The end of Catherine Carey, daughter of Mary Boleyn


On this day in history, 15th January 1569, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, Catherine Knollys (née Carey) died at Hampton Court Palace, she was about 45 years of age.

Catherine was the wife of Sir Francis Knollys, daughter of Mary Boleyn, niece of Queen Anne Boleyn, and cousin of Queen Elizabeth I. Some also believe her to have been the daughter of King Henry VIII, although there is no evidence that she was.

Catherine had a successful court career and a happy and loving marriage, which produced lots of children – one of the reasons why so many people are related to Mary Boleyn!

You can find out more about her final days, and how her husband was not allowed to be with her, in my “on this day in Tudor history” video:

You can find out about Catherine’s mother, Mary Boleyn, in my Mary Boleyn playlist of videos:

And here is my video on Catherine and Francis’ marriage:

Also on this day in history, 15th January 1559, Elizabeth I, daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, was crowned queen at Westminster Abbey. Here is my video on her coronation:

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24 thoughts on “The end of Catherine Carey, daughter of Mary Boleyn”
  1. Hey, could you post a script or something to the videos? My english is good enough to understand the written words but speaking is harder

    1. Hi Sandy,
      If you go to the bottom right of the videos, you’ll see “CC” which means “closed captions” and you can turn that on to have subtitles. They’re not perfect, as they are done automatically, but they can help.
      Best Wishes,

  2. many are descended from her, but they likely likely don’t have any of her dna. it’s been too long and it’s probably long gone.

    1. We have the tracing back through the Thomas West Family on my Father’s side, linked to Mary and I’m thrilled to find this sight. I was just explaining this to MY Granddaughter for future reference. I would love to get connected with others who are related!

  3. Anne’s parents Thomas and Elizabeth Boleyn is my 14th. Great grandparents. Her bother William of littleore Staffordshire bolt sir is my 13 th. Grandfather. And on one of my grandmother run in to him. Some one set of my grandparents are some type of cousin. And alot lot of other family members that was in the courts at the time and before

  4. Queen Elizabeth was naturally devastated to learn that her beloved cousin and life long friend had left her, that she was very close to Catherine is borne out by the grief she displayed at her passing, and the amount of money she spent for her very lavish funeral shows in what high esteem she held her, it seems Catherine had caught a winter chill which made her quite poorly, and yet she was determined to travel north to see her husband who was custodian of the Scottish queen, Catherine and Francis appears to have loved each other dearly and they had fourteen children though one named Dudley, sadly died in infancy, their numerous children made fine marriages and their family tree branched out across England, even across the sea to the new world, on both sides of the Atlantic they have many descendants, Elizabeth I feel could have been maybe a little jealous of Catherine’s devotion to her husband, she liked having her with her all the time and forbade her expressly to leave the court and visit her husband, this does not mean the queen was being selfish she was no doubt worried for her health, and travelling was hard and long in those days, we are told she felt better then fell ill again, I wonder could she have developed pneumonia, whatever it was she fell so ill she died and maybe she had an unnoticed medical condition, this would have weakened her so much in her frail state that she found it hard to fight of, in any case Elizabeth was shocked and shaken to lose her dear friend and blood kin, the painting above shows a heavily pregnant woman and it is said to be that of Catherine Lady Knollys, there was gossip that she was Henry V111’s bastard but there was never any proof and William Carey was married to her mother at the time, many descendants of Catherine claim Henry V111 as their ancestor, yet the king never acknowledged her or her younger brother as his, whilst he is said to have had several bastards, he only ever acknowledged one Henry Fitzroy Duke of Somerset and Richmond as the natural child of his loins, but if Catherine being the eldest was his child, that means that Henry V111’s descendants live on to this day in the person of our present queen and her descendants, also the late Diana Princess of Wales was a descendant of Mary and William Carey, Mary Boleyn certainly has some very famous family, however I find it unlikely that Henry V111 with his poor fertility record, and when we consider all of his three legitimate children died childless, is it really possible that he could have produced a girl like Catherine who had no problem herself producing healthy offspring? Mary Boleyn’s sister Anne could not carry healthy children which proved her undoing, and yet Mary was able to give birth to two healthy children, she was with child by her second husband but that baby appears to have died, Henry V111’s problems with siring children could have been the fault of his first two wives, if that were so then it’s possible Catherine Carey was his daughter, Anne is said to have been of the rhesus blood group which meant that after having one healthy child, her antibodies would then attack any further children she carried, Mary did not have this problem and neither did her mother, who had about six or five children, three of whom survived, did Mary suspect who her child’s father if there were doubt she was her husbands? Weir has stated she can see a very real likeness to Henry V111 around the eyes in Catherine’s portrait, she has she says the same winged eyebrows that the king had and jowly face that came from Henry’s mother Elizabeth of York, there is a painting of Henry in his prime and I too can see a resemblance around the eyes, her colouring also looks like she carried Tudor blood in her, that famous auburn hair that appears in Elizabeth 1st and Queen Mary, but Weir also states that William Carey had winged eyebrows like Catherine and was he auburn haired to? Since Carey was a relation through his Beaufort blood it is possible that he resembled the king as well, we will never know if Catherine was the natural daughter of Henry V111 and it is possible her mother was unsure to, there has been speculation on her sons parentage and yet he does even remotely resemble the old king, if Catherine was Elizabeth’s half sister as well as cousin that would explain the devotion she had towards her, as she did not enjoy a sisterly bond with Queen Mary, and Catherine also had a link to the mother she had never known and more importantly, they were not contenders to her throne and therefore no challenge to her illegitimate status, January is a dreary month and Elizabeth’s spirits took a fall when she lost Catherine, depression renders the immune system weak and it is understandable she fell ill at this difficult time, she was also aware that this date was the anniversary of her glorious coronation, a time to celebrate yet a time to despair, Elizabeth went on to live for another thirty four years yet she must have mourned Catherine all her life.

