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Mary Boleyn: Royal Mistress

Mary Boleyn was born c. 1499/1500 at Blickling hall, Norfolk, and died on July 19, 1543. She was the daughter of Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire and Lady Elizabeth Howard. She was the sister of the Queen of England, Anne Boleyn and George Boleyn, Lord Rochford.

Mary was a member of the Boleyn family which had a considerable influence during the reign of Henry VIII. Historians of her time claim she was Anne’s younger sister, but her children believed Mary was the older sister, as do most historians today.

Mary has often been called “The Mistress of Kings” because of her relations with Henry VIII of England and Francis I of France, who introduced her to Henry, who has been quoted as calling her, “The Great and Infamous Whore”.

Mary was married twice. Her first husband was William Carey, a wealthy courtier, on February 4, 1520; Henry VIII attended the wedding. Mary’s affair with Henry did not start until the next year. Sometime in 1521 Mary and Henry began their affair. The affair ended when Henry chose Mary’s younger sister Anne over her. Soon after the affair with Henry ended William Carey died.

Mary’s marriage to Sir William Carey resulted in the birth of two children. Her first born child was a daughter, Catherine Knolls, Lady Knolls in 1524 who was Maid-of-Honour to both Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard, she married a Puritan, Sir Francis Knolls, Knight of the Garter, by whom she had issue. She later became Chief Lady of the Bedchamber to her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. One of her daughters, Lattice Knolls, became the second wife of Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, the favourite of Elizabeth I. Her second child with William Carey was Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon born 4 March 1526. He was ennobled by Queen Elizabeth I shortly after her coronation, and later made a Knight of the Garter. Both of Mary’s eldest two children are believed to have been fathered by Henry VIII, but because she was married at the time to her first husband, William Carey, Henry did not accept them as his.

It was not until just after the birth of her niece Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth I, that she married a soldier and childhood friend of hers, William Stafford. It is believed it was a love match due to the fact that his status was so far beneath hers and they were not as rich as the rest of her family. The marriage was kept secret until Mary became pregnant with her third child, Anne, named after her sister. After the marriage was revealed the Boleyn family disowned her, and she and William were banished from court. Mary’s marriage to William Stafford resulted in the birth of two children: Anne Stafford and Edward Stafford.

Mary’s financial situation became so desperate that she had to beg the King’s adviser Thomas Cromwell to speak to Henry and Anne on her behalf. But she had no answer from them. Mary asked Cromwell to speak to her father, her uncle, and her brother, but to no answer. It was Anne who relented, sending Mary a magnificent golden cup and some money, but still refusing to receive her at court. This partial reconciliation was the closest the two sisters attained. It is not believed that they met after Mary’s court exile.

Not much is known of what happened in May’s life between 1534 and Anne’s execution on May 19, 1536. She did not visit Anne or George while they were imprisoned in the tower of London. Mary and William remained social outcasts living in retirement at Rochford Hall in Essex, a property owned by the Boleyns.

After the execution of Anne, Mary’s mother left the royal court, dying alone two years later. Her father died the following year. After her parent’s death’s Mary inherited a lot of property in Essex. Mary lived out the rest of her days in obscurity, comfortably with her husband and four children. She died on July 19, 1543 at the age of 43 or 44.

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