Monday, July 21, 2008

Question from Joy - Sources for info on Mary Boleyn

I would like to know more about Mary Boleyn, can you let me know where I can access any information, I am only new to this but I saw The Other Boleyn Girl and I am intrigued. Many thanks


Elizabeth M. said...

First off, bear in mind that The Other Boleyn Girl has hardly any basis in fact to it. Both the book and the movie are complete wastes of time in my opinion. They are a complete fabrication, and it gauls me that people who went to see that film probably left the theater thinking they had seen the actual story of these sisters.
Mary Boleyn, in a nutshell, was believed to be the elder daughter of Thomas Boleyn and his wife, Elizabeth Howard. She was born c. 1499-1500. As a teenager, she served for a time as a maid of honor to Henry VIII's sister, Mary Tudor during her brief career as Queen of France. Her younger sister Anne, born c.1501, spent a year in the Netherlands at teh court of Archduchess margaret of Austria before being sent to join her sister in the service of Mary Tudor.
Upon the death of Mary's husband, King Louis XII, the French throne was inherited by Francis I, a cousin of Louis. His wife was Claude. Unfortunately, young Mary Boleyn disgraced herself in the service of Queen Claude, in whose employ she remained, as did her sister Anne. Mary became known for her loose morals at the French court, and slept with many courtiers, including, so the stories say, the King. Her father Thomas Boleyn brought her back to England in disgrace. Anne Boleyn remained in the service of Queen Claude until late in 1521, and was renowned for her virtuous behavior at the French court.
Upon returning to England, Mary Boleyn picked up where she left off in France, and soon became a bedwarmer for Henry VIII. She was married off to a man named William Carey and had two children, Henry and Catherine. There is unsubstantiated theories that at least her son was fathered by King Henry, but these are just theories. Henry never acknowledged either henry or Catherine Carey as his bastards if they were his biological children. Given that he acknowledged his son Henry, the son of Bessie Blount, as his bastard, and indeed made him Duke of Richmond, it seems fair to say Mary's children were not the King's. William Carey, her husband, died of the sweating sickness in 1528, leaving Mary as a castoff royal mistress with two children.
By 1522, Anne Boleyn had been recalled to England and brought to court to serve as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Katherine of Aragon. Ostensibly, she was brought back to settle a title dispute between her father and Sir Piers Butler over the Irish Earldom of Ormonde. The mother of Thomas Boleyn, had been a daughte of the Earl of Ormonde, and when he died, she and her sister were his co-heiresses, thus Thomas Boleyn had a claim to the earldom. So did Piers Butler, a remote cousin. A settlement was proposed in which Anne would marry James Butler, the son of Piers, who was being brought up at the English court. Unfortunately, Anne caught the fancy of the young heir to the Earl of Northumberland and had a brief fling with him, maybe even becoming engaged, before the young man's father forced his son to marry Eleanor Talbot, to whom he had been long betrothed. Anne was sent home to Hever Castle, and was absent from court for a prolonged period of time. She also attracted the attention of the poet Thomas Wyatt. When King Henry first decided he wanted Anne is up to debate, but by 1526 is a reasonable guess, and by 1527, Henry was in motion to set the groundwork for divorcing his wife Katherine and Marry Anne, which he finally did in 1533 when Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, pronounced his marriage to Katherine of Aragon void.
From 1528, the time of her husband's death, until 1534, Mary Boleyn got along fairly decently with her sister, but fared poorly financially. Anne arranged a small allowance of 100 pounds a year and made arrangements for the education of her son. But in 1534, Mary Boleyn scandalized her family by marrying one William Stafford, an inconsequential knight, for love. Basically her whole family, Queen Anne included, cut her off and refused to have anything to do with her--she had married far beneath her. She was reduced to begging Thomas Cromwell to intercede for her financially. Eventually, Anne relented a bit and sent Mary some money, but never again received her at court. The sisters were still effectively estranged when Anne was arrested, tried, and executed for treason and adultery. There is no record Mary Boleyn ever saw her sister in the Tower before her death. She and her second husband lived in obscurity until Mary's death in 1543. There is not even a record of where she was buried.
Far from being the sweet young thing portrayed in the movie, Mary Boleyn was a highly-sexed woman who liked to have a good time in the bedroom. She flew in the face of convention and married who she wanted after her husband died, and then paid for it dearly by the alienation of her family.
And just as an aside, Anne Boleyn did not die as depicted in the film, sniveling and having to be forced down to the block. All contemporary accounts point to her bravery in her final moments, even going so far as to tuck her skirt under her knees for the sake of modesty before the sword took off her head.
You will not find a decent biography of Mary Boleyn, but you will find out a lot about her in the biography of Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives, "The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn".

Anonymous said...

