Mary Boleyn – Is there more to know?

Mar2,2019 #Mary Boleyn

In this third and final video on Mary Boleyn, sister of Queen Anne Boleyn, I answer the following questions:

– What did Mary Boleyn look like?
– Did Mary Boleyn have a son with mental disabilities?
– Was Mary Boleyn’s second marriage a love match?
– Are there any surviving letters between Anne Boleyn and Mary Boleyn?
– Where was Mary Boleyn in 1536 and did she do anything to help George and Anne Boleyn?
– Where did Mary Boleyn spend her final years?
– When did Mary Boleyn die and where was she laid to rest?

You can find the transcript of the Anne Boleyn letter at, p114-115

Susan Higginbotham’s article can be found at

Roland Hui’s article on the miniature can be found at

Links to my other videos on Mary Boleyn:

Mary Boleyn: Mistress of two kings? –
Mary Boleyn Facts: Who was Mary Boleyn? –

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17 thoughts on “Mary Boleyn – Is there more to know?”
  1. Wonderful video. It’s funny, before I ever read any description of Mary Boleyn I imagined her as a fair-skinned blonde. I don’t know why my mind went there as we don’t know what she looked like.

    I’ve read Mary’s letter to Cromwell numerous times and of course all I hear is my voice in my head. Hearing you read it Claire made it much more poignant.

    Regarding her marriage to Thomas Stafford she was very blessed to find that kind of love and I am happy for her. I’m with you, I wish we could find out more about her. She is probably even more fascinating than we think she is now. Thank you for such an informative series.

  2. The two portraits are lovely but they haven’t as yet been verified. The Lucas Hornbolt is probably the more likely because Anne is also linked to a portrait by him as is her father.

    I must admit I haven’t heard this about Henry Carey before and Tracy Boreman is unfortunately one of a group of modern historians who don’t cite evidence for their own ideas.

    Lovely to hear the moving and very lovely and emotional letter of Mary Boleyn to her helper, Thomas Cromwell, who helped her to reconcile with her father. She definitely loved William Stafford and she would rather be with him in poverty than been at Court and she defied everyone to marry him. She was provided for at the end and Henry told her father to give her money and I love the fact that the bells tolled again when you stated about her death and inquests. I hope we find her remains soon.

    Thanks for your lovely video and research.

  3. I always thought Eric Ives’ comment, that what we know about Mary Boleyn can be written on the back of a postcard, was interesting and unfortunately very true.

  4. The so-called portrait of Mary wearing ermine also exists as a copy in the Queen’s Royal Collection. Whoever this woman was she was apparently a lady of distinction to have had copies of her picture done.

    I assume the version at Hever was acquired by Lord Astor after he bought and restored Hever Castle in the early 20th century. He made great efforts to track down Tudor artifacts to fill up the place, though I question some of their authenticity, like the so-called Anne Boleyn’s lute, and a set of set of baby clothes supposedly made by Princess Elizabeth for the impending birth of Mary Tudor’s baby.

  5. There are so many missing pieces to the jigsaw that is Mary Boleyn that we have to just speculate on the events in her life and what may or may not have happened to her and her family, her child by Stafford whom never appeared and wether she slept with the King of France, what did she actually look like etc, historians do not have it easy with the eldest daughter of Thomas Boleyn and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Howard, we only know of her true feelings in the pleading letter she wrote to Thomas Cromwell when she had been banished from court, caught in the turbulent ride on her family’s ambition she was expected to marry whom her sister the queen and brother in law the King had chosen for her, she was a member of royalty now and to hell with her feelings! But Mary met and fell in love with William Stafford and as she penned to Master Secretary ‘ love overcame reason’, I can see the Kings chief minister curling his lip in scorn at that and chuckling a little, he no doubt thought, ‘silly foolish woman’ ! he had to deal with tasks like that maybe found them a bit tiresome but nevertheless he often helped many women with their problems and Mary sister to the queen was asking for his help now, the Boleyns had wanted a husband from an eminent family who would support them in their enemies, but Mary had to ruin that for them married a low born man and what was worse she was pregnant, regarding her son’s so called mental disability, I have never read that anywere so wherever Tracy Boorman got it from is a mystery, maybe he was confused with another child who died young, maybe her son by Stafford but we have no records of this child being born and we only know she had the two Catherine and Henry, it’s very likely the baby was born dead or she may have had a miscarriage, or it could have died in infancy, maybe brought on by the stress Mary could have been under, Mary is a mystery and I must admit I do love the portrait said to be of her at Hever, but the miniature by Horenboult is a good contender for authenticity, she suffered badly when her younger siblings were put to death, followed within a few years by her mother and father, she then became sole heiress of her father’s fortune but then died herself, leaving her young widow to marry again, where she lived is another missing piece to the jigsaw and where she was laid to rest also, an important woman sister to a one time queen of England, and yet there is no record of her burial, her death is recorded so why not her final resting place? So many tombs have disappeared over the years, the tomb of Queen Catherine Parr was discovered by a group of people out strolling one day, the grave of little Lady Anne Mowbray, the child bride of Richard Duke Of York, lost for centuries was found in the 1960’s by workmen excavating in London, and there is currently a search for the missing tomb of Henry 1st, the earth does eventually give up its secrets so hopefully one day we will discover Mary Boleyns grave.

