I am thrilled to be the second stop on Claire Ridgway’s virtual book tour for her book The Anne Boleyn Collection! A big congratulations to Claire; her book is stunning nestled on my bookshelf between copies of Eric Ives and Antonia Fraser! If you’re interested in the REAL truth about the Boleyns you must read it!! For this stop Claire has written a fabulous guest post about Anne Boleyn, Mary Boleyn, and little Henry Carey and is also giving away a signed copy of her book and a pair of gorgeous earrings (details at the end of the post). Handing the reins over to Claire now…
Anne Boleyn, Mary Boleyn and Little Henry Carey
I’m often asked about Anne Boleyn’s relationship with her sister Mary and the claim made in the book “The Other Boleyn Girl” that Anne stole Mary’s son, Henry Carey, from her.
Now it’s impossible to know exactly how close the sisters were and what their relationship was like, we just don’t have the evidence. What we do know is that they were relatively close in age, if you take 1501 as Anne’s birthdate and 1499/1500 for Mary, and would have been educated together at home until Anne was sent to the Low Countries in 1513. They surely would have been playmates and friends, but we know nothing about that early sibling relationship, all we can do is guess.
In 1514, Mary Boleyn was chosen to accompany Mary Tudor, sister of Henry VIII, to France and Anne was recalled from the Low Countries to also serve Mary. It is likely that Anne arrived in France in late 1514, so the sisters would have spent a few months together serving Mary Tudor before Mary went back to England in April 1515. We know that Anne stayed on in France to serve Francis I’s wife, Queen Claude, but we do not know what happened to Mary Boleyn. Alison Weir ponders whether whether legends regarding Anne Boleyn spending time in Brie in France are actually about Mary and that she may have been “sent by her father to rusticate at Brie, after compromising her reputation at the French court”. Of course, this depends on whether you believe that Mary did actually compromise her reputation! Whatever the truth of the matter, whether Mary was sent to Brie or back to England with her royal mistress, it appears that the sisters were separated until Anne’s return to England in late 1521.
Mary Boleyn was a married woman when Anne returned to the English court, having married courtier William Carey in February 1520. Carey was a member of the King’s privy chamber and was an esquire of the body so he and his wife would have lived at court. The two sisters would have met again at court when Anne began her duties as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine of Aragon. Both women participated in the Shrovetide Château Vert Pageant of 1522 – Anne playing Perseverance and Mary playing Kindness – so would have spent time together preparing for the pageant. It is thought that it is around this time that Mary began her affair with Henry VIII, Anne’s future husband. Obviously being in the same place at the same time is not evidence of a close relationship, but Mary accompanied Anne and Henry VIII on their trip to Calais in autumn 1532, was one of Anne’s ladies in 1533 and attended her at her coronation in 1533. The sisters must surely have been close for Anne to choose Mary to attend her at these key events.
Anne Boleyn and Henry Carey
Mary Boleyn’s first husband, William Carey, died of sweating sickness in June 1528 leaving his wife with their two young children, Catherine and Henry. William’s death left Mary in considerable financial difficulty so she wrote to the King for help. Henry VIII obliged, securing financial help for her from her father, Thomas Boleyn, and granting the wardship of Mary’s son, Henry, to Anne Boleyn. This is where the facts get twisted…
In “The Other Boleyn Girl”, the novel by Philippa Gregory, Anne Boleyn suggests to Mary Boleyn that she should adopt her son. Mary is shocked and refuses but then Anne tells her that it is a fait accompli, she has stolen her son. The wardship is treated as something sinister and part of Anne’s plan to marry the King and provide him with a ready-made son, a son that is actually his anyway (according to the novel). The truth is not so exciting! There was actually nothing unusual or sinister about Anne being granted the wardship of Henry Carey. Mary Boleyn was experiencing financial problems and Anne was in a position to help. Anne provided the boy with a good education, appointing the French poet and reformer, Nicholas Bourbon, as his tutor. Carey was educated along with Henry Norris (son of Sir Henry Norris) and Thomas Howard. It was a great start for the young boy.
Anne was not kidnapping Henry Carey, stealing him or even adopting him, she was providing for him. Wardship was standard practice in Tudor times and other examples of it include Charles Brandon being granted the wardship of the teenage Catherine Willoughby and Lady Jane Grey becoming Thomas Seymour’s ward. In the case of a woman being widowed, it was quite usual for a son who was not of age to become the ward of another adult or family. Wardships could actually be purchased from the Crown and the child’s property could be controlled by the holder of the wardship until the child came of age, giving the holder extra income during that time. It seems to have been a bit of a win-win situation in that the widow was relieved of some of her financial burden and may have had her child better educated and brought up in an influential family, and the wardship holder got extra income. Anne was a provider not a kidnapper.
Banishment and Survival
In September 1534, Mary Boleyn turned up at court pregnant and announced to her sister, the Queen, that she had secretly married William Stafford. Anne Boleyn was livid that Mary had dared to marry without her permission and had undermined her authority. Anne, as queen, was now head of the Boleyn family, and should have been consulted. Mary was banished from court and her father cut off her allowance, leaving Mary to write to Thomas Cromwell for financial assistance. In her letter to Cromwell, Mary wrote of how she had married for love and said that she would “rather beg my bread with him than to be the greatest Queen christened”.
Although a report by the Bishop of Faenza places Mary at court in January 1536, attending Anne when she miscarried, it is thought that Mary was actually away from court in 1536. Alison Weir, in her recent biography of Mary, puts forward the idea that Mary and Stafford may even have lived in Calais at this time. Wherever she was, Mary was not implicated in the fall of her sister and brother in May 1536 and may not have known that her affair with the King was used to annul Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn on the grounds of consanguinity.
Anne Boleyn was executed on the 19th May 1536 and her ward, Henry Carey, went from being educated by a reformer to being educated by a staunch Catholic – quite a difference! Mary died a natural death on the 30th July 1543 and it was her children Henry and Catherine, who carried on the Boleyn bloodline. Henry went on to serve his cousin, Elizabeth I, as a privy councillor and Catherine was Elizabeth’s Chief Lady of the Bedchamber. Whatever the relationship between Anne and Mary, their children were close and Elizabeth gave Catherine a lavish royal-style funeral on her death in 1569. Today’s royal family descend from Mary Boleyn.
Again a big thank-you to Claire for stopping by!
And now, onto the goodies… To enter to win a signed copy of Claire’s book AND these stunning earrings (click to see image; it’s not allowing to directly post a picture at the moment) all you have to do is leave a comment below. To enter TWICE leave a comment and sign up to follow my blog. I’ll be posting a comment to let you know when the entering period is closed and drawing a name out of a hat. The winner will be announced later this week. Good luck! (And if you don’t win Claire still has several stops left on her book tour! See the latest schedule.)