As everyone knows, Jane Boleyn, bitterly jealous of her husband George’s close relationship with his sister Anne Boleyn, gave evidence that led to the executions of both for adultery. Not satisfied with that, Jane went on to serve Catherine Howard, where for twisted reasons she aided and abetted the queen’s adultery with Thomas Culpepper, leading to Catherine’s execution and Jane’s own as well.
In Jane Boleyn: The True Story of the Infamous Lady Rochford, Julia Fox demolishes this long-accepted story by looking at contemporary sources. She notes that there is no evidence that Jane was on poor terms with her husband or with Anne Boleyn and no reason why she would want to exchange her very comfortable life as George’s spouse and the queen’s sister-in-law for the precarious existence of a traitor’s widow living off a small jointure. When George was in prison, she sent a letter to him through the constable of the Tower promising to attempt to intercede on his behalf, a promise that cheered the imprisoned man. She did not testify at George’s trial (no one did), but on pretrial questioning by Cromwell may have told him that Anne had complained of Henry’s difficulty in sustaining an erection, a statement that George at trial was requested not to read aloud but did, with disastrous consequences when the statement was twisted to suggest that Henry could not function sexually at all and thus could not have fathered Anne’s child.
Fox follows the widowed Jane through her subsequent service to Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves to her service with Catherine Howard. She points out the difficult position Jane faced when asked to assist with Catherine’s communications with Culpepper: she could refuse and be sent in disgrace from court, where she had succeeded in making sort of a career for herself and where her life was centered, or she could go to Henry and risk his wrath if she turned out to be wrong about the queen’s intentions. Once she realized the full extent of what was happening, it was too late to extricate herself. She chose to keep silent and to continue to obey her queen, a disastrous choice but one for which she accepted the consequences with composure and courage.
In Jane Boleyn, Fox not only reassesses Jane’s tarnished reputation and shows us how she became reviled over the centuries, she introduces us to Jane’s upbringing and family, including her scholarly father, who had the misfortune to survive Jane and who may have quietly recorded his grief in a translation presented to Henry VIII.
Well researched and full of compassion for its subject, this is a must read for those interested in the Tudors–and even for those who aren’t.