Mary Boleyn: The Great and Infamous Whore by Alison Weir


  Aside from her dangerous pedigree, Dorothy had no dowry to speak of, and we might wonder why William married her. He was now a staunch Protestant, while many members of her family were devout Catholics. Her grandfather, grandmother, great-grandfather, and uncle had been executed for treason, and another uncle, Cardinal Reginald Pole, had been an exile in Italy since speaking out against Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn. We might conclude, therefore, that this outwardly unsuitable union was yet another love match, as William’s marriage to Mary Boleyn had been, and perhaps, again, an impulsive one.

  They had little else to offer each other. William had incurred increasing debts, and in 1552 he had exchanged a royal annuity he had been granted for a cash payment of £900 (£180,500) to avoid financial embarrassment.

  William and Dorothy had three sons and two daughters: the eldest son, Sir Edward Stafford, served for a time as England’s ambassador in Paris, while the eldest daughter, Elizabeth, became Lady of the Bedchamber to Elizabeth I.

  When Henry VIII’s daughter Mary, a staunch Catholic, succeeded to the throne in 1553 and outlawed the Protestant religion, William Stafford quickly realized that exile was preferable to persecution. In March 1554 he left England and settled in Geneva, Switzerland, with his wife and children, his sister, a cousin, and his servants. Geneva was an obvious choice, because it was where the Lutheran theologian and reformer John Calvin had founded a theocracy, controlling the city through his College of Pastors and Doctors and his Court of Discipline. Calvin’s stern brand of religious doctrine and his moral severity must have appealed to Stafford. Calling himself “Lord Rochford,” a title to which he had no right, he became involved in the affairs of Geneva, and was nearly killed in the fighting during the uprising in 1555 that confirmed Calvin’s autocracy.

  By then, with the fires of Smithfield alight in England, so many English Protestants had sought refuge in the city that an English congregation was set up. Stafford became a member, and his son John was the first infant to be baptized into it, on January 4, 1556, with John Calvin standing as godfather.

  William survived Mary Boleyn by thirteen years, dying on May 5, 1556, in Geneva. Ten days later, in ignorance of his death, the Privy Council in England ordered that no payment of money was to be sent abroad to him. Calvin took custody of little John Stafford and forbade the child’s mother to leave Geneva with him. Only after she had appealed to her brother-in-law, Sir Robert Stafford, and he had threatened to invoke aid from the French, did Calvin back down. Dorothy took her family to Basel, where she lived until 1559, when Elizabeth I, her distant cousin, now having ascended the throne, she knew it was safe to return to England.

  Dorothy may have been the “Mistress Stafford” who was one of four gentlewomen who had attended Elizabeth during her imprisonment in the Tower in 1554.4 That would account for the established bond between herself and the new Queen, for Elizabeth herself sent Dorothy assistance to aid her return home in August 1559, and in 1563 made her Mistress of the Robes, always treating her as a friend and kinswoman, the widow of her uncle, William Stafford, whom she remembered having known as a child. She would have met him during her visits to court in the 1540s, when she would also have had opportunities to get to know her Carey cousins—and perhaps her aunt, Mary Boleyn.

  Around 1544, Elizabeth was painted in a dynastic family group commissioned by Henry VIII, which now hangs at Hampton Court Palace. She is wearing a pendant in the form of an A that must have belonged to Anne Boleyn, who favored pendants displaying her initials: three of them feature in portraits of her. The fact that, by the age of ten or eleven, Elizabeth had formed such a positive view of her mother (whose name was not supposed to be mentioned in her presence) that she was prepared publicly to display her connection with her, in defiance of her father, points to her having been fed sympathetic opinions about Anne. There were Boleyn connections in Elizabeth’s household, among them her governess, Katherine Champernowne (later Mrs. Astley), who might have voiced these, but it is also possible that Elizabeth had been given information about her mother by Mary Boleyn and her children, or even by William Stafford, who shared Anne Boleyn’s passion for reform. That would have been one reason why she showed her Carey cousins such warmth. The fact that there is no record of her ever seeing Mary after 1534 does not mean that they did not meet again.

