About two years ago I added a 3rd great grandmother to my pedigree on FamilySearch Tree. When I checked back a few days later I discovered a portal had opened to many generations of increasingly illustrious forebears. It was all a bit much. I picked a few favourites from the “famous names” – and one was 14th great grandmother, Mary Boleyn. Who wouldn’t want a high-class strumpet for a granny?
I finished reading Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies this morning and Mary was mentioned several times in the narrative. One of the reasons that Henry 8’s marriage to Anne Boleyn was considered illegitimate was because he’d rogered her sister first.
After an audience with Anne, Master Secretary Thomas Cromwell speaks with Lady Rochford, wife of George Boleyn. Jane says of her sister in law, the queen:-
‘She is losing her looks, don’t you think? Was she too much in the sun this summer? She is beginning to line.’
‘I don’t look at her, my lady. Well, no more than a subject ought.’
‘Oh, you don’t?’ She is amused. ‘Then I’ll tell you. She looks every day of her age and more. Faces are not incidental. Our sins are written on them.’
‘Jesus! What have I done?’
She laughs. Mr Secretary, that is what we all would like to know. But then, perhaps it is not always true. Mary Boleyn down in the country, I hear she blossoms like the month of May. Fair and plump, they say. How is it possible? A jade like Mary, through so many hands you can’t find a stable lad who hasn’t had her. But put the two side by side, and it is Anne who looks – how would you express it? Well-used.’ Page 111.
Had affairs taken a different turn, Thomas Cromwell might have taken Mary Boleyn for his wife.
He sometimes thinks about Mary; what it would have been like, if he had taken her up on her offers. That night in Calais, he had been so close he could taste her breath, sweetmeats and spices, wine … but of course, that night in Calais, any man with functioning tackle would have done for Mary. Page 250.
Henry has fallen for Jane Seymour and ways are being sought to annul his marriage to Anne. Thomas Cromwell discusses the matter with Thomas Wriothesley, Clerk of the Signet, who says:-
‘We can still free the king. My lord archbishop will see a way, even if we have to bring Mary Boleyn into it, and say the marriage was unlawful through affinity.’
‘Our difficulty is, in the case of Mary Boleyn, the king was apprised of the facts. He may not have known if Anne was secretly married. But he always knew she was Mary’s sister.’
‘Have you ever done anything like that?’ Master Wriothesley asks thoughtfully. ‘Two sisters?’
‘Is that the kind of question that absorbs you at this time?
‘Only one wonders, how it would be. They say Mary Boleyn was a great whore when she was at the French court. Do you think King Francis had them both?’
He looks at Wriothesley with new respect. ‘ There is an angle I might explore, Now … because you have been a good boy and not struck out at Harry Percy or called him names, but waited patiently outside the door as you were bade, I’ll tell you something you will like to know. Once, when she found herself between patrons, Mary Boleyn asked me to marry her.’
Master Wriothesley gapes at him. He follows, uttering broken syllables. What? When? Why? Only when they are on horseback does he speak to the purpose. ‘God strike me. You would have been the king’s brother-in-law.’
‘But not for much longer,’ he says. Page 360.
Mary was only 21 years old when she married William CAREY in 1520. Their daughter, Catherine Mary Carey is one of my 13th great grandmothers. Maybe.
Anne’s only surviving child, Elizabeth, is a first cousin fifteen times removed. If only…
I smelled a rat at the pedigree portal and contacted the person who had put the gentleman there. A reply agreed that the fellow was an impostor and he was removed. My glorious and inglorious ancestors vanished. I make do now with agricultural labourers, sail makers, sawyers, dressmakers and washerwomen. Honest, decent folk.
Butter wouldn’t melt… Portrait of an Unknown Lady. Accepted by some to be Mary Boleyn, or possibly her sister Anne, but maybe neither. One of several copies if this portrait hangs in the Hall at Rockingham Castle.