Mary Boleyn

The Yale Miniature


One identity has never been suggested for the Yale miniature, though. It goes to follow that if the man of the four identical limnings is Thomas Boleyn, Viscount Rochford and Earl of Wiltshire of Ormond, and one of the ladies his daughter Anne, one of the others could be his daughter Mary.

Of course, to make the set perfect, the fourth ought then to be Elizabeth Howard, Viscountess Rochford, his wife. However, she would have been older than 18, 25 or 32 by the mid-1520's and can be excluded on that fact alone.

However, the girl of 18 could be Mary Boleyn, though.

That would mean that she was seven years younger than her sister Anne and would have been born in 1508, in order to have been of the canonical age of consent of 12 when she married William Carey in 1520. That would have made her 16 at the birth of her daughter Catherine Carey in 1524 and 18 at the birth of her son Henry Carey in 1526.

If Henry Carey was indeed Henry VIII's son and he had thrown his eyes on the other Boleyn daughter with the object of marriage on his mind, together with Sir Thomas Boleyn receiving the title of Viscount Rochford, there would indeed have been great reason for rejoicing for the Boleyn family in this time period.

There is some evidence of Mary Boleyn being the youngest sister.

In his brilliant guest article Mary Boleyn: A Reassessment at the Anne Boleyn Files, Conor Byrne explains that:

«Controversy surrounds every aspect of Mary’s life, from her date of birth, whether she was elder or younger than Anne, whether she was in fact the mistress of two kings, François I of France and Henry VIII of England, and her relationship with both her sister and the Boleyn family more generally. Mary was the daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn and Elizabeth Howard. Their jointure was settled on them in November 1501, suggesting a fairly recent marriage. It is likely that they had been married the previous year. In his 1997 article, Anthony Hoskins speculated that Thomas had married Elizabeth around 1500. Hoskins further suggested that Mary’s “age and seniority are controversial”. Historians disagree about whether Mary was older than her sister Anne. Evidence is as follows. Mary Boleyn married William Carey, the second son of Sir Thomas Carey and Margaret Spencer, in 1520, while Anne only returned to England in 1521/2. This has traditionally been accepted as strong evidence of Mary’s seniority, for elder daughters were usually married before younger ones. However, this was not always a prevailing custom in England. Jane Seymour, for example, third queen of Henry VIII, was the last of the three surviving Seymour daughters to marry, despite being the eldest. Her sister Elizabeth, who was at least three and possibly ten years younger than her, had married Anthony Ughtred in 1531, five years before her elder sister married the king. Margaret Mowbray, daughter of the first duke of Norfolk, was “advanced in honor” – i.e. marriage – before her sister Isabel, despite Isabel being the elder sister. In May 1553, Lady Jane Grey and her younger sister Katherine married on the same day.

Although Mary married before Anne, it is not therefore conclusive evidence that she was, in fact, the elder Boleyn daughter. In the spring of 1513, Anne was sent to reside at the court of Margaret of Austria, and in 1514 was transferred first to the household of Mary Tudor, Queen of France, and later to that of Queen Claude, returning to England seven years later. This appointment has been cited as convincing evidence of Anne’s senior position, for it would have been implausible for the younger daughter to be preferred over her elder sister for such a prestigious position. Possibly, Anne was considered by her father to be brighter and more remarkable than her sister, and was selected for her personal qualities. According to Lord Herbert, Thomas Boleyn discovered that his daughter Anne was, from an early age, a bright and “toward” girl and consequently “took all possible care for her good education”.

In 1597, Mary’s grandson George Carey, Lord Hunsdon, petitioned for the Boleyn family’s Ormond earldom on the grounds that his grandmother was the elder daughter. This has been cited as convincing proof of Mary’s seniority. However, authors found legal and genealogical errors in Hunsdon’s petition, and it has been recognised that “to obtain titles or estates, Tudor petitioners sometimes created bogus genealogies and legal fictions”. Hunsdon’s petition was unsuccessful, and there is no evidence that it was presented to Queen Elizabeth. When Thomas Boleyn died in 1539, his post-mortem referred to his daughter Mary Boleyn as her father’s “only and next daughter and heir”, suggesting that she was not the elder daughter. Hunsdon’s daughter Elizabeth Berkeley’s tombstone engraving confirmed that her ancestor Mary Boleyn had been younger than Anne Boleyn. In his seventeenth-century study of the Berkeleys, John Smyth stated that Mary was younger than Anne.

