Mary Boleyn the Unknown Sister – Fathers and Fertility by Sarah Bryson

As I’m over at Sarah’s blog Anne Boleyn: From Queen to History today as part of my virtual book tour, I thought it was only fitting to publish the next instalment of Sarah’s series on Mary Boleyn. Thanks, Sarah!

For as long as I have been interested in Mary Boleyn and her life I have always been curious about the idea of her fertility. In conjunction with this idea I have always been fascinated with the questions surrounding who fathered Mary’s two children. Perhaps a little odd I know, but please bear with me while I explain further.

In 1514 Mary was sent to the French court to become a maid of honour to Princess Mary Tudor, who was to wed King Louis XII. However Mary’s time as a maid of honour was to be short as after only a few months Louis XII died. After the death of King Louis XII, Princess Mary married Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk before returning home to England. There are several trains of thoughts regarding Mary’s whereabouts between this time and 1520. Some historians suggest that Mary also returned with the Dowager Queen to England and became a lady in waiting to Queen Catherine of Aragon. While others propose that Mary, as with her sister Anne, stayed in in France to serve the new King’s wife, Queen Claude. Another train of thought is that Mary was sent by her father to Brie-sous-Forges (nowadays known as Fontenay-les-Briss), a house in France owned by Francois I’s cupbearer.

What we do know is that in 1520 Mary was back in England as on February 4th 1520, in the Chapel Royal at Greenwich, she married Sir William Carey, a handsome young man who became a gentleman of the privy chamber. King Henry VIII was present at the marriage and gave the couple 6s and 8d as a wedding present. William Carey was the second son of Thomas Carey and Margaret Spencer; he was distantly related to the King as his mother was a cousin of Margaret Beaufort, Henry VIII’s grandmother. He was also a favourite of the King and he shared many sporting interests with Henry VIII including a love of jousting, riding and hunting.

This is where my curiosity regarding Mary Boleyn’s fertility is raised. She was married to William Carey on February 4th 1520 and yet her first child, a daughter named Catherine Carey was not born until 1524. Both William and Mary were approximately twenty years of age at the date of their marriage, old enough for the marriage to be legally consummated so why was it another three years before a child was conceived?

During Mary’s marriage she famously became the mistress to King Henry VIII. It is unknown exactly when the relationship started, but certainly during Mary’s marriage to William. It is thought that Mary’s relationship with the King may have started during or around the Shrovetide of 1522. During the Shrovetide Joust in 1522, Henry VIII rode out wearing on his horse the motto “elle mon coeur a navera” which means “she has wounded my heart”. It has been suggested that Henry VIII with his statement of a wounded heart, was referring to Mary Boleyn. During Shrovetide there was also a lavish celebration entitled the Chateau Vert or the Castle of Green. In the castle eight beautiful ladies dressed in white silk were held captive. The ladies represented virtues and Mary Boleyn played the role of Kindness while her sister Anne ironically played Perseverance. The virtues were guarded by eight vices played by boys from the Chapel Royal. Several Lords, including the King, charged the castle and rescued the ladies.

King Henry VIIIIt was also during this time that Mary’s husband William Carey suddenly started to receive a number of grants. Could these grants have been the King’s way of keeping Mary’s husband happy? Or did the young, intelligent and favoured courtier simply receive these grants from his own merits?

It is believed that Mary’s relationship with Henry VIII lasted approximately three years and is thought to have ended sometime during 1525. Most probably the relationship fizzled out on its own accord sometime during 1525 when Mary was pregnant with her second child. It has hard to accurately date the relationship as Henry VIII conducted the affair with the upmost discretion and it is likely due to this that dates and encounters were not recorded.

Once again my curiosity in Mary Boleyn’s fertility is sparked. She married William Carey on 4th February 1520 and was of legal age to consummate the marriage and yet she did not conceive her first child until 1523. The date of conception also coincides with the believed time that Mary Boleyn was mistress to Henry VIII. Could it be that Mary’s child Catherine Carey was in fact the illegitimate daughter of Henry VIII?

The reasons proposed that both children might be fathered by Henry VIII is that during the time when Catherine and Henry were conceived Mary was the mistress of Henry VIII and sleeping with the King. It has also been suggested that Henry would not have wished to have shared Mary with her husband, keeping her to himself during the entire period of their relationship. Also there were rumours that Mary’s son Henry Carey looked quite a lot like Henry VIII and that Henry VIII gave Mary’s husband William Carey a series of grants and appointments around the time each child was born in an attempt to keep him happy. It has also been proposed that because Queen Elizabeth was very close to both Catherine and Henry Carey, it must have been because they were in fact half-brother and half-sister rather than just cousins. Queen Elizabeth knighted Henry Carey and also made him Baron Hunsdon; she also visited him on his death bed offering him the Earldom of Wiltshire (once owned by his grandfather Thomas Boleyn). For her part Catherine Carey was one of Queen Elizabeth’s senior ladies and upon her death Elizabeth paid for a lavish funeral for her.

On the other hand the suggestions against the two children being fathered by Henry VIII are that it is quite possible during the time Mary was the King’s mistress she may have also been sleeping with her husband. Henry VIII never acknowledged Catherine or Henry as his children, where he had acknowledged Henry Fitzroy, a son he bore with his previous mistress Bessie Blount. Wilkinson in her book ‘Mary Boleyn: The True Story of Henry VIII’s Favourite Mistress’ also proposes that Henry VIII may have had low fertility and thus there would be a low probability he impregnated Mary. It has also been suggested that the grants given to Henry Carey could have simple been to keep him silent and happy about his wife sleeping with the King. Also the reason that Queen Elizabeth showed great favour and kindness to Catherine and Henry Carey was simply because they were related, specifically that they were the children of Mary Boleyn, Elizabeth’s mother’s sister.

