Thursday, April 09, 2015

Question from A.R. - Mary Boleyn's financial situation after William Carey's death

Hello everyone,

I have a question regarding Mary Boleyn. I'm re-reading Alison Weir's biography of Mary, but I can't find the explanation why Mary was so poor after William Carey's death? Carey was an up-and-coming, wealthy courtier and it is hard to understand why his widow was left destitute after his death. Shouldn't she receive some an annual income (I think it's called jointure) as all widows in the Tudor period? Is it because her dowry was not settled? or because her husband died intestate? I don't really understand why a widow of such a wealthy man would have been so poor after his death. Can anyone explain? Than you in advance! :-)


PhD Historian said...

In two parts, due to my usual long-windedness ...

Your question indicates that Mary Boleyn Carey’s “dowry was not settled.” But Weir states Carey “got an acceptable dowry with her,” indicating that the dowry was actually settled before the marriage took place (p.98).

Here is where it gets complicated, though. A “dowry” is legally quite different and distinct from a “dower.”

A “dowry” involves a transfer of legal ownership of property from the family of the bride into the possession of the groom. William Carey became the sole legal owner of whatever property he obtained through Mary Boleyn’s “dowry.” Mary had no separate legal claim to that specific property after the marriage, even if she became a widow.

In contrast, a “dower” (more correctly “dower right”) is the portion of a husband’s total property to which a wife is legally entitled under English common law if her husband dies before her. Customarily, the dower is one-third of the husband’s entire property portfolio. Thus upon William Carey’s death, Mary Boleyn Carey would have had the right under common law to claim one-third of his real property as her inheritance from him, even if he died intestate. It was very common for the property claimed under dower rights to include whatever property was part of the original dowry, but the dower portion might as easily be drawn from other assets, if the executors of the estate and the widow so agreed. For example, in a best-case scenario, a wife’s dowry might include the three manors of A, B, and C, which together were worth a certain amount of money through generated income. But as a widow, she and her husband’s executors might agree to grant her instead the two manors of X and Y from the deceased husband’s own original property, if those estates generated an equal amount of revenue but were perhaps more advantageously located. Estates A, B, and C would remain part of the deceased husband’s estate and be passed on to his other heirs.

A jointure is similar to a dower, but is established by contract rather than by common law and custom, with one very critical difference. Whereas a wife has no legal claim under dower rights to ownership of specific individual pieces of property (including the “dowry” property), under jointure she is assigned very specific named properties and maintains actual legal co-ownership of those properties. Within marriage, a woman had legal claim of ownership to only those properties that were included in her jointure. All the rest was in the sole legal of the husband, including the “dowry” proeprty. There was no concept of “common property.”

Weir makes no mention of a jointure. And it is entirely possible that one was never established. If a jointure was established before the marriage, dower rights were automatically voided. The widow would only receive whatever property she co-owned through joint-tenancy (jointure), even is those properties were considerably less than one-third of the total estate. Thus if William and Mary Carey had indeed created a jointure before the marriage, any lands assigned to her could/would have been drawn only from whatever lands William actually possessed at the time the jointure was made. Since he expected his possessions to increase in number and value, it would definitely have been to Mary’s advantage to wait and assert dower right, or one-third of all the property William possessed at his death, rather than to contract for a jointure from among his presumably smaller total estate at the time of the marriage. Pre-marital jointure would, in ideal circumstances, usually have offered a lesser financial settlement in the event of her widowhood than would dower rights. She stood a high probability of getting far more from dower than from jointure. And since William Carey was indeed "up and coming," they probably opted for dower rather than jointure.

PhD Historian said...

