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  • Kristin Bundesen, PhD

1. Mary: Mother

This is an experiment in story-telling. The subject is family. Much of the following is based on the historical record. Some is conjecture. The reader has been warned.

It starts with the mother, Mary. She was from a well-known, well-born, and increasingly prominent family. Her mother was an aristocrat, daughter of a duke. Mary’s uncle, was the duke when this story begins. Her father’s family became nobles through judicious choices but had the good sense to include some practical merchant, real estate management, and political skills in their DNA.

Mary’s father successfully navigated the corridors of power. He served as a roving ambassador from England to the courts of Europe. He had a knack for languages and he cashed that skill in to his own, and his family’s benefit.

Traveling through Europe, he met the rich, the infamous, the leaders, the politicians, and the lovers. All of this he used to the benefit of his family. This was the job of leading a family in the 16th century. A good father, a good mother, good grandparents, good god-parents, sought advancement for the whole family as well as the individuals within it. Individuality mattered less than it does now. Family members were expected to do what would benefit all their kin as their sole priority and highest honor. What they might want for themselves was secondary at best.

Mary had one sister and one brother, both younger. Her brother George was tutored in the aristocratic arts, as well as languages and all the latest educational fads for the well-born. Mary and her sister were tutored in many of the same subjects. But, when George learned jousting, they learned estate management. When he practiced sword play, they practiced needlework.

Short of the royal family, Mary’s family was one of a handful of the ‘families to know’. They had generations of titles, offices, properties, and the money that goes with that. They knew the court, they knew the counties. They served as royal councillors and as sheriffs. They fostered children from elite households. They served as ladies-in-waiting.

Both Mary and her sister, Anne, at the early edge of an appropriate age, were placed into foreign royal households, chosen by their father for their glittering possibilities. This was a rarity. Most girls would go to other elite households within their own country, or even their own county, for finishing. These foreign finishing schools, the courts, would equip Mary and Anne with all the appropriate domestic arts, languages, and literary arts, but more importantly the political arts necessary to navigate the top levels of society anywhere in Europe. It was grooming for the international marriage market at the highest level.

If the girls didn’t make foreign matches, their experiences abroad would set them up as objects of fascination when they returned home. Mary’s post was to accompany Princess Mary, sister to King Henry VIII, to France. Anne went to Margaret of Austria’s court in Burgundy - the most sophisticated court in Europe at the time.

Princess Mary married Louis XII of France who was 30 years older than his bride. She promptly partied him to death thereby obtaining a window of freedom within which she married her brother’s best friend Charles Brandon. No longer welcome in France, the Brandons, also known as the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk, returned to England to face the king’s wrath, but Mary Boleyn stayed on at the French court.

While in France, Mary learned what she was intended to learn and moved in the highest circles as her father had hoped. It was early in the French Renaissance with artists, philosophers, mathematicians, scientists, musicians, poets, dinners every night, and lovers around every corner.

It was fun. It was enchanting. It could be dangerous, but not for Mary. The new king, Francis, liked her. As long as that continued, she could pretty much do what she liked, dance, game, hunt, enjoy the company - in French, Spanish, English, and Italian. She was pretty. An ornament to any gathering. Actually, she was beautiful. Over a hundred and fifty years later, her portrait would be one of a series of paintings known as the ‘Fourteen Beauties’. Beautiful women who adorned another queen’s palace. Mary’s image was the only one from outside the 17th century. But Mary wore her looks with contentment. She wore her beauty as though it were an ordinary country dress.

Her father would come for weeks at a time in his role of ambassador. Her sister eventually joined her. She wasn’t lonely. She was happy. Teenage heaven.

Eventually, she returned to the English court taking up a position in Queen Katherine’s chambers.

And a match was made. William Carey.

He was young, athletic, and charming, and a favorite of the king’s. Switching the French for the English court and a marriage to an up and coming gentleman of the privy chamber would keep Mary’s charmed life going. In early 15

20, the couple married. The ceremony took place in the Chapel Royal and the king was present - a signal honor. And this king liked her too.

A few months later, the young couple went with the court to the Field of Cloth of Gold. The English and the French kings brought their favorites, and played make believe inside a cloth castle painted gold, put up in a large valley meadow. Under the church’s eye, well Cardinal Wolsey’s eyes, the kings played, boasted, and wrestled both metaphorically and physically.

It was a lovely al fresco adventure although all Mary’s hems and all her shoes were covered in grass and mud. Everything was damp through every day. But there was wine, hawking, riding, music, games, and entertainment every day and every night.

The Boleyn family returned to England with the court. There, William took his place in the King’s chamber and Mary took hers in the Queen’s and the couple were given rooms at court.

And the king came to her bed.

Future musings may expand, embellish, or correct, this part of the story - or not.


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