Unfortunately since DNA testing was not available during the Tudor period we may never know if Henry VIII fathered one, both or none of Mary Boleyn’s children. What is known is that Henry VIII fathered several children with his first three wives and one with his mistress Elizabeth Blount.

Henry VIII upon his death had fathered four children who had lived to at least adolescence. Henry Fitzroy, a son born to Henry’s mistress Elizabeth Blount was born in 1519 and tragically died in 1536. Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII’s first wife Catherine of Aragon, was born in 1516. Henry’s second daughter, born to his second wife Anne Boleyn, was born in 1533 and his fourth child and second son was born to Jane Seymour, Henry’s third wife, in 1537.
Yet in addition to these four children Henry VIII also fathered many children who most sadly were either miscarried, stillborn or died shortly after birth. Catherine of Aragon is known to have conceived six times during her marriage to Henry VIII. Three of those pregnancies resulted in stillborn babies, another two the children died shortly after birth and only Mary Tudor lived until adulthood.

Henry VIII’s second wife Anne Boleyn (younger sister of Mary Boleyn) is known to have conceived at least three times. The first bore a daughter, Elizabeth, the second resulted in a miscarriage and the third again a miscarriage, this time of a male foetus. Some historians believe that Anne Boleyn may have had three miscarriages, be it two or three miscarriages the evidence still points to the fact that Henry VIII was able to impregnate his wives.

Jane Seymour, although dying shortly after the birth of her child, conceived and gave Henry a son. In three marriages Henry VIII’s wives were able to conceive at least ten, possibly eleven times. Certainly Henry VIII knew what he was doing in the bedroom and had little difficulty impregnating his wives and mistress.

So why did Mary Boleyn not conceive until her known relationship with Henry VIII? Could it be that Mary’s daughter Catherine Carey was the product of sleeping with Henry VIII? And what of her son who was born in 1525, could he also have been the child of Henry VIII? It is interesting to note that Mary was married for three years before her first child was conceived and then gave birth to two children in a relatively short period of time – a time when she was the mistress of Henry VIII.

Mary’s relationship with Henry is strongly thought to have ended when she was pregnant with her second child, Henry Carey. After this it is assumed that Mary continued to cohabitate with her husband. Although William Carey would tragically die on 22nd June 1528 of the Sweating sickness, Mary Boleyn was still his lawful wife from after the birth of her second child right up until William Carey’s death. This is a period of approximately three years and once again it is curious as to why no other child was conceived.

It could very well be that Mary Boleyn did conceive during the period of 1520 – 1522 before her affair with Henry VIII started and then again between 1525 – 1528, after the birth of her second child and before the death of her husband. It could just be that unfortunately Mary Boleyn was not able to carry the child to term, or that if a child or children were born they did not survive long after birth. Unfortunately there are no records or evidence to give us even a hint of information.

We do know that Elizabeth Howard, Mary Boleyn’s mother was able to conceive and give birth at least five times. Mary Boleyn had four younger brothers and sisters, Anne, Thomas, Henry and George although it is believed that both Thomas and Henry Boleyn died in infancy. However the fact that Mary’s mother could conceive and give birth several times does not mean that Mary Boleyn could also. When we look at her sister Anne we see that Anne was only able to give birth to one healthy child.

Perhaps Mary Boleyn knew of and practiced some sort of birth control? Birth control during the Tudor period was illegal as it was strongly believed that sexual relations were for procreation and not pleasure. Although clearly with men such as Henry VIII taking mistresses, sex was at least in some way used for pleasure and company! Contraception in the Tudor period consisted of many varied and different methods including the man withdrawing from the woman before he ejaculated; the taking of herbs and oils such as oil of mint, oil of rue, oil of savin and honeysuckles juice. The woman could also insert various things into her v*gina such as pepper, wool soaked in vinegar or bundles of herbs which would hopefully kill the sperm, or even inserting beeswax to cover the cervix entrance. The man could also use a type of condom made of lambskin which was known as a ‘Venus Glove’. Could it be that Mary Boleyn knew how not to fall pregnant until a time of her choosing? It is an interesting idea to think about although one I do doubt. As stated contraception was illegal during the Tudor period and Mary Boleyn would have been risking quite a great deal if she was caught using such contraception.

Perhaps William Carey was not able to get his wife pregnant? If the marriage between William and Mary was consummated on their wedding night or shortly afterwards and the couple lived as man and wife for several years, maybe he was not potent enough to make his wife pregnant? Again this is just a wild thought as we know little of William and Mary’s relationship and how they lived during their marriage, although it is believed that the couple resided at court when William was in service to Henry VIII. Although a wild thought, it is still one that has popped up in my mind when thinking about the fertility of Mary Boleyn.

We do know that after the death of her first husband Mary Boleyn married a man named William Stafford. In 1534 she arrived back at court pregnant and was promptly banished by her sister, now the Queen of England. On the 19th December 1534 Eustace Chapuys, Ambassador for Charles V wrote to his master stating:

“The Lady’s sister [Mary] was also banished from Court three months ago, but it was necessary to do so, for besides that she had been found guilty of misconduct, it would not have been becoming to see her at Court enceinte [pregnant].” (Wilkinson 2010, p. 148)

What happened to this child conceived between Mary and William Stafford is unknown. There are no records or details of the child being born so it could be possible that Mary miscarried or that the child died in infancy. But the mere fact that Mary was pregnant does point once again to the fact that she was fertile enough to conceive.

