Mary Boleyn: The Great and Infamous Whore by Alison Weir


  There has been speculation that the couple married for love,30 with Mary indulging in what Agnes Strickland unfairly called her “incorrigible predilection for making love matches,” but we have no evidence for this,31 as nothing is known about the personal relationship between her and William. There is no basis to the claim that “Mary added to the unforgivable errors of her ways by marrying presumably for love,” nor was this “a sorry match for a Boleyn,” with Mary having “spoiled her chances of a good one. Significantly, her father did not attend the wedding.”32 As we have seen, although Sir Thomas was unable to get back to England in time, the marriage clearly took place with his approval. And, in an age in which marrying purely for love was regarded as akin to insanity, the presence of the King at the wedding argues that it was supported by all parties and considered eminently suitable.

  There is no evidence to support the oft-repeated assertion that Carey was “chosen more for his willingness to have his wife continue to grace the royal bed than for any other reason.”33 All the evidence points to Mary’s affair with Henry VIII having begun after their marriage. Given her misconduct of five years past, she may be considered lucky to have preserved her reputation and secured such a husband. Her father was perhaps aware that he had put soiled goods on the marriage market, but William Carey had probably not heard of Mary’s brief affair with the King of France—and probably never would, for no doubt care would have been taken to keep it a secret.

  Mary’s wedding took place on February 4, 1520,34 at court, with Henry VIII himself attending the ceremony in the newly rebuilt chapel royal35 at Greenwich Palace, on the banks of the River Thames.36 The King’s Book of Payments records: “For the King’s offering upon Saturday, at the marriage of W. Care and Mare Bullayn, six shillings and eightpence.” (£130)37 Contrary to what some writers38 have assumed, this was not a gift to the newlyweds but an offering at the altar. Antonia Fraser states that Queen Katherine also “attended the festivities,” but there is no record of this in contemporary sources.

  Henry’s presence at the wedding is unlikely to have been due to an amorous interest in the bride, as has often been suggested, but probably had much to do with Sir Thomas Boleyn being in high favor and William Carey being the King’s kinsman. William’s maternal grandmother, Eleanor Beaufort (who had once been married to James Butler, 5th Earl of Ormond), was the first cousin of Henry’s grandmother, Margaret Beaufort, and through Eleanor,39 William was descended from King Edward III and related to nearly every aristocratic family in the land. Indeed, he boasted “a more immediate royal heritage than the Boleyns.”40

  The second son of Thomas Carey of Chilton Foliat, Wiltshire, by Margaret Spencer, William was then about twenty-four, an upwardly mobile courtier of some standing, all set for a glittering career at court, and a man of good birth.

  His family could trace its lineage back to the eleventh century. In Domesday Book, the manor of “Kari,” which they owned, and from which their name41 was derived, is described as lying in the parish of St. Giles in the Heath, near Launceston, Somerset. The Norman castle they later occupied at Castle Cary, Somerset, stood on the hillside above the village horse pond, but survived only into the twelfth century, and nothing of it remains today. A later manor house of the Careys that stood in the village has also long since disappeared.

  The first member of the family to make his mark was Sir John Carey, who supported Richard II after his deposition in 1399, and died in exile in Waterford, Ireland. For this, his lands were confiscated by Richard’s successor, Henry IV, and it was only after Sir John’s son, Sir Robert Carey of Cockington and Clovelly in Devon, had defeated a knight errant of Aragon and won the post of Champion of Arms to Henry V that they were largely restored. Sir Robert and his descendants, including William Carey, were thereafter authorized to bear the arms of the vanquished knight: “in a field argent a bend sable bearing three roses of the field.”

  The family fortunes suffered another reversal when Robert’s grandson, Sir William Carey of Cockington, who supported the House of Lancaster in the Wars of the Roses, was executed in 1471 after the Yorkists won the Battle of Tewkesbury. He left an heir, Robert, by his first wife, Elizabeth Paulet, and a younger son, Thomas, born in 1460,42 by his second, Alice Fulford.