The only evidence to suggest that Mary was elder than Anne lies in her marrying before her sister, but evidence related here suggests that younger daughters were married first in exceptional circumstances. Anne was residing at the French court and could have hoped to make an excellent marriage there. Moreover, as Warnicke correctly identifies, Mary married only the second son of a knight, whereas Thomas Boleyn was around the same time engaged in negotiations for Anne to marry the son of an earl, a more prestigious match. Hunsdon’s 1597 petition was not presented to Elizabeth I, and if it was, she rejected it. Hunsdon’s own relatives believed that he had been wrong to identify their ancestor Mary as elder than Anne.

Most historians now believe that Anne Boleyn was born around 1501. If her parents had married around 1500, and if Anne was therefore the elder daughter (and plausibly the eldest child), then Mary cannot have been born before 1502. Their brother George was probably born around 1503-4, although as Hoskins confirms, his birth date has never been conclusively identified. Where the children were born cannot be confirmed. The Boleyn daughters and their brother were probably born at Blickling Hall in Norfolk, although some evidence suggests that Anne Boleyn was actually born in London, possibly at Lambeth Palace.»

Questions for Conor:

The article above says that Elizabeth Carey Berkeley’s tombstone engraving indicates that Mary was the younger sister. How So? Where is the tombstone and what does the engraving say?

In the discussion of George Carey, Baron Hunsdon’s suit for the Ormond inheritance, the article says that his own relatives thought him wrong? What is the evidence or reference for this please?

Hi KB, in answer to your first question, the engraving is discussed by Emily Reilly, “Historical Anecdotes of the Families of the Boleyns, Careys, Mordaunts, Hamiltons, and Jocelyns” (Newry, 1839), and for both questions I refer you to Retha M. Warnicke, “Wicked Women of Tudor England” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), Chapter One.

Mary Boleyn: A Reassessment


In spite of this theory being my own, I do not lend much credence to it.

The lady in the Yale miniature has a pronounced stub nose, which is nowhere to be found on the portrait said to be Mary Boleyn and of which there is in existance at least six copies, none of which has a stub nose.

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Mary Boleyn – Hever Castle Portrait


Many attempts have been made to discredit this portrait as one of Mary Boleyn, none of them compelling.


Both Catherine Carey, Lady Knollys, and Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon, Mary's children, had numerous offspring, and if you had a portrait of a semi-famous ancestress related to no less than two Queens of England, Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I, (three if you count Katherine Howard who was a first cousin of Mary and Anne, four if you count Jane Seymour who was a second cousin of Mary and Anne and Katherine) in the family, would you not also like a copy?


Think of it as requesting a copy of a really old photograph today. Most of us have done so or have relatives who have.


In fact, there being several copies of the portrait speaks in the favour of it being Mary, versus Frances Brandon Grey – who has been proposed as the sitter – who after the death of her three daughters would have had no descendants at all except for the Seymours through her daughter Katherine Grey Seymour.


And while the Seymours have lovingly preserved paintings of Katherine Grey Seymour and her son (and there has been made copies of them for new branches off of the main tree of the family) none of the paintings of Mary Boleyn can be found in their possession under the name of Frances Brandon Grey, Duchess of Suffolk, or under any name or title said lady was ever known under. Or indeed under any name at all. As far as I know none of the numerous copies of the painting said to be of Mary Boleyn can be traced back to the Seymours at all.


The attempts to discredit the portrait being Mary Boleyn on the basis of ermine being reserved for royalty, has been conclusively disproved by Susan Higginbotham here: Mary Boleyn or Frances Brandon?


In fact, as the wife of an esquire for the King’s body, the daughter of a Viscount, and the sister of a Marquess, Mary Boleyn would have been entitled to wear ermine three times over.