Why did Mary Boleyn only give birth to two children during her marriage to William Carey between 1520 – 1528? Why were both her children conceived during the time it is believed that she was the mistress of Henry VIII? Frustratingly we may never know the answers to these questions. So little is known about Mary Boleyn’s life and it is only through scant details, records and mentions here and there that we can piece together the bare facts about her life. I would love to know who the father of Mary Boleyn’s children was, could it be that one or possibly both of her children were the illegitimate children of Henry VIII? If so he never recognised them as his own. Could they be the children of her husband William Carey? If they are, why were no more children born? Did Mary Boleyn have several miscarriages or still births during her eight year marriage? Or perhaps did she know some form of birth control? Once again we will never know. Unfortunately that is the frustrating thing about Mary Boleyn, the more we desire to know the more questions and unknowns are thrown up in the process.

Mary Boleyn is a great mystery and the story of who fathered her children and that of her fertility I think, will also and most frustratingly, remain a mystery.


  • Jones, P 2009, The Other Tudors: Henry VIII’s Mistresses and Bastards, Metro Books, New York.
  • Hart, K 2009, The Mistresses of Henry VIII, The History Press, Gloucestershire.
  • Ives, E 2009, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.
  • Loades, D 2001, The Boleyn’s The Rise & Fall of a Tudor Dynasty, Amberley Publishing, Gloucestershire.
  • Luminarium 2011, ‘Luminarium: Anthology of English Literature’, viewed 29th October 2011.
  • Meyer G.J 2010, The Tudors The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty, Delacorte Press, New York.
  • Ridgway C 2009, ‘The Anne Boleyn Files: Tudor Contraception’, viewed 29th October 2011, Available from Internet.
  • Ridgway C 2010, ‘The Anne Boleyn Files: The Pregnancies of Anne Boleyn and Catherine of Aragon’, viewed 29th October 2011, Available from Internet.
  • Weir, A 2011, Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings, Ballantine Books, New York.
  • Weir, A 2008, The Children of Henry VIII, Ballantine Books, New York.
  • Wilkinson, J 2010, Mary Boleyn The True Story of Henry VIII’s Favourite Mistress, Amberly Publishing, Gloucestershire.

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56 thoughts on “Mary Boleyn the Unknown Sister – Fathers and Fertility by Sarah Bryson”
  1. Thank you, Claire – this was an interesting read. It really baffles me sometimes what a true mystery the life of Mary Boleyn was. She could have been anything – blonde hair, auburn hair, pretty, plain, meek character, or a fighter like her sister Anne. I for one believe she was a fighter and a very brave person, who stood for what she believed in – who stood for love and freedom to choose, to be happy. Of course, most sources agree she was a beautiful woman, after all she did caught the eye of the king and remained his favorite for more than 3 years.
    I always wondered if her two children – Catherine and Henry – were really born to the king. And I always felt the answer was ‘yes’ . I doubt that Mary slept with her husband at all at the time she was the king’s mistress. The king was really enchanted with her – we have enough to believe that – and I doubt he would have been OK with her living with her husband and sleeping with him, while also being his mistress.
    It really is curious that both her kids are born exactly in the time frame of her relationship with Henry. If we assume that Mary Boleyn was “sexually experienced” in the French court (I know most of you do not believe it so), we can also assume that she knew how to keep herself from getting pregnant – and that she did. Until she became Henry’s mistress and had the opportunity, through his interest, to gain things – for herself, her family, her children. I do not say she was “a material girl” or anything, just that she probably knew her way in this ruled-by-men world and knew an opportunity when she saw one.
    As for the fact that the king never acknowledged any of her children as his own – well, why would he? He already had a basterd son, who was acknowledged (and what good was he anyway?) Henry needed a LEGITIMATE heir. If he continued to acknowledge his illegitimate children, he would become a laughing stock – the man who could make basterd sons, but no legitimate sons? And he would also set his kingdom up for a turmoil – if he passed, leaving too many different (illegitimate) heirs, this could start a civil war. His goal was to preserve the Tudor line – and he did, with Elizabeth (who later didn’t, but different topic).
    So I strongly lean towards the idea that Mary Boleyn’s kids were really the king’s blood, even though in history there is no actual evidence. There are however authentic portraits of Lettice Knollys (daughter of Catherine Carey) who was the spitting image of Queen Elizabeth I, and who looked more like Henry VIII than any of his legitimate daughters ever did.

  2. Very interesting. I never really thought too much into the dates of conception as I assumed she simply was not often sexually active with her husband due to various reasons or she simply had fertility issues that might have prevented a normal cycle. Looking back at the times of conception and her relations with the King does open a lot of interesting speculation into the paternity of her children now. Although it would bring more light to Anne being granted ward of her son. After Carey’s death, Anne was in the best position to oversee the child, however, as he had with FitzRoy, he could have simply acknowledged the child and been able to ensure the child’s safety and growth in that way.

    Having his fiancee take wardship of what could possibly be his children, might seem like a slap in the face to her after the marriage and the struggles to give birth to a son. Would Anne, knowing that this child was her husband’s son by her own sister have been as willing to do this?

  3. I have always been drawn to Mary Boleyn, and of course Anne and George, but besides Anne my main draw has been to Mary. I wish we knew more about her and Sarah has raised some really good points. Perhaps Mary was taking contraception, or William was infertile.

    She makes a good point that during her affair with Henry, Henry would’ve wanted her to be his completely that doesn’t mean that Mary didn’t know how to discreetly sleep with her own husband at the same time. It is very possible that the pressure for the young couple to produce a child took an effect on the length of time it took Mary to conceive Catherine. However there is also the appearance of Mary’s grandchild, Lettice Knollys (Catherine’s daughter) whose been described as younger version of Elizabeth I, and as she stated it was commented on how Henry Carey looked like Henry VIII. If they were his though, I would think that Henry would’ve at least reconized Henry if not Catherine – seeing as how Henry would’ve been proof (at least by his and the courts standards) that he was not incapeable of bearing sons.

    Anyways. I should stop before I write a short novel here. A great article, Sarah enjoyed reading this!