  This Thomas was William Carey’s father. He settled at Chilton Foliat, which lies two miles northwest of Hungerford in Wiltshire, and had links with the Careys going back at least as far as 1407, when a Robert Carey was rector.43 Thomas sat in Parliament as burgess for Wallingford, Berkshire, in 1491–92, and made a good marriage to Margaret, daughter of Sir Robert Spencer by Eleanor Beaufort; by her he had three sons and four daughters. His date of death is variously given in genealogies: some writers say he died in 1500,44 but documents in the National Archives show that he was pursuing a lawsuit between 1518 and 1529, and died shortly before June 21, 1536, at Tewkesbury.45

  Thomas’s eldest son, born around 1491, was Sir John Carey,46 later of Thremhall Priory in Essex, which was granted to him in 1538 at the Dissolution of the Monasteries.47 In 1522 this John was serving as a captain of one of the ships in Henry VIII’s navy, but by 1526, probably through the influence of his younger brother, William, he had been appointed a Groom of the Privy Chamber, a lower rank than that of Esquire of the Body. He returned to his naval career, however, and by 1542 had risen to the rank of vice admiral. In 1547 he was knighted by Edward VI. He died in 1552 at Hunsdon House in Hertfordshire, and is buried in Hunsdon Church.

  William, who married Mary Boleyn, was John’s junior by perhaps five years—if we accept the date 1526 on an Elizabethan copy of his portrait, where his age is given as thirty,48 which places his birth around 1496. The third son, Edward Carey, was perhaps born in 1498, and died in 1560. One daughter, Mary, married Sir John Delaval of Seaton Delaval in Northumberland, a marriage that was possibly arranged through the good offices of her maternal aunt, Katherine Spencer, Countess of Northumberland. Two others, Eleanor and Anne, became nuns at Wilton Abbey. The remaining daughter, Margaret, appears to have remained unwed.

  Chilton Foliat, where the Carey siblings apparently grew up, was—and still is—a small, ancient settlement on the River Kennet, straddling the Marlborough Road and surrounded by lush, unspoiled woodland and gentle hills. It is an area of outstanding natural beauty. There are traces of Neolithic and Bronze Age settlements near the parish church. The medieval manor house stood immediately to the west of the twelfth century church of St. Mary, but was demolished in the 1750s. It was in this manor house that William Carey had probably been born. It was surrounded by a large manor-owned farm and a deer park, in which there was a hunting lodge.

  As the younger son of a younger son, William Carey had no landed estate or affinity, and had had to make his own way in the world, so he must have risen to prominence at court on his own merits, as one of the new men so favored by Henry VIII: men who owed their success to ability rather than rank.

  William had begun his career at court by January 1519, probably gaining entry through the patronage of Henry Courtenay, Earl of Devon, the King’s cousin. He had probably come to Courtenay’s notice through his Carey connections in Devon.49 In a very short time he had won the favor of Henry VIII and secured a post in the King’s Privy Chamber, as Esquire of the Body to his royal master,50 the same post that Thomas Boleyn had once held.51 In fact, Carey had all the qualities and talents that Henry VIII sought and admired in the young men of his court: he could joust, gamble, and play tennis with the best of them, and the chances are that he was learned, witty, and good company.

  On New Year’s Day 1519 the King’s Book of Payments records that Carey—who must have quickly proved himself reliable—was entrusted with a thousand crowns (£78,000) for “playing money for the King” and got 4s.2d (£80) for fetching it.52 The next month, he is twice recorded as playing—and winning—against the Earl of Devon “at the King’s tennis court.”53 On June 18, at Windsor, the King granted Carey an annuity of fifty marks (£4,600).54


  By October of that year, Carey’s name appears on a list of thirty-two privileged persons entitled to “daily liveries in the King’s household,” which included “ordinary breakfasts daily to be served within the counting house”: the list included the Lord Steward, the King’s and Queen’s Lord Chamberlains, the Treasurer of the Household, the Comptroller, the Princess Mary, the French Queen (Mary Tudor), Cardinal Wolsey, the Duke of Suffolk, several Knights of the Body, the Master of the Horse, “Mr. Carey,” and some “young minstrels.”55 No one under the degree of baron could ordinarily “have any breakfast in the King’s house.”56 The following month we find Carey listed with Nicholas Carew, Henry Norris, and Anthony Poyntz as members of the King’s household.57 “William Carey, of the Privy Chamber” is also mentioned in a document relating to the household of Henry VIII, drawn up between 1519 and 1522, in which he is recorded as one of the Esquires of the Body “that lieth upon the King’s pallet,” “having wages in the counting house and in the Exchequer,” and the right to keep four servants and two horses at court.58