There have also been mumblings that the fashion the Hever Castle Mary Boleyn is all wrong, being from the mid-1530's, when Mary was in disgrace and unlikely to have had a portrait painted of her. Well, Mary did not end up in disgrace until 1534, when her secret marriage was discovered. Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn married on the 25th of January 1533, after a secret marriage on the 14th of November 1532. On the 23rd of May 1533, newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer declared Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon's marriage null and void; five days later, he declared Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn's marriage valid. Anne Boleyn was crowned queen on the 1st of June 1533.


That leaves plenty of time for Mary Boleyn's portrait to be painted between Anne's ascension and triumph in 1532/3 and before Mary's secret marriage was revealed in September 1534 and she was banished from court.


Mary was hardly in royal disfavour at this point in her life until her pregnancy became apparent. According to Claire of the Anne Boleyn Files:


  • 'Henry VIII intervened with Thomas Boleyn on Mary’s behalf, prompting him to make provision for her at the end of June 1528. In December 1528, Henry assigned Mary an annuity of £100 (£32,000), which had once been paid to her husband.
  • Mary was at court at New Year 1532 and 1534 – “Mary Rocheford” gave Henry VIII a shirt with a blackwork collar and he gave her a piece of gilt plate in 1532 and her name appears on the lists of New Year’s gifts for 1534. The list for 1533 is missing.
  • Mary accompanied the King and Anne Boleyn on their trip to meet Francis I in Calais in October 1532.'


The fashion of her English gable hood is exactly right for 1533-1534. As we remember, the Most Happi medal was coined in 1534, and on it Anne Boleyn is wearing a similar English gable hood in the same style as the one sported by Mary Boleyn in the Hever Castle portrait.


There are also the oak leaves on the brooch on the dress of the sitter in the Yale miniature, which makes such a compelling case in the argument for the sitter being Amy Robsart, and for which there can be found no connection to Mary Boleyn.

Mary Boleyn – Hever Castle Portrait

Mary Boleyn – Warwick Castle Portrait (photo credit: Lisby1)

Mary Boleyn – Holyrood Palace, Portrait in the Royal Collection

Mary Boleyn – Private Collection

Mary Boleyn – Rockingham Castle Portrait

Mary Boleyn – The Holyrood Palace Portrait

Mary Boleyn – The Holyrood Palace Portrait

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Mary Boleyn – Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh, Scotland

Called Portrait of a Woman

c. 1630-70

Style of Remigius van Leemput (d. 1675)

Oil on panel 39.4 x 31.2 x 0.5 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external) 50.8 x 42.7 x 4.4 cm (frame, external)

The Royal Collection | RCIN 402991

Mary, Queen of Scots' Outer Chamber, Palace of Holyroodhouse


«Description: A version of a portrait apparently once thought to represent Anne Boleyn, although later associated with her elder sister Mary. Other versions are at Warwick Castle and Longford Castle. This Royal Collection painting was certainly produced in the seventeenth century, although the sitter's costume dates from c.1535. Provenance: Possibly acquired by Queen Anne.»

Sylwia, in a post on her blog the Queen Anne Boleyn, undertook research for this painting:

«I did a research about this and in this article I am going to write more about this portrait. I was looking for information about provenance of the portrait of ‘Mary Boleyn’ and confirmation of Alison Weir’s claim that there were ‘at least 6 versions of this portrait’.

I contacted Anna L. Splender who is a Deputy Head Steward at the Hever Castle. She kindly replied that;

“I am afraid that I am unfamiliar with the claim that there are 6 versions of Mary Boleyn’s portrait.  We only have one portrait at Hever Castle – Warwick Castle is its provenance (purchased by William Waldorf Astor in the early twentieth century).”»

Ann Etheridge, to whom it seems that we are all greatly indebted for the discovery of this beautiful portrait, replied to Sylwia's blog post, saying: «As far as I know, I am the person who discovered that this copy of the better known painting of Mary which hangs at Hever. I was touring Holyrood Palace in 2009 and saw it hanging in one of the rooms there, identified as “unknown woman.” When I returned home, I searched the online database of the royal collection and found a small jpg of it, labeled again as “unknown woman.” I placed a copy of that jpeg online here:, labeled as Mary Boleyn, as it is clearly a second copy of the portrait at Hever. I searched for the image as Mary Boleyn online extensively before I did this and it was not on the Internet under her name.

