‘Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens’ at the British Library


I’ve been so busy recently it’s taken me a while to get round to putting this up on my blog – back in November when I was in London, as well as going to the Tower of London, Natural History Museum, and on a Jack the Ripper walking tour I, of course, had to find time to visit the British Library to see their exhibition on Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots. This was just perfect timing, given that I was writing my first book on Elizabethan Rebellions which Mary was a huge part of.

There was so much to see and take in during the exhibition: portraits, books, letters, papal bulls, and jewellery. It was a real insight into the minds of these women and how they were trying to negotiate the murky political waters of the sixteenth century. Here I’m going to talk about just a couple of things in the exhibition which made a huge impact on me.

Letter from the Privy Council to the Earl of Kent giving permission for the execution of Mary Queen of Scots

The first is the letter from the Privy Council agreeing to the execution of Mary Queen of Scots. The original warrant long ago went missing, so this is the closest thing that we have. To see the signatures of William Cecil, Henry Carey Lord Hunsdon, Francis Knollys, and Charles Howard demonstrates just how willing these men were to go over and above their Queen and threaten the very idea of divine right in order to safeguard Elizabeth I’s throne. Mary was just too dangerous to be allowed to live and Elizabeth wouldn’t be safe while she did.

‘Gallows Letter’ from Mary Queen of Scots to Anthony Babington 1586

The second was the Babington ‘gallows’ letter which Mary Queen of Scots sent to Anthony Babington in 1586 during the Babington Plot and which led directly to her own execution the following year. The original was written in code and then burnt by Babington once he’d read it. This is a copy made by Walsingham’s codebreaker, Thomas Phelippes. When Phelippes realised that the letter incriminated Mary Queen of Scots in treason he drew a gallows on his copy before sending it onto Walsingham as evidence, hence the name ‘gallows letter’.

The final two things I’m going to talk about, I’m going to do together as they are related to one of my favourite Tudor people – Anne Boleyn. The exhibition included the written announcement of the birth of Elizabeth I in 1533 which was amazing to see, and the famous Chequers ring, which has portraits of Elizabeth I and, allegedly, Anne Boleyn, though this has never been conclusively proven. It seems likely, however, as Elizabeth wore it and never took it off until her death. It’s a stunning piece, smaller than I had imagined but absolutely beautiful. It links the two women together and helps us to consider what Elizabeth might have thought about her mother, who had been executed by her father when she was just 2 years old.

If you want to catch the exhibition before it closes, it is on at the British Library for another week, until 20th February 2022, or you can do a digital tour online.

https://www.bl.uk/events/elizabeth-and-mary

Who Was … Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon?


Name: Henry Carey

Title/s: 1st Baron Hunsdon

Birth: 4 March 1526

Death: 23 July 1596

Burial: Westminster Abbey, London (England)

Spouse: Anne Morgan c.1529-1607

Children: Catherine Carey, Countess of Nottingham 1547-1602 / George Carey, 2nd Baron Hunsdon 1547-1603 / John Carey, 3rd Baron Hunsdon ?-1617 / Henry Carey / Thomas Carey / William Carey / Thomas Carey / Edmund Carey c.1558-1637 / Robert Carey, 1st Earl of Monmouth 1560-1639 / Margaret Hoby c.1567-1605 / Philadelphia Scrope, Baroness Scrope of Bolton c.1552-1627

Parents: Mary Boleyn c.1499-1543 & William Carey c.1500-1528

Siblings: Catherine Knollys c.1524-1569

Noble Connections: Henry’s mother, Mary Boleyn, was the mistress of Henry VIII. His aunt, Anne Boleyn, became the second wife of Henry VIII, and his cousin, Elizabeth I became queen. His grandfather was Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire and Ormond and his great-uncle was Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk.

Controversy: It has been suggested that Henry Carey and his sister, Catherine, were actually the children of Henry VIII by his mistress, Mary Boleyn. This has never been proven and Henry never acknowledged either of them. It is now generally accepted that Henry was likely the son of William Carey, while Catherine is the one of the siblings more likely to have been the king’s, but we’ll probably never know. For a breakdown of the arguments see my previous blog post here.

Works of Fiction:

  • P.F. Chisholm – ‘A Famine of Horses’ (2016)

Portrayals on Screen:

  • None

Further Reading:

  • Kelly Hart – ‘The Mistresses of Henry VIII’ (2009)
  • Philippa Jones – ‘The Other Tudors: Henry VIII’s Mistresses and Bastards’ (2009)
  • Amy Licence – ‘The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII’ (2014)
  • Alison Weir – ‘Mary Boleyn: The Great and Infamous Whore’ (2011)
  • Josephine Wilkinson – ‘Mary Boleyn: The True Story of Henry VIII’s Favourite Mistress’ (2010)
  • Henry Carey, Baron Hunsdon, by Steven Van Herwijck c.1561-3.
  • Arms of Henry Carey 1st Baron Hunsdon

Catherine and Henry Carey: Children of Mary Boleyn


Catherine and Henry Carey were the children of Mary Boleyn. Their parentage is questioned, as their father could be one of two men; either Mary Boleyn’s husband, William Carey, or her lover, King Henry VIII of England. This post will examine the evidence for each side, and look at the futures of the pair. Neither Henry nor Catherine were acknowledged by Henry VIII, unlike Henry Fitzroy, Henry VIII’s son by Bessie Blount. However, Mary Boleyn was already married, unlike Bessie Blount. If Mary was sleeping with both the King and her husband, then she herself may have been unsure of their paternity.[1] Leanda de Lisle claims that there was no evidence at all to suggest that either of Mary Boleyn’s children were fathered by Henry VIII.[2] Read on for my arguments and a summary of the ‘evidence’.

Arguments for the parentage of the Carey children

Catherine Carey by Steven Van Der Meulen 1562.
Catherine Carey by Steven Van Der Meulen 1562.

Catherine was born around 1524. Henry was born around 1525/6. Philippa Jones has these dates reversed, with Catherine in 1526 and Henry the elder, born in 1524.[3] However, I don’t believe Jones is correct, as there is more evidence for Catherine being the elder. Continue reading “Catherine and Henry Carey: Children of Mary Boleyn”

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