Originally posted on March 2, 2023.
On this in history, 2 March in 1522, King Henry VIII and his court celebrated Shrovetide with an astonishingly lavish joust.
Henry, in the prime of his youth, vitality, and authority, entered the lists adorned in opulent cloth-of-silver caparisons embellished with the motto ‘elle mon coeur a navera‘ (she hath wounded my Heart). This motto is believed by historians to be a poignant reference to his courtship of Mary Boleyn (c. 1499–1543), the fair, high-spirited sister of his ill-fated second wife, Anne Boleyn.
Most historians, however, now agree that Henry’s brief affair with Mary concluded by early 1520. Regardless, were there any remaining glimmers of affection or attraction for Mary on the King’s part, they would soon be eclipsed by the arrival of a very special lady to court.
Only days after the grand Shrovetide joust, a momentous pageant known as The Château Vert took place, marking Anne Boleyn’s historic entrée to the English court.
Who was ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’?
Like much of her life, Mary Boleyn’s exact birth date remains elusive. It is estimated that she was born around 1499, and was brought up alongside her brother George and sister Anne at the Boleyn family’s home of Hever Castle.
Mary, like her sister Anne, had gone to the French court in 1514 in the train of the Princess Mary Tudor, where she immersed herself in the customs of the continent and where she had also inadvertently acquired a ‘wanton’ reputation as the rumoured mistress to the French King.
Following her brief stint as a member of Mary Tudor’s entourage, Mary became a maid-of-honor to Catherine of Aragon. Although the exact starting date of their affair is unknown, Mary likely captured Henry’s attention while serving in the queen’s household, admired for her beauty and liveliness. The liaison, though brief, is believed to have concluded by 1520, the year when Mary married William Carey, an influential and wealthy courtier, with Henry VIII attending the ceremony as a guest.
William Carey died of the sweating sickness epidemic of 1528. The couple had two children, Catherine and Henry, whose paternity has been subject to doubt primarily due to Mary’s ambiguous relationship with the King. It is unlikely that either child was conceived during Mary and Henry’s fleeting romance.
Mary Boleyn’s second and final marriage in 1534 is thought to have been a match for love. Her husband William Stafford’s lowborn status placed Mary at odds with her sister, now Queen, and resulted in dire financial straits for the exiled pair. Mary wrote tirelessly to Thomas Cromwell to advocate on behalf of her marriage, and while Anne partially relented – gifting Mary with a golden cup and some money – she later refused to reinstate Mary at court. There is no recorded evidence of a proper reconciliation between the sisters before Anne’s tragic execution in May of 1536.
Mary’s short-lived liaison with Henry VIII had unforeseen ramifications, particularly concerning the legitimacy of Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn and the status of their daughter, Princess Elizabeth. In 1536, the Second Succession Act was enacted, declaring Mary’s niece, Princess Elizabeth, illegitimate, thus removing her from the line of succession. However, fate had other plans, and in 1558, Elizabeth ascended the throne after her half-sister Mary Tudor, becoming Queen Elizabeth I.
Mary lived in exile for the rest of her life, and died on 19 July 1543.