Mary Boleyn was most likely the eldest daughter of Thomas Boleyn and Elizabeth Howard – the family settled at Hever Castle in Kent. She is best known as the sister of Anne Boleyn, and the mistress of Henry VIII (and Francis I). It was her relationship with King Henry which led Mary into a marriage with William Carey.
On the 4th of February 1520, Mary Boleyn married William Carey who was a gentleman of the royal privy chamber. Even though he did not hold a great title (or lands) the position meant he had intimate contact with the King on a daily basis – which is one of the best places to be in Tudor England.
Historians are unsure of when exactly the affair between Henry and Mary occurred between Mary and the King, but there have been suggestions that Mary’s eldest child, her daughter Catherine, was fathered by Henry VIII – she was born in 1524. This would mean that the affair was still ongoing after her marriage to William Carey. Is that why the marriage was arranged – to cover up any possible illegitimate children?
The 1528 outbreak of the Sweating Sickness arrived in London in May, and by the following month (22 June) Mary’s husband, William Carey was dead. The Sweat caused panic all over England when news spread of an outbreak. It was often said that one could be fine one moment, and then hours later dead. The suddenness of the Sweat frightened some into a frenzy. The victim would break-out in a sweat from fever, they would complain of a headache and body aches and become delirious. It was when the uncontrollable urge to sleep would overtake the victim that death was most often imminent. There was no cure for the Sweat and you were not immune from catching it again.
Left with two children (Catherine & Henry) to solely provide for, Mary was left with a significant financial burden. The fear of not being able to provide food for her children led Mary to write to Henry VIII to ask for assistance. At the time, her sister Anne Boleyn was very close to the King, and Mary probably hoped that her past relationship with the King, as well as her sister’s relationship, would stoke sympathy for her cause. Thankfully, King Henry acknowledged Mary’s plea and offered financial assistance for her from her father, and granted the wardship of her son Henry Carey to her sister Anne. One must assume that Catherine was raised by her mother.
Mary Boleyn went on to secretly marry William Stafford in 1534. For more on that – “The Downside of Marrying for Love”