    1. Would love to open the tomb of King Henry VIII and Lord Hunsdon Cary, my supposed ancestor of my Miles Cary of Colonial Virginia.

      Wouldn’t it be great to know the truth rather than the speculation of who his children really were.

      Cary is definitely my family and I do still carry the dna as it seems alot of our 1600s families who came to Virginia and Maryland and Kent Island were of some royalty and position.

      Many families intermarried with their cousins in Colonial America.

  5. Catherine Carey was only 45 and yet she had given birth to sixteen or so children, what a lady. Poor Francis Knowles not being able to visit his wife. The great journey north to Bolton Castle in Yorkshire would have been a terrible journey on winter roads and the poor lady would not have survived it. She was the cousin, possibly sister of Elizabeth I and her wonderful tomb has her children named on it and we have this beautiful inscription on it. Queen Elizabeth really should have felt guilty and I am sure she was grieving but she should have let her husband travel to be with Catherine at her end. No wonder Francis was upset. Elizabeth I was like that, contrary. She was one bitter woman. Lettice Knowles was banished from court for her marriage to Robert Dudley and wasn’t forgiven for a long time. She is buried with him in the Collegiate Church Beauchamp Chapel in Warwick. What a moving inscription.

    Catherine had been a lady in waiting at a very young age. She must have been no more than 19 when she married Francis, an M.P and courtier. As the daughter of Mary Boleyn she must have been proud of her heritage.. We don’t know if she was the daughter of William Carey or Henry Viii who had a brief fling with Mary Boleyn, but Catherine and her brother, Henry were treated as family by the Queen and did well at her Court. Elizabeth seems to have been fond of her cousin, she must surely have regretted her selfish decision when Catherine, her potential sister died.

  6. True, Henry’s fertility record is not good but remember Bessie Blount. As to his children Mary had health problems I believe we’re mainly brought on by her treatment by her father and she married late in life. Elizabeth we have no way of knowing if she could conceive since she chose not to and Edward died too young.

    I read somewhere that Elizabeth may have had such a strong affinity for Catherine because she believed or knew they were sisters. I posted on YouTube yesterday that I see a resemblance to Henry but someone replied to me that they see a resemblance to Elizabeth. I don’t know. I know not all things are documented so the truth may remain a mystery.

