to the Duke of Parma in 1538. And on the question of whether Henry would have known who had fathered Mary’s children, it seems to have been the convention that when a married woman was the King’s mistress, her husband did not claim his ‘marital rights’.

  22. Even though it was a very different world back then ,The fact of mary being married whilst this affair with henry was going on is hard to take in ,I find myself thinking what would have happened if mary had not been married ,would she have been pushed even further in henrys direction by all who would benefit from this union ,had anne been married already or just not around ,could mary have ended up as queen,henry seemed to bear no ill will towards mary when Boleyn family were disgraced,i know she was out of the way then but still I wonder maybe he had a soft spot for her.

  23. The period 1522 / 23 is a good target date for the establishment of the beginning of a dalliance between King H8 and Mary Carey nee Boleyn. Her sister Anne (Q#2) debuted in court in 1522 and became one of Queen Catherine’s ladies-in-waiting in 1523. So, it is resonable to presume that the sisters hung out together in Anne’s royal chamber. But, Mary had married in 1520 and King H8 was an invited guest, so he at least knew of her before she first appeared in his wife’s court. I prefer to give Mary the benefit of the doubt and assume that only after she began to hang out with her sister in Q Catherine’s court in 1523 that H8 noticed her and then he began to really “know” her. It is said that she succumbed to the royal womanizer with the same vigor that her sister, Anne, used to rebuffed his advances (at the time). Anne, of course, as most women, eventually capitulated when a proposal of marriage had been tabled.

  24. I don’t think that Mary Boleyn’s relationship with Henry VIII was as significant as that with Bessie Blout, and was also possibly shorter lived. Is it possible that we only think of Mary Boleyn as having a long standing affair with the king because of the later rise of her sister? Though the historiography on Mary is significant, it is clear that Henry VIII had quite a few mistresses, and that he bestowed favours on many different courtiers at different times, so I don’t think we can extrapolate this to indicate that it was to pay off Mary’s husband. Because of this reason, I don’t think that he was the father of her children. Though I do think that it was longer than a one night stand because we know about the affair, it’s likely it wouldn’t have found itself as large in popular imagination without the rise of Mary’s sister, Anne.

    1. If Katherine Cary wasn’t Henry VIII’s daughter why was joint tenancy or Rothersfield Grey granted to her?

      Henry VIII extended to Francis Knollys the favour that he had shown to his father and, in 1538, secured for him his the estate of Rotherfield Greys. Acts of Parliament in 1541 and in 1546 attested to this grant, in the second act making his wife joint-tenant with him.

      1. But Greys Court had been granted to Robert Knollys and his wife Lettice, parents of Francis Knollys, in 1514 so why is it strange for it to be granted to Francis and his wife? Both Francis and Catherine were loyal servants of the crown, as were their parents before them.

  25. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and research on the Boleyn family Claire . My cousin who is the family historian has said that we are direct descendents of Henry Carey, he being our 13th great grandfather. Since that time, I developed a passion to gain as much knowledge regarding Mary Boleyn. I find it fascinating and it is filled with much speculation.

    1. Hallo CheryI was particularly interested in your post as a cousin of mine married a Percy Carey and her grandchildren have asked me if I know if they are descended from Mary (Boleyn) Carey. I am our family historian but have had no success in dealing with this branch of the family. I would love to hear from your cousin if she is free to correspond.
      Go well and Say Safe. Vickie email slogroveatshawdotca

  26. Hi

    I think that Katherine Cary might be Williams she has a large mouth and looks a little like him I think
    I have looked at the portrait of Katherine Carey the one where she looks pregnant and has a little dog and also the portrait of William Carey he does have a broad face and was a third cousin of the king and probably would have got grants anyway as did Henry Norris
    maybe Queen Elizabeth was fond of the Careys because of the Boleyn connection and not because they were the kings
    I really like Anne Boleyn I think she was very brave and maybe too good for king Henry

  27. Mary Boylen was an ancestor of mine through her Daughter Catherine. Her being thrown out of the Tudor court was probably the best thing that ever happened to her and for her. History seems to paint those people as total snakes.

  28. I descend from Mary Boleyn through her son Henry Carey. I agree that Mary Boleyn is lucky. William Carey was Henry’s cousin. I believe that dna testing of all the descendants can answer whether Henry 8th or William C. fathered Henry and Catherine Carey.

    1. Has a descendant of Mary ever had a DNA test done to see if there is a relation to King Henry? I know that she was my Great Grandmother 14 times over. I am through Catherine’s line. I have traced it all the way back to my grandmother

  29. I wonder if Mary really was the love of Henry’s life. None of Henry’s marriages lasted after Mary. That is assuming Henry really did not feel anything for Catherine Aragon. Mary did have Henry’s respect because she was the only Boleyn that inherited after the purge as it were of the Boleyn family.

  30. I found this very interesting thank you. I am Mary Boleyns 14 great grandchild form her daughter Catherine. I have always been told she was Henry the VIII. Would it have been realistic for a mistress of a king to be permitted to have relations with their husband as well?

    1. I doubt it. I am also descended from Catherine. Henry didn’t have any reason to acknowledge Mary’s children as his as he finally had a legitimate son and their true parentage would have been questioned because she was married whether she was having relations with her husband or not. Also Catherine Carey was named as a maid or honor for Anne of Cleves. Most likely Henry was the one who chose the English maid’s of honor. Why would he bother with a lowly Boleyn and how did Catherine wind up at court as her mother was practically destitute and always begging for money?

