Posted By Claire on July 19, 2016
As I’ve said many times before, Mary Boleyn is a bit of a mystery. The late historian and Anne Boleyn expert Eric Ives once said to me that what we know about Mary Boleyn could be “written on a postcard with room to spare”, the rest is supposition. We don’t know when she was born, what she looked like, when she slept with King Henry VIII and for how long, where she was at the fall of her siblings in 1536, what happened to the baby she was carrying in 1534, where she died, where she was buried… So many unanswered questions. It’s frustrating.
But one thing that does give us an insight into the person Mary was is a letter she wrote to Thomas Cromwell following her banishment from court after her secret marriage to her second husband, William Stafford. Mary was desperate for Cromwell to intercede with the King and Queen on her behalf, but she shows no regret for marrying Stafford, a man she clearly loves. It is a moving letter, don’t you think?
After my poor recommendations, which is smally to be regarded of me, that am a poor banished creature, this shall be to desire you to be good to my poor husband and to me. I am sure it is not unknown to you the high displeasure that both he and I have, both of the king’s highness and the queen’s grace, by reason of our marriage without their knowledge, wherein we both do yield ourselves faulty, and do acknowledge that we did not well to be so hasty nor so bold, without their knowledge. But one thing, good master secretary, consider, that he was young, and love overcame reason; and for my part I saw so much honesty in him, that I loved him as well as he did me, and was in bondage, and glad I was to be at liberty: so that, for my part, I saw that all the world did set so little by me, and he so much, that I thought I could take no better way but to take him and to forsake all other ways, and live a poor, honest life with him. And so I do put no doubts but we should, if we might once be so happy to recover the king’s gracious favour and the queen’s. For well I might have had a greater man of birth and a higher, but I assure you I could never have had one that should have loved me so well, nor a more honest man; and besides that, he is both come of an ancient stock, and again as meet (if it was his grace’s pleasure) to do the king service, as any young gentleman in his court.
Therefore, good master secretary, this shall be my suit to you, that, for the love that well I know you do bear to all my blood, though, for my part, I have not deserved it but smally, by reason of my vile conditions, as to put my husband to the king’s grace that he may do his duty as all other gentlemen do. And, good master secretary, sue for us to the king’s highness, and beseech his highness, which ever was wont to take pity, to have pity on us; and that it will please his grace of his goodness to speak to the queen’s grace for us; for, so far as I can perceive, her grace is so highly displeased with us both that, without the king be so good lord to us as to withdraw his rigour and sue for us, we are never like to recover her grace’s favour: which is too heavy to bear. And seeing there is no remedy, for God’s sake help us; for we have been now a quarter of a year married, I thank God, and too late now to
call that again; wherefore it is the more almones (alms) to help. But if I were at my liberty and might choose, I ensure you, master secretary, for my little time, I have tried so much honesty to be in him, that I had rather beg my bread with him than to be the greatest queen in Christendom. And I believe verily he is in the same case with me; for I believe verily he would not forsake me to be a king.
Therefore, good master secretary, seeing we are so well together and does intend to live so honest a life, though it be but poor, show part of your goodness to us as well as you do to all the world besides; for I promise you, you have the name to help all them that hath need, and amongst all your suitors I dare be bold to say that you have no matter more to be pitied than ours; and therefore, for God’s sake, be good to us, for in you is all our trust.
And I beseech you, good master secretary, pray my lord my father and my lady to be so good to us, and to let me have their blessings and my husband their good will; and I will never desire more of them. Also, I pray you, desire my lord of Norfolk and my lord my brother to be good to us. I dare not write to them, they are so cruel against us; but
if, with any pain that I could take with my life, I might win their good wills, I promise you there is no child living would venture more than I. And so I pray you to report by me, and you shall find my writing true, and in all points which I may please them in I shall be ready to obey them nearest my husband, whom I am most bound to; to whom I most heartily beseech you to be good unto, which, for my sake, is a poor banished man for an honest and a godly cause. And seeing that I have read in old books that some, for as just causes, have by kings and queens been pardoned by the suit of good folks, I trust it shall be our chance, through your good help, to come to the same; as knoweth the (Lord) God, who send you health and heart’s ease. Scribbled with her ill hand, who is your poor, humble suitor, always to command,
To the right worshipful and my singular good
friend, Master Secretary to the king’s highness,
this be delivered.”
Notes and Sources
- ed. Wood, Mary Anne Everett (1846) Letters of royal and illustrious ladies of Great Britain, from the commencement of the twelfth century to the close of the reign of Queen Mary, Volume II, Henry Colburn, p. 193-197.