Prince William, Kate Middleton and Mary Boleyn

Prince William

An article in today’s Daily Mail, entitled “Wills and Kate, kissing cousins! How the Royal lovebirds are related thanks to a Tudor tyrant so bloodthirsty he’s been airbrushed from history” announces the “dark and deliciously murky secret”, the royal skeleton in the closet, that not only are Prince William and his girlfriend, Kate Middleton, distantly related (12th cousins once removed), but that they are descended from “a murderous despot whose bloody deeds have been deliberately forgotten by history” – Sir Thomas Leighton.

Sir Thomas Leighton was a soldier and the Governor of Guernsey during the reign of Elizabeth I and, according to the Daily Mail, was “a despot and a dictator” who “brooked no argument and made life hell for those he ruled.” In fact, “so hated was Leighton, that on his death in 1610, the official report on his demise was defaced by angry Guernsey residents. And uniquely for such an important figure in the Elizabethan court – his wife was the Queen’s cousin – no portrait of him survives. All were destroyed or lost.”

The article goes on to give a rundown of Leighton and his “reign of terror”, which began in Guernsey in 1570, and it is interesting that Leighton sailed from Guernsey to England in 1587 to advise Sir Walter Raleigh on a defence strategy to keep England safe from the Spanish Armada and that he was rewarded with a knighthood and the hand of Elizabeth Knollys in marriage, but the Elizabeth Knollys connection is far more interesting to me. The article says of Elizabeth:-

“Elizabeth Knollys had important connections: not only was she a cousin of the Queen, but also a relation of Anne Boleyn, second wife of King Henry VIII. In her Tudor ruff, she rather resembled an early Kate Middleton, and soon became Sir Thomas Leighton’s most valuable conquest, on or off the battlefield.”

Elizabeth Knollys

Yes, she was a relative of the Queen and of Anne Boleyn because she was the granddaughter of Mary Boleyn, Henry VIII’s famous mistress and the sister of Anne Boleyn. Elizabeth Knollys was the daughter of Sir Francis Knollys and Catherine Carey, daughter of Mary Boleyn and her first husband, William Carey. Isn’t it more interesting to link Wills and Kate to a royal mistress? I think so, particularly when some people think that Catherine Carey and her brother Henry were actually Henry VIII’s illegitimate children.

Obviously there is no conclusive evidence that Catherine Carey was the King’s daughter, but she was born in 1524, during the time when Mary Boleyn was Henry’s mistress. Henry VIII did not acknowledge either her or her younger brother, Henry, as his children, but then he had no need – Catherine was just a girl (and he had one of those already), he already had an illegitimate son that he had recognised (Henry Fitzroy) and Mary was married to William Carey, a gentleman of the Privy Chamber, and so the child could be passed off as his. We’ll just never know for sure, all we can do is hypothesise.

Anyway, I will be writing more about Mary Boleyn later this week, as part of our series on the Boleyn family, but I just thought that the link to Mary Boleyn was more of a skeleton in the “royal closet” than linking Wills and Kate to an Elizabethan dictator.

Update: Unfortunately, experts have now disproved this link between Kate and Mary Boleyn, see

Notes and Sources

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42 thoughts on “Prince William, Kate Middleton and Mary Boleyn”
  1. As far as Mary Boleyn’s relationship with Henry is concerned I tend to hedge my bets. All we know for sure is that the two were involved in a sexual relationship at some stage, and we only know that for certain because it was raised at the time of Henry’s divorce from Anne. It could have lasted for as long as 4 or 5 years, but likewise it could have been a quick fling. There is no actual evidence to say when it started or when it finished or for how long it lasted. As Claire says, it’s all pure speculation. I can’t see that there will ever be any way of knowing for certain and I really hate that. I sometimes daydream that a vast amount of previously lost letters will miraculously be found which will answer all our questions, but I think that’s just wishful thinking!

  2. Over the last couple of years I have been reading a lot about Tudor England and prior.
    Something that strikes me as a bit odd in the case of Catherine Carey actually being Henry VIII’s daughter is this. After all the drama with the Boleyn family, Catherine was a maid to both Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard. I wonder why she would be a maid of honor if she was simply Mary Boleyn’s daughter with Mr. Carey. Why would she even be at court after all that, as she was with her aunt Anne during her imprisonment in the tower and by her side at the execution. Perhaps just the fact that her grandmother was a Howard was enough reason to put her back at court as maid to queens of England? Her mother Mary wasn’t at court with her either, which strikes me as odd that she would even allow her daughter to be there as it was a VERY scary and unstable place after Anne was beheaded. Anyone else have any thoughts on this?

