Fans of Philippa Gregory may have found themselves wondering where Mary Boleyn was as his sister was falling from favour and ultimately meeting her fate at the hands of the executioner. After all, in The Other Boleyn Girl book, Mary is at court when Anne is arrested and her daughter is taken to the Tower as a companion to Anne. In the 2008 film, Mary rides back to court to plead with Henry for her sister’s life and then sees Anne, promising to look after her daughter, Elizabeth. In contrast, Mary Boleyn disappeared from sight after episode 3 of Wolf Hall.
Unfortunately, whilst undoubtedly popular, neither The Other Boleyn Girl book or film are particularly historically accurate. In 1534, Mary Boleyn secretly married Sir William Stafford (who made a brief appearance in episode 3 of Wolf Hall). As she was the Queen’s sister, this was a mésalliance and, when the truth came out as a result of her falling pregnant, she was banished from court. Her father cut her off and, despite Mary writing to Cromwell to intercede with Anne, she was never received by Anne again.
Her fortunes revived slightly after Anne’s death with her father allowed the Stafford’s use of a house in Essex. Her children from her first marriage – Katherine Carey and Henry Carey – became part of the royal household and would later find favour with Elizabeth I (after all, they were her closest blood relatives) but Mary and William Stafford lived out the rest of their lives in obscurity without ever returning to court.