Henry Carey is a man whose parentage has been debated for five hundred years. His mother was Mary Boleyn, that part’s easy. But his father…not so simple.
Legally, he was the son of William Carey: a married man is presumed to have sired any baby born to his wife. But it far less clear whether the presumption is accurate or not since Mary may have been still involved in her affair with Henry VIII. Both sides of the debate have facts on their side, but there is so much that we simply don’t know.
We suspect that the Mary/Henry affair began in 1522, because at the Shrovetide joust on March 2 of that year, Henry rode out with the devise “Elle mon coeur a navera” (She has wounded my heart) – but we don’t know when it ended. We do know that from 1522 to 1528, William Carey received a stream of grants and offices, which could have been inspired by Henry’s guilt or could just have reflected Henry’s standard generosity to men who served him. The only thing we do know is that the affair ended before Henry fell in love with Mary’s sister Anne…but that’s another date in question.
The earliest date people give for Henry falling in love with Anne is 1525, which could still allow for Henry to have fathered Henry Carey (since pregnancy lasts 9 months). There is an argument that Henry was not the father because he never acknowledged Henry Carey as he had Henry FitzRoy – but that argument is fatally flawed. Remember that Henry didn’t fully acknowledge FitzRoy until the boy turned six (and was therefore likely to live). By the time Henry Carey turned six, Henry and Anne were almost at the point of marriage – so Henry never could have acknowledged the boy.
Still, I’m not convinced. There are people who suspect Elizabeth may have believed that Henry Carey was her half-brother because of how well she treated him when she came to power… but he would have been her cousin even if he weren’t her half-brother and the familial bond would have been just as important. Even more so – since Henry Carey would have represented less of a threat as a cousin than as a potential rival to the throne!
The bottom line: whoever his father was, Henry Carey was the son of Mary Boleyn. Let us celebrate that right now, and celebrate the man who would be a successful courtier for seventy years and a patron of Lord Chamberlain’s Men, William Shakespeare’s playing company.
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