I think the best you will probably be able to do is to look at biographies and studies of Anne Boleyn and/or Henry VIII. Unfortunately, modern historians have not yet judged Mary Boleyn a subject worthy of historical study in her own right. She remains largely a supporting character in the stories of her former paramour and of her more (in)famous sister. Perhaps there is insufficient evidence available from which to create a separate history of "the other Boleyn girl," so that the task has instead been left to novelists such as Ms Gregory.

Anonymous said...

Philippa Gregory's website has some more information. There is also a book coming out next year, 'The Mistreses of Henry VIII'

Elizabeth M. said...

Ah, but be careful of Ms. Gregory. She is a novelist, remember. She received her PhD in literature, not history. You would be much better trying to find sources on Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII that have been written by professional historians.

Anonymous said...

Philippa Gregory's website contains information on the findings of Sally Varlow and another historian, who I am not sure is amateur or professional. The new book will be non-fiction and by a professional historian.

Anonymous said...

Take a look at this link from Gregory's website. How accurate are these "truths?"

Anonymous said...

the other boleyn girl was made for entertainment, as was the novel. same thing goes for showtime's "the tudors." they're made for entertainment, not to be entirely accurate! they take history's events and twist them around to make them appeal to viewers.

some of us will try to find out the real history if we're intrigued enough...but most people don't. i don't think the movie or the book is a waste of time. i take it for what it is...entertainment.

Elizabeth M. said...

There have been other things written saying Mary Boleyn's children were royal bastards. I do not think the truth will ever be known. King Henry never acknowledged them as his bastards. There could have been several reasons for this--first and foremost it could have been that they were indeed not his, and maybe he also wanted no impediments to marrying Anne Boleyn. Having children by her sister would have caused problems with the church. One of his chief reasons for divorcing Katherine of Aragon was his supposed troubled conscience about living in sin after marrying his brother's widow. It made them related in the forbidden degrees of affinity according to church law. If he acknowledged bastard children by the sister of the woman he hoped to make his second wife, this would have raised the same forbidden degree of affinity problem.
Mary Boleyn's two children Henry and Catherine, were born c. 1524 and 1526, respectively. Her affair with King Henry ended around 1526 or 1527, about the same time it is believed henry fell heavily for her sister Anne and began divorce proceedings against Queen Katherine. It is entirely possible her children were Henry's. But there are no reliable contemporary sources that say her children were King Henry's. Only rumor and innuendo.
For whatever reason, King Henry only acknowledged one bastard child and that was Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond, his son by Elizabeth Blount.
But given the fact he was so concerned about not only having a son, but his ability to father one--remember he once asked ambassador Chapuys "Am I not a man, like other men?" If he had fathered Mary Boleyn's boy, you think he would have used it to illustrate to skeptics that he was capable of fathering healthy male children, even if they were bastards--thus putting the onus of failure on his wives--which he did in the cases of Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn.
Royal bastards then did not have the stigma they would have today. It was almost expected for medieval and Tudor men to have extramarital affairs, and some used their bastards for familial gain. Richard III, just one example, provided a nice marriage to his bastard daughter Katherine.
Scotland's Stuart family had bastards right and left, and many of them made highly advantageous marriages. Queen Mary Stuart's nemesis, James Stewart, Earl of Moray, was a royal bastard, being her illegitimate half-brother. He married the daughter of an Earl, and his illegitimate status was no real hindrance to his becoming the regent for his nephew, King James VI (later King James I of England) after the forced abdication of Queen Mary Stuart.

kb said...

Wow - take a 24 hour break from the site and all sorts of things happen!

1 - I am of the belief that Katherine and Henry Carey were the children of Henry VIII and Mary Boleyn.

2. Their birth dates have been almost as confused as Mary and Anne's. Katherine was the first born. Henry younger.

3. Sally Varlow is a professional writer not historian. Her book, 'The Lady Penelope' is her first historical biography. The prologue is fictional. She has told me that she is considering writing fiction for her next work.

4. She has done a great service to those of us interested in the other Boleyn girl's children by bringing to light a forgotten document Sir Francis Knollys Latin Dictionary.

5. The dictionary was 're-found' in a drawer at Rotherfield Greys, the Knollys family seat and now a National Trust property. In it Sir Francis, who was married to Katherine Carey recorded the birth dates of his children. Interestingly, and presumably a reflection of his religious beliefs, he did not use a bible to record the births of his children. I have seen the relevant pages of the dictionary.

6. By knowing the birth dates we can more accurately pinpoint Katherine Carey's age - their mother. Until Varlow brought this document to our attention the DNB was inconsistent and plain wrong. By comparing multiple articles including Lettice Knollys, daughter of Katherine and Sir Francis, Katherine would have had to give birth to Lettice when she was 10.

7. Contrary to long standing assumption Lettice was not the first born but the third child. This would have made Katherine something like 6 when she married Sir Francis. Yet for decades this information was not analyzed sufficiently, due to lack of interest, to re-assess the birth order and dates of Mary Boleyn's children.