Since I have placed it online identified as Mary, it has been appearing in more and more locations. My personal view is that this is indeed Mary, and is probably a pendent to the known portrait of her husband, Henry Carey, as both this second image and the one of Carey are set done in vignette style and are facing inward at each other. The vingette was not preserved in the Hever Mary, but is preserved in the Holyrood copy.»

It really takes a village.

William Carey and the Holyrood Palace Mary Boleyn – set in vignette style and facing inward at each other, as shrewdly observed by Ann Etheridge

Mary Boleyn – The Private Collection Portrait

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Mary Boleyn – The Private Collection Portrait


Portrait of Mary Bublen [sic], wife of William Carey.

English School of the 17th century

Photo Artcurial Oil on board of oak, a board.

31.50 x 27 cm (12.29 x 10.53 inches)

Lot 1. Estimate : 2 500/3 500 €

Carries an inscription 'Mary Bullen Wife to Wm Carey Esq.' in the top.

Provenance: Chez André Gombert, Paris, 1994; Acquired from the latter by the current owner; Private Collection, Paris.


Knowing what we now know, after Ann Etheridge's shrewd observation, it is easy to see the hint of a vignette at both sides but particularly on the right of the bottom of the private collection painting of Mary Boleyn. The colour of the preserved part of the vignette even matches that in the painting of William Carey. 

William Carey and the Private Collection Mary Boleyn

Furthermore, this painting is inscribed with 'Mary Bullen Wife to Wm Carey Esq'. I cannot recall if the inscription was original, but it certainly predated Mary Boleyn's rise to fame following the publishing of Philippa Gregory's novel The Other Boleyn Girl in 2001.

Up until then, Mary had been an obscure character, known only to the most die-hard Tudor enthusiasts, and often not even to them. I consider myself a die-hard Tudor enthusiast, and I had never heard of her.

Another fellow Tudor enthusiast, who had clearly never heard of Mary's existence before either, described the book's appeal as 'taking everything you thought you knew and turning it on its head'.

Mary Boleyn – The Rockingham Castle Portrait

Mary Boleyn – The Rockingham Castle Portrait

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«BRITISH SCHOOL, 16th century, portrait of a Lady, traditionally known as Mary Boleyn (d.1543), 147/8 x 12, formerly described as after Holbein. Traditional attribution "after Stretes".»

Again I am indebted to Lisby1 for my discovery of this portrait. She has this to say about the Rockingham Castle portrait of Mary Boleyn:

«This portrait of Mary Boleyn hangs in the great hall of Rockingham Castle. Alison Weir's recent argrument against this portrait type being genuinely Mary Boleyn is not compelling to me. I find the dark eyes in this copy of the lost original to be interesting. Was the artist lending Mary that noted characteristic of her sister Anne: the "eyes that are black and beautiful"? On the other two versions of Mary's portrait, the eyes are also dark, but not as dark or luminous as in this version. Just speculation...»

Alison Weir has this to say about the Rockingham Castle portrait:

«This portrait, which hangs in the Great Hall, is labelled as 'Jane Seymour (after Holbein)' in Sotheby's insurance inventory of the Castle's contents in 2002; but Basil Morgan noticed a version in a biography of Anne Boleyn some years ago, and Sotheby's have now gone along with the idea that it is Mary.

It was bought for Commander Sir Michael Culme-Seymour (a distant connection of the Seymour family), who inherited the Castle in 1925, since 'it seemed right that we should have something to record the new Seymour connection in the house'! The dealer, Jack Spink, bought it for Sir Michael in 1946. Sir Michael thought it had been sold as 'Jane Seymour - a minor copy' for about £25.

An inventory of the Castle's pictures by the Courtauld Institute in 1992, in consultation with Sir Oliver Millar, the National Portrait Gallery and the Paul Mellon Center at New Haven, U.S.A.,reads: 'BRITISH SCHOOL, 16th century, portrait of a Lady, traditionally known as Mary Boleyn (d.1543), 147/8 x 12, formerly described as after Holbein. Traditional attribution "after Stretes'".

The Courtauld did not know where the traditional Rockingham identification of the sitter with Jane Seymour originated. It was Millar who, correctly, thought that the traditional attribution to Stretes should be abandoned in favour of 'British School'.

