The Tudor Society
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 19 comments Go To Comment

  1. Diane Masterson /

    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. Sarah /

      I completely agree!

    2. Judith Donai /

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

  2. Kristin Bundesen /

    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. Sarah /

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

  3. Adrienne Dillard /

    ^ 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. Pingback: The Paternity of Catherine and Henry Carey | Anne Boleyn: From Queen to History /

  5. RV /

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

    1. Deborah /

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

    2. Penny Flatte /

      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. Lynnette Castillo /

        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!

    3. Lynnette Castillo /

      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!

  6. Lady Hollie /

    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. Christine /

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

  7. Paul Wilson /

    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. Melanie /

      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. 🤦‍♀️

  8. Melanie /

    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?

  9. Cindy Wagner /

    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.

  10. Craig Plunkett /

    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.

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The Paternity of Catherine and Henry Carey by Sarah Bryson