8. Given the information in the dictionary, written in Sir Francis's own hand we can now fix his wife's birth date to no later than 1524. This would make her 16 when she married Sir Francis on 26 April 1540. And 17 at the brith of her first child, Henry on 12 April 1541, 18 when her second child, Mary was born on 25 October 1542 and 18 when her most famous child Lettice was born on 6 November 1543.

9. William Carey’s inquisition post mortem of 22 June 1528 records Henry’s age as two years, fifteen weeks and five days. Which means that Henry Carey was born 4 March 1526.

10. So far, no one has discovered a collection of Boleyn/Carey papers. Absence of historical agreement makes for perfect fictional treatment. Enter Ms. Gregory.

More later on other topics. But in answer to the original post, the historical profession has only just started to show interest in the rest of the Tudor female elite including Mary Boleyn's great-grandaughter, Penelope Rich, her mother Lettice Knollys, her mother Katherine Carey Knollys (my interest) and of course Mary Boleyn.

Anonymous said...

Another possible reason why King Henry would not have recognized the Carey children as official royal bastards: their mother was married at the time of their birth, thus he can never fully prove that they were indeed his children. Elizabeth Blount was not married at the time of the birth of Henry Fitzroy; thereby making his paternity more certain.

kb said...

The reasons why Henry VIII did not recognize the Carey children take up about 10,000 words in my dissertation/thesis (still not done for those of you wondering arrgghh).

He did however bestow some benign neglect on them that flies in the face of his more normal manner of cutting out (or cutting off) those who he felt betrayed by, or who he was embarrassed would seem logical (in the odd mind we have imagined for him) that he would turn his back on anything to do with the Boleyns. But he didn't extend that to Mary's children.

The political and personal reasons for not acknowledging them as royal bastards include the threat to any potential heirs from Anne's body, the consanguinity issue he had just used to divorce his first wife, possibly Anne's envy - although she was granted wardship of Henry Carey, etc etc etc....

There is a theory that Mary Boleyn was married to William Carey precisely so that paternity of her children could be safely ignored.

Anonymous said...

Something else to consider in regard to Mary Boleyn's children is the Tudor paranoia regarding claimants to the throne. Like his father before him, Henry VIII was possibly very jealous of his throne. Consider his executions of the Duke of Buckingham and the Countess of Salisbury. Also his paranoia of his daughter Mary during part of his reign. Any additional children could possibly be a focal point for a rebellion, either during his lifetime or the lifetime of his heirs.

With Elizabeth Blount, it was necessary to acknowledge his bastard, as Bessie was as yet unwed and much more likely, Henry wanted to prove that he could indeed sire a healthy male child. Mary Boleyn was married, any children born to her could be acknowledged by her husband, no need to give them "a name". Also, Henry already had proof he could sire male sons in Fitzroy, so the Carey children were, for lack of a better word, superfluous in this regard. Plus the timing and order of their births could be reasons enough, although less likely. If Katherine were born first, Henry surely did not need to acknowledge that he had sired another girl. If that were the birth order, then shortly after Henry Carey was born, Henry VIII would have embarked on his pursuit of Anne Boleyn. I personally doubt that would be reason enough to not acknowledge Henry Carey. It should not have been any kind of impediment for Anne becoming his mistress, and it was too early for Henry to be thinking of marriage to Anne Boleyn.

So why acknowledge an illegitimate child that could not inherit, could be pawned off as someone else's child, whom was not needed to show the father's virility as that had already been established, and who could very possibly be a focal point for unrest or disatisfied court factions?

As to the book and movie titled The Other Boleyn Girl, I dont think it was ever portrayed as anything other than a work of fiction. No serious scholar is going to rely on them for research, so whats the harm in the entertainment value?

Thanks for the opportunity to comment. Vanessa

Anonymous said...

Hi Everyone,

Before i star please let me appoligise in advance for any bad grammer/spelling.
What a fascinating conversation.

I am of the mind that 'The Other Boleyn Girl' film was bloody awful! so awful infact i was quite cross and dissapointed coming out of the cinema.
On the other hand i found the book fairly accurate and such a compelling read although definatly missing alot of finer details. but i know sorry this isnt a book review.

The story elizabeth m tells is pretty much what is already in philipa gregorys book. i have read somthing called 'love letters between henry and anne' or somthing to that affect. If my memory serves me righly it had a few interesting pointers about Mary Boleyn. Gambeling debts ect..

I must say Elizabeth i have been studying 16th centry especially anne boleyns periodfor 10 years now and i couldnt remember all those dates off hand.

Can i just throw somthing on the table. What do you think about the theory of phillipa Gregory's and other historians belife that anne Boleyns birthyear being more like 1503-1506? I know my thoughts on the subject.
Also what starsign do you believe she may have been? It would be interesting to learn ppls ideas on this as her birthdate isnt actually recorded.