  Dorothy never remarried—which, again, might argue that her marriage to William had been a love match. She would serve the Queen faithfully for four decades and survive her by seventeen months, dying in 1604. The epitaph on her plain tomb in St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster, records that she served Queen Elizabeth “forty years lying in her bedchamber, esteemed of her, loved of all, doing good all she could to everybody, never hurt any, a continual remembrancer of the sues of the poor.”

  This was the lady whom William Stafford had chosen as his second wife, marrying her against the odds, probably for love, as he had Mary Boleyn. That he mourned Mary for nearly a decade—and then paid her memory the compliment of marrying yet again where his heart dictated—is surely testimony to his genuine feelings for her, and the happiness of their union. It speaks volumes for Stafford’s own character that he should win such a prize as Dorothy, and that, in an age that put a high premium on dynastic advantage, he should have twice spurned material gains in order to marry the lady of his choice.

  Henry VIII, as Henry Carey’s guardian, made suitable provision for his ward; this is not “inexplicable,”5 as has been asserted, because, as King, he had a duty to act in loco parentis, looking to the boy’s welfare and his future. As we have seen, he also provided for Katherine Carey, which may be more significant.6 By 1545, Henry Carey was a member of the King’s household,7 and that same year, Henry VIII found a bride for him: Anne, the sixteen-year-old daughter of Sir Thomas Morgan of Arkstone, Herefordshire, a relatively obscure Welsh gentleman. They were married on May 21, 1545.8 Not for Carey a grand match with the daughter of a duke, as had been arranged for Henry Fitzroy—which is further proof that Carey was not the King’s son. Indeed, this marriage with Anne Morgan seems hardly to have been commensurate with the young man’s status as a royal ward with a substantial landed inheritance. Nor did Henry VIII bestow any special gifts or favors on his ward, who grew up supported only by a modest income.9

  The Careys were a prolific family, and Henry and Anne were to have twelve children—nine sons and three daughters; interestingly, none was given the name Mary, in honor of Henry’s mother, which might suggest that he was not overkeen on preserving her memory for posterity. Reared under Anne Boleyn’s auspices, and then the King’s, he may have been inculcated with the wisdom that Mary was best consigned to anonymity, given the compromising nature of her affair with Henry.

  Henry Carey recorded details of his family in a copy of Froissart’s Chronicles.10 The Carey offspring were called by contemporaries “the tribe of Dan,”11 which has been seen as a possible allusion to their being descended from Henry VIII.12 In the Bible, Dan was the son of Jacob by his wife’s handmaid, Bilhah, and possibly a comparison was being drawn with Mary Boleyn, although she had never been a “handmaid” to Katherine of Aragon. But there is another comparison to be drawn: the tribe of Dan sent more men to war than any other of the tribes of Israel, and did not receive their rightful inheritance, just as Henry Carey and his sons felt that he was never properly rewarded by Elizabeth for his decades of loyal service.13 This is probably the real basis for the nickname. Certainly it weighs lightly against the other evidence for William Carey’s paternity.

  Henry Carey and Anne Morgan would be married for over fifty years, and the epitaph that she and their eldest son were to place on Henry’s tomb describes him as “the best of fathers and dearest of husbands”—notwithstanding his infidelities over the years.

  In March 1546, Carey came of age, and inherited all the lands given by the King to his father in Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hampshire, and Wiltshire, including the borough of Buckingham, as well as those left to him by his mother.
Rochford Hall was part of that inheritance. Late that year, aged only twenty-one, he secured his election as Member of Parliament for Buckingham, a seat he would hold four times. He sat in that Parliament with his stepfather, Sir William Stafford, and his brother-in-law, Sir Francis Knollys. He was the first of eleven members of Parliament to live at Rochford Hall.14

  Henry Carey seems not to have had any special attachment to Rochford Hall. He set in train restoration works, then sold the manor and estate around 1552 to Richard, Lord Rich, who was greatly to enlarge the house.15 By coincidence, Rich’s great-grandson was to marry Penelope Devereux, Mary Boleyn’s great-granddaughter.