  6. Hi Michael, Mary is often portrayed as a giggling blonde like in Wolf Hall and she is blond too in the Other Boleyn Girl, in Jean Plaidys novel she is shown as auburn haired, other writers of historical fiction have her with similar colouring but never dark like Anne, why this is I don’t know but maybe it’s because Anne was dark and seductive strong willed and intelligent, and it’s more interesting for her sister to be shown as the complete opposite, soft and delicate passive and gentle, like her fair colouring, she could of course have been dark like Anne, I have often wondered about what George their younger brother looked like, he was said to be very handsome they must have been I think a very attractive family, Elizabeth Howard was praised by the poet Skelton in her youth whilst in service to Queen Katherine, so she herself caused quite a stir nothing like her youngest daughter though, I rather warm to Mary she appears much nicer than the rest of her family, although of course we do not know what her mother was like, but Anne grew into a very vindictive lady ( due to thwarted ambition of course) but vindictive and arrogant all the same, and George could be quite unkind too when he remarked on the death of Katherine, that it’s a pity the Lady Mary didn’t keep company with her mother, Mary was widowed young and had financial worries, possibly before that as Carey had a bit of a gambling addiction, or so it appears, had he not died when he did of the sweat he could have brought ruin on his family, her father had to be ordered by the King to dip his hands into his pockets to help her, left with two young children she had her fair share of trouble, why should she not marry whom she loved, good for her I say and besides she was carrying Staffords child so it was imperative she did, she was the luckiest out of all her brilliant family, possibly not as clever or accomplished but those things do not really matter at the end of the day, she knew Anne was not happy in her marriage for by achieving so high she had brought merely all of Karherines misery onto herself, now she too suffered when he took mistresse’s, she had all the pressure to give the King a son and heir whilst Mary, was loved for herself and content in that love, it’s a pity she too died young but her children lived long lives, and Henry had a brilliant career, her daughter Catherine was one of Queen Elizabeths favourite lady of the bedchamber and dearly loved by her, as was Henry, she would have been proud of that.

  7. Mary possibly did have Howard looks but they didn’t have fair hair, so where did her looks come from? Not that it matters as we don’t know because we don’t have a reliable portrait of Elizabeth Howard. It is the privilege of a film maker or writer to show his characters as he or she imagined them and Anne and Mary are often shown as polar opposites, possibly to show them as different personalities. Anne is shown as dark as possible in order to show her as devious, mysterious and manipulative. Mary is shown as caring and gentle and good, represented by her being fair, an English rose. Anne is shown as having foreign, particularly French ways and suspicious because France was the enemy since forever. The English were and still are xenophobic and thought of themselves as superior to everyone else. Anne’s dark looks, although they may well be authentic, are potentially exaggerated in order to reflect her historical reputation. Mary is seen as the English rose who married, had children, was banished by her sister and family and married for love, comforted a King and showed herself to be good and lovely. Her fair looks reflect some of her reputation, the better qualities. However, we don’t really know but I like the Lucus Horenbolt portraits.

    Roland is quite right we have to be suspicious of some of the so called Tudor items in various castles. I can’t speak for Hever as I have never been there, but I have been to enough here and abroad and must admit some of the items don’t quite have the authentic provenance claimed. Since the eighteenth century many great castles and houses have been radically altered in the styles of China, the Italian Baroque, Japan and American variations. Ideas of how the Medieval period should look like, the terrible mythology of Victorian Gothic, they have all taken over the authentic Tudor, Jacobean and Stuart furniture and decorations, with the odd bit collected from here and there and placed hopefully around the Castle to remind us it was originally English.

    Mary Boleyn probably was kind and fair, for all we know Anne and George might have been fair as children, look at Richard iii, DNA revealing fair hair and blue eyes, like one of his supposed portraits, but later he was dark haired like his father. The Plantagenet fair with a hint of red was there on both sides. Anne and Mary and George had Howard, Boleyn and Butler blood, the latter being Irish, so their colouring was probably a rich mixture of reds, browns and black shaded hair tones and dark green or brown eyes. It would be lovely to have full descriptions of all of these people or a family portrait we can trust but unfortunately we don’t. We can only therefore use our imagination. Mary is fertile ground for novels because we know so little about her. Maybe that is how it should be.

