The Tudor Society

The Paternity of Catherine and Henry Carey by Sarah Bryson

Catherine Carey

Catherine Carey

In my last article, Unravelling Mary Boleyn, I wrote about Catherine and Henry Carey, the children of Mary Boleyn. There have always been questions surrounding the paternity of Mary Boleyn's children as around the time that both children were conceived Mary Boleyn was not only a married woman but she was also the mistress of Henry VIII.

William and Mary were married on the 28th June 1520 at Greenwich, the King himself attending the wedding. Perhaps the King's eye fell upon the beautiful young woman at her wedding or maybe it was during the 1522 Shrovetide pageant of the Chateau Vert (Green Castle) that Mary, playing the role of Kindness, a damsel in distress needing rescuing, caught the King's attention. Whatever the situation, Mary Boleyn was Henry VIII's mistress from approximately 1522 to around 1525, when the relationship seemed to have run its course. It was during this time that Mary gave birth to two children.

There are many reasons for why is it believed that one or both of Mary's children were fathered by Henry VIII. During the time when Catherine and Henry were conceived, Mary was the mistress of Henry VIII and sleeping with the King. It has been suggested that Henry would not have wished to have shared Mary with her husband, keeping her to himself during the entire period of their relationship.
Also, there were rumours that Henry Carey looked quite a lot like Henry VIII and that Henry VIII gave Mary's husband, William Carey, a series of grants and appointments around the time each child was born in an attempt to keep him happy. It has also been proposed that because Queen Elizabeth was very close to both Catherine and Henry Carey, it must have been because they were in fact half-brother and half-sister rather than just cousins. Queen Elizabeth knighted Henry Carey and also made him Baron Hunsdon. She also visited him on his deathbed, offering him the Earldom of Wiltshire (once owned by his grandfather Thomas Boleyn). For her part, Catherine Carey was one of Queen Elizabeth I's senior ladies and was greatly loved by the Queen. Upon Catherine's death, Elizabeth I paid for a lavish funeral for her.

Henry Carey

Henry Carey

On the other hand there are just as many suggestions as to why neither Catherine nor Henry Carey were fathered by Henry VIII. It is quite possible that during the time Mary was the King's mistress she may have also been sleeping with her husband. Henry VIII never acknowledged Catherine or Henry as his children, where he had acknowledged Henry Fitzroy, a son he bore with his previous mistress Bessie Blount. It has also been proposed that Henry VIII may have had low fertility and thus there would be a low probability that he impregnated Mary. It has also been suggested that the grants given to Henry Carey could have simply been to keep him silent and happy about his wife sleeping with the King. Also the reason that Queen Elizabeth showed great favour and kindness to Catherine and Henry Carey was simply because they were related, specifically that they were the children of Mary Boleyn, Elizabeth's mother's sister.

Unfortunately, it appears that we will never know if Catherine and/or Henry were the children of Henry VIII. According to the law of the time any child born within marriage legally belonged to the husband unless argued otherwise. William Carey never denied the paternity of Catherine or Henry, and Henry VIII never acknowledged either child as his own.

Claire Ridgway has a different view on Mary Boleyn's relationship with Henry VIII and you can read this over at the Anne Boleyn Files - click here.

Sarah Bryson is the author of Mary Boleyn: In a Nutshell. She is a researcher, writer and educator who has a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education with Honours and currently works with children with disabilities. Sarah is passionate about Tudor history and has a deep interest in Mary Boleyn, Anne Boleyn, the reign of Henry VIII and the people of his court. Visiting England in 2009 furthered her passion and when she returned home she started a website,, and Facebook page about Tudor history. Sarah lives in Australia, enjoys reading, writing, Tudor costume enactment and wishes to return to England one day.


There are 67 comments Go To Comment

  1. D

    Two mysteries that I wish that DNA testing could be used for is to prove if the “Princes in the Tower” buried in Westminster Abbey are, in fact, the real princes; and if Catherine Carey and Henry Carey were the biological children of Henry VIII.

    1. S

      I completely agree!

      1. D

        I agree I would really like to know if Catherine was Queen Elizebeths half sister, Catherine is my great grandmother 14th removed

        1. A

          What does removed mean? I never understood what that meant in terms of family

          1. M

            This is something that isn’t commonly understood at all, and even though I understand the relationship, it still turns my brain into a tangled mess at times.

