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Mary Boleyn (1499)

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Mary Boleyn (c. 1499/1500 – 19 July 1543), was the sister of English queen consort Anne Boleyn and a member of the Boleyn family, which enjoyed considerable influence during the reign of King Henry VIII of England. Some historians claim she was Anne's younger sister, but her children believed Mary was the elder sister, as do most historians today.

Mary was one of the mistresses of Henry VIII. It has been alleged that she bore two of the King's children, though Henry did not acknowledge either of them as he did with Henry Fitzroy, his son by Bessie Blount. Mary was also rumoured to have been a mistress of Henry VIII's rival, King Francis I of France. She was also the maternal aunt of Queen Elizabeth I of England.

Mary Boleyn married twice: first to Sir William Carey, whom she wed in 1520, and second to Sir William Stafford, a soldier. This latter marriage to a man so far beneath her station angered King Henry and her sister, Queen Anne, and resulted in Mary's banishment from the royal court in 1534. She spent the remainder of her life in obscurity.


 early life
Mary was probably born at the family seat in Blickling Hall, Norfolk and grew up at Hever Castle, Kent. She was the daughter of a wealthy diplomat and courtier, Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Howard, Countess of Wiltshire, the eldest daughter of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk.

There is no concrete evidence of her exact date of birth, but it was sometime between 1499 and 1508. Most historians suggest that she was also the eldest of the three Boleyn children who survived infancy. The evidence suggests that the surviving Boleyns believed Mary to have been the eldest child; in 1597, her grandson, Lord Hunsdon, claimed the title of “Earl of Ormond” on the grounds that he was the Boleyns’ legitimate heir. According to the strict rules of aristocratic inheritance, if Anne had been the elder sister, the title would have belonged to her daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, since a title descended through the eldest female line in the absence of a male line. However, Queen Elizabeth was said to have offered Henry, Mary's son, the title as he was dying, but he declined it. If Mary was the eldest Boleyn, Henry would have inherited the title upon his grandfather's death without the need to claim it. There is more evidence to suggest that she was older than Anne. Furthermore, she was married off first on 4 February 1520, and by tradition an elder daughter would be married before her younger sister. In 1532, when Anne was made marquess of Pembroke, she was referred to as "one of the daughters of Thomas Boleyn." Were she the eldest, that would likely have been mentioned. Either way, most historians now accept Mary as the eldest child, placing her birth some time in 1499.

Mary was brought up along with her brother George and her sister Anne by a French governess at Hever Castle in Kent. She was given a conventional good education deemed essential for young ladies of her rank and status at the time. These were the essentials in arithmetic, her family genealogy, grammar, history, reading, spelling, and writing. Mary learned feminine accomplishments such as dancing, embroidery, good manners, household management, music, needlework, and singing, and games such as cards and chess. She was also taught archery, falconry, horseback riding, and hunting.

It was once believed that it was Mary who began her education abroad and spent time as a companion to Archduchess Margaret of Austria; but it is now clear that it was her sister, Anne, who did so. Mary was kept in England for most of her childhood. She was sent abroad in 1514 around the age of fifteen when her father secured her a place as maid-of-honour to the King’s sister, Princess Mary, who was going to Paris to marry King Louis XII of France. After a few weeks, many of the Queen's English maids were sent away but Mary Boleyn was allowed to stay, probably because her father was the new English ambassador to France. Even when Queen Mary left France after she was widowed on 1 January 1515, Mary Boleyn remained, joining the court of Louis's successor, Francois I and his queen consort Claude.

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Whole or part of the information contained in this card come from the Wikipedia article "Mary Boleyn", licensed under CC-BY-SA full list of contributors here.