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February 4, 1521 – Mary Boleyn Marries William Carey

Mary Boleyn, by an unknown artist (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

On this day in 1521, Mary Boleyn married William Carey, a courtier and favorite of Henry VIII. Carey was both a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber and Esquire of the Body to the King.

Mary had what can best be described as a checkered past. She received a similar education to her sister Anne Boleyn, though arguably it “took” better with Anne. Mary did secure a place in 1514 as maid-of-honor to the King’s sister, Mary Tudor, who was to marry King Louis XII of France. She remained there even after her mistress left (Louis died within months), winning a place in the court of King Francis I and his wife Queen Claude. While there, she gained a terrible reputation. History accuses her of taking many lovers, some say Francis himself (who is said to have referred to her as his “English mare” and  “a great ribald, infamous above all”). Nevertheless, when Mary returned to England in 1519 she became one of Queen Catherine of Aragon’s maids of honor. She also found a husband in William Carey, a man from a wealthy family, though only the second son.

The real question is when Mary embarked on her affair with Henry VIII. Most historians agree that it probably began some time in 1521, but how long it lasted becomes an issue given that Mary went on to have two children: a daughter Catherine in 1524, then a son Henry in 1526.  While there were rumors that one or both of these children had been fathered by the King, most historians believe that this was not the case because Henry never publicly acknowledged the boy as he had his bastard son by Bessie Blount, Henry FitzRoy.  Of course, Henry waited for several years to acknowledge FitzRoy – and he didn’t have years in this case given that by 1527 he had fallen in love with Mary’s sister Anne.  Not exactly any incentive to claim Mary’s child as his own!

So many “alternative history” stories can be developed around this – it is a fascinating possibility….

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February 4, 1521 - Mary Boleyn Marries William Carey
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  1. Poor Mary. She does get dumped on by history. If she was born around 1500, that means she was only 14 when she went to France, and 19 when she came back. She could deserve her reputation, but who knows?

      • I doubt it, many a kings mistress in both French and English history have been viewed unkindly simply for being the other woman (and rightly so in my opinion). It is infinitely more likely that she wouldn’t be remembered by history at all if she hadn’t been Anne’s sister as she did nothing historically relevant. Mistresses in most sources I have seen have been described as manipulative, thieving both in physical goods and in consanguinity. Catherine De Medici is an example of a maligned queen, and Diane De Poirtiers deservedly got hers, in life and in death.

      • A part of me disagrees that kings’ mistresses were looked down on – Bessie Blount was rewarded (though admittedly that was for the son), even Diane de Poitiers was honored while Henri II was alive. That said, I fully embraced your point in Jane the Quene: the prologue is set in 1525, when Mary’s affair was still going on and after Anne’s disgrace with Percy. Jane looks down on both of them –Mary for the affair, and Anne for overvaluing herself (they have a history).That is the very heart of the compelling nature of the Tudors, the multiple facets to the stories…

  2. Jan-Marie Jan-Marie

    You say 1521 but nearly every other historian says 1520? What makes you disagree with them if you do not mind my asking?

    • I never mind a question! I hadn’t realized I disagreed with them…I think it’s just that I am old school. I started a timeline a good twenty years ago in preparation for writing my book (ps the sequel is not taking anywhere near as long!). Agnes Strickland, Antonia Fraser and Carolly Erickson all used the 1521 date, so that was the one that went into my timeline…and this article! I see that Wikipedia, Alison Weir and now Claire Ridgway use the 1520 date, I have to go back and figure out what changed!

      • Jan-Marie Jan-Marie

        Hiya, Thank you for replying. I agreed with you originally from my own research and thought it was 1521 (started because of inaccuracies and I wanted to make up my own mind); it seems it became 1520 from the offering Henry pays at their wedding at Greenwich which can be found in the payments for 1520; however I am still tracking that down as I did not have much time this week to do it… and I wondered if there was some other reference that perhaps I had missed. The older writers like Round give the regnal year which would have made it 1521. If I find the ref I will paste it on to you. Thanks again

      • Jan-Marie Jan-Marie

        Aha: it seems it is 1520… the 4th Feb is on a Saturday in 1520…but of course this is relying on Brewer and not the original document…. over to you.

        1520 Jan. 11 Hen. VIII.—1st, 8th and 15th at Greenwich; 22nd and 29th at Richmond. New Year’s gifts as before. To the King, by Henry Norres, 1,000l. To Cornish, for playing before the King with the children, 6l. 13s. 4d. To the gentlemen of the chapel, 13l. 6s. 8d. To the King’s players, 66s. 8d. To the King, in gold, 4,000l. To Paul Frelande, for the oversight of the King’s gilt harness, 25s. To Thos. Forster, timber, lead, &c., for Richmond, Greenwich and Eltham, 300l. To Mr. Sydnor, expenses for my lady Princess, 17l. 10s. Total for Jan., 6,802l. 1s. 1d.
        Feb. 11 Hen. VIII.—At Greenwich. To Alen Kent, for providing wine at Rome, 100l. Diets of Sir Richard Wingfield, going to France, for 84 days from 31 Jan., 20s. a day; and espial money for his last time as deputy of Calais, 40l. The King’s offering on Saturday (4th Feb.), at the marriage of Mr. Care and Mary Bullayn, 6s. 8d. To Sir Hen. Guilford, for repairing the castle of Leeds, 160l. To Wm. Haywode, for spears, &c., at the jousts, 34l. 15s. To Sir Ric. Wingfield, for preparations for his embassy to France, 100l. To Ric. Sydnor, for the Princess’s expenses, 200l. Reward to De la Bastie, ambassador from France, 200l. To the bailly of Cane, 66l. 13s. 4d. To a gentleman sent from the French king and queen with tokens to the Princess, 40l. To John de la Suche, 40l. To Stephen de Tronhen, for anchors and other things, 26l. 4s. 6d. To Cavalcant, Ant. Vyvolde and Wm. Buttry, for velvets and silks, 223l. 3s. 1d. Total for Feb. 2,496l. 17s. 8d.

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