            Catherine Carey is my 14th great grandmother, and Elizabeth I is my 1st cousin 15x removed. That means there are 15 generations separating us from our common direct ancestors, their Boleyn grandparents.

            Another example where the parentage isn’t in question- Edward VI is also my 1st cousin 15x removed because his mother, Jane, and my 14th great grandfather, Edward Seymour, were siblings. Their children shared the same grandparents, making them 1st cousins. 1st cousins once removed share the same great grandparents. Edward’s great grandparents are my 15th great grandparents, so he is my 1st cousin 15x removed because 15 generations separate us from our common ancestors.

            I wanted to add that great grandparents are our direct ancestors, so they aren’t ‘removed’.

    2. J

      I agree 100%. Catherine Cary was my 13th great-grandmother and I would really like to know the truth.

      1. S

        She is my 13th GGM also. Why can’t DNA be used to find out for sure? I certainly want to know. Henry and I are cousins though be ause we share the same GM/GGM, Elizabeth Woodville.

      2. S

        Wow. So many other descendants here! Catherine Carey was my 13th generation grandmother, I just found out yesterday. It was through the Thomas West/Knollys line that came to America. I wish the descendants could do some sort of dna test to gauge who her real father was? Not sure if that would be possible… then again I did read that William Carey was a descendant of Edward III so it is a similar gene pool but it would be nice to know the truth!

    3. S

      I am a descendant of Catherine Carey, I found out about a month ago on So far I have tracked about 38 other descendants of hers who I am DNA matched with on with her being our last common ancestor. I have also been researching descendants of Henry VII and Henry VIII through their illegitimate children, many of their descendants are also DNA matched with me so I’ve basically proven she was his child.

      1. J

        They sure do look like their father. I’m a descendent of George the third.

        1. C

          Henry Cary has the same auburn colouring as his sister and that was probably inherited from Mary Boleyn, as for his so called likeness to Henry V111, I cannot see any myself, Cary has a long narrow face high cheekbones and wide heavy lidded eyes, Henry V111 face was squarish with small narrow eyes and winged eyebrows, Cary looks more like the Boleyn’s so I fail to see any resemblance to the king, Catherine however does have winged eyebrows and a rounder face but William Cary had winged eyebrows to, don’t forget he was a cousin to the king so a family resemblance would be there between Cary the king and his children.

      2. B

        Thanks for posting, Shaun. Any updates or continued DNA evidence? I may descend from two children of Catherine Carey:

        1) Knollys-Dudley; Mary Constance Dudley married to Stephen Hopkins; Hopkins-Snow (10 DNA cousins connect); Snow-Prence; Snow-Alcorn; Victoria Alcorn born 13 Jun 1725 married to William Steele Rankin; Elizabeth Rankin married to Daniel Gierhart d.21 Apr 1821 in Licking County, Ohio; my maternal grandmother was a Gierhart.

        2) same Mary Constance Dudley married to Stephen Hopkins; Gyles Hopkins 1608-1689 married to Katherine Wheldon; Mary Hopkins married to Samuel Smith where 60 DNA cousins connect; Grace Smith married to Robert Green; Hannah Green married to Roger Dyer of Fort Seybert Indian conflict–I believe a Dyer later married Andrew Tharp of Hardy County VA/WV. Green(e) also appears on both my paternal and maternal sides.

      3. K

        Please contact me as I am on Ancestry as well and Catherine is my 12th great-grandmother.

        1. K

          Catherine is my 12th great-grandmother, too. Very small world once you get into the aristocracy of England. Not fair that all those men go spreading their seed around, here and there, and everywhere, mindlessly and then don’t accept responsibility.

      4. M

        Interested in how that works. I got my done and have no clue how it works.

