Catherine and Henry Carey – The King’s Children?

I posted an excerpt of the Anne Boleyn historical fiction novel I am working on the other day on my Facebook page and it is the part where Mary Boleyn is pregnant. The excerpt was this:

‘Mary has arrived home today as it is time for her to go into confinement. I don’t envy her; I would hate being locked away, waiting to give birth to the King’s bastard. Since hearing of my sister’s pregnancy, my uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, has taken an interest in her welfare. He is only doing so because both he and Father hope that she will have a son. Even if it is a boy, it will still be a bastard. The King has acknowledged his other son, Henry Fitzroy, but it doesn’t change anything. The Queen’s daughter, Mary, will still be the first inline. Mary will become Queen. If, God forbid, something happened to her then Henry Fitzroy would be the next inline. Not my sister’s child. Although it is possible that something may happen to him too, it is very unlikely. Mother told me that I had to cheer up for when she arrived, perhaps she is right and I am just being like this as I have been away from Henry Percy for so long now. That is also a possibility.’

I received many good responses but a few people later asked me whether it is true that Henry VIII was the father of one or both of Mary’s children. I then thought I would write this article showing my thoughts on it.

Mary Boleyn and Henry VIII’s relationship lasted longer than any of his other mistresses, not counting Anne Boleyn as a mistress, and longer even than some of his marriages. We cannot be certain of when it started, however we do know that Mary’s husband, William Carey, was given awards between the years 1522 and 1525. The awards were probably given as thanks for William’s compliance with Mary being Henry’s mistress. So, if the awards are anything to go by, the affair had probably begun by February 1522, as on the fifth of that month William was appointed keeper of the manor and estate of New Hall in Essex and of the King’s wardrobe there. The end of Mary’s relationship with Henry was marked at the Shrove Tuesday joust held at Greenwich in 1526. The King was dressed in cloth of gold and silver, richly embroidered with a man’s heart enclosed within a press and encircled by a frame. His motto was Declare ie nose – ‘declare I dare not’. He was taking the part of a tortured lover; this could have been his first public declaration of love for Anne Boleyn.

So we know that the relationship was probably between 1522 and 1525. One child, out of the two Mary supposedly had with William, was born during this time. Catherine Carey was born in 1524. We can establish the year of her birth from a portrait of her, which was painted in 1562. This notes that she was thirty-eight years old at the time and so that makes her birth date 1524.

Catherine Carey

Portrait of Catherine Knollys (née Carey).

Mary’s second child, Henry Carey, was born on the 4th March 1526. Henry had, by that time, become interested in Mary’s sister, Anne. However, as he was born in March he would have been conceived in June the previous year. Mary was still Henry’s mistress then, so both Catherine and Henry Carey could have been Henry VIII’s children.

Henry Carey

Portrait of Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon.

Arguments against Catherine and Henry being Henry VIII’s children:

  • Henry VIII did not acknowledge Catherine and Henry Carey as he had done with Henry Fitzroy, the son he had by Elizabeth Blount. The boy was given the name Fitzroy, which literally means ‘the son of the King’ and is testament to Henry’s acceptance of him. Mary’s children were given her husband’s name, Carey.
  • The most compelling argument against Mary’s children having been fathered by Henry VIII is the apparent low fertility of the King. In ‘The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn’, Eric Ives writes that “it may also be relevant to note the long delay before she became pregnant, something which might be expected of a period when she was taken up with a man of such known low fertility as Henry VIII… Once Mary had begun to cohabit with William Carey, her two children came in quick succession”.
  • Elizabeth I wrote of the Careys as her cousins and did not refer to them as her brother and sister. She was kind to them but that could simply be because of their link to her mother, Anne Boleyn.

Arguments for Catherine and Henry Carey being Henry VIII’s children:

  • Josephine Wilkinson in her book ‘Mary Boleyn: The True Story of Henry VIII’s Favourite Mistress’ says that Henry’s fertility problems could have arose from psychological causes. She says “Henry, so anxious to have a son, was prevented by that very anxiety from doing that which was necessary in order to father one”. That could have been why he struggled to have legitimate children, yet he could relax with Mary Boleyn and his other mistresses.
  • Henry did not acknowledge either child, even though a girl was less significant, with his lack of male children you would have thought he would acknowledge a son. However, one possible answer to this is that Henry was becoming emotionally involved with Anne Boleyn at the time the boy was born. Acknowledging a child by her sister would have caused outrage at court and in the wider Tudor society.
  • Henry Carey was knighted by Elizabeth and made Baron Hunsdon. Elizabeth also visited him on his deathbed and gave him the patent and robes of the Earldom of Wiltshire. Catherine Carey had attended the Queen, was buried at Royal expense and given a prominent memorial on her death. This could suggest that, even though she called them her cousins, she recognised them as more than that.
  • Henry Carey was said to have resembled Henry VIII.
  • John Hale, Vicar of Isleworth, wrote in 1535 of how a monk at St Bridget’s Priory Abbey had pointed out “yongge Master Care” as being the King’s bastard son.
  • Anne Boleyn became Henry Carey’s ward after the death of William Carey. Philippa Gregory says that this may have been so that the King had a legitimate heir if she was unable to provide him with a son.

The evidence for outweighs the evidence against. In my opinion both children were Henry VIII’s, even if he did not acknowledge them. However, I will not argue with the people who believe that one or neither of the children were Henry’s. We will never know for sure, we can only go on what evidence we have. Henry’s wives were able to conceive, they just had trouble carrying the child to term. I also believe that Mary, as Wilkinson puts it, “had thrown herself into the affair with a passion”. I can imagine Mary actually caring and maybe even loving Henry, and Henry giving awards to William for his and Mary’s exclusivity. Although, this is just looking too much into it, as we don’t know what Mary’s feelings really were. I would like to know what everyone else’s opinions are on Catherine and Henry Carey being the children of Henry VIII.


‘My Granny Was A Whore…, or, A Love Story…, or, Our Descent From Henry VIII?’ by Henry A. Fitzhugh

‘The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn’ by Eric Ives, p17

‘Mary Boleyn: The True Story of Henry VIII’s Favourite Mistress’ By Josephine Wilkinson

‘Mary Boleyn: The Great and Infamous Whore’ by Alison Weir

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1 Response to Catherine and Henry Carey – The King’s Children?

  1. Pingback: Mary Boleyn: The True Story of Henry VIII’s Favourite Mistress – Review | Through the Eyes of Anne Boleyn

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