    1. True I think Mary was psychologically damaged by her parents break up, and then she was disinherited by her brother, all her life she had to deal with set backs and then in her marriage she was unlucky there, her husband abandoned her for long periods she possibly had two phantom pregnancies, and died from what could have been cancer, and although she is seen as very tragic figure in English history, at the same time she was brave stoic and loyal to her friends, she could be merciful and both quite cruel like her father and sister, the tragedy of Mary was time was not on her side, unlike her sister Elizabeth, there were quite a few lurid tales about Elizabeth when as a young girl, she was abused by her stepfather Thomas Seymour, there were rumours she had given birth to a baby in the country, an old woman told how she was taken under cover of darkness blindfolded to a large house, where she delivered a baby to a girl who she described as young and fair, there were rumours she had also given birth to Robert Dudley’s bastard, a boy named Arthur who claimed he was her son, Elizabeth was said to have left court one summer to avoid knowing eyes as her pregnancy advanced, and took refuge in the house of a nobleman she could trust, the story persists to this day but it’s just hot air, like the Bizley boy who is said to have swapped places with the young Elizabeth after she suddenly died of the plague, the nurse terrified of the kings anger had a young poor boy brought to the princesses residence, and as this author states if you study the queens portraits you can see she had masculine features and it also explains why she never married, I have never thought Elizabeth had masculine features though she was not pretty in the delicate sense, she had her mothers long narrow jawline and her deep penetrating eyes, she also had her fathers long aquiline nose narrow with the slight Roman bump in it, she was also an intellectual like both parents, as to her sexuality Elizabeth promoted herself as the virgin queen, wether she actually was is debatable but if we consider her mothers sexual history there are similarities in both women, Anne Boleyn held out for six long years and kept Henry V111 dangling like a fish on a hook, the lack of sex did not seem to bother her and she could have been frigid, I have always believed that she was not as passionate about the king as he obviously was about her, therefore she did not suffer so much from lack of physical contact as her lover did, there are other ways in which she satisfied him as he was content to be with her for all that time, of course Anne’s need to keep the king at bay was also the fear of pregnancy but she still found it quite easy to do so without herself becoming sexually frustrated, so she could have been as mentioned a bit frigid and was Elizabeth like her mother? She was in love with the Earl of Leicester yet did she actually sleep with him or did she play the game her mother had, kept him dangling for years with the promise of marriage like her mother did with her father, like Anne she loved to flirt and she seemed to prefer the thrill of the chase, anything else could have been an anti climax, in the end Leicester like her other suitors realised she would never marry them and left to marry other more willing ladies, she had apartments right next to his with connecting doors, and there was such gossip about them that Dudley was very much feared and hated especially by Cecil and most of her council, Elizabeth’s sexuality really is an enigma, she never married and there have been many theories on this, was she afraid of childbirth as it nearly always led to death for the mother, she had lost two step mothers in childbed, although she would not have remembered Jane Seymour but she loved and was very close to Katherine Parr, she must have been aware of her mothers sad obstetric history and the infants she had lost, did she believe she was cursed like her mother? Her laundry women noted her periods were scanty and very irregular, gossip was that Elizabeth saw this as a sign she could not have children, whatever Elizabeth thought about sex procreation whatever, she enjoyed having no man to answer to in this she was very much a modern woman, it was just a shame she left no heir as any child of hers I am sure would have been very remarkable.

      1. I had read the story about Elizabeth’s death as a child and replacement by a boy to fool her visiting father. Claire did a vifeo on that a while back and it was intetesting to learn that it was started by Bram Stoker!

        1. Yes it was Bram Stoker Michael, I agree it makes for a good story yet no man really can pass of as a woman, for one thing physically men are much broader across the waist and shoulders, the facial masculine features, for instance the jaw line is bigger and there of course is the voice, you get transgender people and there is the famous Rupaul who can pull it of very well, but I think he has had a bit of surgery, I saw the legend of the Bisley boy on tv but it really is just a lot of nonsense like Anne Boleyn’s deformed foetus yarn.

