Mary Boleyn, in the style of Holbein. Hever Castle, Kent, England.

Mary Boleyn, in the style of Holbein.
Hever Castle, Kent, England.

As an English school girl I was very familiar with Henry VIII and his infamous six wives. We even learnt a little poem to remember what happened to them ‚Äì divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived! As a history nut I find his reign very interesting and the legacy of the Tudor dynasty. It was only about ten years ago that I came across a novel that opened up a new aspect of this time that I find completely fascinating: Philippa Gregory’s book on Mary Boleyn,¬†The Other Boleyn Girl.

The novel by Philippa Gregory reveals this fascinating young girl who navigated the perils of Tudor court, becoming the mistress of Henry VIII only to be overshadowed by her elder sister Anne who became his Queen, then finding love with a common soldier and defying her family to marry him. I devoured the novel, which has now become my favourite book, as it painted a vivid and captivating portrait of sixteenth century England and Mary Boleyn.

Mary Boleyn is an elusive historical figure and there are not many facts known about her. It is widely believed she was the younger sister of Anne, but this is based on contextual evidence rather than absolute fact. She is believed to have been a beauty, passionate and giddy, and enjoying life at court and the trappings of luxury. What is known about her is that she married her first husband William Carey on 4th February 1520, when she was not yet twelve years old. Sometime after her marriage it is believe she became to mistress of Henry VIII and she had her first child, a daughter by the name of Catherine, by the age of sixteen, widely believed to be Henry’s child. She went on to have a son shortly after, again believed to be the King’s son. However, the children carried the name of her husband, Carey, and were never officially recognised as Henry’s children. Around the time of the birth of her son it seems Anne caught the attention on the King and Mary was to be overlooked. Mary attended her sister when Henry and her visiting the King of France in 1533 and it is on the trip it is believed she met William Stafford, the man she would defy her family to marry.

By 1534 Mary was married to William Stafford and in her family’s disfavour was banished from court. Her son, also named Henry, was given over the wardship of his aunt, Anne. The novel suggests the reasoning behind this was to take away the King’s son from Mary and make Anne instantly more desirable. There is little evidence that she had much contact with her family or her sister the Queen until her sister’s death. Mary inherited wealthy lands from her father and her children went on to served their cousin Queen Elizabeth I. Her granddaughter Lettice, daughter of Catherine, went on to marry Queen Elizabeth’s love Robert Dudley and her son from her first marriage was also a favourite of the Queen.

All in all, at least in Gregory’s telling, Mary Boleyn was a fascinating, spirited young girl who enjoyed a wild life at court before rebelling against it all to marry the love of her life, William Stafford.

-Alice Whalley
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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