    4. M

      It should be done to put the rumors and questions to bed. Mary was my x times grandmother and I would like to know. We all would. If it was not King Henry VIII, so be it. But they finally ran dns on King Richard and the 2 boys in the tower that he had murdered. Why can’t they do it for these too? If they were, they clearly wanted nothing to do with it all. So why are the present day people so obsessed with keeping it a secret? It should be confirmed either way. Knowing makes it nice for the centuries of descendants but other than just knowing, there’s no profit in it for anyone so what it the problem? Remember the man they found in Australia that should have been the King of England? He walked away from his family’s homestead as a Duke, wanting the life he built in Australia. It’s simply something we would like to know. Even before knowing Mary was a distant great grandmother, my curiosity wanted to know why this had not been settled with DNA? Who cares if the birth certificate will still say Carey, it does in todays world too. Not much has changed. Why can’t they simply settle the mystery??? It’s been long enough.

  2. K

    Feel free to review my doctoral thesis on the Careys. I believe they were both the king’s children.

    Bundesen, Kristin (2009) ‘No other faction but my own’: dynastic politics and Elizabeth I’s Carey cousins. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

    1. S

      Thank you so much for sharing this I will certainly be giving your thesis a read!

  3. A

    ^ Yes! It’s excellent Kristin! I read it before I started my short bio on Catherine so thank you for pointing it out to me when I did my blog tour. I didn’t know about Dudley’s reference to them as the “Tribe of Dan”. Your work was fascinating! Thanks for sharing!

  4. R

    Very interesting article – Catherine Carey Knollys is my 13th great grandmother. It would be interesting to know her paternity.

    1. D

      I know it certainly would! She is my 14th GGM.

    2. P

      I just discoved that Catherine Carey Knollys is my 15th G-Grandmother! I grew up in the American south and am finally reaping some fruit for a life-long interest in and study of 14th -16th century English history. This is where i ended up today, which began as a seacrh for ancesters connected with the Jamestown Colony circa 1610. WOW! I can’t wait to read the thesis listed above.

      Here’s a shout out to for the great work they have done, for FREE!

      1. L

        Hi Penny,

        This is also how I traced myself to Catherine Carey. My 11th great grandfather was the Governor of the colony, Thomas West 2nd Baron De La Warr. I have been quite surprised as to my findings. I had no idea I had royal blood!

        1. S

          Baron de la Warr is my GGF also.I am descended from his daughter Penelope West and Herbert Pelham, Esq.

          1. L

            Hi Sharon, I just came across your comment. I am descended from his son Francis West & Jane Davye. Hello cousin!👋 I am born and raised in the New Orleans area. Where are you from?

      2. J

        Both Catherine Carey Knowles and Henry Carey are my 12th GGParents thru my descent thru Philemon Plummer and Rachel Plummer my 4th GGMother. Their descendants were Frederick Summey my 3rd GGFather. Thomas West would be a 1st cousin many times removed. Another direct ancestor was Arthur Plantagenet who was Edward the 4th son that was Elizabeth Yorks half brother and half brother to the Princes in the Tower. He was Henry 8th uncle who died in the tower of london also.

    3. L

      Catherine Carey is my 13th great grandmother traced through the West/De La Warr line. Would love to know if we are Tudors or Careys!

      1. D

        It’s fascinating the wondering, when you see these names in your family tree William Carey was married to Mary Boleyn, and there children may actually have been fathered by Henry VIII. Wouldn’t DNA test answer some of these questions.

        1. W

          Maybe not, because weren’t William Carey and Henry Vlll related? I think I read they were cousins. It seems Catherine Carey was my 12th great grandmother and I would love to know for sure which one is her father. But I’m betting it is Henry Vlll, because they did have an affair covering the time in question, and she named her first and only son “Henry”, which is usually done in honor of the father, and Henry Carey just looks more like Henry Vlll than he does William Carey. Also, aren’t both Catherine and Henry entombed in one of the more famous castles, Westminster Abbey? Now I’m not from England but I don’t think they put just anybody in a place like that.

          1. W

            Let me make a correction. Catherine Carey was my 11th great grandmother and her mother, Mary Boleyn was my 12th great grandmother. Mea culpa.

    4. s

      My 13th GGM also.

  5. L

    Mary and Anne Boleyn are my first cousins 16 times removed Via Anne Boleyn Shelton. I am also lower cousiness via my Butlers of Ireland line/s. Anne’s great grandfather Thomas Butler 7th Earl of Ormond/e is my 16x great grandfather and also my 1st cousin 15x removed on the shortest of my Butler lines to Sir James ‘The White’ Butler, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Chief Butler of Ireland 3rd Earl of Ormonde

    1. C

      We are cousins then as Thomas Butler is my 4th cousin, through the De Welles lineage.

