Lady Mary Boleyn


The Lady Mary Boleyn (c. 1500 - July 19, 1543) was granddaughter to Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk, daughter to Elizabeth Howard and leading diplomat Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire, sister to George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford and Anne Boleyn (by whose fame she has been eclipsed).

Mary was the mistress of Henry VIII of England and is purported to have been mistress of Francis I of France as well. She was married twice to members of Henry's court and bore children who were in the court of her niece Elizabeth I of England.


Life Account

Early life

Mary was born in Blickling Hall in Norfolk sometime between 1499 and 1504. She is generally believed to have been older than her famous sister Anne, though there is some controversy regarding this. It was once believed that it was Mary who spent time as a companion to the Austrian emperor's daughter, but it is now clear that it was Anne.

Several books mention that Mary Boleyn accompanied Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VII of England and Elizabeth of York who had become the new Queen consort of Louis XII of France, to France, as Maid of Honour. While many of the Queen's English maids were ordered to leave France, Mary Boleyn was allegedly permitted to remain, probably because of her father's connections as the new English ambassador.

When Mary Tudor left France after Louis' death on January 1, 1515, Mary Boleyn allegedly stayed in the court of the new king and queen, Francis I and Claude de Valois.

This is believed to have led to Mary becoming mistress to the new king of France whom reportedly called her "my English mare" in his later years. Especially since Mary subsequently embarked on numerous affairs provoking a great scandal. There is no definitive proof of this, although it is generally accepted by many historians.

Her sister Anne and her father eventually joined her in France, both of them apparently mortified by Mary's actions. She was sent home in either in 1519 or 1520 following the illicit marriage of queen Mary. She was then placed in the service of Catherine of Aragon, daughter of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. Catherine had served as the Queen consort of Henry VIII since June 11, 1509.

First marriage and royal affair

Shortly after going back to England, February 4, 1520, Mary married William Carey, a courtier. Henry VIII was a guest at the couple's wedding, and Mary soon became the king's lover. Popular legend states that Mary bore Henry two illegitimate children, but this seems unlikely. One witness did note that Mary's son had a strong resemblance to Henry VIII, but this could have been conjecture. Henry usually acknowledged all male bastards as his own and when he finished with Mary he had not yet fallen for her sister Anne, thus meaning that there was no reason for him to deny paternity of the child if he had been the father.

Overshadowed by her sister

Mary's sister was called back to England in 1522, and it is uncertain how much effect either sister had on the rising fortunes of their father, who was created a Viscount in 1525. But, by mid-1525, Mary's affair with Henry was finished. Henry fell victim to the charms of the brilliant, bewitching and cultured Anne Boleyn. After many attempts by Henry to seduce Anne, she boldly told him that she would only be his Queen and wife, not his mistress. For nearly six years she kept the King waiting, denying him any sexual favors. But Henry was determined, not to mention infatuated with Anne to the point of citizens suspecting witchcraft on her part. By 1527, he had proposed marriage.

A year later, when Mary's husband died during an outbreak of the plague, Henry VIII promptly granted Anne Boleyn the wardship of her nephew (and possibly his son), two-year-old Henry Carey, though no mention is made of his older sister Catherine. Anne arranged for Mary's son to be educated at a respectable Cistercian monastery. Mary's callous father showed no intention of helping her in the financial plight resulting from her husband's death. It was only Anne's intercession with Henry that secured Mary a small annual pension.

Second marriage

When Anne went to Calais with Henry VIII in 1532, Mary was one of Anne's companions. Anne was crowned Queen on June 1, 1533. In 1534, Mary secretly married Sir William Stafford, an usher of no rank and small income. When this was discovered, her family disowned her for marrying beneath her station, and the couple was banished from the Court.

In late 1534, while her father and brother received numerous grants, titles, and other gifts, Mary was reduced to begging Thomas Cromwell to speak to Henry on her behalf. Mary hoped Henry would persuade Anne to forgive her but her former lover was less than helpful. So Mary asked Cromwell to speak to her father, her uncle, and her brother to no avail.

Her life between 1534 and her sister's execution on May 19, 1536 is difficult to trace. Mary did not visit her sister when Anne was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Nor did she visit their brother George also condemned to death on charges of treason (they were falsely accused of incest). There is no evidence that she wrote to them, either. Like their uncle, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, she may have thought it wise to avoid association with her disgraced relatives.

She seems to have resided at Rochford, Essex and lived out the rest of her days in anonymity with her husband. She died on July 19, 1543.


Her marriage to William Carey (d. June 22, 1529) reportedly resulted in the birth of two children:

However both children have been suggested as illegitimates of Henry VIII of England.

Her marriage to Sir William Stafford (d. May 5, 1556) resulted in the birth of a son. He is considered to have been born in 1535 and to have died in 1545.

Depictions in Fiction

Mary appeared in the 1969 movie "Anne of the Thousand Days", where she is presented as pregnant, dejected and bitter. She was played in that movie by Valerie Gearon, opposite Genevieve Bujold as Anne Boleyn, Richard Burton as Henry VIII and William Squire as Thomas Boleyn.

Mary is the subject of The Other Boleyn Girl (2002), an award-winning novel by Philippa Gregory. The most accurate presentation of her comes from Wendy J. Dunn's novel Dear Heart, How Like You This? ( based on the life of the poet Sir Thomas Wyatt. She was also mentioned at various times in the Scholastic series Royal Diaries, Elizabeth the First Red Rose of the Tudors.

"The Other Boleyn Girl" was made into a BBC television drama in January, 2003, starring Natascha McElhone as Mary, Jodhi May as Anne Boleyn, Jared Harris as Henry VIII and Steven MacIntosh as George Boleyn.

Her character also briefly appeared in the 2003 drama "Henry VIII" although it was a non-speaking part. The drama was dominated by Ray Winstone as Henry VIII, Helena Bonham Carter as Anne Boleyn and Assumpta Serna as Katherine of Aragon.

Mary's character also features in the novels "The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn" by Robin Maxwell, "I, Elizabeth" by Rosalind Miles, "The Lady in the Tower" by Jean Plaidy and "Anne Boleyn" by Evelyn Anthony.

Her character is also mentioned in the movie "Henry VIII and His Six Wives" with Keith Michell as Henry VIII and Charlotte Rampling as Anne Boleyn; and in the six-part BBC television series "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" with Keith Michell again playing the king, Annette Crosbie as Katherine of Aragon and Dame Dorothy Tutin as Anne Boleyn.


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