But William Carey, like so many of the courtiers of Henry VIII, owed a great deal of money to various creditors, having spent more than he earned in an effort to live the lavish lifestyle of a courtier. Appearances were hugely important in that setting, and most courtiers did go into debt in order to maintain the expected appearances. Most hoped to repay the debt eventually, since most anticipated advancement and reward over the course of a lengthy career at court. Unfortunately, William died quite young and with only a brief career behind him. During his short life, he failed to amass the kinds of estates and financial gains necessary to pay off his debts and to leave a significant “free and clear” estate. Much of his estate was consumed in paying off his massive debts, leaving little for Mary and his children. This was especially true if he did indeed die intestate, since the absence of a will left him without the ability to make specific bequests. The probate authorities would have withheld from Mary and the children all but subsistence income until the deceased debts were declared clear, which could take years. If his debts were large enough, they could easily have been left with nothing. Mary apparently had no jointure, and dower rights can be asserted only against unencumbered property, of which there was probably little.

A lengthy and complicated answer, but I hope it helps.

A.R. said...

Thank you, PhD Historian! Your reply is very helpful.

I'm also wondering, why Henry Carey became Anne Boleyn's ward? According to Alison Weir, this arrangement deprived Mary of revenues from Henry Carey's lands. I read that children became wards in case of their parents' deaths and Mary was still alive at the time...

PhD Historian said...

Wardship was not invoked upon someone becoming an orphan. Rather, it was invoked when any child, male or female, inherited a landed estate of significant value. The inheritance usually came directly from the child’s father, though it could also come from other sources and pass through a deceased father’s estate (i.e., a child might inherit from his/her paternal uncle or either grandfather if his/her father had predeceased the uncle or grandfather). Wardship might also be invoked in the rare instance of an adult woman with no children who inherited the entirety of her deceased husband’s estate.

Children and women were deemed incapable of managing a large estate and so needed guardians to act in their stead until either the child-heir reached adulthood or the widow remarried. Feudal custom mandated that the monarch became the safekeeper of all estates inherited by any child or childless widow, since the monarch was feudal overlord of all lands within the realm as well as the Christian protector of widows and orphans. Thus all child-heirs and childless-widow-heirs became wards of the monarch. In practice, however, the monarch more commonly sold most wardships as a means of raising ready cash. Prior to 1540, this process was loosely supervised by the Master of the King’s Wards. But by 1540, the revenues generated from the sales of wardships had become so vital that an entire bureaucratic arm of government, the Court of Wards, was created to maximize royal income from this source.

Because the primary purpose of wardship was to safeguard the estates until the child-heir became an adult (or the childless widow remarried), full control over those estates passed into the hands of the guardian who held the wardship. The guardian became the recipient of the revenues and incomes from the heir’s estates until the wardship ended. It was usually a very profitable arrangement for the guardian, with the revenues over time far exceeding the initial cost of purchasing the wardship and the later costs of raising the child (or securing a husband for the widow). And quite often, an heir even had to pay a further fee to gain final possession of his inheritance upon coming of age.

If the heir was a child, the child’s surviving mother retained only her dower rights (1/3 of the deceased husband’s total estates) or her jointure, if a jointure had been established. Paradoxically, widows with living children were not usually placed in wardship for their dower or jointure (i.e., the death of one man usually resulted in only one wardship, that of his child-heir or that of his childless widow-heir ... widows with children seldom became wards themselves).

It was not common for any woman to be made guardian of one of the king’s wards, even when the heir in question was related to the guardian (and unmarried aunts virtually never became guardians to nephews under either the Master of the King’s Wards or the later Court of Wards). The unusual case of Henry Carey is explained by the unique status of his Aunt Anne. She became Carey’s guardian in 1528, by which time King Henry VIII was already embarked on his plan to dispose of Katherine of Aragon and to remarry, presumably to Anne. As guardian of Henry Carey, Anne had the full use of whatever revenue’s young Carey’s estates might generate (the responsibility to pay the debts of the deceased father conveniently fell on the executors, not the guardian ... it was up to the executors to wrest the necessary funds from the guardian!). This gave Anne one (temporary) source of income without any cost to the king himself (the King also gave her other sources, of course). And since Henry VIII intended Anne to be his next queen, the temporary nature of the guardianship and its associated income perfectly suited the King’s purposes.

A.R. said...

Thank you so much for your answer, PhD Historian! You are so knowledgeable I feel compelled to ask you more about Mary.