  6. P

    Mary and Anne’s father, Thomas Boleyn is my first cousin, 16 times removed. As much as DNA has advanced today, there should be a way to get to the bottom of the Carey question.
    After all, they got DNA from Richard III which subsequently disproved the claims of several subsequent nobles claiming to be his kin.

    1. M

      This is probably why they do not want to do any DNA testing for King Henry VIII, Henry Carey and Catherine Carey. Wasn’t Henry VII supposed to be from a love affair too, not of his fathers genes? It could open up a can of worms larger than the King Richard III. I bet there are many Kings fathered by someone else. 🤦‍♀️

    2. M

      Absolutely agree, so why are they not ending the debate?

  7. M

    Why can’t there be a DNA test done on these two and King Henry VIII? It’s been nearly 600 years, none of us, who are remotely related could ever have a claim or sue the crown for anything, so why not allow us the truth. If they aren’t, so be it. If they are, what does it damage? The house of Tudor ended. We just want to know the truth for history’s sake. We’re already related to Elizabeth as cousins, so who would care?

    1. M

      I absolutely agree. We just want to know which line to truly follow is it Carey or King Henry VIII? Perhaps we should stand together and demand To know our true heritage. Like you said, it’s been enough time. We all deserve to know the truth.

  8. C

    Henry Carey 1st Baron of Hundon is my 12th ggrandfather, his mother Mary Boyelyn Carey is my 13th ggrandmother. All of this about King Henry VIII is so interesting! I was thrilled to find out that I am related to the wonderful Princess Diana thru two different ancestors.

  9. C

    Henry Carey is my 13th GG Grandfather.
    My question to all in this post has anyone done DNA tests on themselves or male parents or siblings?
    My gedmatch number is A492768 if you want to compare.
    Any DNA match that far back will be so small if any at all.

    1. A

      Craige Plunkett , i was curious and ran your Gedmatch # against Mine (T183640)
      I Lowered the Default CM Value from 7 down to 5 and we Match 6.9 CM on
      Chromosome 15 Estimated number of generations to MRCA = 7.5 , I have 2 Plunkett Family Finder Matches at FTDNA that are 4th Cousin Remote Distant Matches., Plugging 6.9 CM into the Shared CM Tool at DNA Painter Suggests a more distant Connection of 8th Cousin or more Distant. I Tested at FTDNA , I Have Tested to Y 111 STR and BIG Y500
      My Paternal Scott Line is Descended from the Scott’s of Scott’s Hall Kent England, These Scott’s are known to have Descended from the Balliol Family.
      I Have Y DNA and BIG Y Matches that are also Companion Names of William The Conqueror such as Warren, Osborne, Bruce, Stewart, Stuart, Lindsay
      Research Suggest that William the Conqueror was a Subclade of R1b my Research and Y DNA Matches Suggest he was R-DF105 as well as Henry VIII
      I am Positive for the SNP R-DF105 in my Direct Paternal Line and one of my Carey Matches is R-DF105 my Terminal SNP (Haplogroup) is R-BY21169 further Down Stream on the Branch
      i Have 2 Carey Y DNA Matches and 1 BIG Y Carey Match , 3 Henry Y DNA Matches , 1 Howard Y DNA Match, 1 Hutson Y DNA Match, 1 Hudson
      I can Vouch for the Carey Royal Connection I have Carey Y DNA Matches , Bolin Y DNA Matches, Henry Matches That all Suggest i share a Common Ancestor With King Henry VIII.
      I Have Many Wyatt Y DNA Matches and One of them who’s Tree Mine is Connected to
      By Paper Trail That Also Indicates The Wyatt’s are Non-Paternal Events from my Scott Line see Bottom Left of Page 185 here “Charles Scott” is a Distant Cousin his Uncle Richard is Ancestor to My North American Scott’s.
      John Scott who Married Anne Pympe Served King Henry VIII
      My Ancestor is #44 of Pedigree Here