    I love the fact that Mary Boleyn made her choice of husband and would rather “beg her bread from door to door” than be without the man she loved . I don’t think initially it was a love match, probably not a passionate one, but the affection of a man who found he liked Mary and was willing to offer her protection as a husband. Mary found him kind and acceptance of her as she was. He offered her a contented life, if not a wealthy one, on a moderate income. However, the more they got to know each other, the closer they became and they grew into love. By now Mary is powerfully in love with her husband. “Love overcame reason” Mary writes, expressing her deep love for William and their rash desire to marry, without parental or royal consent. It is sad we don’t know if she gave birth to his children or what happened to her child of 1534. Yes, she may have miscarried or had a child who died in infancy, but she may also have had a healthy child who we just don’t have surviving information about. Mary found contentment, despite her family casting her out, because she remained with William. Thomas Boleyn was harsh but he was a Tudor father and Mary was marrying below her status, which as a widow she had a perfect right to do. The problem was she was not independently financially provided for and relied on him for an income to support herself. She was also in service to her sister, Queen Anne, at the time and that made a huge difference. She was obliged in such circumstances to ask leave to marry and to make a good match. Anne banished her because of her own Royal dignity and Thomas acted as a Tudor father. He was told to provide for her by the King, via Cromwell, but this letter is also an emotional appeal to her family, whom she also loved. Mary took the chance that she wanted, keeping out of the political quagmire her family wanted to be in the middle off, doing her own thing. It’s a pity she didn’t have long to enjoy her eventual inheritance, it is also sad we don’t know where she is buried. Her mother was buried in Lambeth and her own coffin in under the floor of what is now a cafe and museum, although her tomb slab was recently found, so it is likely Elizabeth Howard is still where she has always been, in a family floor vault. Henry I is a missing monarch because he was buried in the now ruinous Reading Abbey. His father, William I is also missing, his tomb was destroyed. Richard iii was missing for 536 years and his niece, Anne Mowbray was moved because of renovations and then found and reburied. Charlemagne went missing three times, moved for safety as Vikings tried to destroy his tomb, before being recovered by Otto iii and then moved by Frederick Barbarossa and Frederick ii to his current shrine, added to the Chapel in Aachen in the thirteenth century. William iv mapped most of the tombs in England as many were unmarked or jumbled up because of building work and identified many famous resting places, including that of Henry Viii and his wife, Jane Seymour. If Richard iii had not have moved Henry vi from the Abbey he rested in to Windsor, or if some great monastic churches not become Cathedrals, many more Royal tombs would be lost. How many ordinary tombs or noble tombs have been lost since the destruction of the Civil Wars and Dissolution? We may never truly know or even appreciate the number of resting places lost over time through the stupidity of our powerful ancestors. All of the bones may still be buried, the tombs might just be lost, but we won’t know without proper surveys, not by digging people up, but by looking with technology. We have radar and we have cameras, tiny ones on special cables, which can look for remains. Now these are not 100% accurate but the Mowbray tombs were surveyed in Tetford Priory about ten years ago and the Howard tombs themselves have been studied in three D. We might not necessarily be able to confirm who is who but we might get a glimpse of their coffins or shrouds. We know the Shakespeare graves in front of the High Alter in his parish Church in Stratford are all there, with heads, but in simple shrouds, because of three D radar. (The head thing is to do with a tale that someone stole the Bard’s head in the nineteenth century) The body on his spot has a head. So do the others of his wife, daughter, son in law and brother. His mother is buried in the church yard with a memorial stone and grave. Recently many lost coffins of the Archbishops of Canterbury were found under the floor in Lambeth. Elizabeth Howard may be there as well. A cache of lost Pharaohs was found after 3100 years missing from 1100 B. C onwards, hidden and labelled for safety at the start of the twentieth century. So, there is hope that Mary might be found, possibly in a Stafford Church with the husband she ran off to be with for love.

  8. Something else I find sad is that many of the brasses from tombs were removed during the civil war to make weapons. Weren’t they also removed because of their association with Catholicism?

    Hi Tim. The reply button at the bottom of posts is not functioning. Just letting you know.

  9. So the reply button jump isn’t just me? Hi Michael, the majority of old graves have been left alone but certainly some very religious tombs were dismantled because of associations with the Catholic Faith. Mind you some people were dug up because they had influenced the reformation so much as well. Martin Bucer was dug up, posthumously tried and his body was condemned and burned. He was an associate of Martin Luther, a prominent preacher and writer and he promoted the reformation in Germany and England and the authorities saw him, understandably as an influence they could do without. Oliver Cromwell was dug up, tried for treason and his remains had the execution of a traitor under the restored Charles ii and his head was cut off. It went to a University, it was mummified and on display but reburied this century anonymously. He originally had a grand tomb in Westminster Abbey and a state funeral. Charles I was almost denied burial on his orders because he was prevented from being taken into Windsor Saint George Chapel. The priest had to insist and he was buried in the same vault with King Henry Viii and Jane Seymour.