According to Alison Weir, Mary Boleyn left her will (p. 229), but I found no evidence of this. She was a married woman and married women were not allowed to write their wills, am I correct? Also, what is inquisition post mortem? Is this the same thing as last will? Why did Thomas Boleyn left no will?

PhD Historian said...

Thank you for the compliment, A.R.

It is true that married women in Tudor England were considered to be legally subsumed under their husbands through a principle known as coverture. In simplest terms, the marital “union” created a single legal entity comprised of two persons, with the husband awarded control over the union and the legal entity. The husband therefore had full legal control over his wife’s property, under most circumstances. As such, the wife had little or no legal right to stipulate what should happen to her real property should she pre-decease her husband. Instead, it remained under his possession and control. There were exceptions, of course, but this was the general rule. It is therefore rare to find a last will and testament written by a married woman. Despite the legal rule, however, many women did leave informal instructions for the disposal of certain moveable property (called “goods and chattels”), and their surviving husbands were often quite cooperative.

I am not an expert on Mary Boleyn, but a quick search of the National Archives online database fails to reveal a last will and testament for her. I do not have access to a copy of Weir’s book, so I must ask: does Weir offer a footnote that might reveal her source for a legal will left by Mary Boleyn Stafford? Since Mary had a husband living at the time of her death, and she was not herself a person of highest status, I would be surprised to learn that she left a valid will that was actually probated.

Inquisitions Post Mortem were, in essence, a form of tax investigation. When a person of significant wealth and status died, a local court was convened to investigate the nature and value of the deceased person’s real property. Since landholding in Tudor England involved an extremely complex system of ancient feudal customs and practices, it was relatively rare for a person to possess a piece of property free of any obligation to anyone else. In the vast majority of instances, the person with possession of the property owed some feudal obligation to someone higher up the property-holding echelon in connection with the property. The purpose of the Inquisition Post Mortem was to be certain that any obligation left owing to the Crown, specifically, was met before possession of the property passed to the deceased’s heirs (feudal obligations to those other than the Crown were not considered). As you can probably see, this was quite separate from a last will and testament. In fact, if the Inquisition Post Morten found that some obligation was indeed left owing to the Crown, certain terms of any will might be set aside in order to allow the Crown to seize the property in question as compensation for the unpaid obligation. Records of the courts of inquisition post mortem were routinely passed along from local officials to the central authorities in London for filing, and those that remain today provide a very valuable source of information for historians. The website has a few volumes available online so you can see what they look like (under Browse Catalogue).

I do not know why Thomas Boleyn may not have left a will. The only reason I can think of (other than simple neglect) would be the fact that, at the time of his own death, Thomas Boleyn was survived only by his daughter Mary. His wife, son, and daughter Anne all pre-deceased him. Assuming he did indeed die intestate, Mary would have inherited any unencumbered property, even without a will. But it is unlikely that much of Thomas Boleyn’s property was indeed unencumbered. Hever Castle, in particular, passed immediately to the Crown upon Boleyn’s death. This suggests to me the Boleyn family “owned” Hever only in the sense of possessing the use of it, perhaps on a longterm lease (leasehold, as opposed to freehold) from the Crown. It seems possible that, following Bolyen’s death without a living male heir to assume the lease, the Crown simply reclaimed that property through a court of inquisition post mortem.

A.R. said...

Thank you, PhD Historian!

Here's the excerpt from Alison Weir:

"In her will, Mary left William Stafford the manor of Abinger, Surrey, and messuages called Whithouse and Londons, both formerly held by 'Lady Mary Carewe' in Essex (reference), together with the advowsons-the right to present a nominee to a vacant benefice-of the churches of Paglesham, Foulness, Hawkwell and Leigh.(reference)"

Well, she does give references but they are not very helpful: “L&P” for the "Lady Mary Carewe" quote and “Michael Clark” for the last one. Now, L&P, or Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, has 21 volumes covering the whole reign of Henry VIII, so it's like finding a needle in the haystack ;-) "Michael Clark" is a reference to Dr. Michael Clark's "Rochford Hall. The History of a Tudor House and Biographies of Its Owners". I don't have this book.