        2. The Bisley Boy is a fascinating story but I don’t believe Henry had gone round the bend, he would definitely have noticed his daughter wasn’t a girl any longer. Maybe she did act a bit like a man, but wasn’t that the whole point? She was doing what only men had been raised to do, ruling in her own right and by herself. Of course she didn’t do herself any favours by not marrying but she didn’t put herself at risk during childbirth either. She could adopt or nominate a successor and had a few to choose from. King James became the frontrunner and the path to the throne was smoothed by Robert Cecil in private and Elizabeth provided him with a pension and correspondence which sort of indicated he was favoured. He was certainly one of the more logical choices and preferable as a man. He already had children and by the time of his succession he had two sons. James was expecting to succeed but Elizabeth never actually nominated him or anyone else. She is often regarded as strong for ruling alone but that made her open to plots and rivalries. She had seen the bad side of her father’s marriage history and may have experienced attempted abuse as a teenager, she also could not stand anyone sharing her power and the many candidates brought with them political baggage that her Council objected to. However, some people claiming she was a man point to her not marrying as evidence that she was a man. So a woman can’t rule as well as Elizabeth unless they were a man? Yeap. For me the story is utter nonsense but has an interesting background.

          Elizabeth aged eleven was taken to Overcourt House in Gloucestershire, near the village of Bisley in 1544 to escape the plague and put in the care of Thomas Parry and Kat Ashley. While there she died of an accident and the staff and Parry and Ashley in particular panicked because King Henry was due to visit. His forgiving nature was totally gone and they feared death. So they devised a plan to deceive the King and hoped he would not notice. The village had no eleven years old red headed girl so they used a boy instead and passed him off as the Princess. They thought it would work as Henry had not seen has daughter since she was three years old. That is one clue to this being nonsense as Henry had seen Elizabeth a number of times since her mother’s death, at her brother’s baptism for one thing, in 1540 for another he had introduced her to Anne of Cleves for another, he had spent enough time with Elizabeth to know what she looked like. Henry would have preferred the truth and would have certainly have reacted worse if he found out he had been deceived.

          The next part of the story is that Kat Ashley and Thomas Parry are the only two who knew the truth and were made “her” closest attendees when she became Queen. The Bisley boy basically lived and died as the Virgin Queen and most historians believe it’s nonsense. However, there are a trail of writers who have flagged this story over the years which is why Paul Doherty and Bram Stoker gave it credibility. The Reverend Thomas Kebble apparently found a body of and 11 years old girl in a grave at the house 300 years later during building work, the child was dressed in Tudor fine clothing and jewellery. She was reburied. Robert Trywhitt wrote in 1589 that Parry and Ashley had a secret that they would take to their grave and there was a pact between them to hide it.

          Those who believe the story point to things with perfectly good explanations such as her heavy makeup and corsets and that Kat Ashley dressed and undressed the Queen. Well the Queen wore heavy makeup because of the fact her face was scared by smallpox and Ashley wasn’t the only woman to help her undress. They may have taken a solemn vow never to reveal her secrets but how do you keep them from whispering and spreading rumours? What about the men she was intimate with? What about when Essex saw her without wig and make-up and in her night gown?

          In 1910 Bram Stoker wrote Famous Imposters and recounted the famous story, grave and all from his visit there and apparently he believed it. Other authors have used the theme for novels and Chris Hunt recalled the history in The Bisley Boy. Sarah Skye updates the Bram Stoker in Was Queen Elizabeth a Man and Claire did an article for the Elizabeth Files a number of years ago. Elizabeth may have worn high necked dresses but she also wore low cut ones and you can see she has breasts and a womanly shape. Doctors examined her regularly to see if she was capable of having children and declared that she was. Her bed sheets were examined as was her linen for her monthly periods. It’s like saying we didn’t go to the moon, you can shut up two people, you can’t shut up hundreds of people and many more people would have known her secrets. An ordinary woman could hide herself as a man, Dr James Joyce did just that, but a Queen of England whose life was lived in public, with several people seeing her undressing, seeing her bedlinen, seeing her intimate person, they telling others and so on, it was impossible to hide such a thing. However, Bram Stoker thought it was true but then again such things sell books. The Truth of the Line by Melanie V Taylor which is about Nicholas Hilliard uncovering the mystery and Paul Doherty wrote The Secrets of Queen Elizabeth I linking the death of Amy Robsart Dudley to the real secret, that Elizabeth was a man.

  7. If we could find a way to extract DNA without opening up the coffin of Henry Viii and somehow access that of Catherine Carey I would love to compare and profile it and find out the truth. We can put a fibre optic cable inside a coffin and a camera to record what is what, but whether one could put a tube with a tiny drill down to extract the DNA from a bone fragment is another matter. Certainly mind blowing if one achieved it.