  4. Great article … although I am not fully convinced that Mary Boleyn was married during her time as Henry VIII’s mistress. Most, if not all, of the known women that Henry chased were single — Bessie Blount (married off after Henry tired of her) and Madge Shelton, as well as those that Henry eventually married (Anne, Jane and Katherine Howard).

    1. Interesting theory, Esther. I often wonder why Mary is assumed to be the one Henry was smitten with in 1522 when the only evidence we have of their relationship is the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Anne on the grounds of consanguinity, and that’s only according to Chapuys I think. It could actually have been a one night stand and I’m not sure what Sarah believes, but I don’t believe that the Careys were Henry’s children.

    2. Hello Esther,
      My views are the same as your’s in that I think the affair may very well have been a brief fling prior to Mary’s marriage. Like Claire, I don’t think either of the Carey children are Henry’s.

    3. I wonder if maybe Mary was not married at the time that he started to seek her out, and later after she was married tried again. She was a noble woman which would have created a greater scandal if she were to fall pregnant before being married, and also at that time virginity was a big thing so if she were to be found a non virgin when she did marry that would have also ruined her reputation. Maybe after the king saw that she could not conceive with her husband he took a renewed interest in her because the king knew no one would suspect him of having conceived with Mary because she was married. I find the dates of his grants and titles and such falling around the time of the births interesting. I am not sure I want to totally say yes he was the father based on the flimsy evidence but theirs just as flimsy evidence for the argument that they are William Carey’s too in my opinion.

    1. We’ll just never know. I know some people use Carey’s grants as evidence but then Carey was related to the King, he was a member of his privy chamber and was a favourite so we’d expect him to be rewarded for service to the King. When Henry VIII was challenged about his alleged affairs with Mary Boleyn and Elizabeth Boleyn, he commented “never with the mother”, so he probably did have a fling with Mary, but it was probably just that, a fling.

      1. and yet Henry VIII was quoted shortly after the birth of Elizabeth as saying “I married the wrong sister”

  5. I have always believed that both Catherine and Henry where Henry VIII’s children. However assuming William was infertile for some reason (i.e childhood disease such as small pox), and it may have been an unspoken secret at court, Henry VIII may have chosen not to acknowledge the children to protect a friend from the shame of being cuckholded (even by the King) and to make sure the the children were safe. Even bastards were used in uprisings against the King or as political tools to cement relationships. I find it telling that Henry Carey chose to never marry because of the rumors that he was Henry VIII’s son, believing any son he had could be considered a threat to the throne.

        1. I like to think his eldest son was named after his wonderfully, and of course completely perfect uncle! Why else name his eldest son George with all the connotations that name held. I think it’s proof that Henry Carey knew his aunt and uncle were innocent. Or perhaps I’m just an old romantic at heart!

  6. Didn’t they believe the son she had was Henry’s too? I might of read into that wrong due to me reading off my tiny iPhone screen!
    I think Mary might of loved Henry and she didn’t think of the “Anne” plan in making Henry wait etc.
    What was her and Anne’s real relationship like? Does anyone know, or was their a record of it anywhere like documents etc?
    Was Mary really older than Anne and George?
    When Mary secretly married her second husband did that really get her sorta exiled from her family? The reason I’m even asking again is because you suggest that the king had possible slow swimmers

    1. All evidence suggest that Mary was older than George and Anne. Most people believe that Mary was the oldest, Anne was second and George was the youngest.

      When Mary married William Stafford, she was indeed banished from court and rejected by her family. It was a logical reaction though – Anne was queen at the time and it was an offense to her authority, when the queen’s sister married without asking permission. There are many people challenging Anne’s rule, and Mary acting without taking in consideration Anne’s opinion was what sealed Mary’s fate at the time. She was banished and there is no evidence that the siblings ever reconciled (George and Anne were executed the year after). Even if they met again before their death, there is just no record of it.

      We don’t know much about Mary and Henry VIII’s relationship (as Claire pointed out before), but judging from the way that Mary followed her heart, disregarding all else (money, station, royalty), we can assume that she probably had feelings for the king for the brief (or long) time they were lovers.

      1. Sorry, George and Anne were not executed the year after, but two years after (Mary and WIlliam Stafford married in 1534).

    2. Kara,My dauthers name is Kara to good name! Heres how I heard about Mary,yes she did love the King and I do belive she had his son.Anne and her were close as sisters are, they were friends.Mary was the oldest of the sibblings.Lets not forget there father used his children for gaine titles land ect .Mary was used first,when Anne returned from the French court and caught Henrys eye,Mary was pushed aside by her father,againfor more gaine and to keep the King happy. Everyone wanted to keep this King happy or else we all no whats happens.Henry as you say really did’nt have a proplem sirering children, just males. I think it was in the gene pool as the females lived for the most part long lifes and healthy. Regards Baroness Von Reis

  7. I have always believed Mary and Henry’s relationship was shortlived. I believe Henry would have claimed her children as his, this would have proved his prowess as a man, and proved the fault lay with his wives for not producing healthy children. He was too vain not too. I have been interested in Anne and Elizabeth since I read Anne Boleyn (Evelyn Anthony 1957) Elizabeth the Great (Elizabeth Jenkins 1958) both books I ready when they were printed and still own. I have devoured everything I could since then for 55 years. There really is so little known and that is why I love your website and your book The Anne Boleyn Collection. Its nice to know so many people feel the same as I do and I have gained more info and insite from you posts then many of the books printed since except for Ives of course. Thank you

  8. This is really interesting. Does anyone else wonder just how they could have possibly determined WHO the father was in those days if a woman was known to be with two men? I believe that this was a very rare situation, given that adultery by women in the noble class was punishable by death for the very reason of inheritance issues. So; if we think about it, Mary would have been in an extremely rare situation! Given that most of Henry’s other mistresses were unmarried, and we at least know that Blount was unmarried and hence her child was not in question.