  Henry Carey would probably have come to know his cousin, the future Elizabeth I, when he was serving in Henry VIII’s household, if he had not been acquainted with her before, when he was the King’s ward. An entry in Elizabeth’s Hatfield accounts for 1551–52 shows that he was already one of her circle, for it records that she made a gift of money “at the christening of Mr. Carey’s child.”16 That child was probably his daughter Philadelphia, born around 1552, who married Thomas, 10th Baron Scrope; she and her older sister, Katherine, Countess of Nottingham, became Elizabeth’s favored maids of honor when she was Queen.17

  The accession of Elizabeth I in November 1558 dramatically changed the lives of Mary’s children. Both were immediately made welcome at court, where they were to enjoy glittering careers. Their cousin Elizabeth held them in great affection, leading some writers to suggest that this may—or must—have been because one or both of them were in fact her siblings,18 but as her cousins, they were her closest blood relatives aside from her cousinly rivals on her father’s side: Mary, Queen of Scots; Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox; Lady Katherine Grey; and Lady Mary Grey; all of whom were too near in blood to the throne for comfort and could never be trusted. The Carey siblings, apart from being no dynastic threat, were unfailingly loyal, and this in itself would account for Elizabeth’s love for them, and for the lavish funerals in Westminster Abbey with which she later provided them.19

  The acknowledged existence of Carey half siblings would undoubtedly have been a major embarrassment to Queen Elizabeth, and could have compromised the legitimacy of her title,20 for she had been declared illegitimate in 1536 on the grounds that her parents’ marriage had never been lawful on account of Henry VIII’s affair with Mary Boleyn having created a bar to his marriage to her sister Anne, and that ruling had never been reversed. In the eyes of Catholic Europe, the new Queen was a bastard, a heretic, and a usurper. Unlike her half sister, Mary I, Elizabeth, on her ministers’ advice, had not, upon her accession, had her parents’ marriage declared good and valid. Thus she carried the stain of bastardy with her all her life. It would therefore have been politically—and personally—disadvantageous for Katherine to have been openly acknowledged as Henry VIII’s natural child by Mary Boleyn, living proof of the impediment to Elizabeth’s mother’s marriage. Such a revelation would have drawn unwelcome attention to the Queen’s bastard status at a time when her throne was insecure; it would have exposed Henry VIII’s hypocrisy in pursuing an annulment of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon, and it could have undermined the foundations of the English Reformation, and the Protestant Anglican settlement of 1559 that built upon it.

  It would be wrong, however, to compare the Careys’ position to that of Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, who had been executed for treason in 1521 for, among other things, “openly boasting his descent from King Edward III,” which, it has been said, was “not a mistake Mary’s children were to repeat.”21 Buckingham had been of legitimate royal descent, and therefore posed a real dynastic threat to Henry VIII; but no one could ever claim that Katherine and Henry Carey had any kind of claim to the throne or represented a similar threat. Even if the Careys were Henry VIII’s children, they could never have challenged Elizabeth’s position.

  If Henry had been Katherine Carey’s father, the one person who would surely have known about it was Elizabeth herself, who grew up to be very close to Katherine, as she did to her other bastard half sister, Etheldreda, and who would have maintained strict discretion, referring to Katherine simply as her kinswoman. Katherine herself may well have preferred to keep her paternity a secret to avoid further sullying her mother’s memory; and it is certain that she would never have done anything that undermined her cousin’s throne.

  Elizabeth’s closeness to the Careys can be explained by their kinship. In a letter written in 1579, she referred to Henry Carey as “our cousin of Hunsdon”;22 she signed letters to Katherine Carey as “your loving cousin,”23 and Katherine was called the “kinswoman and good servant” of the Queen by a correspondent.24 Mary, Queen of Scots, in a letter to Elizabeth I,25 referred to “one of the Knollyses”—that is, one of Sir Francis’s children by Katherine Carey—as “your relation.” Had Katherine been Henry VIII’s daughter, her children would have been Queen Mary’s own cousins, and therefore her relations too. Mary freely acknowledged her own bastard half siblings, and at least one historian has wondered why she never made political capital out of the blood relationship between her rival Elizabeth I and her Carey cousins.26 But if Katherine Carey had been Elizabeth’s half sister, the Queen of Scots was probably never aware of it.