    1. Yes that would be brilliant, I know there are many descendants of Catherine Carey who would love to know if they are related to old Bluebeard, the queen herself must have pondered that fascinating fact, she likes to let sleeping dogs lie, maybe the fun is more in the mystery, the poor woman’s having to deal with quite a lot at the moment what with Megixt, I can see actually see Harry and Meghan breaking up in about three years, he’s giving up quite a lot because of her and that inevitably leads to resentment.

  8. Two other problems arise from the Bisley Boy story

    Princess Elizabeth was most probably never at the manor of Overcourt House as it’s far too small and was only a hunting lodge. It was also unsuitable for the daughter of Henry Viii and her retinue, even if she was illegitimate, she still had a reasonable retinue. During the Summer of 1543 Elizabeth was actually at Court. She was also visited by the King and Queen Katherine Parr and spent time with them. During 1544 she attended a party with Mary and her brother for the King before he went to France. Soon afterwards she left on a progress with Katherine Parr. She was in Rutland not the Cotswolds.
    Any outbreaks of plague saw the entire Court up and leave and the children were sent to their own well established households, Hatfield or Richmond, well out of the way and not a remote village. If Elizabeth was sent to the Cotswolds, believe me there are finer and grandeur places to house her. OverCourt is now a smaller place but it really wasn’t much more than a large hunting lodge. It might suit a small noble family, not a King’s daughter, especially as Mary and Elizabeth were in favour in 1543 and 1544 and restored to the Succession.

    Where do you get a boy whom you can teach Greek, Spanish, Flemish, Italian, Welsh, Irish, Cornish and Hebrew, to do fine needlework, statecraft and music and dancing at short notice, even from a fine family, oh and to act and look like a young girl whom you want to marry a foreign King in a few years time, and deceive their father, anyway? One theory was that it was her legitimate cousin, the missing son of Mary Howard and Henry Fitzroy, whom history tells us didn’t even consummate their marriage because they were not allowed to. The Kings Deception by Steve Berry is another novel exploring this myth but it is also set in the 21st century.

  9. The Bisley Boy story really has a Mark Twain feel about it. What came to mind is ‘The Prince and the Pauper’. Edward VI, when Prince of Wales meets a boy named Tom Can’t who was born the same day as he and looks absolutely identical to him but he is dirt poor and comes from an abusive household
    They decide to temporarily trade places.
    I haven’t read the book since I was a little kid so don’t remember much of it. Do you know when the Bisley Boy story actually started or became known? I believe Twain’s book was published in the early 1880’s. Just curious if perhaps the Bisley Boy story could have originally started as just that, a story and somehow became a legend. That would not be unusual. Regardless of how it started or the fact that it did not or could not happen it’s a great story.

