Whew. He became, in short, very successful and wealthy.
The evidence for Henry VIII's Paternity
- Some historians have looked at Henry VIII's attention to the Carey children as evidence for his paternal connection to them. Historian Elizabeth Norton references that both Henry and Catherine 'attracted Henry VIII's benevolent if distant attention' - with Catherine's later appointments at court serving as evidence of the king's favor upon her. (And for the record, I am much less doubtful of the assertion that Henry VIII was Catherine's father. In fact, I believe this is likely to be true).
- The only other bit of evidence that I can find for Henry Carey's biological relationship with Henry VIII is that he reportedly looked a bit like him. Contemporaries apparently commented on his likeness to the king, and given Mary Boleyn's relationship with Henry VIII during the 1520s, it makes sense that gossip and speculation would have stemmed from this. The only portrait I have seen of Henry Carey does, indeed, depict him with reddish-brown hair (not unlike the Tudor coloring), while William Carey's hair appears brown. Mary had light-colored hair (perhaps blonde, or light brown).
- While many have argued for Henry Carey's connection to Henry VIII due to Elizabeth I's great favor for him, we must remember that, due to Henry's mother being Anne Boleyn's sister, he was a cousin to Elizabeth -whether he was the king's son or not. Family was extremely important to the queen, who had a number of fraught familial relationships in her youth, so perhaps it's not so difficult to assume that she would have wanted to keep her cousin close and bestow favors upon him simply because he was a member of her family. She never made mention of him being her 'brother', and that fact is striking to me. I do believe she viewed him as nothing more than a dear, loyal cousin, and she treated him as such.
- The dates of Mary Boleyn's relationship with Henry VIII are hard to pinpoint, and truthfully we cannot know the exact dates (or even years) when it began and ended, but based on what we know of the king's courtship with Mary's sister, Anne, it's extremely likely that her time as royal mistress had already come to an end by the time she was pregnant with little Henry. It has been suggested that the king had become enamored with Anne Boleyn sometime in 1525, and with our knowledge of Henry Carey's birth in March 1526, Mary Boleyn likely fell pregnant around the previous June. It is, of course, not impossible that Henry VIII had impregnated her in the same year that he began pursuing her sister, but would the expectation of a child by his 'favorite mistress' have given him pause before putting all of his effort into Anne? We can't know, but I'm assuming here that he was already finished with his relationship with Mary, and that when she conceived Henry Carey in the summer of 1525, it was with her husband, William.
- Henry VIII showed more favor to Catherine Carey than he did for Henry, which further proves to me that he may have believed Catherine to be his. I've already mentioned her appointments at court serving Anne of Cleves, and the kings' involvement in ensuring the Knollys' estate ended up with her and her husband. He showed no such heavy involvement in Henry Carey's life. The royal favor that we see bestowed on Henry Carey comes primarily from Elizabeth I (the reasons for which I've already considered above). This difference in Henry VIII's attentions towards each of Mary Boleyn's children shows that he likely viewed them differently - certainly showing more favor for Catherine.
- In addition to the difference in favor between Henry and Catherine, perhaps (in my opinion) the most striking evidence against Henry VIII's paternity is how differently the king treated Henry Carey in comparison with his illegitimate son by Bessie Blount, Henry FitzRoy (literally given the name 'son of the king'). Henry VIII was, in fact, delighted to acknowledge that Henry as his bastard son - proving to the realm that he could, in fact, father boys. Bessie's lucky son (who had been born in 1519) received great honors - including a grand christening, and the elevation as Duke of Richmond and Somerset at six years old. The king showed Henry FitzRoy off, exceedingly proud to acknowledge him as his own, even though he was a bastard and not fit to succeed him. So why wouldn't Henry Carey have received the same acknowledgement and generosity if he were also fathered by the king? There were still no legitimate male heirs by this time, so wouldn't Henry VIII have been just as glad to show little Henry Carey off as further proof of his ability to beget heirs for England? Knowing what we know of Henry VIII's maniacal pursuit of sons, I would argue strongly that if he believed Mary Boleyn's son to be his own, he certainly would have treated him in the same manner as Henry FitzRoy. Because he did not, I think this is some telling evidence against the rumor.
Ultimately, though there's no way to know for certain, I believe that Catherine may likely have been Henry VIII's daughter, but Henry was William's. He enjoyed favors, titles, wealth, and privilege due to his familial connection to Elizabeth I, but was never referred to as her 'brother'. Henry Carey was, undoubtedly, an impressive Tudor courtier, advisor, and military officer, among many other things - but I do not believe he was Henry VIII's son.
What do you think, given the evidence? Weigh in on this controversy below in the comments. I'm anxious to hear my readers' thoughts!
- Wikipedia (Henry Carey, Catherine Carey, Mary Boleyn, William Carey, Henry VIII)
- Acroyd, Peter, Tudors (New York, 2012)
- Borman, Tracy, The Private Lives of the Tudors (New York, 2016)
- Norton, Elizabeth, Bessie Blount: Mistress to Henry VIII (Gloucestershire, 2011)
- Weir, Alison, Children of England: The Heirs of King Henry VIII (London, 1996)