    I wonder what sort of way they would determine who the father was? Were they well aware of the nine months term or did they believe it was less (due to not finding out for several weeks at least?)? Does anyone know?

    Perhaps the parenthood was in question and Henry thought it too risky to formally acknowledge them (or just Henry)? Is it a coincidence that he’s named Henry? Perhaps Henry the infant looked nothing like H8 and H8 believed him Carey’s. Later when the resemblance was much greater, Henry wavered as he still had Mary, Blount’s son, and maybe by then even Elizabeth, hope of more children with Anne, and eventually, Edward? And hence he avoided formal acknowledgement as he had children, and of course would have hated Henry Carey Jr to have been open to challenge from Plantagenet’s and Stewarts! But he treated them as his own and hence Elizabeth was very close to them?

    1. There was, of course, no way for a man to know if he was truly the father of a child. He had no choice but to rely on 1. the woman’s word that he was, and 2. a resemblance between himself and the child.

      May I suggest that Henry did not recognize Mary’s children as his own for any combination of these reasons: Mary denied they were his or Mary herself was not sure whether Henry or her husband had sired them; Catherine Carey did resemble the king–the one known painting of her shows her to plausibly be a Tudor–but Catherine was female and therefore was of little use to Henry; Henry Carey, who’s earliest portrait shows him looking much more like a Boleyn, was not enough like the king to persuade the king that he was his own. And by that time, it is likely that Henry VIII was becoming smitten with Mary’s sister and considering abandoning his long suffering wife to seek a woman who could give him a legitimate heir.

      I also suggest that Henry Fitzroy bore such a strong resemblance to Henry VIII that there was no denying his parentage and Henry thought that the boy could be his ace-in-hole as an heir, especially if Princess Mary did not survive childhood or was married off to an overseas prince.

    2. This is my thought Mary was married at the time she conseved Henrys son Carey,as I heard she was unhappy with her husband,and to gaine titles money ect: her father sent Mary to the King ,so she would bed with him as he did take care of his bastards and the mothers of them very well also the family with wealth and titles. Carey was aslo to succed Elizabeth after her death.It’s hard to say how many childeren he sired out of wedlock and I think chastity belt were common,but they were smarter then we think,I had 2 childeren and no exactly the day they were conseved my son was on Thanksgiving Day they are 10 years apart on the 27th hows that for knowing your when your fertile When ANNE returned from the French court Mary was already with child,this really upset Anne as she wasnot going to follow in her sisters foot steps and I can say I would feel the same way. Regards Baroness Von Reis

  9. IIt’s a situation that can result in a lot of speculation. Claire is right. We will probably never know what the truth is. But isn’t it fun to speculate!

  10. Also; I wonder Claire, if there is any possibility in the future to find out for sure? Henry’s remains would still possibly contain some DNA…I know this is unlikely to happen anytime soon as there is no movement to do so and to disturb remains of a King is controversial (indeed to do so of any historical figure).

    The current royal family would have DNA from Catherine and Henry Carey. There is plenty of direct descendants to compare samples on. I’m not 100% certain of the scientific possibility here but fairly sure it’s possible.

    1. I think it would be great if a DNA study could be done in the future. The biggest roadblock would be to find a living male that was a direct male descendant of Henry Carey to compare with Henry’s DNA. Unfortunately with Catharine Carey, Henry would not have passed his Y-DNA to her, and she would only pass her MT-DNA to her female off-spring. But it would be wonderful if we could locate a direct male line to compare.

      1. Thanks! You are a bit more knowledgeable on the topic than me! I would think there would be a direct male line from Henry to today, although of course it would take a lot of digging! Wouldn’t it just be great to know the truth once and for all? We could date the affair between Mary and Henry and it would re write the history books! I’m on the side that thinks Henry is H8’s child. After all we have the contemporary account that gossip said he was and that he bore a striking resemblance.

  11. Great article! I think it is entirely possible that Wm Carrey was sterile as there were no pregnancies or babies that we know of—I suppose there could have been early miscarriages but Mary obviously had not trouble with the two she did have. So, I’m thinking Henry might have helped out a bit. I think it’s entirley possible that he was Catherine’s father. Not so sure about the possibility of his being Henry’s father due to the time of birth. It would be so cool to know what these relationships were really like–Mary and Anne, Mary and Carey and Mary and Henry! Oh, to have been a fly on the wall

  12. I have always thought that Mary’s to children were Henry’s as well. I also think that the resson Bessie Blount’s son, was named the Duke of Richmond, and that Mary’s children were not given any title, as Henry did not want anyone to even guess that Mary’s children were his. It is telling thought, that Mary’s youngest son was named Henry. As for her fertility, I can only think that her husband, William, was infertile (and if not, must have tried to conceive when Mary was not fertile, as I wonder if any at that time new where and when a woman’s fertile period was, and if relations were soemething that a couple was the only time it was all right to have relations in the biblical sense, then they must have had it often, and lucked out during the woman’s fertile perid. As for the first four years with Mary’s husband is that her being mistriess to Henry began a lot sooner than we think. I have also read that Mary and her husband did not get along very well. This could have been part of the picture. As for Elizabeth naming Henry Carey to a high office during the early part of her reign had a lot to do with Anne, as she didn’t like to discuss her mother, as she beiieved her office as Queen was due to her father and her descndancy to him. As for the last years of Mary’s marriage to her husband, was that he simply might not have wanted to anything with her, and that they didn’t get along with which to begin.