  In the month of Elizabeth’s accession, November 1558, Henry Carey was knighted. On January 13, 1559, his fortunes changed dramatically when the Queen raised him to the peerage as Baron Hunsdon, granting him the royal palace of Hunsdon House in Hertfordshire, where she herself had resided at various times during her childhood, and lands in Hertfordshire, Kent, and Hampshire worth a princely £4,00027 (£681,000) a year to “maintain his rank.”28 There is no evidence to support the assertion29 that Henry Carey had spent his early years at Hunsdon; it was a royal property, and Elizabeth now had it in her gift. Henry’s uncle, John Carey, a Groom of Henry VIII’s Privy Chamber, had been appointed paymaster and overseer of the King’s works there in 1537–38.30

  Queen Elizabeth was always to show great affection and trust for Lord Hunsdon: in 1560 she appointed him Master of the Queen’s Hawks, and in 1561 she made him a Knight of the Garter. The following year, when Elizabeth was thought to be dying of smallpox, it was Hunsdon who called in a German physician, and then, when that physician had given up hope, persuaded him to persevere—some said at the point of a dagger. From what she believed to be her deathbed, Elizabeth particularly commended Hunsdon to the kindness of her Privy Council.31 He was entrusted with important diplomatic missions, such as when he was sent to convey the insignia of the Garter to Charles IX of France in 1564, and for many years, alongside his more able peers, William Cecil, later Lord Burghley; Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, the Queen’s favorite; and, later, Sir Francis Walsingham, he was at the forefront of state affairs.

  Those years saw him well endowed with offices: Privy Councillor (1577), Captain of the Gentlemen Pensioners, the Queen’s personal bodyguard (1583), Lord Chamberlain (1585), Lord Warden General of the Northern Marches (1587), Chief Justice in Eyre south of the River Trent (1589), High Steward of Ipswich and Colchester, Chief Justice of the Queen’s Army (1591), and High Steward of Oxford (1592). He was also Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk and Sussex, and a member of that legal elite, the Inner Temple, along with his kinsmen Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, and Charles, Lord Howard of Effingham. However, the Queen never advanced him beyond the rank of a baron, and the two titles he wanted all his life were never to be his: those of Earl of Wiltshire and Ormond, which had been borne by his grandfather, Thomas Boleyn, to whom he always insisted he was rightfully co-heir. But Elizabeth remained deaf to his pleas.

  The post of Lord Chamberlain was an important one, for it put Hunsdon at the head of the Queen’s household and in command of the conduct of the court.32 It also ensured that he would have the benefit of “the continual presence of her Majesty, to take any advantage of time and occasion for having of suits”;33 this meant that he was in an ideal position to exercise the very lucrative privilege of pa
tronage. Yet, despite the honors heaped on him, Hunsdon was never a wealthy man, for he had spent several thousand pounds of his patrimony in Elizabeth’s service, much of it for her relief during her imprisonment in the Tower in Queen Mary’s reign; he was not greedy, and his income, the fruit of Elizabeth’s favor, was never exorbitant;34 moreover, he had a large family to support. Thus he was perennially short of money.

  Hunsdon was “very choleric but not malicious,” a plain main “of an honest stout heart,” whose “custom in swearing and obscenity in speech made him seem a worse Christian than he was”;35 but the Queen liked that in him, and his bluntness. She took it well when, in 1572, angry at her hesitation over sending the Duke of Norfolk, who had been found guilty of treason, to the scaffold, Hunsdon castigated her: “It is small policy, not worthy to be termed mercy, to be so careless of weighty matters that touch the quick so near!” She knew him to be “a fast man to his prince, and firm to his friends and servants, such a one that upon occasion would have fought for his prince and country.”36 His loyalty to the Queen was unflinchingly staunch.

  Elizabeth liked the fact that Hunsdon never involved himself in factional politics. In fact, there were long periods when he rarely visited the court, being often deployed far away on his duties, and when he did go there, he was regarded with fear and suspicion by many courtiers. His innate bluntness and lack of tact—traits he shared with his grandfather, Thomas Boleyn—did not endear him to them, and he was never popular. His soldiers, however, idolized and respected him. “He loved sword-and-buckler men, and such as our fathers were wont to call ‘men of their hands,’ of which sort he had many brave gentlemen that followed him; yet [he was] not taken for a popular or dangerous person.”37

 
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