      Thomas Wyatt The Elder was in Love With Anne Boleyn (Wife of Henry VIII)
      Thomas Wyatt’s Father was Henry Wyatt that Married Anne Skinner, I Have 2 Skinner Y DNA Matches Also

      One of My Carey Matches is a Y67 Match and is DF105 My Most Distant BIG Y Matches are DF105
      my Kit 510220 can be found in Those Y DNA Groups.
      I know my Line is not the Result of a Non Paternal Event as the Geographical Spread of one of my Parent Subclades R-M222 Covers the Geography of North Humberland England and the Area’s around Ayrshire Scotland the area for Clan Scott also and Cavers Castle Built by the Balliol Family in the 1200’s
      i am in the England GB Norman Y DNA Group also at FTDNA
      on Page 2 with Page size set at 5000 Look for my Kit#
      My Closest Surname matche is Genetic Distance of 1 at the Top is Grouped with me There he is R-M269 in Red the Other red R-M269 and the R-BY18350 are my Most Distant Surname Matches who i share a Common ancestor back about 350 AD, the Close Match about 445 years ago to Common Ancestor.

      1. S

        You and I match on 6 chromosomes @ 3 cM and 1 @ 5cM on CR 18 and have a MRCA @7.7 generations.

      2. L

        Can you please compare mine to yours with your magical dna reading capability? FY8492866 Is my gedmatch number. I don’t understand it one bit. It is my understanding that Mary Boleyn is my 13 gg, Catherine Carey Knollys my 12 gg, Anne Knollys my 11 gg, Anne’s husband Thomas West De la Warr my 11gg, their son Francis West my 10 gg, down to my grandfather Ralph Leland West. This information was given to me by my uncle Ralph West Jr. I know through DNA testing that I am from the West De la Warr line because I matched up with plenty of West family members. I also confirmed the line through census records and Wikipedia but when I ran the 2 gedmatch numbers above it said there was no shared dna. Thank you.

      3. D

        Alan- near 7cm match with you.

      4. M

        Hi Allan, my DNA matched yours by more than 5cm. I think I have connections with Mary Boleyns – Carey, and with the Knowles. Also, I have Stewart connections.
        My Gedmatch is AB5435615

    2. M

      What dna service did you use?

    3. D

      Just about 7cm match Craig

  10. P

    ‘Low fertility’ for Henry VIII is the stupidest argument I’ve ever heard. Ten male and ten female babies THAT WE KNOW OF. If thats’ low fertility then he is the highest fertility low fertility man in human history. What he did have is problems with the male official heirs surviving.

  11. M

    For a married Mistress to be living in her lovers home, in this case, a castle, I doubt the King if the Castle was allowing her husband in his castle to bed his mistress under his own roof. We’re talking King Henry VIII, not a Prince Charles. I think England should dna test all their bones to end all this hogwash. I believe they are both his children. Look where they’re buried. Look at the lavish memorials and how much Queen Elizabeth I spent on them. You comment about Henry not legitimatizing them, but did Fitzroy? He couldn’t, even if he want to. He’d lied publicly that he never slept with Mary in order to marry Anne. Duh! There’s your reason. Wasn’t difficult to figure out.

  12. R

    Before you guys get too excited, it is far more likely that Henry Carey [at least] was William’s son rather than Henry VIII’s- the king’s known sons [including Henry Fitzroy and Edward VI] had a bad habit of dying young before they could marry and have chidren [unless they managed to have kids out of wedlock before doing so]. Henry’s own brother, Arthur, died at the tender age of 19. Henry VIII seemed to be the exceptional son from the Marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, who lived and survived long enough to father legitimate and non-legitimate heirs. In any case, William Carey is descended from royal blood via Eleanor Beaufort:

    1. S

      Well I am descended from Mary ( 13th GGM ) but also would match DNA with Henry regardless because we are both descended from Elizabeth Woodville ( 15th GGM ).

  13. K

    Very nice post!
    It was exceptionally helpful! I am heartily impressed by your blog and learn more from your article, thank you so much for sharing with us. Parenting Order Alberta keep doing awesome You will get well-informed data about it here.

  14. M

    Hi cousins!! Catherine Carey was my 12th great-grandmother.