    Just a few thoughts, and Henry, I don’t think had a problem with impregnating women, and who knows how many others were born of which we have no idea. The Duke of Richmond was a safe thing to do’ Mary’s children were not. Thank you! WilesWales

    1. WilesWales:

      Why do you think it was not safe for Henry to acknowledge Mary Boleyn’s son as his (assuming that Henry thought the boy was his)? I would think it would be very safe, especially after Anne’s execution, or at least, after Richmond’s death. According to Chapuys’s dispatches during June and July of 1536, he mentions that the council said that they were not reinstating Mary in the succession because, since all of Henry’s children were equally illegitimate, the son was preferred. This would provide support if Henry decided to acknowledge another illegitimate son … at least until he had a legitmate son. Furthermore, Henry could always blame the delay in acknowledging on Anne’s “witchcraft”.

      1. My apologies for not answering sooner, as a lot has been going on, etc. The one thing I can tell you about all this is callled Henry VIII’s “Act of Succession,” and William Cecil was in each of the those named (first Edward VI, Mary, Elizabeth). On “The Lives of the Kings and Queens of Englans,” Fraser, Antonia, ed., pgs. 198, 201, “The Act of Sucession had settled the Crown in turn on Edward, Mary, and Elizabeth and although Henry had connfiirmed this in his will, he went on to provide for a remote possibilty of all three of his children, daying childless, in whiich case the Crown should descend to the heirs of his younger sister Mary (the Suffolk LIne) instead of the heirs of his older sister Margaret, who married James IV of Scotland in 1503, (the Stuart Line).”

        Now according to “The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn,” Ives, Eric, pg. X, “The Royal Houses of Europe,” this is how on the Suffolk Line Lady Jane Grey got involved, we know what happened to her, poor thing, and the we have Mary Queen of Scots, granddaugther of Margaret claiming her right as a Roman Catholic (the Stuart linea) trying various plots and culimnating into the Babbinnton Plot, finally got her executed in 1587. Thus leaving Elizabeth on her deathbed by a hand signal, naming Mary’s son, as he was Protestant (the Stuart Line), James VI of Scotland and thus James I of England and uniting the two countries.

        The Act of Succession was followed and looked at very closely and guardingly, Sir William Cecil, and also a lawyer, to be followed to the max withoug any variations whatsoever.

        So Ann’es delay concerning “witchcraft” had no place by in 1547 when Henry VIII died (as Anne was executed [and innocently so; and I will defend her to the end of my life]) in 5136, it didn’t really matter as in Frasiers work, on pg. 198, that Henry had mellowed by the end of his life 11 years later.

        This also further explains why Elizabeth name Henry Carey to a high office (he died in 1496, and Elizabeth in early March 1603), as he was in no way included in the “Act of Succession.” Heny had it all set out, and followed to the tee even with James. Thank you! WilesWales

      2. I know you asked someone else but here’s my 2 cents.
        If any of Mary’s children belonged to Henry vlll the reason
        for not acknowledging them was because he was married to
        Anne Boleyn . Remember his reasoning in divorcing
        Catherine of Aragon. She had been married to his
        brother . It would be seen as hypocrisy.
        I’m not saying any of Mary’s kids were Henry’s but…

    2. WilesWales, Hello again I do agee with your findings as Mary was with child after Anne returned from the French Court . Henry was already in the chase for the young Anne,so Mary was pushed aside and warned to cause no problems by her father as these children were his gravey train.Mary also was very much in love with the King as I am sure many others were aswell.Marys son was not given title as the King wanted to get rid of most or all of the Boleyns and did a good job doing so.Also the King had no problem sirering children just the males,we talk about DNA.When Elizabeth took the Crown,her sisters son Henry Carey was name as a successer to the Crown as she never had a child,so the next best thing was her sister Marys son by the King her father.Baroness Von Reis

      1. I apologize again. I believe I explained this above, and I hope that answers your reply as well. Thank you! WilesWales

        1. Hello WilesWales:

          I’m afraid that the Act of Succession really doesn’t address my question … which is why Henry VIII did not acknowledge Henry Carey (if Carey was his son) at any time during the year or so between Richmond’s death (summer of 1536) and Edward’s birth (autumn of 1537). Henry VIII would have had the support of his council in including a bastard son in the succession prior to Edward’s birth, as shown by Chapuys’s dispatches explaining why Mary wasn’t reinstated immediately, and his failure to do so meant that if anything happened to Henry prior to Edward’s birth, there would probably be a civil war. It seems to me that this threat of civil war meant that Henry VIII had everything to lose from not acknowledging Henry Carey during this one year period … so I am wondering what, if anything, he could have gained from not doing so. I can only conclude that Henry VIII, at least at this time (1536-1537) thought that Henry Carey was not his son.

          Also, that Henry Carey was not mentioned in the Act of Succession would not have helped him with Elizabeth, IMO. That Act specifically barred all of Margaret’s descendants … not only Mary queen of Scots, but also her son James, from the crown … and that didn’t stop plots to put the Stuarts on the English throne (including Elizabeth’s own steps that eventually put James in that place). So, I don’t think Elizabeth would have relied upon it to protect her crown. She knew that many thought that she was illegitimate … and as between bastards, there were still many, like the Council in 1536, who would prefer a male one to the female.

        2. Thank you for bring this back ot my attention, Baroness!!!! I think I found it, and I must apologize again for my misunderstanding your question and being rude, and correct in one reply, but not to yours.

          In Ives, Eric, “The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, ” pg. 354, “Henry was determined not to admist legitimacy to of his elder daughter Mary. Bastarddizing the younger as well would leave him no legitimate children and a serious casse could be made for made for the only boy, the duke of Richmod, as heir presumptive. Of course, Henry hoped for a son by Jane Seymour, but he would not bank on it as with Anne. This line of thinking explains the provisions of the Succession Act of 1536. The switched the legtimate line of Ellizabeth to the offspring of Henry and Jane and future wives, but it also provided that if Henry had no legitmate heirs, then he could by letters patent or his last will declare who the next ruler would be. Richmond, therefore, could be held in reserve should Jane fail to produce thee heir, sans reproche. In the however, all this went for nothing, and four days after the Succession Act became law, he was dead (footnote: 72 ‘There is no evidendence of any lengthy illness, but on 8 July wsa reported by Chapuys to be seriously ill. Hed died 23 July. Murphy, “Bastard Prince,” pp. 174-5; Loach, “Edward VI,”: P. 160.'”

