Favourite Royal Relative [1/4]
Mary Boleyn was the sister of Queen Anne Boleyn. Mary was probably born at Blicking Hall, her family country’s seat, c. 1499-1500. Contrary to popular belief, Mary was the probable elder sister of Anne (b. c. 1501). They were the daughters of Thomas Boleyn, courtier and diplomat and later Earl of Wiltshire, and the former Lady Elizabeth Howard, a scion of the famous Duke of Norkfolks. They had one surviving brother, George (b. c. 1504), who later became a court politician like his father. Whilst it is believed Mary was the more physically attractive of the two sisters, it is clear the Boleyns thought the intelligent Anne the star of their children. However, Mary was certainly not dumb like popular myth has suggested, as she continued her studies right along Anne, instead of being pulled from them like a bad performing student of that time probably would be.
In 1524, Mary accompanied the King Henry VIII’s sister, Princess Mary Tudor, on her voyage to France as it’s future queen. Whilst most of Queen Mary’s English attendants were dismissed upon her marriage to Louis XII, Mary and Anne retained their positions as maids-of-honour, probably because they spoke French so well. Mary was a short-lived lover of King Francis I; her alleged sexual promiscuity with other men, however, is believe by some historians to be exaggerated to some extent.
In 1519, Anne stayed in France whilst Mary returned to England to become maid-of-honur to Katharine of Aragon, the queen consort of Henry VIII. On 4 February 1520, Mary married William Carey, a wealthy courtier. Mary eventually became a mistress of king Henry VIII, probably sometime in 1521. The affair was a private one, in contrast to Henry’s mistress Elizabeth Blount, who’s son Henry Fitzgerald was recognized by Henry as his own son. Mary’s children, Catherine (b. 1524) and Henry Carey (b. 1526) have been rumoured to be Henry’s, but it is believed the affair ended before the birth of Henry Carey. Some historians, such as Alison Weir, have suggested the possibility Catherine Carey could have been Henry’s daughter; but nonetheless, Henry never recognized either as such.
Anne returned to England in 1522. In popular culture, Anne and Mary have been alternately portrayed as close friend and bitter enemies. The truth was probably somewhere between the two extremes. Henry’s eyes soon turned on Anne, now lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine, but unlike Mary, Anne never gave herself up to him. Henry decided to marry Anne in 1527, which would later result in the Reformation of the Church. About a year after, William Carey died, leaving Mary with debt; as a result, Anne arranged for Mary’s son to receive formal education at a monastery, and had secured her sister an annual pension of 100 pounds.
Anne was crowned Queen in 1533. With her family and the world’s eyes all on Queen Anne, Mary was able to secretly marry William Stafford, a common soldier without wealth or pedigree. But they were discovered upon Mary’s pregnancy, and the two were banned from court.
After Anne’s execution, Mary and William lived out the rest of their lives in relative comfort at their home at Rochford Hall. When Thomas Boleyn died, his estate Hever went to the crown; curiously, when Henry sold the estate, he sent Mary part of the proceeds, despite the fact he didn’t have to. Mary died 19 July 1543.