    1. I am a direct descendant to Mary Boleyn through her daughter Catherine. I just recently found this connection while furthering our family history. Your comment does bring up an interesting fact, Why would Henry the king want any of the Boleyn family around court? The Anne of Cleves marriage is interesting, but the fact she served Katherine Howard is the fact they were cousins. If you further the Howard side of Mary Boleyn, it goes back to Henry the 3rd of England. So there is royal blood and standing within the Howard line.

      1. I am also a direct descendant of Mary Boleyn and Catherine Carey. My lines goes from Boleyn to Carey to Knollys to West and then Fox and finally to Collinsworth. In my research I also found that through Catherine’s father William side of the family Catherine is related to Henry VIII. He is a distant cousin.

        1. I am also a direct descendant of Mary Boleyn and Catherine Carey. My lines goes from Boleyn to Carey to Knollys to West and then Fox and finally to Collinsworth. In my research I also found that through Catherine’s father William side of the family Catherine is related to Henry VIII. He is a distant cousin.

        2. I found I too am a descendant of Mary Boleyn and Catherine Carey. My lines goes from Boleyn to Carey to Knollys to West to Fox to Burgess and finally my maternal grandmother married a Higingbottom. Very interesting information.

        3. I am also a direct descendant of Mary Boleyn and Catherine Carey. Mine goes Boleyn to Carey, to Knollys to West to Logsdon and finally Perry.

    2. It makes perfect sense if, in fact, she was murderous Henry’s daughter, and if he felt even some minor guilt at having murdered Anne, or perhaps some twisted nostalgic remembrance of Mary, or a combination thereof.

      That guy was focused on leaving progeny and proving his manhood. Gloating, even if just privately, over yet another child that he fathered would have made him want the girl near him. It would also be a matter of exerting control over her life. The perfect vehicle to accomplish that would be for her to be at court.

      You never know the mind of a twisted man who murders people at whim. They don’t reason in the same manner that the rest of us does.

  3. Hi Louise,
    I agree, it would be wonderful if the Vatican suddenly announced that they also had a load of previously lost/unheard of letters which would clear everything up for us, although I rather enjoy the puzzle solving and the speculation.

  4. Hi Sara,
    In “The Lady in the Tower”, Alison Weir states that although there is a story that the 12 year old Catherine Carey attended Anne in the Tower and was present at her execution, there is no contemporary evidence to support this story. According to Weir, the first time Catherine crops up in the records is as maid-of-honour to Anne of Cleves in 1540. I think Catherine got her post because of her family – Thomas Boleyn survived Anne’s fall and won favour again before his death and also Catherine’s father, William Carey, had been one of Henry VIII’s gentlemen of the Privy Chamber. She was from good stock and, as you say, was also related to the Howards.
    I think Mary must have worried about her daughter, but Mary had been a maid of honour as had her mother before her, it was in the family and it was always an honour to serve the Queen.

  5. Thanks for the information Claire. I would imagine that Anne had a few maids with her in the tower up until the end as she was the queen of England.
    It utterly amazes me that Henry could just have George and Anne executed and go back to favoring Thomas after all that. But that was how it was back then. He did what he wanted and nobody could stop him. The most handsome prince in Christendom turned out to be a dangerous tyrant in the end.
    When I read these things on all his poor wives it makes me so sad to think women of such high nobility were treated so disposable. It is a wonder that Mary Boleyn escaped court with her head in tact!

  6. HIstory is interesting, isn’t it? I Think it would be interesting to go back in time and see how many of us are related to royalty, if not to each other! The Mary Boleyn connection is far more interesting to me as well- it would appear after all this time, the Howard family, who lost both Anne and Katherine, are having the last laugh. =)

  7. I was curious to see if Lettice Knollys was related to Elizabeth Knollys and I found on Wikipedia that they are sisters. Katherine Carey, their mom, had 15 kids with her husband, 13 of them lived into adulthood. Elizabeth I must have been surrounded by all of those Knollys. I’ll bet it would be possible to find someone who might be related to royalty if they had such large families, and if the men had mistresses and they had kids, the odds would definitely increase. Sheena, I think you may be right about Anne and Katherine having the last laugh!

  8. Wow, that’s really interesting.I wonder if the royal family did a genealogy search into her ancestory when the Prince and his fiance started to get serious. And Sheena your right,Katherine and Anne probable are having the last laugh.A lot of people had large families in those days,rich and poor.Some of them even were married more than once, and had children by their other wives as well.So the genes of the noblity and royalty got spread around,and as Lisaannejane says, when you add in any mistresses and their children the odds do increase. A lot of us are probably related to each other and don’t know it, or have royal blood and don’t know it either. I know I’m not related to Anne Boleyn, not unless some relative came from Germany with King George the First, and married into an english family.I’d love to go to Germany and see the family history book my cousins in Nuremberg keep.Maybe some day I’ll get there, just like I’d love to see all the wonderful places in England that Henry and his wives lived at and the beautiful country side.