  31. If Bessie Blount’s son, Henry Fitzroy, was acknowledged as Henry’s heir when the Carey children were born, & if the Careys were his children, Henry did not need to acknowledge them as he all ready had an acknowledged heir. Another consideration is that Mary Boleyn was married at the time of the affair, so legally her children were the children of her husband, William Carey, whether or not they were his biological children. Now, Bessie Blount was unmarried at the time of her affair with the King & when their son, Henry Fitzroy, was born, so their would more likely be no question as to who the father was, the king or the husband. Then there is the question of “Would the King be okay with his mistress having intimate relationship her husband during the time of their affair?” If this was so, & the children were the king’s, he still might not have acknowledged the children because he didn’t need to do so, 1. he all ready had an acknowledged heir, 2. legally the children were considered to be William Carey’s, 3. he still had time to marry again & have a legal heir. Because Henry was obsessed with having a male heir, I wonder if his obsession with Anne Boleyn was because her sister had bore his a healthy son & daughter & it was expected that Mary Bolyen’s sister, Anne, would be able to do the same. After Anne’s execution, Henry was obsessed with finding another wife to bear him a legal son & as his first wife, Catherine was dead when he married Jane, the marriage & the male heir born from this marriage, would be unquestionably “legal” was as there would have been those who would have questioned the legality of a male heir by Anne, because they denied the legality of the divorce of Henry & Catherine. Acknowledging the Careys would also be questionable because legally they were the children of their mother’s husband.

    1. We don’t know that Mary was married at the time of the affair as we don’t know when it happened. Some historians date it to 1522 just because of the Shrovetide Joust motto, but that’s ridiculous as it could well have been aimed at another woman or was just the theme. The Shrovetide celebrations always had a chivalrous theme. To link it to Mary just because we know from the dispensation that he slept with her at least once at some point, is very much a leap.
      If it was like Henry’s affair with Bessie Blount, then he slept with her before she was married and then set up a good match for her when he was finished. That would make sense, and we know the king was involved in the marriage match and he attended the wedding. It doesn’t make sense for Henry VIII to have slept with Mary, the wife of one of his relatives and friends, after her marriage. It is far more likely that their affair happened after her return to England from France with Mary Tudor, somewhere between 1515 and 1519.

      1. Was Henry the 8th known to be faithful to one mistress at a time? I know he wrote to Anne Boleyn promising to be faithful to her alone. If his dalliance with Mary Boleyn began in 1515 and he was also dallying with Bessie Blount which I understand was an affair of duration, he would have had them around the same time,not sure that is in Henry’s character. I would suggest that the affair with Mary Boleyn started off as a courtly flirtation and when Bessie Blount became pregnant and went into her confinement to wait for the birth of her son Henry Fitzroy( not sure how long before ,but perhaps a month) then after recovering from the birth and waiting to be churched and purified, Henry’s affair with Mary could have been the latter half of 1519, late summer and ended by the time she married Henry Carey in Feb 1520.The wounded my heart motto in the shrove tide joust of 1522, could be referring to Mary, if Henry had suggested renewing their liasion and she rejected him wanting to remain faithful to her husband William Carey . A question is which ladies were Henry’s mistress (es) from 1521 until 1526 when he began his relationship with Anne Boleyn( Mary Boleyn?) .Not Anne as before 1526 as she was due to marry James Butler 1522 and she was also involved with Henry Percy 1523, why the Boleyn/ Butler match failed, perhaps because of the Percy connection?.It’s been suggested that Henry stopped the Percy affair because of his interest in Anne , which doesn’t make sense as he didn’t start his liasion with Anne until three years later . It’s hard to believe that Henry had no female companion from 1521 until 1526,it’s possible he had casual sexual affairs with wenches, they not counting as they were lower class(chauvinistic and snobbish attitude) There is a story ( urban Tudor myth) that Henry out for a ride ( hunting) met a common man with his wife and cast his fancy to her ,took her by force onto his horse ride off with her and violated her. The poor woman’s husband complained and accused Henry of this crime, but no one would listen and as they were Tudor nobodies and powerless, they were not given justice or compensation.

        1. With Bessie Blount, the other known mistress, the king slept with her and then arranged a marriage for her when he’d finished with her. It seems likely that the king took Mary as his mistress when Bessie was pregnant in 1519 and then arranged her marriage to William Carey in 1520. That for me fits with what we know about the king.

          We don’t know much at all about Henry’s love life and his words to Anne may have been him promising not to sleep with Catherine. We just don’t know. He was a very private person.

          There are several women named as potential mistresses but the ones we’re certain about are Bessie and Mary.

  32. According to my cousin and our family historian Henry Carey is our 16th grandfather. Ancestry is not something that I personally have ever delved into to verify, but still find it fascinating. So as a result I find myself very interested in the Boleyn, Carey and the Tudor families. What I can say is there is a weird strong resemblance in Henry Carey and my nephew, red hair, same facial features, weird because after all this time you’d think any resemblances would be diluted. Also a bit of a resemblance with Henry VIII and my son in facial features, nose, chin, mouth, in their 30s. I don’t find it odd that Henry would not have claimed them, simply because Mary was married so he may not have been definitively been able to claim them, but there were certainly resemblances.

  33. If Henry VIII did have the Kell blood type, he could only have fathered one child-per woman to term and beyond. That means that if he did father a child with Mary Carey, it would have been either Catherine Carey or Henry Carey, but not both.

  34. Perhaps Henry’s obsession with Anne was partly because her sister, Mary, had born him both a healthy son and a healthy daughter. So, the King was under the mistaken belief that what one sister had done, the other would also do.

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