          This does not answer your question yet, but leaves the question unanwered, but answered, and/or both. There was an Act of Sucession in 1534 proclaiming Elizabeth heir, but the above she and Mary would remain bastards. The there was the last Act of Succession as explained above. From May 1536 on, Elizabeth was to remain a bastard for the rest of her life. So naming Henry Carey as heir presumptive with the above as kind of a precedent, and being he nephew of the bastard Elizabeth would have been unlikely , he most probably clinched his teeth until Edward was born. That is the only thing I can figure out. You’re also right as Edward VI was born 12 October 1537. So there was that gap between July and October, an almost solid four montths.

          I do know and have read that Mary I did legitimize herself herself with the blessing of Rome. Elizabeth, I have read almost everywhere, never tried to have herself legitimized as it would have brought into question, much more than it already did, her right under the final Act of Succesion, her right to the throne. She was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church in 1570, and she really didn’t care. But by the time of Elizabeth’s death, there were no more in the Act of Succession, so she was able to choose whoever she wanted and would best ruled by James I of England and James VI of Scotland. So Margaret’s part being barred was null and void easily by that time. Elizabeth never thougth she would be Queen in the beginning anyway. Elizabeth was always aware of plots to take her crown, and Sir Walter was lucky he was not in the Tower, after his unmentioned and never looked into, wife died under mysterrious circumstances, himself.

          Oh, yes, there were many, many plots against Elizabeth, and the one of the first was when the Scots invaded shortly after she took reign. Mary, Queen of Scots certainly had her fair shares of plots not only when she was imprisoned for 19 years, but the before that as well. The Babbington Plot of 1587, did her in. That’s what brought the great Spanish Armada in 1588, and England was vastly utnumbered, but they overtook the Armada was left in ruins.

          So in conclusion, Elizabeth could name any successor she wanted as Henry Carey died in 1596, Henry by what I can tell (as Elizabeth was a bastard for almost all her life, in essence, so he couldn’t have made Henry Carey his succesor at that time), and we really don’t know how many/if any bastards he had in those four months in 1547. The Stuarts, yes, finally came to rule, but it was Elizabeth’s choice, and no one elses, as by the winning of the Armada, she was considered by all of Europe, and had shown them she could handle them, recognized as the true and only Queen of England, and thank God for it! Thank you, WilesWales!

    1. In the olden, pre-decimal currency days, you’ll see “£”, an abbreviation for Pound, “s”, an abbreviation for Shilling, and ‘d’, an abbreviation for Pence — Pennies if you’re an American. The “d’, I believe, came from the Roman “denarius,” the smallest unit of Roman currency.

      Twelve pence to a shilling, twenty shillings to a pound. All of it worth much more than the amount suggests to our modern minds. I can’t recall it offhand, but there are a couple of websites where you can convert a historical amount of money to its modern equivalent, complete with inflation.

      This amount is six shillings and 8 pence.

      1. You beat me to it, Ann! In letters and papers I’ve seen pound abbreviated to “l” which I assume is short for “livre”. I know that Alison Weir has mentioned a website for converting Tudor money to modern day equivalents – but I’ve never looked into it.

        1. According to the National Archives Currency Converter, six shillings and eight pence of 1520 has the equivalent buying power of roughly £125 today, although when you actually come to look at ‘buying power’ it is much more complicated to make comparisons, especially with property. A rather ordinary house I had built for £4000 in the 1970’s (when I was VERY young) recently sold for £200,000, which is typical of the dangerously inflated property prices in the UK at the moment, and I don’t live in an ‘expensive’ part of the country! So comparisons with hundreds of years ago are difficult.
          I suppose the best comparisons would be with contemporary wages – how did the 6/8d compare with Carey’s wage? Even then, taking into consideration all the perks he would be getting that went with the job, it’s hard to compare.

  13. yes, Alison Weir mentions some website in her book about Katherine Swynford, which i am reading now at least for the third time. Well, it covers period mostly from 1350 till 1400, but it is a great example. Duchy of Lancaster was as worthy as a year budget of small european country….did i say it right? Like if i would have billions to spend for my personal use or owning billions in properties, loans, jewels, horses, clothes etc. Something i cant and dont want imagine. What i would do with all that money?:D

  14. I find it kind of funny that everyone comments on Henry Carey looking like the king, but never on Catherine Carey. If you look at her portrait, she looks like a replica of Elizabeth. And it was said very often during Elizabeth’s lifetime that she looked so very much like her father. Not to mention the outrageous red hair she had. I realize that as cousins they may look similar, but I don’t think they would look that much alike. Plus it’s highly unlikely that Mary had red hair like that. So unless William Carey was a ginger, I would be very curious where that red hair came from, LOL.

    1. Actually Catherine Carey had auburn hair (the kind of hair it is reported Mary Boleyn had).
      It was Catherine Carey’s daughter, Lettice Knollys, who looked like a replica of Elizabeth I, she even had the same “flaming” red hair.


