Mary Boleyn was the eldest daughter and child of Sir Thomas Boleyn, Viscount of Rochford and 1st Earl of Wiltshire, and Lady Elizabeth Howard. She was also the sister of Anne Boleyn, Queen Consort of England.
Mary was mostly known for her bad reputation she earned in France when she went there as a young lady in the service of the French Queen, and also for being Henry VIII’s mistress. This would have not earned her very much fame alone, but for the fact that her sister Anne ended up marrying the same King. It was quite a scandal. Especially as the King set aside his wife and queen, Catherine of Aragon, of many years, on the grounds that she had once been the wife of his brother and therefore their marriage was incestuous.
When Mary was recalled from France around 1520, it was to quickly force her into marriage before she ruined her reputation any further, and that of her younger unmarried sister. Her groom was Sir William Carey, an untitled cousin of King Henry VIII. The King was even among the wedding guests at their wedding. Historians are not sure about when, but soon after her marriage to Carey, Mary became the mistress of Henry VIII. After 1520, several gifts were made to Mary Boleyn, which were not of the platonic nature. Also, Mary’s husband began to receive lands and properties, probably as a way to placate him. Mary was the King’s mistress out in the open, so everyone knew. Although she and Carey had two children, the eldest was rumored to be the king’s. If she was, the king never claimed her.
Mary’s husband was not the only one to benefit from the affair. Mary’s father and other family also received gifts of lands and properties. Being the king’s mistress was not a bad thing, and Mary’s father no doubt was pleased with the arrangement and encouraged it. Sadly, most fathers of this era would have done the same.
Mary was the complete opposite of her sister. She was said to be the ideal beauty of the times. She had long golden hair, blue eyes, and a pleasantly plump figure. However, she was not known for her intelligence, or conversational skills. She was only known for private talents she learned in France. Soon the king grew bored and set aside Mary for her much more witty, ambitious, and virtuous sister, Anne Boleyn.
Very soon after Anne married the King and became Queen of England, Mary’s husband had died of the Sweating Sickness. The Sweating Sickness was a very serious disease during the Tudor Era that claimed many lives. Mary afterwards met a fell in love with a poor common soldier, William Stafford. They married in secret and when it was discovered that Mary was pregnant the marriage was revealed. Anne was furious. She was Queen and it was her right to marry her sister to any lord she saw fit. On top of that, her sister married someone of such humble birth it was an embarrassment. Anne had her sister banished from court causing her to live in poverty pretty much the rest of her life. One may suspect that Mary no longer wanted to be used by her family. She chose to live a simple country life, poor, but free. Mary died in her forties, perhaps of an illness.
Only Mary’s children with her first husband survived infancy. These children were:
Catherine Carey (1524-1568)
Henry Carey (1526-1596), Baron Hundson