I am intrigued to see that the face is a different shape from the other versions, in which the sitter has a round face. To my knowledge, none of the versions - Rockingham, Hever Castle, two in the Royal Collection, Southside House at Wimbledon, Hendon Manor in Kent, Warwick Castle, and the one reproduced in my book, which is now lost after having been stolen from a private collection, as the owner informed me - have been the subject of detailed investigation, so it's hard to say which, if any, is an original from life. My belief, given the ermine sleeves and the proliferation of copies (which may, however, post-date the identification as Mary Boleyn), is that the sitter is royal. The costume is that of the mid-1530's. The pearls are similar to those worn by Jane Seymour in two portraits, but I'm sure that similar pearls would have been worn by many women of rank. The other jewellery is indistinct. I did consider Jane Seymour when originally trying to identify the sitter, given that she is wearing ermine, which was restricted to royalty or the higher nobility, and that the costume is right for Jane Seymour; but in the other versions with the rounder face the sitter looks so unlike Jane in her portraits by, or after, Holbein and in the Society of Antiquaries collection. Yet a version after Holbein at Hever Castle also has dissimilar features, as do other later portraits, so one cannot go on likeness alone. Possibly it is Jane Seymour, and these versions are all later copies of a lost original, with the copies being taken from a version with a rounded face. A historian friend is doing research on Frances Brandon, mother of Lady Jane Grey, and thinks it's possible that this portrait may be of Frances, as I suggest in my book. But it's impossible to say for certain, without further research being done on the portraits.»

However, according to this quote, it would be appear to be eight known versions of this portrait:

«To my knowledge, none of the versions - Rockingham, Hever Castle, two in the Royal Collection, Southside House at Wimbledon, Hendon Manor in Kent, Warwick Castle, and [...] one [...] in [...] a private collection»

The Rockingham Castle Portrait, the Hever Castle portrait, the Holyrood House portrait in the Royal Collection, the Warwick Castle portrait, and the one in a private collection, are all displayed on this page.

That however leaves one more portrait in the Royal Collection, one at Southside House at Wimbledon, and one at Hendon Manor in Kent.

However, if we look at the description of the painting in the Royal Collection, it says that: «Other versions are at Warwick Castle and Longford Castle.»

Unless the one at Longford Castle is the other painting in the Royal Collection, we could be looking at a total of nine known versions of this portrait.

Some have used the great number of portraits to argue that the lady in them must have been somebody important, i.e., somebody not Mary Boleyn.

However, I and my family have a great number of copies of pictures of my great-grandmother and even great-great-grandmother.

Does that mean that she was somebody important?

Well, she was important in her circle. She was of great importance to her children and through that to the rest of her descendants. 

The traces of the vignettes can be easily spotted on the Hever version and the Warwick version too of the original portrait of Mary Boleyn if you know to look for it

Like I have mentioned before, Mary Boleyn's two children, Catherine and Henry Carey, had a great many children.

Catherine Carey had sixteen, of which 15 lived up, a nearly unheard of number in an age of great child mortality.


Her brother Henry Carey too had sixteen legitimate children:


In addition, Henry had several illegitimate children, including Valentine Carey, who eventually served in the military under his father and achieved fairly high rank.

Mary Boleyn's numerous descendants include Lettice Knollys, Elizabeth I's rival to the affections of Robert Dudley, innumerable members of Parliament and major and minor nobility, Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr, after whom the state of Delaware is named, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon – The Queen Mother, Diana Spencer, Sarah Ferguson and quite possibly Kate Middleton.

Those Boleyn girls.

Anne Boleyn – Blickling Hall Portrait

It seems that I yet again must again be indebted to Lisby1 for this fascinating find.

Anne Boleyn – Blickling Hall Portrait

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«Is this Anne Boleyn at age 14, stopping off at home on her way to serve Princess Mary Tudor as queen of France, ashowing off her French finery? Or is this another version of the "French Hood" pattern portrait? Or is it an overpainted original or an overpainted portrait of someone else entirely? Whatever the answer is, it's about the most exciting thing to happen in the field of Anne Boleyn in a good while.» Anne Boleyn, Blickling Hall Portrait

If you pay attention to the pendant worn by Anne, it is the same pendant that Mary Boleyn is wearing in her portrait.