  9. Unless if William Carey had red hair… I’d say Elizabeth Knollys inherited that red hair in her portrait from a certain someone we all love and hate.

    What I don’t understand, and maybe you can give some insight Claire, is why hasn’t anyone gotten into Henry VIII’s tomb and taken a DNA sample to do testing on yet??
    It’s something that’s always really bothered me. If we were able to go get small samples from all these famous people we hear these controversies about, we could solve a lot of mysteries in our history. I had read an article about how they have this old locket believed to be Mary Tudor’s (I think it was her), and that it has her hair in the inside, but they cannot seem to open the locket to retrieve it without damaging it. And how this caused a ruckus, because people don’t believe you should be desecrating the remains of people. I don’t know if people just think that “a small sample for DNA testing” means they’re gonna break in their grave and throw their bones around… Science is a lot more sophisticated than that, and I’m pretty sure the deceased wouldn’t care.
    Just my opinion though.

  10. Christina, From what I know about DNA, William Carey would not have to have red hair but would have to have the recessive gene for it. I think Anne would have had the recessive gene because it takes genes from the mother and father to have a redhead, and Elizabeth ! was definitely a redhead. Getting a good DNA sample is not always easy and the art conservationists do not want to take any chances with an antique, so I doubt a locket would be opened unless someone comes up with a method of opening it without doing any harm. I know that samples from some famous U.S. outlaws have shown who is related to them from mitichondrial DNA. I suppose digging up remains would take a lot of permits and the cost may be too high for the project to be done. Testing mummies is a lot easier since you do not need permission to dig them up. It would be very interesting to have Tudor DNA samples and you are right that the sample needed would be very small. It would not desecrate the body, but the cost of getting to that body may be too high right now.

  11. The portrait of Elizabeth Knolley’s shows a remarkable resemblence to Lettice Knolley’s, the wife of Robert Dudley. That’s pretty amazing–I think they were sisters and there is definitely a resemblence–i wonder if they look like Mary?? She was supposed to be pretty and they are both attractive. As for Catherine Carey, I think it’s very possible she is Henry’s. But only DNA will tell for sure!

    1. Please remember that back then, since there were no photographs, all they could do was to paint a portrait of the person. Artists were expected to make the subject look more attractive than he was. Any features that could set tongues to wagging or cause criticism were minimized or changed altogether. Therefore, many unattractive royals and nobles look much better in paintings than they did in real life. Consequently, except in a general sense, we don’t really know what any of those people looked like.

  12. I’ve been wondering about those Vatican letters because I’ve been mulling over whether or not Anne ever really loved Henry at all. I would say that she eventually fell in love with him over the years. I mean the man placed his immortal soul in jeopardy by breaking with Rome. It’s kind of romantic!

    Interesting about Elizabeth Knollys. We read so much about Lettice but not about her other siblings.

  13. Very interesting thing. I really think that the relationship between Mary And Henry confused.
    The romance’ it’s not clear enough. It is hard to understand as someone said how could she in the end of history survive
    Why Henry did not considered that child as his son ?
    I really think that is a mistery
    Anyway I could not agree more with the comment.If that is real Anne and Kitty are laughing

  14. If Catherine and Henry Carey were Henry’s children, I think he’d have recognized them. We have to remember he was a man sensitive to his heirs and the succesion-if he had a son he would have recognized him like FitzRoy.

    1. Consider what he did to Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn because they had no sons (in addition to my previous comment)

    2. They were his children. I just posted this below.

      I have a copy of a biography of Henry VIII by Margaret George which contains letters from his Court Fool Will Somers to Catherine Knollys. In a letter dated 21 July 1557, Will states that he has a legacy for Catherine that was left to her by her father and he is worried about how to transport it to her safely because she is living in exile outside of England. He tells her that the legacy is a journal that is extremely valuable and that there are many people who would like to get their hands on it and destroy it. He then goes on to say to her ” There, I have told it all except one last thing. The journal was not written by William Carey, your supposed father, but by your true father, the King.” He then goes on to confirm that both Mary and Elizabeth are her half-sisters. He tells her that Anne Boleyn was so jealous of Mary that she prevented Henry from acknowledging/ claiming her as his offspring. He refers numerous times to Anne as “the Witch”.

