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Mary Boleyn

Mary Boleyn (~1500 - 1543) is not as well known as her (probably younger) sister, Anne. (The year of Mary's birth is uncertain and is probably either 1500 or 1504.) Mary was the mistress of two kings, Francis I of France and then Henry VIII of England. She was married twice to members of Henry's court and bore children who were in Elizabeth I of England's court.

Mary's early life was punctuated by a brief enrolment in a "finishing school" in 1512, but after a year Mary became a Maid of Honour to Louis XII of France's new queen, Mary Tudor. While many of the queen's English maids were ordered to leave France, Mary Boleyn was permitted to remain, possibly because of her youth. When Mary Tudor left France after Louis' death in 1515, Mary Boleyn stayed in the court of the new king and queen, Francis I and Claude. Eventually, Mary became Francis's mistress, the king calling her "my English mare" in his later years. Her sister Anne and her father joined her in France, he having become the French Ambassador.

Mary and Anne were introduced to King Henry VIII of England in 1520 at "The Field of the Cloth of Gold" by their father, and Mary caught the eye of the king and became part of his court and, later, his mistress. She may have had a child by him; if so, Henry did not acknowledge it. Shortly after going back to England, Mary married William Carey, a courtier. Because of the favour in which she was held by the king, Mary's father gained more wealth and power. Mary's sister was called back to England in 1522, and it is uncertain how much effect either sister had on the rising fortunes of their father. By 1527, Henry favored Anne over Mary, and in 1528 Mary's husband died.

Having fallen out of favour with the king, and no longer of use to her father, Mary received none of her deceased husband's wealth or lands. Custody of her son went to Anne, and he was transferred to a religious school well away from Mary. Anne eventually convinced their father that Mary should receive an annual income, and when Anne became queen in 1532, Mary became one of Anne's companions. In 1534, Mary secretly married Sir William Stafford, an usher of no rank and small income. When this was discovered in 1536, her family disowned her for marrying beneath her station, and the couple was banished from the Court. Because of this, Mary survived the trials that resulted in the execution of Anne and her brother George on charges of treason (they were accused of incest) and lived out the rest of her days in anonymity with her husband.


Mary is the subject of The Other Boleyn Girl (2002), an award-winning novel by Philippa Gregory.

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