  William is recorded as taking part in the revels at New Year 1520, when—in company with Carew, Norris, and Anthony Browne, prominent courtiers with whom he was already closely associated—he was one of twelve gentlemen who took part in a pageant staged at Havering in Essex, wearing coats in the German fashion in green or yellow satin adorned with gold or silver scales. He got to keep his expensive apparel too.59

  As a member of the Privy Chamber, which was at once the King’s private lodging and an exclusive department of state that centered upon the monarch’s person, William received £33.6s.8d (£12,650) a year from the King;60 this figure relates to 1520, and was the same wage as Henry Norris, a great favorite of the King, received. Carey’s duties as Esquire of the Body, which were carried out on a shift basis, included waiting on the monarch hand and foot, attending on him in his bedchamber, sleeping near him on a pallet bed at night, guarding his lodgings when he was absent, and sharing his leisure time in the day.61

  Since 1518 the Privy Chamber had become one of the two power centers in the kingdom, the other being the Privy Council;62 not for nothing would there be clashes with the all-powerful Cardinal Wolsey, who complained that “certain young men in [the King’s] Privy Chamber, not regarding his estate or degree, were so familiar and homely with him, and played such light touches with him, that they forgot themselves.”63 In 1519 some of the King’s gentlemen—among them Sir Francis Bryan and Sir Edward Neville—had disgraced themselves by indulging in loutish behavior in the streets of Paris and London, which gave the powerful Wolsey the excuse he needed to purge the Privy Chamber of his rivals, which he was to do again in 1526, with the passing of the Eltham Ordinances. Yet William Carey was secure enough in the King’s favor to survive both purges and escape banishment from court. His conduct had clearly not given cause for criticism.64

  Even so, he and his privileged companions were also the targets of some resentful censure by members of the aristocracy. Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, who was of royal blood and suffered execution in 1521 for plotting to seize the throne, was outraged by the fact that “the King would give his fees, offices, and rewards to boys rather than noblemen,”65 while other peers would disparagingly refer to these gentlemen as “the minions,” a term that then meant a favorite or darling. The minions may also have been satirized by the court poet John Skelton in his interlude Magnificence.

  William Carey was fortunate enough to be one of this select group of young men who enjoyed a privileged degree of daily access to—and intimacy with—the King, and therefore great influence and the ability to exercise lucrative patronage. No man gained admittance to this small and select band of gentlemen and esquires unless Henry liked and favored him, for these were the men with whom he enjoyed his “pastime with good company,” as he described it in his own song, in which he speaks of hunting, singing, dancing, and “all goodly sports.” Most of this small, favored band of courtiers had come to prominence through their expertise at jousting,66 and shared the King’s sporting interests.67

  Such company could enable Henry VIII to digest “all thoughts and fancies” and indulge in “mirth and play.”68 All Privy Chamber staff were expected to be competent at making music, singing, dancing, cards, dice, and even acting. Many had similar intellectual tastes as the King, and dazzled him with their wit and repartee. They were enjoined to be “loving together” and discreet, and warned “not to tattle about such things as may be done or said when the King goes forth.”69

  We may infer from Carey’s rapid rise to favor that he had all the requisite talents—and, no doubt, vices—and that the King had taken an instant liking to him and detected in him the kind of qualities that would be useful to him.

  The minions were violently pro-French “in eating, drinking, and apparel, yea, and in French vices and brags, so that all the estates of England were by them laughed at; the ladies and gentlemen were dispraised, so that nothing by them was praised but if it were after the French turn.”70 No doubt it would have suited William Carey very well to acquire a wife who had served a queen of France, and whose father had strong diplomatic links with the French court.

  As for Mary, she had married a splendid young man at the height of his powers, an intelligent man who was destined for greatness, and—if William’s portraits are anything to go by—good-looking too, with brown hair, a short beard, a strong nose, and eyes that markedly resembled those of his cousin, Henry VIII.71 It was a fine match, and it might have marked the beginning of obscurity and genteel domesticity for Mary—but for the fact that some time after her marriage she became Henry VIII’s mistress.

