Historical Reads: Was Mary Boleyn Really The Mistress Of Francis I?

Mary Boleyn, Queen Anne’s sister, is assumed to have been the mistress of French King Francis I. But is this really true? Claire Ridgway questions this assumption. To quote:

I have read many many books on Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Tudor history and when it comes to Mary Boleyn all but one of them has assumed that she slept with the French king, although they point out that she was never his official mistress, a maîtress-en-titre like Françoise de Foix. That Mary was the mistress of two kings is a fact according to the history books. […]

I want to question the validity of the above three pieces of evidence for the following reasons:-

  • Rodolfo Pio, Bishop of Faenza, was a papal nuncio at the court of Francis I and was therefore biased against the evangelical Boleyns who had caused Henry VIII to break with Rome. Like the Imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, he does not even attempt to hide his disdain for Anne Boleyn, calling her “that woman” instead of “the Queen”.
  • We do not know that Pio was reporting Francis I’s words accurately and we do not know whether Francis I was exaggerating or lying in an attempt to denigrate the Boleyn name.
  • We know that the first part of Pio’s report is not true so why believe the second part? Pio claims that Anne Boleyn was never pregnant, and was lying, but we know from reports, such as the one by Chapuys where he states that Anne miscarried a “male child which she had not borne 3½ months” and also from Charles Wriothesley’s chronicle, that Anne did miscarry a baby on the 29th January 1536. How can we take Pio’s words seriously then?
  • Nicholas Sander and William Rastall are referring to Anne Boleyn, not Mary – Philippa Jones, in “The Other Mistresses: Henry VIII’s Mistresses and Bastards”, writes “Since these comments are obviously not applicable to Anne [i.e. we know she wasn’t sent to France in disgrace at the age of 15]… it has been assumed that they must apply to Mary when, in truth, they were written to discredit Anne and are largely based on vulgar invention, aimed simply at damaging her reputation.”

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