    1. Yes I thought that, the story is like ‘The Prince And The Pauper‘, they made that story into a film it was very good, did Bram Stoker actually believe that yarn do you think or was it just about selling a good story ? I read that as BQ attests Elizabeth was not in that residence at the time anyway, there is no way any royal servant would have committed such an act as it would have meant certain death, the plague was virulent but the king knew how easy people died and tyrant though he was, he would not have vented his rage and grief on Elizabeth’s unfortunate servants, how could it be possible to carry on such a masquerade throughout the long years of the queens reign anyway? Elizabeth’s likeness to both parents was never in doubt, both in facial and colouring similarities, and also there was her keen clever mind, all the Tudors had been gifted with a clever brain a love of learning, and were also very musical, possibly inherited through their welsh blood, she had periods though few so how could an adult woman pass herself of as a man, men do not menstruate, as queen she would have been surrounded by many women helping her at her toilette and although she liked to use her close stool in private, that was just sheer maidenly modesty, it is embarrassing anyone seeing you on the loo, there has been another theory put forward about Elizabeth’s unmarried state and the reasons for it, this one is more possible but I do not believe it, this was published some years ago and the writer suggests Elizabeth could have been that rare breed – a hermaphrodite, named after the Greek god Hermes, Hermaphrodite was very handsome and the naiad Salmacis fell in love so much she prayed to the gods that she may be with him forever, she was granted her wish and her body was transformed into that of her love so they became one, and such a term is called androgynous, such a person is born with both male and female organs, there is a theory Wallis Simpson was such a one as she was quite masculine looking, but then again how is it possible that woman captivated the king so much if she had the sex organs of a male to, Wallis although having quite a large head was very narrow boned so I cannot see any evidence of masculinity there, a hermaphrodite does not actually display any masculine features anyway, these people are also referred to as intersex, a male baby may be born with female reproductive organs and a girl with a penis, there are several species of fish who are hermaphrodite, a strange freak of nature and many are ware that sea horses are part male part female, this is another theory of why Elizabeth priced herself on the image of the virgin queen and declared the married state was not for her, there may really be a perfectly logical explanation however why she never married, having grown up knowing her adored father had sent her own mother to the block which must have caused a certain amount of trauma, and here we have to try to understand the psychological effect that may have had on her, she suffered all her life from panic attacks and when she reached her teens her upbringing was rather fraught and dangerous, she must have thought that being married meant being subservient and without it, she was free, I believe when she came into her own she relished that power which her mother had never had and which none could take away from her, although she was not averse to marrying and loved having suitors vie for her hand, she was said to be quite in love with the Duke of Alcenon, and when a young girl she must have thought about marrying Thomas Seymour her one time stepfather, her servant Kat Ashley often teased her about him, but I feel as the years grew by she decided she would stay as she was and as she herself declared, she was married to her country, as mentioned in an earlier post, she could have been afraid of the consequences of childbed and maybe if she died her country would be at risk of a regency, maybe invasion, we do not know but the Tudors jealously guarded their right to the throne, Henry V11 in his tenure as king had to deal with imposters coming out of the woodwork, Henry V111 turned the country upside down in the quest for a son and Elizabeth really by not marrying did nothing to secure her hold on it, but she was answerable to no man and I think that’s how she preferred it.

      1. Yes, it was made into a movie. I know that Mark Twain also wrote a script for a play based on that book but I have no idea if the movie used any of his work for their own script. Your mind is going where mine is. One of the podcasts I listen to is a weekly short one called New England Legends. The one they just posted is on something called the beaver trout. It’s a fish covered in fur in the depths of winter. This is a story that was started soon after the Civil War by a former soldier who worked for a newspaper and he started the story in order to sell papers. People still claim to catch this fish.Here is one of those instances where a story became a legend. So that’s where I think the Bisley boy story maybe right now intriguing isn’t it?

        1. Certainly is, I have also seen old photos where fisherman have claimed to have seen and caught a mermaid, I think in this country in Cornwall one such story evolved, and the picture of her was quite hideous nothing like the beautiful sea sirens of legend, she was like a hag with sharp pointy teeth, but legends abound of people seeing strange creatures, the Loch Ness monster for one I heard was really just a hoax to encourage tourism to the island, a professor of natural history said it just is not possible for a creature like Nessie to be alive today as her race became extinct millions of years ago, I used to love watching Arthur C Clarke on tv some years ago, he covered everything from the yeti to the supernatural, to UFO’s absolutely fascinating.

    1. Bram Stoker published his story in 1910 but the Reverend found the “grave” and told the story in about 1870, so just a decade before the Mark Twain story. Maybe it was the inspiration for the “Prince and the Pauper”. The manor looked as if it had fallen into disrepair in the nineteenth century so the story may have something to do with that. They have a very strange May Day tradition, their May Queen is a boy dressed as a Tudor Queen.

  10. Isn’t it pretty much accepted that Henry Carey was Henry the xiii’s son and most likely so was Catherin Carey? It seems to me the fact that Mary Boleyn was capable of giving him two healthy living children highlights the fact that Henry married the wrong Boleyn sister!! He could have had a healthy male heir and possibly more.

    1. No, not at all. Some historians argue that Catherine may have been the king’s, but most do not believe that Henry was the king’s. In my opinion, they were William Carey’s. With Bessie Blount, the other known mistress, the king slept with her and then arranged a marriage for her when he’d finished with her. It seems likely that the king took Mary as his mistress when Bessie was pregnant in 1519 and then arranged her marriage to William Carey in 1520.

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