  15. S

    I would love to see DNA used to solve some of the historical mysteries. However, in order to prove that Henry VIII was the biological father, you would need nuclear DNA, which would almost certainly have perished in antiquity. With bones and hair, the only DNA you have is mitochondrial DNA, which only enables tracing through a female line.

  16. M

    Hi, I have matches with some people here. I am related to Sir Thomas Wharton, a descendant of Henry Carey. Also, I am related to Catherine Carey ( to Stewarts) through another branch of my tree. My Gedmatch kit number is AB5435615.

  17. K

    The low fertility argument makes no sense. Henry had proven he could produce children although there were many miscarriages. Whereas William Carey was married to Mary Boleyn and produced no children in the two years prior to the start of the affair. And then after the affair (1526-1528) was over he and Mary still did not produce a child. Mary only had her children during the affair. And why is there no strong consideration of the fact that Henry was a narcissist and jealous man who would never consider sharing the sexual favors of his mistress with anyone even her husband. He would have thought William well compensated for the exclusive use of his wife with giving him stewardships, manors and various honoraries. Mary Boleyn is my 13 great grandmother.

  18. R

    Just needed to express out loud whatever a great article it is. Your composing is very clear, and I can see you are an expert regarding the matter. In truth, I happened upon your page while searching for a comparable snippet of data online to be aware of parenting order Alberta.

  19. C

    Mary Boleyn is my 13th great grandmother. I am DNA related to other people that are related to British royals, French royals, Russian royals (Romanovs) and Greek royals. My Gedmatch kit # is KK9587944 and I match DNA with some people that have replied above that gave their kit numbers. I wonder if Mary also had an illegitimate son with King Francis I of France? I think my closer connection to Henry VIII is through Mary than her sister Anne and their daughter Elizabeth I. My 12th gr grandfather was Richard Carey, so is it possible that he was also a child of Mary and Henry VIII?

    1. I

      I’m new to this gedmatch comparison but comparing mine we share 11cM. Not sure how that works out. But I find it interesting!

  20. M

    Will someone please get a petition to get dna on both to determine if they were Henry’s children? Their cousin Elizabeth had them buried quite nicely. I think guilt for the fact their father was such a man he had to denounce his relationship with Mary, let alone his children by her in order to marry her sister. It’s been centuries. The children in the tower were confirmed to be the royals, why not put this mystery to sleep.

  21. D

    Greetings, cousins. I learned two days ago from FamilySearch that Catherine Carey is my 14th great grandmother. When I hear about the possible lineage of Henry VIII, I find it interesting. But then I remind myself that it would be no great disappointment if it is found that we are not related. Because this would still leave Anne Boleyn as my great aunt, Elizabeth I as my first cousin many times removed, and Mary Boleyn as my 15th great grandmother. These were remarkable women! Last week, I truly thought I was the descendant of British dirt farmers. So my world is rocked, Henry or no Henry.

  22. B

    I happen to be the descent of Mary boelyn and my parent DNA has proven that were are in fact related to king Henry the vii

  23. N

    I just discovered I’m descended from Mary Boleyn through her daughter, Catherine. No one seems to be sure whether or not Catherine was King Henry’s child. I would love for DNA to clear this up.

    1. C

      Omg Am related to Her also by my mothers side my great great great great great great great grandpa is sir Henry Caley.

  24. k

    it’s possible that they’re 3/4 siblings of elizabeth i. 2 parents are siblings and share one parent = 3/4. 5/8 if the parents are half-siblings.

  25. C

    I can’t believe that I just took a ancestry test and on my mothers side am related to sir Henry Caley.

  26. M

    I may as well get in on the list of Mary Boleyn’s descendants here. Mary is my 15 GGM.
    From Mary to Catherine Cary (Henry VIII’s daughter?) Anne Knollys, Richard West, and Joane West who came to America in 1638 to the Massachusetts Bay colony. I’m not sure if DNA could answer the question if Henry is the father of Catherine Cary. Even if you tested descendants of Mary, it’s so long ago not sure how much DNA there would be. If you could take DNA from Henry VII and Catherine Cary, Probably. Doubtful if that will happen though.

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The Paternity of Catherine and Henry Carey by Sarah Bryson