Mary Boleyn. Photo: Hever Castle.
Poor old Mary Boleyn. We’ll never know what she was really like, we don’t even know for sure if she was the elder or younger sister of Anne Boleyn – a point which is of great importance to anyone who grew up on a diet of endless princess stories as a little girl for the youngest princess was always the best and most beautiful (as well as invariably the most downtrodden) and we’d fight over who’d get to play her in our playground games.
Of course, it was always the youngest princess who got the prince, unless you were a Boleyn girl that is, in which case you both got a bit of a turn with the prince in question. However, although Mary had him first, it was Anne who kept him and became Queen.
At the time, people must have really pitied Mary who was widowed at an early age then pretty much exiled from court after she married for the second time to an insufficiently grandiose suitor, William Stafford, who was unable to keep her in the manner to which a Queen’s sister and former royal mistress must surely be accustomed.
‘I had rather beg my bread with him than to be the greatest queen in Christendom. And I believe verily … he would not forsake me to be a king.’ — Lady Mary Stafford on her handsome, kind hearted and devoted husband.
Anne Boleyn. Photo: National Portrait Gallery, London.
However, the demise of Anne Boleyn and the ensuing disgrace of her family, changed all that and it was Mary, safely out of the way and living a life of obscurity with her family in Rochford, Essex who was the one to be envied.
The fortunes of Mary’s family continued to rise despite her past, especially as her niece, Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth I, was known to be extremely fond of her good looking, vivacious cousins, the son and daughter of Mary Boleyn and, it was rumoured, Henry VIII and their own offspring, the Carey, Knollys and Stafford families.
I’ve always liked the fact that it is Mary, effectively snubbed by her own family after her second marriage and possibly viewed with some suspicion by her poacher turned gamekeeper sister, Anne who managed to survive the machinations of Cromwell (who seems to have been quite fond of her) and produce the only descendants of the once proud Boleyn family, who had fully expected to found a dynasty that would rival that Mary’s mother, Lady Elizabeth Howard had been born into.
Mary died of natural causes at her home, Rochford Hall on the 19th July 1543. I imagine her as still beautiful, with dark eyes and fading auburn hair, surrounded by her children and adoring husband, to whom it was Anne who was ‘the other Boleyn girl’…