Mary Boleyn

From The Tudors Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Mary Boleyn, as played by Perdita Weeks

born c. 1499 - died July 19, 1543

Character's backstory: famous for being the mistress of two kings, Francis I and Henry VIII. Older sister of Anne Boleyn (evidence from a letter written by Mary's grandson to Elizabeth I, claiming the Ormonde title on the basis of Mary being the elder sister; Elizabeth accepted the claim). When she was still a young girl, her father secured her a position as a maid of honor to Mary Tudor in 1514 when she was to journey to France to become the wife of Louis XII. Mary remained in Paris after the wedding and stayed at court until she was recalled in 1519. There were rumours at the time that the reason Mary's family recalled her home was due to her numerous scandalous affairs with various men at the French court, including Francis I and his courtiers. Mary was wed to Sir William Carey, a minor noble and third cousin of Henry VIII, in February of 1520 at Greenwich, a match arranged by their two families and attended by the king. On the 2nd March 1522, the Shrovetide joust had the theme of unrequited love and Henry VIII rode out on a horse decorated with a wounded heart and wearing the motto “elle mon coeur a navera”, meaning “she has wounded my heart”. Henry began an affair which probably lasted from about 1522 until she became pregnant with her second child in 1525.

After (some say during) her affair with the king she gave birth to two children, Catherine and Henry, whom her husband William Carey claimed as his own. Mary was widowed in 1528 when her husband died of illness. She later remarried a commoner, Sir William Stafford
. See below *

Gentility: daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire, and Lady Elizabeth Howard, daughter of the 2nd Duke of Norfolk

Position: maid of honor to Princess Mary Tudor, Lady in Waiting to Queen Katherine of Aragon

Personality type: flirtatious, scandal seems to follow her where ever she goes. Mary was considered more conventionally beautiful than Anne but lacked her sister's style intellect, and wit. Rash and emotional.

Signature look: appearance unknown, but likely attractive and fairer than her younger sister. Said to be the fair Boleyn with light complexion and golden hair, the opposite of her sister Anne. One portrait, a late copy of an early original, survives: hair colour is unknown, but she has large dark eyes.

Endearing trait(s): probably married her second husband, Stafford, (1534) out of love despite her family disowning her as a result. Both Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn were outraged at her not following protocol; Henry VIII was offended at having an obscure member of the minor gentry as his brother-in-law. The Staffords spent the remainder of their live residing in the countryside. Mary had several children by Stafford. Upon Lady Rochford's (George Boleyn's wife) death in 1542, she inherited the entirety of the Boleyn fortune.

Annoying trait(s):A certain brashness in flouting convention by having affairs & a lack of ambition.

Nicknames: "The English Mare" - Francis I, King of France described her as "una grandissima ribalda, infame sopra tutti" ("a great prostitute, infamous above all")

Mary Boleyn as portrayed by Perdita Weeks

“As Mary followed her mistress to each of these
exciting places, her beauty ensured that she
would never be short of suitors sighing after her.
It was a heady time which Mary, free of her father’s guiding influence for the first time,
was determined to enjoy to the full.”

~ Josephine Wilkinson - about Mary's time in France as a maid of honour to Henry's sister Mary

“the impression we gain from the scant sources on her is of a kind, loving woman who followed her heart

~ Kelly Hart's Mistresses of Henry VIII

“a placid, unremarkable girl”
~ David Starkey

Click EasyEdit to update this page!
(Don't see the EasyEdit button above?
<a href="/#signin" target="_self">Sign in</a> or <a href="/accountnew" target="_self">Sign up</a>.)

See also:

At some point, either before or after her marriage, she began her infamous affair with King Henry VIII while she was at court, but it is not entirely clear when or how long the affair lasted. What is certain is that although temporary, Mary's affair with the King of England was a catalyst for her family's track to wealth and prominence. In 1525, her father was created Viscount Rochford, which was probably due to her influence not her sister Anne's.

It was rumoured that one or both of Mary's children were fathered by the King. The belief is that Mary's affair with the king ended well before the birth of Henry Carey, therefore, some historians are doubtful that he was the King's offspring. However, on one occasion a clergyman remarked on the resemblance between Henry Tudor and Henry Carey but he may have had ulterior motives. In 1528, Sir William died from sweating sickness, leaving Mary and their two children in considerable debt. At first, no one offered Mary any assistance, not even her father Thomas Boleyn. It was her sister, Anne, who would come to her rescue by securing Mary a pension of 100 pounds a year and allowing Henry Carey to attend school at a Cistercian Monastery where he was tutored by Nicholas Bourbon, who was saved from the French Inquisition by Anne Boleyn's intervention. Mary accompanied her sister Anne to Calais in 1532 when she was presented to Francis I formally as the fiance of King Henry.

After her sister's coronation, Mary again shocked her family with scandal by secretly marrying William Stafford, a commoner, in 1534. Mary's family disowned her for this and Anne refused to allow her sister to return to court. Mary did not visit her sister or brother when they were imprisoned in the Tower in 1536. It is not known if she ever saw her father or mother before their deaths. Mary, as sole heir, inherited the Boleyn estates in Essex and died in her early forties in 1543.


