Most of Henry’s affairs were discreet adulteries but in 1515 Henry publically took Elizabeth Blount as his mistress. Blount was a commoner, the daughter of a knight in Henry’s service. She was about fourteen years old and a maid of honor to Queen Katherine when she came to Henry’s notice. Henry was about 23. In 1519 Blount gave birth to a son, the only illegitimate child Henry was to acknowledge. Shortly after the boy’s birth, however, Henry ended the affair and took a new mistress, Mary Boleyn.
Mary Boleyn was the daughter of Thomas Boleyn, 1st earl of Wiltshire. The Boleyns were part of the new nobility. They did not descend from the grand old noble families of medieval England. To the contrary—Thomas Boleyn’s grandfather (great-grandfather of Anne and great-great grandfather of the future but as yet unborn Queen, Elizabeth) was a merchant dealing in cloths. He was quite successful as a merchant, wealthy enough to be elected Lord Mayor of London in 1457. The family’s wealth pushed them up into the nobility Thomas’ father married into the Butler Family who held the Irish Title of the Earls of Ormond. Thomas Boleyn was a valuable servant to Henry serving as an envoy to the Netherlands, to France, and to the Emperor. His position brought his daughters to the notice of the King and the King, in turn, kept heaping responsibilities and honors on the Father. In other words, Thomas could be said to have pimped his daughters to the King.
Mary, the older Boleyn sister and the first to be sexually involved with Henry seems to have begun her liaison royale about the time of her marriage in 1520. Henry was a guest at the wedding and it may have been at that time that he first noticed her, though she had served for several months as a lady in waiting to Queen Katherine. Mary’s husband, William Carey, seems not to have protested the King sharing his wife’s bed and it is thought that at least one of her two children, if not both, were Henry’s children, not Carey’s. However, after the birth of the second child, Henry, in 1526, King Henry terminated the affair. Henry never acknowledged either of the Carey children as his own, nor did ever publicly acknowledge Mary’s role as his mistress. Mary never benefitted from the relationship either in being give wealth or title. William Carey died in 1528, deeply in debt. By that time her sister Anne had come to the King’s favor and Anne arranged some financial relief for her sister. Mary married William Stafford in 1534. Stafford was a common soldier and the marriage embarrassed the Boleyn family and angered Henry. Anne and her family disowned Mary. Mary’s situation was one of dire poverty but in the end Anne relented and gave her some financial help. The Boleyn family fell from influence with the execution of Anne and while the Family was in disgrace and their lands confiscated, Henry sent Mary some funds that relieved the worst of her poverty. She died in 1543, her husband lived another 13 years.
Henry’s indifference to Mary once he had finished with her was a lesson to the younger sister, Anne. But it also marks a change in Henry’s personality and attitude. More about that in a future posting.