Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Question from Erin - Mary and Anne at the French Court

In Phillipa Gregory's novel,'The Other Boleyn Girl,' Anne Boleyn went to serve in the French court by herself and was not as close to Mary as it appears Robin Maxwell thought in her novel, 'Mademoiselle Boleyn.' I do understand that Ms. Gregory's is written from the other sister's point of view, but it gets so confusing with every author putting out different stories. So, my question for you, which one's right? Did Anne and Mary become closer after living several years together in the French court?
In fact, I have a couple more questions written down that I would like to ask you.
In Maxwell's novel, 'Mademoiselle Boleyn,' Mary and Anne are sent together to France to serve under Mary Tudor. Their father keeps them there and according to Maxwell, Anne and Mary were even in the presence of Leonardo Da Vinci. Is it so?
Robin Maxwell also sees that Mary Boleyn is Francois', the French King at the time, mistress for at least over a year. However, I thought that in, 'The Other Boleyn Girl,' Phillipa said that Mary lost her virginity to King Henry, since her first husband did not desire her.
I realize that these are questions more likely for the authors to answer, but some feedback from people that will actually respond to me would be fantastic- especially those of you coming across this site!
I am NOT doing this for a school project, but I am a ninth grader in Indiana. If you could just please give me some answers, or explanations, I would be forever grateful--oh, and sorry about making this so long!
-Erin

6 comments:

PhD Historian said...

Erin, I think your interest in discovering the known historical facts ... the "reality" of history ... is wonderful. It is great that you are detecting discrepancies and asking the correct questions to solve the puzzle.

And while I am not familiar enough with the Boleyn sisters and their time in France to answer your questions directly, allow me to suggest that you can find the answers on your own ... and discover many more falsehoods in the novels you mentioned ... by reading some good factual books about the Boleyns.

Eric Ives's The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn is the classic work.

A different but still factual view is presented by Retha Warnicke in The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn.

Carolly Erickson also published a book about Anne many years ago, but it is not as good as Ives's or Warnicke's.

Lastly, and as I tell everyone who mentions novels about the Tudor era, please remember that a novel is fiction ... even if it is "historical fiction," it is still the product of a modern person's imagination. Do not believe anything in a novel until you have confirmed it by reading a non-fiction history.

djd said...

Mary Boleyn is said to have had a reputation at the French court of being "a great whore, the greatest of them all" according to Francis I. He apparently referred to her as his "English mare". I have read this in several non-fiction books, but do not remember the sources. I also remember reading that Anne was quite distressed about her sister's reptutation. I am not sure about the facts regarding the Anne and Mary's time in France, but I think that Anne stayed when Queen Mary left after the death of the king. Mary may have left with her or sometime before or after, and I think it was because a marriage had been arranged for her. Anne remained to serve Queen Claude of France. I know nothing about Leonardo Da Vinci, but I suppose it is possible. Mary Queen of Scots was in the presence of Nostrodomus when she was young, who predicted the death of her father in law. Anyway, have fun learning all the facts. The Facts are much more interesting than the fiction.

Bearded Lady said...

Hi Erin, Regarding Leonardo – He was living in Clos-Luce at the time of Mary Boleyn’s stay in France. Frances threw a ball at Clos-Luce in 1518 so it’s possible (although unlikely) that they ran into each other.

Btw, I found this information in R.J Knecht’s latest book - The French Renaissance Court. You will find tons of other juicy tidbits about the French Court in his book which will give you a really good picture of what Mary Boleyn might have encountered. I highly recommend it as a follow up to your fiction reading. Good luck with your research!

Anonymous said...

Anne once said that her only friends she had is her "mother and her brother. so I take it that Anne wasn't close to her sister,nor her father.

Foose said...

I think the answer to your question is that there is such little evidence to go on as to the Boleyn sisters' stay in France and the nature of their relationship. Fiction writers and history scholars have to work with the same basic scraps of contemporary evidence, but fiction writers have the happy license to create and embellish. So of course fiction authors produce conflicting versions of how Anne and Mary felt about each other, and how exactly they passed their time at the French court.

The basic evidence consists of the following:

-Archduchess Margaret of Austria, based in the Low Countries, sent a letter (still extant) to Sir Thomas Boleyn, around 1514 thanking him for sending his daughter to her service. For a long time this daughter was thought to be Mary Boleyn but around 1980 an existing letter written by a young Anne to her father was revisited and the location specified (Veure) was identified as a suburb of Brussels.

-Next, there is an "M Boleyn" in the list of Mary "Rose" Tudor's attendants when she embarked for France in 1514. Which sister this was has been the subject of debate among historians. The current view is that Mary went with the new Queen Mary from England, and Anne was sent overland from Duchess Margaret's court to France.

-We know Anne was in France because in 1522, when the English were embracing an Imperial alliance, King Francois complained to his envoys to Wolsey that the "English scholars" were returning home (from France) and also the daughter of "M. de Boullan." This could not be Mary, as she was in England, having been married in 1520 to William Carey, one of the king's attendants. It might seem that Anne Boleyn was the subject of special interest to King Francois, but her father had been a frequent envoy and even ambassador to the French court; Francois apparently got on well with him, and so his daughter would have stood out at the French court for being her father's daughter, for being the niece of the Duke of Norfolk, and for being an Englishwoman.