      Elizabeth I:

      Lettice Knollys:

  15. Hello everyone! I have just stumbled on this website! I have spent two days reading the posts. It is a wonderful place. I have always been fascinated by the Tudors and could never find anything like this. Thank you Clare for creating this wonderful source and sharing with us your Expertise! I feel like I have found a treasure cave!!!
    Now, if you please, allow me to add my two cents as to Lettice Knollys red hair, could it not be a wig? Upon seeing her portrait, I had the distinct impression that Lettice wanted to look like a queen. Lettice married Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, favorite of Elizabeth I. The Queen banished her forever from court for this. She angered the Queen just by being alive. I think that she purposely made herself look like the queen or try to flatter her, but given their life enduring feud over the Earl of Leicester, I speculate that Lettice tried to look Regal and anger the Queen. I believe that Lettice enjoyed needling Elizabeth and Elizabeth enjoyed humbling Lettice.
    There is another portrait posted on ‘Allthingsrobertdudley’ where her hair is not so red, in fact, it looks blonde to me:
    It is striking to me how much Lettice resembles Anne Boleyn’s features. To me, the Boleyn resemblance is stronger than the Tudor one. I know that some might say the hair is in fact red. But to me, it is in the blonde family, and it does not match her ‘official’ fiery red hair.
    Another reason made me think this is a wig. Lettice was in her thirties, although considered young now days, back then, she would have been considered old, and she might have been trying to cover grey hairs or bolding, as this other portrait shows her with a receding line in later years. I have no basis for this, only my opinion. Also, in this portrait, she looks a lot like Elizabeth, it was posted in this site that Elizabeth resembled more Ann than Henry, in her older years. Then, in my opinion, Lettice is not Henry’s descendant.
    Thank you for allowing me to submit my comment. I hope I have credited everyone and not shown my abysmal knowledge. I love the fact that this place exists for us and look forward to reading more posts.

    1. Welcome to the AB site Maivel, great to have another History Buff. Dudley was as he said inlove with Elizabeth but he also was married,that would anger any women.He is was very LUCKY she did’nt axe his head off aswell when she found out he was married. Has far as Lettice maybe she wanted to look like Elizabeth to spite her as Dudley loved Elizabeth so much,so maybe she did wear a wig although wigs were common back in that time.Annes hair was a dark Abrun ,not black may have been why Elizabeth had red hair and to Henrys hair had a tinch of red hilights to it as well. But Elizabeth shaved her hair and did wear a wig,she also had some hair lose as a child due to an Illness. But Lattice was not Henrys child as for her hair,I have blonde hair and it does have red tint to it that goes back to my family tree. Also I can’t blame the Queen to banish Dudley and Lettice from court Dudley was a trader and should have been put to death his father was also . Kind Regards Baroness Von Reis

    1. Hello Baroness Von Reis. Thank you for your warm welcome. Do not worry about the misspelling; I get so many different spellings of my name, I assure you, yours is a minor one! 🙂

  16. Another great instalment on Mary, and I think Sarah covered all the options well. Considering there is little concrete evidence on the lady, I think you are painting a very good picture of her Sarah.
    Right from the start of my addiction to Henry and his wives, until a few years ago, I had always believed that Mary 1st child was a boy, and the kings, and any children after were her husbands. As time went by this was changed to 2 children, the 2nd one being the girl. Its great as time goes by, and we have more people ‘investigating’, that we start getting a more truthful picture, even though some of it is based on supposition it is better reseached and seems more feasible than some of the ‘history’ written at earlier times. Thank goodness for people like Claire and Sarah.
    As for Henrys view on Marys children being his, we are no closer to that answer than before, how frustrating!! Maybe he was ‘sitting on the fence’ about this, and maybe,just maybe while he thought he was still in with a chance of fathering a legitamate son that bringing Marys children in to the line of succession would over complicate matters, so when Jane gave birth to Edward, his problem was solved. But, I wonder, if no male heir had been produced by the 4 wives after Anne, he may have recognised Henry Carey,and possibly his sister too, as a back up plan, too off the mark do you think, with Henrys changable mind maybe not…

  17. Hello, Adrienne Dillard

    You mentioned that you thought cousins would not look like twins. A lot of people have asked if my cousin is my twin (our mothers are sisters). She looks more like me than my sister. So it is possible for cousins to look very much alike.

    That said – I do believe that Catherine was Henry 8 daughter.

  18. One thing I’d like to say: is it possible that H8 never claimed the Carey children because Mary was married? Look at how suspicious people were of Elizabeth’s claim because of the ruling that Anne had had affairs, and Henry never accused Elizabeth of not being his. I’m sure that had he tried claiming the Careys, when they already legally had a father, it would have just created one huge mess. Also, what were the laws back then? Here in the USA, a lot of the time if you are married to a woman who bears a child, that child is legally yours no matter what. I can’t imagine that the laws would be more flexible than that in H8’s time. So what if it was a matter of H8 COULDN’T claim the Careys?

  19. I guess we will never know but if william carey was related to henry i have seen a portrait of william he did have the same type of head that henry had and might have had the gene for red hair and he married a woman whos sister had aubern hair the kiddies might have been his young henry did look like a boleyn it has been in the press that Prince William is a descendant of catherine carey maybe he would like to find out too

  20. I have recently done much in the way of my family tree and was shocked that I am the very great granddaughter of Mary Boleyn! Reading these posts has given me some insight about possibilities regarding who the father was for Catherine and Henry. Yes, Mary named her boy HENRY, not Thomas, William, or any other male descendent’s name! I come from Catherine Carey and the reddish hair is striking in my grandmother,Lettice. She favours Elizabeth 1 a lot! But, I never gave it a thought that she may have worn a wig. From Lettice Knollys and Walter Devereaux, comes Penelope Devereaux and Sir Charles Blount. The name Blount is associated with Elizabeth “Bessie” Blount. I’m thinking she is related in Some way to me. The more I read, the more I will discover! Thanks for the article and everyone’s comments!!

  21. Nice post. I learn something new and challenging on websites I stumbleupon every day.

    It will always be exciting to read through articles from other authors and use a little something from other sites.

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