  15. FYI – I don’t know where the information is coming from as it has not come from any official book or the palace — those of us who do our research and have been doing it for hundreds of years know that her family is not documented in the peerage books — there is no official proof.. and the whole time they were dating there was NO mention of this and now it just happens to pop up — There is no listed William Davenport (supposed son of Elizabeth Talbot and Henry Davenport) who married a Grace Galloway listed in any of the history books. Burke’s Peerage which is used by official genealogists was published way back before Kate was even born.. like over a century ago.. this is not correct! You can’t mess with history. The book was published in 1847!!

    1. interesting. have checked it on and there is listed only one child of Sherrington Talbot and Jane Lyttelton and that`s John Talbot. Not even a daughter Elizabeth who would marry Henry Davenport, who would be William Davenport`s father…..

  16. Crofts Peerage ALSO does not list this Elizabeth Talbot. The magazine article did not come with any sources and only listed the lineage.. since no one seems to do their research they take the Daily Mail’s word for the truth when in actuality — those two generations DO NOT connect! Now this crap is ALL over the internet with no sources — just that it has been found out.. when if you clearly look at documentation from through out the ages it’s just not there. I have emailed Darryl at the to see what he has to say as he has access to those books.. and the edition he used for Sherrington and Jane was the 2003 edition. Why would people do something like this? The Boleyn and Knollys families have been WELL documented and there has been no mention of this before. You cannot just insert someone who never existed to make someone be related to a historical figure and royals. This just goes beyond anything I have ever seen before. Seriously, at the last minute someone just found that this person was related to the Talbot family? It just doesn’t add up.. no dates, nothing — just a lineage who connects two completely different families and William Davenport who for sure does not come up in ANY researched documentation.

    1. I think that I can throw some light on this problem –
      though not necessarily solve it. In 1914 Francis M Lupton
      (ggg-grandfather of Kate Middleton) published for private
      circulation a book entitled “Descendants of Charles Hobbes
      (1596-1700)”. In it is shown a pedigree from Edward I to “William
      Davenport probably the William of Reading” There is a second chart
      from that William which seems fairly solid to me. The first chart
      has the following comment: “According to a pamphlet “William
      Davenport of Reading and his descendants” printed 1890 for private
      circulation by Rev James Davenport of Wichenford, Henry Davenport
      who was directly descended from Edward I (see pedigree opposite)
      was great great grandfather of Elizabeth Davenp[ort Ashford wife of
      Robert Hobbes. Her uncle Dr Davenport Vicar of Stratford on Avon
      claimed that his grandfather William Davenport of Reading was the
      youngest son of the above named Henry Davenport and gave reasons
      which can be found in the Rev James Davenport’s pamphlet.” I have
      not seen that pamphlet. The Davenport part of that pedigree starts
      with Sir Ralph Davenport temp Henry VIII and continues to William
      who married Jane Bromley in 1602, whose son Henry married Lettice
      Maddocks. Their son also Henry married Elizabeth Talbot 1665. They
      had at least Sharington dsp 1719, Henry 1668-1731 and William
      (Probably of Reading). The doubt does not affect my relationship
      with KM because both she and I are descended from daughters of
      Elisabeth Davenport Hobbes

      1. From the Burke’s Genealogy link posted by Lady Meg, maybe William is Rev. William Halifax (d. 1720), married to Mary daughter of Henry Davenport and Elizabeth ?

  17. This article is based on an unproven link between William Davenport of Reading and Henry Davenport of Worfield.

    The book by Lupton mentioned in a previous post is based on an early (1890) pamphlet by Canon James Davenport, who in a later pamphlet (1923) written after carrying out a considerable amount of research to try to prove the connection, had revised his views and conceded that the ancestry of William Davenport could not be conclusively proved. This was several years after Lupton’s book was published.

    William Davenport is one of my wife’s ancestors and I have estabished his probable ancestry and virtually conclusively disproved the connection with Henry of Worfield.

    You can find out about my research at

    1. There is no proof of that and it is highly unlikely that she could have kept that secret from her enemies who were just waiting for her to do something wrong so that they could depose her.

  18. descent from Ann Knollys and Thomas West baron de la warre. Ann Boleyn was put to death on the sole testimony of henry carey son of HVIII and mary carey nee Boleyn aged 9 years.

    1. I too am descended from Ann Knollys and Thomas West and Anne Knollys via their daughter Penelope and Herbert John Pelham who were my 10th Great Grandparents.

