Sunday, April 04, 2010
Question from Elizabeth M - Mentally challenged son of Mary Boleyn
I recently read in Tracy Borman's book, Elizabeth's Women, that Mary Boleyn supposedly gave birth to a mentally challenged son whom his aunt, Queen Anne Boleyn, could not suffer to be at court. I have never heard this before. I believe Anne assumed the wardship of Mary's son, Henry Carey, for a time. Mary was banished from court after marrying William Stafford without permission. There is no evidence that Henry Carey was mentally challenged, and there is some speculation that Mary and Stafford may have had two children--a son and a daughter named Anne. Does anyone know about the supposedly mentally challenged son of Mary Boleyn?
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Boy, do I wish I had a copy of this book but it is not available in the US yet.
Does Borman offer any source material for this claim? Any footnotes?
Anne was granted the wardship of Henry Carey - true. Controlling Henry's inheritance and his eventual marriage was important to Anne's security and status.
As far as I know, Anne was not fond of having Henry at court but not because he was mentally challenged. reminders of her sister, Mary's relationship with the king, and healthy sons would have called into question her own position. Also, there were very few children in permanent residence with the court. Elite children had their own establishments or resided in country houses where the air was considered more healthful.
I know of no contemporary evidence that Henry Carey had any mental infirmity. He was an active member of Elizabeth's political machinery and personal entourage starting when she was still a princess in 1545 and lasting through his death in 1596.
Later in his life, it is possible he had syphilis. He slept around a bit and there is a poem suggesting the diagnosis. He was considered bad at languages, good at swearing and very loyal to Elizabeth.
The evidence for any possible surviving children Mary may have had with Stafford is thin. So thin, I could not include it in my doctoral thesis on the Careys. We know she was pregnant as that is how their marriage came to light. But after that the archives are silent.
No, Borman does not have a footnote or anything for this bit of information. She just says that there were precedents in Anne's family regarding problem births--that her mother lost several babies on infancy--which is a matter of conjecture. We know about the boys Henry and Thomas, who died young, but little else. Then she goes on to say that Mary Boleyn gave birth to a son with mental disabilities whom Anne could not suffer to be at court. She was writing this in conjunction with Anne giving birth to Elizabeth in 1533, implying that this boy was born before 1533. What facts are available say Mary Boleyn had two children by her husband--Henry and katherine. henry went on to become Lord Hunsdon during the reign of his cousin Elizabeth, and there is no mention of any mental infirmity connected with him. Unless Mary Boleyn had another child before 1533, but I have never seen that listed in any other biography of her. Mary Boleyn was apparently pregnant when she married William Stafford, but that was after 1533. So I am very curious about Borman's assertion of this mentally-challenged son and where she got her information from.
The way you describe the passage in the book, it seems like the author has confused a few different pieces of information.
There is no evidence at all that Henry Carey was mentally challenged. It is generally held that Anne did not want Henry Carey at court as a child. Henry Carey would have been 7 in 1533.
So Mary Boleyn gave birth to Katherine 1524, Henry 4 Mar 1526, William Carey died 22 Jun 1528, and she married William Stafford in 1534. I suppose it is possible she became pregnant after Henry's birth and before Carey's death. But there's no record of that. As there is so much on Henry and Katherine Carey, you would expect some archival source for a sibling.
As she married Stafford in 1534, it is unlikely that she had a child old enough to be thought mentally challenged in 1533.
Could the author or her source, whatever it may be, confused the period adjective "natural" -- signifying bastardy or illegitimacy -- with the period noun "a natural" (appears around 1533, according to the dictionary although I couldn't find specific references in Letters & Papers), which connotes a person mentally handicapped from birth?
A commenter over at the Anne Boleyn Files blog asked the same question, only referencing Carolly Erickson's Mistress Anne rather than Borman's book. I checked it out and it looks like Borman utilized Erickson's book on this particular subject nearly verbatim, although she did not cite it.
(Borman's work has a very curious reference system -- the endnotes are all dutifully numbered, but there are no corresponding numbers in the text, so it's hard to figure out which statement is being cited. I went through all the citations in the first chapter, where the reference to the mentally challenged son is made; it's a fairly standard list (L&P, State Calendars, Harleian, even Alison Weir's Henry VIII, etc.) and there's no basis for this statement that I can see.)
Erickson's book does link the reference to an endnote, but again it's the L&P record of John Skidmore alleging that Master "Care" [Carey] was the king's son and the queen "myght not suffer" him to be about the court. There's nothing there that says Henry Carey was retarded or backward.
Mary Carey and her husband did apparently have the wardship of an "idiot" heir; I assume when William Carey died this reverted to the Crown. At around the same time, however, Mary's son Henry became a ward of his aunt, Anne Boleyn. Perhaps Erickson or her researchers may have confused the two separate wardships. It would be interesting to see kb's review of Borman's book; it's clearly directed at a popular audience, and the "mentally challenged" son comment does not inspire confidence, but it has interesting things to say about Elizabeth's familia throughout her life and I would like to see a qualified scholar assess the historical veracity of the work.
I have pre-ordered the Borman book but it is unlikely to arrive before October 1. I am happy to post a review after I have had a chance to read it.
A stutter or stammer would be a mental disability not uncommon among high ranking British royals that is not a cognitive impairment, merely one of appearances.
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