Family members:
Father: Sir Thomas Boleyn
Mother: Lady Elizabeth Howard (sister of Sir Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk)
Brother: Sir George Boleyn
Sister: Anne Boleyn
Cousin : Madge Sheldon
Cousin : Katherine Howard

mistress to King Francis I and King Henry VIII
wife to Sir William Carey (1520 - 1528 his death)
wife to William Stafford (1534 - 1543 her death) - Stafford was a commoner with no rank and small income. A love match, as evidenced by the letter she wrote to Sir Thomas Cromwell (at right).

Daughter: Catherine Carey, Lady Knollys (b. c. 1524 - 1568)
Son: Henry Carey, Baron Hunsdon (b. 1526 - 1596)
(rumored to be the illegitimate children of King Henry VIII, others say that William Carey was the father) See : Controversies about Mary Boleyn

Son: (with Stafford)
Daughter: Anne Stafford
Son: Edward Stafford (b. c. 1535 - c. 1545)
(no records confirm the existence or survival of either), although she is recorded to have appeared in court, pregnant, after being secretly married.

*Many famous historical figures claim Mary as an ancestor, including Charles Darwin, Winston Churchill, and Princess Diana.

Anne Boleyn
George Boleyn
Although Anne and George Boleyn were very close and reportedly had little use for their sister, Mary. (This was reported by several foreign ambassadors.)
Mark Smeaton


"......when Mary took matters into her own hands by falling in love and making a runaway marriage. Her new husband was one William Stafford, another member of the royal entourage and another younger son without money or land. The family was furious.

Her father cut off her allowance and her sister banished her from court, so that Mary was obliged to appeal for help to Master Secretary Thomas Cromwell. She admitted that she might have chosen 'a greater man of birth and a higher', but never one that should have loved her so well, nor a more honest man. And she went on, 'I had rather beg my bread with him than to be the greatest queen in Christendom. And I believe verily ... he would not forsake me to be a king.'

She begged Cromwell to intercede for her with her father and mother, her uncle Norfolk and her brother. 'I dare not write to them, they are so cruel against us.' But the Staffords were not forgiven, and remained outcasts living in rustic retirement at Rochford in Essex. This turned out to be just as well, for they were thus able to escape any involvement in the witch-hunt surrounding the eventual disgrace, trial and execution of both Anne and her brother George, as well as the five other young men in their circle.

After her parents' death Mary inherited the Boleyn properties in Essex, and herself lived on until l543, long enough to watch as her young cousin Katherine Howard was exploited and ultimately sacrificed to family ambition.

Ironically it was Mary, the feckless, unregarded member of the family, who gave the Boleyns their posterity, for her children were to prosper in the reign of Anne's daughter, Elizabeth I, who always showed special favour towards her mother's kin. Catherine Carey married Sir Francis Knollys, a distinguished pillar of the Elizabethan establishment, and became one of the queen's closest friends. Henry Carey was raised to the peerage as Baron Hunsdon and followed a military career. He played a leading part in suppressing the Northern Rising of 1569, and was rewarded with a personal note of thanks from his sovereign lady, signed 'Your loving kinswoman, Elizabeth R'.

The Boleyn/Carey/Tudor connection continued on to the end of the century. Catherine's daughter Lettice was the mother of Elizabeth's favourite, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, and it was Mary's grandson, Robert Carey, who was with the queen at Richmond Palace in March 1603 and left a moving account of her last illness and death. It was Robert, too, who rode from Richmond to Edinburgh, accomplishing the journey in a record three days, to tell James of Scotland that he was king of England at last. "

[Alison Plowden,BBC]



  • Her liaison with Henry in France. Not historically accurate: she had affairs with Francis I and his courtiers; engaged in an affair with Henry VIII after her return from France, and marriage to William Carey, a minor noble.

  • When she is banished from court by her sister for marrying below her station


Perdita Weeks as Mary Boleyn
Mary Boleyn
Later copy of an original at Hever Castle
William Carey
Mary's 1st husband Sir William Carey
A favourite and cousin of King Henry who served him as
a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber and Esquire of the Body. Married Mary on 4th February1520 and died of the sweating sickness on 22nd June 1528 aged 28. He died greatly in debt, and his wife was reduced to pawning her jewellery before her sister Anne Boleyn arranged a pension for her.
Mary Boleyn
This portrait hangs in Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh Scotland. The inclusion of this picture in an oval inner frame makes it possible that the original was painted as a pendant to the similar portrait of her husband, Henry Carey, at left.
Henry Carey

Henry Carey, 1st Baron of Hunsdon

Mary Boleyn's eldest son.
He enjoyed substantial favour from Queen Elizabeth I
Catherine Carey
Catherine Carey, Lady Knollys
Mary's daughter who was Elizabeth I's
chief lady in waiting


<embed allowfullscreen="true" height="350" src="" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="425" wmode="transparent"/>