    Many grand tombs suffered being defaced, the plate being removed, the images bashed in, yes, for a number of reasons, but graves and vaults were left alone. Like the Romans, even some people of the reformed tradition believed in ghosts and disturbing the dead as causing them to rise. It was deeply offensive so only the elaborate memorials were removed or damaged. The joke is that the Elizabethan Protestant families then built even grander tombs to themselves with elaborate decoration and effigies of their families. Although most of them survive, a few do show some damage from the Puritanical age, who had simple memorial stones. The Victorians then revived many of the elaborate burials and memorials and our grave stones with angels and stuff come from their influence.

    No, Chris, their remains have not been allowed to rest but hopefully their souls do rest in peace. After all, the bones are not the person, the soul, spirit, all that they were has moved on, but we must still respect their remains or ashes. A grave is a focal point to leave flowers or to visit, to remember. The person has long gone to the next life. Amen.

  10. Thank you BQ for all of that information. Re the reply button I thought it was just me but noticed all of the posts were separated. Glad we’re not alone

  11. Is there more to know about Mary Boleyn? It’s a question we could ask about many of the women, hidden from history, because men ran the world and kept them hidden. You would think we would know more than we do, simply because she was the sister of the famous or infamous, Queen Anne Boleyn. But, that is probably the problem, Mary was eclipsed by her sister, about whom we would also know little had she married and had kids at home or in Ireland. The same might be said of George Boleyn, although as a man he may have held public office as his father did and we would certainly know a bit more about him. However, the King of England noticed Anne and she became a public figure because she was drawn into his public divorce proceedings and her own presence and intelligence made sure Anne was an international celebrity. Mary wished for and got the quieter life, but the truth is, her gender is as much to blame for our lack of records about where she went, what she did, wished and even her life with her husband. That we don’t even know if she accompanied William Stafford to Calais is very telling, for it would be naturally assumed she accompanied him as his wife, that was her place and it was socially expected. However, Mary is a ghost on the historic record at this time, as so many women were. Then, suddenly, she inherited property and we know that there were letters and negotiations regarding the will and probate and the access to her inheritance. We know Mary and William had six months only to enjoy the benefits of this property and wealth and we know that Mary died and passed on her main property to her son, Henry Carey and one manor to her husband, William. She had inherited some of her father’s lands and money and her daughter, Catherine Carey had embarked on a career as lady to Anne of Cleves and the later Queens at the English Court. However, we don’t know where Mary was buried in July 1543, but of course, this is unfortunately true of many others. It is most likely she was buried in the same Church as her second husband was later on. However, the Church in Rochford is another possibility. In fact, there are three or four possible places but we may never know where to begin, which is a shame, but you never know as people are found after centuries. What is confusing to me is why no record was made in the parish of her burial plot. I can only guess that some record was made but lost. We know far more about her children, both of whom had long and public careers at Court and in political life. Again, however, some of what we know of Catherine Carey is in the shadow of her husband, Francis Knowles. One thing we certainly know is that they have magnificent tombs and had sixteen living children. Through her grandchildren, Mary Boleyn has descendents all over the world and in our current Royal family. Not bad for a lady whose reputation was sullied by jealous scandal and novels, who treat her with more kindness than Anne, who is often seen as the mistress of two Kings but at worst had a brief relationship with both and who died in comfort and contentment as a romantic country lady.

  12. That’s what I think about Marys resting place, she probably is buried in the church of Rochford as she must have been living in Rochford Hall during her final days, they would have attended the Sunday service and other religious dates in the calender, as Mary and her husband would have been the Lord and Lady of the manor they would have had their own pews, they were born there christened married and quite possibly were buried there to, as she was an important lady she would have had brasses commemorating her presence and that of her husband, I reckon the parish records or some of them must have been lost, possibly burnt in a fire after all, it was such a long time ago tragedies happen over a long distance in time, sadly if the record of her burial was destroyed by fire that means we will never know where she was buried, she died before Stafford so she could well lie with him but he could have chosen to lie with second wife, as she gave him children, it certainly is a mystery.

    1. (notice the button is working. Thank you Tim)

      Your talking about documents being lost over the centuries and information becoming hard to find. I was just thinking that in half a millennia from now if anybody wants to do research on any living person today it might be virtually impossible. So much of our information is now kept digitally on hard drives or on some kind of optical disk. Technology changes so fast there may be no way to read any of those items at that time. They’d robably have to take something out of a museum and cobble it back together to get it to work. There’s a real advantage to things being kept on paper and Vellum and parchment. Doesn’t matter what century you’re in you can still read them. Although they can easily be destroyed.

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