-We also have the testimony of George Cavendish, an usher to Cardinal Wolsey, who wrote a biography of the Cardinal and evidently knew Anne Boleyn -- perhaps not intimately, but who she was and her circumstances. He says, "This gentlewoman, Mistress Anne Boleyn, being very young, was sent into France, and there made one of the French queen's women, continuing there until the French queen died" (actually, Claude died in 1524; Anne was sent home in 1522).

-And then we have an incident in March 1536, when Francois was ranting to the Bishop of Faenza (an envoy of the Pope) about "that woman" Anne Boleyn and calling her sister, "whom the French king knew in France," a "grandissima ribalda et infame sopre tutte" (the greatest prostitute and infamous above all). Hence the origin of Mary Boleyn's bad reputation in the court of France. I have read he also called her an "English hackney" because he had "ridden her so often," but I haven't been able to track down the source.

And that's about it for the Boleyn sisters at the court of France. There are "recollections" by writers like Brantome writing many years later, but these are not first-hand statements. Without any more information or evidence, you can see why a fiction writer would need to plug in a lot of information that they, basically, made up and which makes dramatic sense.

As for Anne and Mary's relationship, again it's murky. There are no letters exchanged between them that are extant. What we have is:

-Mary apparently became Henry VIII's mistress sometimes in the early 1520s. This is based largely on Henry's reported statement whe confronted with the allegation that he had slept with Anne's mother and sister, "Never with the mother!" However, I have read that the person who made this allegation and reported the conversation, George Throckmorton, may have made it up. Also, when Henry was trying to get his first marriage annulled, he asked the Pope for a dispensation to cover his future marriage to a woman to whom he was related in the second degree of affinity (i.e., he had slept with her sister). This is assumed to be in reference Anne Boleyn and her sister Mary. We don't know whether Mary lost her virginity to her husband, to Henry, to someone at the court of France. We don't know what Anne thought about Mary's relationship with Henry.

-When Anne began to rise in royal favor, she adopted a patronage role towards her family, which was the perfectly normal thing for her to do. She acquired the wardship of Mary's son Henry Carey, whose father may have been Henry VIII. Gregory makes out that Anne wanted to hurt her sister by doing this, but it was a perfectly reasonable thing for Anne to do and advantageous to young Master Carey and his mother. She also tried to get Mary's sister-in-law the office of prioress at her convent, but unfortunately Eleanor Carey's misconduct as a nun made it fall through, as Henry VIII disapproved of this type of behavior by a religious. She also got Mary a pension after William Carey died. These are neutral acts by Anne -- we can't say she did them because she loved her sister or she hated her sister. She had risen to power, and doing favors for people that benefit and aggrandise your own political faction and family is the essence of being a powerful person in Tudor England.

-Mary became one of Anne's ladies, apparently both before her marriage (a "Lady Mary" is listed on the roster for Anne's trip to Calais in 1532; historian David Loades thinks this was Mary Boleyn) and after. She apparently left court in 1534, out of favor with her sister for marrying William Stafford. We do have a hint of personal feeling in a letter Mary wrote to Cromwell, excusing her marriage, asking him for support, and claiming that she would rather "beg her bread" with her new husband than be the "greatest queen christened." This is usually interpreted as a slap at Anne.

-However, when King Francois was ranting to the Bishop in 1536 about Anne and Mary, he specifically said that Anne had "pretended to have miscarried of a son, not being really with child, and, to keep up the deceit, would allow no one to attend on her but her sister." This was the January 1536 miscarriage, and by this evidence Mary may have been back in favor with her sister. More tentatively, Francois also seems to suggest a level of intimacy and collusion between the sisters that he may have been aware of during their sojourn in France. But Mary and Anne were part of a court faction, and it was expected that everyone rally around in a crisis.

So that's about all we have. kb is the resident expert on Mary Boleyn, and she might have some more evidence that I haven't listed as to the time in France and the two sisters' relationship.

Per Leonardo da Vinci, as Bearded Lady says, he was definitely in France when Anne was there and Francois did value him, paying him visits. He seems to have been both old and ill and living in relative retirement. I don't know that the French queen's English maid of honor would have gone along on the king's visits or been on chummy terms with Da Vinci. Socially, artists at that time were considerably below someone of Anne Boleyn's rank.

kb said...

Foose - as usual - you've presented everything clearly and in better order than I could have managed. I actually know very little about Mary Boleyn. Notice I have nothing to add to the thread on where she might be buried.

I am convinced however that it is very likely that Mary Boleyn's 2 Carey children were fathered by Henry VIII. Which makes her his mistress from about 1523 to about 1525.

As foose said, we don't know when Mary lost her virginity or to whom. We don't really know the nature of the relationship between Mary and Anne. We assume that the Boleyns practiced dynastic politics the same way other court families did which would make it normal for Mary to accrue some benefit from Anne for being a support to her.

Erin - The most authoritative information on some of these questions would be the very same people phd historian mentions - Ives, Warnicke, possibly Loades. See if you can borrow the Ives book from a library so you can read the pages where he talks about Mary and Anne together. There's only about 20 so don't let the size of the book scare you.

Novelists get to make the answers to these questions up. That's the fun part, if misleading.