  Where did the Careys live after their marriage? William Carey is sometimes described in genealogies as being “of Aldenham,” a small village lying near Borehamwood and Radlett, in Hertfordshire, three miles northeast of Watford; and it has been claimed that, after their marriage, William and Mary, when not at court, resided there. But Aldenham was the property of Westminster Abbey from the eleventh century until the Reformation, when it came into the possession of Henry VIII, who granted it to the Stepneth family in 1546, and the house lived in by the Carey family was not built until between 1576 and 1589. Thus it is clear that William Carey was never lord of the manor of Aldenham, nor is there any record of him owning or residing in a house in the village, or ever living there.72 There is in fact no mention of any Carey living there before 1589. The likelihood is that William and Mary resided at court during their marriage.

  On the assumption that Mary was less than twelve years old at the time of her wedding, it has been argued that the consummation of her marriage was “undoubtedly delayed” for some time, which is said to account for the fact that the couple’s first child was not born until 1524.73 Yet this theory does not take into account the evidence that she was François I’s mistress around 1514–15, or the likely date of Anne Boleyn’s birth and the fact that Mary was the elder sister, which all suggests that she was probably at least twenty at the time of her marriage, and that it was duly consummated.

  There is no record of Mary serving permanently in Katherine’s household,74 but, as the wife of a prominent courtier, she was permitted to lodge at court with her husband, and by virtue of being married to a member of the King’s Privy Chamber, she might be called upon to serve as an extra lady-in-waiting to the Queen when needed.75 Being in such a privileged position normally conferred its own status upon a woman, and afforded her—albeit intermittently—an independent income, for the Queen’s ladies received annual fees, occasional perquisites, and pensions upon retirement; they also enjoyed special access to royal patronage.76 However, Mary Boleyn does not seem to have been called upon to serve Katherine of Aragon very often, and may have done so only on one occasion.

  Nevertheless, as a member of the inner court,77 she became part of a close-knit, elite circle of people whose lives revolved around that of the King. Henry VIII used more familiarity with his inferiors than most monarchs
—foreign ambassadors were amazed when he leaned out of a window and shared a joke with them; he was not averse to playing dice with the master of his cellar, and he was known to put his arm around a man’s shoulder to set him at his ease. Therefore it was inevitable that most of those who lived at court would soon become acquainted—and even friendly—with this highly accessible King.

  Coming to court meant embracing an itinerant life, moving from one magnificent palace to another in accordance with the demands of state, the necessity for cleansing, or the royal pleasure. As an Esquire of the Body, in almost constant attendance on the King—and later as a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber—William Carey was entitled to a lodging at court, although when on duty he would sleep in the royal apartments.78 Mary would have shared his lodging, and been waited on by the four servants that his rank permitted him.79 There were whole ranges of courtier lodgings at the royal palaces; Carey would probably have been assigned a double lodging, consisting of two rooms, each with a fireplace, and a garderobe; he and Mary would have been expected to provide their own furnishings and ensure that the rooms were kept clean. With servants lodging with them, space was limited, privacy difficult, and conditions cramped.

  After February 1522, when William was appointed Keeper of the King’s house of Beaulieu at Boreham, near Chelmsford, Essex, with the right to lodgings there,80 he and Mary may well have resided at Beaulieu when his duties required it—and perhaps when they wanted briefly to escape the court and enjoy some privacy. Beaulieu was a house with which Mary was probably familiar, because it had been in her family until recently. Originally entitled New Hall, it had been built as a medieval hall house by the abbots of Waltham, prior to being acquired by Edward IV. Henry VII had granted it to Mary’s great-grandfather, Thomas Butler, Earl of Ormond, who had entertained Henry VIII there in 1510—when Mary and Anne Boleyn may have been present—and in 1515, shortly before he died. His daughter, Margaret, widow of Sir William Boleyn, then inherited it, and her son, Sir Thomas, as Ormond’s executor, sold it to the King for £1,000 (£379,500) before January 1516.

 
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