I'm pretty sure that Mary Boleyn (Carey Stafford) left no will. There was inquisition post mortem, so maybe this is what Weir is alluding to in this case.

Also, I think that the "Lady Mary Carewe" mentioned by Weir is not Mary Carey, because there was "Mary Carewe/Carew" at court in 1545. I've checked in L&P.

PhD Historian said...

The reference from the L&P (Volume 21, Part 1) only confirms that Lady Mary “Carewe” (Carey) had owned a small piece of property with a simple house on it (a messuage) called Londons that she had let out on long-term lease (probably a leasehold) to John Stane, who was still in possession of it (seised of it) at his death in 1546.

“John Stane. yeoman, ... died seised of a messuage called Loftmans in Cannoudon held of the King, a messuage called Whithouse held of Wm. Stafford and a messuage called Londons held of Lady Mary Carewe. Dated 27 May 38 Hen. VIII. Del. Westm., 30 June 1546.”

I do not have access to the Clark reference concerning Rochford Hall. But after a little research on Rochford Hall and some cogitating, I came up with the following possible explanations.

Weir (and seemingly Clark) assert that Mary Boleyn Carey Stafford left behind a last will and testament when she died in June of 1543. Weir (and the L&P) notes that Mary was recognized as the owner, separate from her husband, of the messuage of Londons. Clark indicates that she was also owner, again separate from her husband, of Rochford Hall in Essex, which she had inherited from her father in 1539. Mary had already been married to William Stafford for 5 years when she inherited Rochford Hall, yet her husband apparently did not have the expected, usual control over property inherited by his wife after their marriage.

And from what I can gather, there seems to be general agreement that the marriage between Mary Boleyn and William Stafford was a true “love match.” Certainly it is true that Stafford was considerably lower in the socio-economic pecking order than she, rendering the match somewhat irregular, at minimum. Mary suffered social hardship for having married him.

This leads me to wonder if, given the combination of presumed “true love” and personal sacrifice, Stafford may have treated Mary in a more “modern” way (for lack of a better term). If she did indeed leave a will, she can have done so only with his explicit written consent. And since she reportedly left Rochford Hall to her son Henry by her first husband William Carey, Stafford was clearly quite willing to forego any claim to her most significant piece of property (an unusually generous gesture for a man of the period!). Mary nonetheless apparently left him some of her properties of lesser value (Abinger, Whithouse, and Londons), plus four advowsons that afforded relatively little financial benefit but some degree nonetheless of social prestige and local influence.

Of course, it is also possible that the couple reached a jointure agreement at the time of the marriage, despite the marriage having been contracted in secrecy. I am not altogether certain that a jointure can even be made in secrecy, but if so, it is possible that Stafford granted Mary the right of continued separate ownership of any dower property (as William Carey’s widow) she brought with her into the marriage (Abinger? Whithouse? Londons? the advowsons?), plus any additional property she might eventually inherit from her father. When the couple married in 1534, her Boleyn inheritance was expected to be quite small (her brother George was set to inherit the vast majority). So Stafford would have been giving up very little. How was he to know that George and Anne would be executed, leaving Mary as her father’s principal heir?

So, did Mary Boleyn Carey Stafford own property separate from her husband and leave a separate will because Stafford was unusually generous in granting his wife a separate legal existence, or because in creating a jointure Stafford failed to anticipate the fall of the Boleyns and Mary’s rise as principal heir to her father? I suspect the former, but I suppose a combination of both is possible as well.

A.R. said...

This sounds like a very plausible explanation, PhD Historian! Thank you so much for your invaluable insight! I was always wondering about these things.

It's interesting that in these documents, Mary was referred to as "Mary Carewe" and not Mary Stafford. It's also interesting to note that "Lady Mary Carewe" was granted a custody of a "lunatic". Is it possible that this "lunatic" was Mary's grandmother, Margaret (Butler) Boleyn? She was described as a "lunatic" since 1519 and lived at Hever Castle until her death in 1539 or 1540. I'm not sure why the custody grant is dated to 1546 though. At first i thought that this Mary Carewe is not the Mary I was looking for ;-)