      I have a copy of a biography of Henry VIII by Margaret George which contains letters from his Court Fool Will Somers to Catherine Knollys. In a letter dated 21 July 1557, Will states that he has a legacy for Catherine that was left to her by her father and he is worried about how to transport it to her safely because she is living in exile outside of England. He tells her that the legacy is a journal that is extremely valuable and that there are many people who would like to get their hands on it and destroy it. He then goes on to say to her ” There, I have told it all except one last thing. The journal was not written by William Carey, your supposed father, but by your true father, the King.” He then goes on to confirm that both Mary and Elizabeth are her half-sisters. He tells her that Anne Boleyn was so jealous of Mary that she prevented Henry from acknowledging/ claiming her as his offspring. He refers numerous times to Anne as “the Witch”.

      He claims he came upon the journal by stealing it for it’s safety as after Henry died, Mary had all of his possessions burned, dug up his body and also had it burned and thrown into the Thames.

      1. Sorry… couldn’t edit after I hit submit. Anne shouldn’t be mentioned twice.

  19. Just found out through family and and my cousin getting DNA swab testing done, that we are the 11th great grand children of Mary Boleyn.

  20. Upon reading the article, I conducted an Internet search and went to the wikipedia article where there is a painting of Elizabeth Knollys. I was struck immediately by her red hair, just like Queen Elizabeth’s and that of her murderous father. When I read that she was the grand-daughter of Ann Boleyn’s sister, Mary, being that Henry got all of the sisters in his bed, it became even more obvious that she was Henry’s grand-daughter. I’m sure that the red hair and resemblance to Henry must have been talked about during her lifetime.

  21. I detest Anne Boleyn due to her adulterous behavior with Henry and the great suffering that she maliciously and willfully heaped upon the true and legitimate queen, Queen Catherine of Aragon. However, I am always interested in learning about life in those times, so occasionally I research information on the Internet; you never know if some letters or other documents will surface that will shed further light on what transpired in those years.

    With regard to Kate Middleton and an alleged connection to Anne Boleyn, what I find juicier is the descent from King John and King Edward I. This comes through Anne Boleyn’s mother, Elizabeth Howard.

    According to wikipedia, her mother, through the Howard line, was a descendant of John Howard, who, on his father’s side, was descended from Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwall, the second son of King John, who had an illegitimate son, named Richard, whose daughter, Joan of Cornwall, married Sir John Howard.

    John Howard, on his mother’s side, was descended from Thomas of Brotherton, 1st Earl of Norfolk, the elder son of Edward I of England by his second wife, Margaret of France, and from Edward I’s younger brother, Edmund Crouchback.


    1. There is no evidence that Anne Boleyn committed adultery and to the contrary that she and the men accused with her were entirely innocent. No scholars, save one, accept her guilt and Professor Bernard cites court gossip from a woman arguing with her husband, only mentioned in a dubious source. As to her cruel behaviour, to what are you referring?

      If you are specifically talking about her treatment of Princess Mary I would agree, but I must point out that Mary’s ill treatment continued after Anne was executed and came from her own father. Anne would have been acting on his behalf, even if she went too far.

      If you refer to Catherine, that was Henry as Anne didn’t have the power to order her to different Houses which affected her health or to send a delegation to demand she stop calling herself Queen. The actual evidence proves it was Henry. Anne made some insulting remarks about Catherine and may or may not have made threats to kill her or wish her dead, but the sources don’t say she carried out any such threats and we now know she was under a lot of stress, possibly post partum psychosis at the time. Her mind was unsteady and her family warned her about being foolish. It is also questioned by some scholars because the sources are hostile.

      If you are referring to the dubious claim that she caused the deaths of More and Fisher, THIS is nonsense. Henry’s laws were to blame and maybe as a result of his marriage to Anne but it is Henry who must bare this burden, not his wife.

      Besides, detesting someone who died almost 500 years ago is not logical and a waste of energy.

  22. I think the portraits of Henry Carey, Catherine Carey and Lettice Knolly are very similar to portraits of the younger King Henry VIII before he got so heavy. His face appeared longer and much more slender and all four of them shared the same carroty red hair as Elizabeth I. Red hair is a recessive gene. My sister and I are the first redheads in my family since our great-grandfather. My sister has a redhaired daughter, but her husband was redhaired as well. He went on to father three more redhaired children by two other. non-redhaired women. Henry VIII of the modern age. Anyway, I digress. Elsewhere among the descendants of Old Man McKinney, there is a redhaired great-great granddaughter. But as someone else mentioned, both parents must carry the recessive gene. That wasn’t a known fact back in the ’50s and gossip was started in the neighborhood about my mother and the redhaired milkman. I was glad when my redhaired sister was born and had our dad’s face. Phewww!

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