This is more a curiosity than anything else, as, as Lisby1 says, there are too many uncertainties attached to this portrait.

It is however a certainty that Margaret of Austria, Anne's erstwhile mistress, who was very fond of her and had charge of her in earliest youth, is seen wearing a pendant of great resemblance to the one worn by the two sisters Boleyn in a series of well-known paintings of her from her youth.

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Margaret of Austria


Attributed to Pieter van Coninxloo



Margaret of Austria had care of Anne from the summer of 1513 to at least the middle of August 1514, when Thomas Boleyn wrote to ask Margaret to release his daughter, “la petitte Boulain”, into the care of the escort he had sent so that she could return to England to accompany Mary Tudor, the sister of Henry VIII, who was due to leave for France to marry Louis XII.

Margaret of Austria would later strongly oppose the marriage of her niece Christina of Denmark to Henry VIII.


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Addendum 06.06.2020

The Royal Collection has finally identified their portrait as Mary Boleyn: Mysterious woman in Royal Collection portrait identified as Mary Boleyn

Mary Boleyn – Warwick Castle Portrait

Mary Boleyn – Warwick Castle Portrait (Photo credit: Lisby1)

 Mary Boleyn – Warwick Castle Portrait

(Photo credit: Lisby1)


According to Dr. Owen Emmerson, historian working at Hever Castle: «[T]he Hever version is on canvas and we assume it’s C18th. It was, with its pair of Anne, once at Warwick. They were sold to Astor and Warwick either had reproductions or facimilies created to replace them, which you can still see today (below).»

Here the portrait now at Warwick Castle is shown above, while the portrait now at Hever Castle is shown below.

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Mary Boleyn – Hever Castle Portrait

Five More Versions

In connection with the identification of the portrait in the Royal Collection as Mary Boleyn, Lee Porritt posted five more versions this portrait.

Mary Boleyn – The Lord Wharton Portrait

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The inscription reads: Mary sister of Anne of Bolloyne, mother of Henry Carye lord Hunsdon Grandfather of Philadelphia Mother of philip now lord Wharton

Philip Wharton, 4th Baron Wharton (18 April 1613 – 4 February 1696) was an English soldier, politician and diplomat. He was a Parliamentarian during the English Civil War. Wharton was the son of Sir Thomas Wharton of Aske Hall and his wife Lady Philadelphia Carey, daughter of Robert Carey, 1st Earl of Monmouth, and he was indeed the great-grandson of Henry Carey and the great-great-grandson of Mary Boleyn.

So here we find what is likely a copy in the possession of one of Mary Boleyn's direct descendants, just as I have suggested above.

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Mary Boleyn – A Miniature?

Mary Boleyn – Another Round Version?

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Mary Boleyn – A Black and White Photograph of the Private Collection Portrait?

Mary Boleyn – Same Inscription as the Private Collection Portrait

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William Carey

Another version of the portrait of William Carey.

William Carey

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Possibly One More Version

In connection with the identification of the portrait in the Royal Collection as Mary Boleyn, Dr. Owen Emmerson, historian working at Hever Castle, posted the images he has of versions of this portrait.

Mary Boleyn

From the left: The Private Collection Portrait – ? – The Rockingham Castle Portrait – The Warwick Castle Portrait – The Holyrood Palace Portrait

I am not sure if the first two are the same portrait, otherwise we have another one very close to the Private Collection Portrait.

EDITED 19.09.2022

A goodbye to one of the greatest Boleyn girls of them all:

Fare thee well and Thank you


21.12.2021 23:19

Jennifer S. Alexander

What a lovely find! My husband is a direct descendant, like the other guest. My daughter resembles her, though I'm sure that's a coincidence considering she's a 13th great-granddaughter. :)

12.08.2020 23:48

Eve Collins

How exciting! I am really loving your site! Mary Boleyn is my grandmother through Henry Carey to Robert and then Robert's daughter Philadelphia. Keep up the great work!

13.08.2020 20:14

Site Owner

Thank you so much! That is so lovely to hear! 😊 Oh, that must be so fun! I would love to be descended from Mary Boleyn! How great to hear from you! Thank you so much for your great feedback 😊