Jane Boleyn, Viscountess Rochford
Jane Boleyn's signature
|Spouse(s)||George Boleyn, 2nd Viscount Rochford|
|Father||Henry Parker, 10th Baron Morley|
|Mother||Alice St John|
|Died||13 February 1542 (aged 36–37)
Tower of London
|Buried||Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula, Tower of London
Jane Boleyn, Viscountess Rochford (c. 1505 – 13 February 1542) was a sister-in-law of King Henry VIII of England. She was the wife of George Boleyn, 2nd Viscount Rochford, brother of Henry's second wife, Anne Boleyn. Jane had a small role in the judgments and subsequent executions of her husband and of two of Henry's wives, and was a lady-in-waiting to a fourth. Lady Jane also served as lady-in-waiting to her cousin-in-law, Henry's fifth wife, Catherine Howard, with whom she was executed.
Born Jane Parker, she was the daughter of Henry Parker, 10th Baron Morley, and Alice St John, the eldest daughter of Sir John St John (1426–1488) and wife Alice Bradshaigh, and granddaughter of Sir Oliver St John and wife Margaret Beauchamp of Bletso. Jane was a half second cousin of King Henry VIII. She was born in Norfolk, England, around the year 1505, and her family were wealthy, well-connected, politically active and respected members of the English upper classes. Her father was an intellectual, with a great interest in culture and education. She was sent to Court in her early teens, certainly before her fifteenth birthday, where she joined the household of King Henry VIII's wife, Catherine of Aragon. She is recorded as having accompanied the royal party on the famous state visit to France in 1520, which was known as "The Field of the Cloth of Gold".
Although it has long been supposed that nothing is recorded of Jane's appearance (and there is no surviving portrait that can be identified as her), her biographer Julia Fox (Jane Boleyn: The Infamous Lady Rochford) suggests that there is a very remote chance that a Holbein likeness represents an extant likeness of Jane (pp. 317–319). She was probably considered attractive in her day, given that she was chosen to appear as one of the lead actresses/dancers in the prestigious "Château Vert" masquerade at Court in 1522. The seven performers were selected from the ladies of court in large part for their attractiveness. Two of the other performers included Jane's future sisters-in-law, Anne and Mary Boleyn.
In late 1524 or early 1525, she was married to George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford, brother of Anne Boleyn, who later became the second queen of King Henry VIII. At this stage, however, Anne was unattached to the king, although she was already one of the leaders of fashionable society. These first encounters with the more sophisticated and glamorous Anne helped create the legend that Jane instantly hated and resented her. However, if this was true, there were no signs of it at the time or for several years to come.
As a wedding present, King Henry VIII gave Jane and George Grimston Manor in Norfolk. Since she gained the courtesy title of Viscountess Rochford by marriage, she was usually known at Court (and by subsequent historians) as "Lady Rochford". As the Boleyn family's wealth and influence increased, the couple were given Beaulieu Palace as their chief residence, which George and Jane decorated with a lavish chapel, a tennis court, a bathroom with hot-and-cold running water, imported carpets, mahogany furniture and their own large collection of silverware. Their marital bed was draped in cloth of gold with a white satin canopy, linen quilts and a yellow counterpane. Technically, Beaulieu Palace was never formally given as a gift to George and Jane Boleyn, unlike Grimston Manor. Beaulieu had initially belonged to the Boleyns as one of their country retreats, before they sold it to the King who spent over £17,000 lavishly refurbishing and expanding it. In the early 1530s, it became the main residence of his eldest daughter, Mary, but when she was disgraced and banished to Hatfield, George Boleyn was given the palace to live in, although the deeds were never formally signed over.
The marriage of Jane and George made her sister-in-law to the Queen Consort as well as aunt to the Princess Elizabeth, future Elizabeth I of England.
Traditionally, George and Jane's marriage has been portrayed as an unhappy one. One modern historian has suggested that George was homosexual, thus explaining why the marriage was so miserable. British historian Alison Weir concludes that the marriage was unhappy, principally because of George, although she concludes that the exact nature of his sexuality is difficult to ascertain: "[A] talented young man... he was very good-looking and very promiscuous. In fact, according to George Cavendish, he lived in 'bestial' fashion, forcing widows, deflowering virgins... [and] it has been suggested he indulged in homosexuality activity too, but there is no evidence for this, although he may well have committed buggery with female partners." However, Jane's most recent biographer disagrees with both arguments, concluding that the exact nature of the marriage is unclear but suggesting that it was by no means unhappy.
The exact nature of her relationship with her royal sister-in-law is not clear either, and there is no evidence as to what she thought of her other sister-in-law, Mary Boleyn, who had been at court with Jane since they were both teenagers. It is generally assumed that Jane was not overly fond of Anne, allegedly because of Jane's jealousy of her. Regardless, Jane plotted with Anne to banish one of the King's young unnamed mistresses from court in 1534. When the King discovered her involvement, Lady Rochford was herself exiled for a few months.
Role in husband's execution
After eleven years of marriage, George Boleyn was arrested in May 1536 and imprisoned in the Tower of London, accused of having had sexual intercourse with his sister, the Queen. It was Jane's supposed testimony that helped convict him of incest and treason, in which she stated that she believed that he and his sister Anne had been involved in a sexual relationship since the winter of 1535, thus strongly implying that George had been the biological father of a fetus Anne had miscarried early in 1536. There was no truth in these rumours, according to the vast majority of contemporary witnesses, but they provided the legal pretext that the Boleyns' enemies needed to send Lord Rochford to the block.
Jane's sensational testimony against her husband may have been an act of malice, caused by their difficult relationship and possibly because of her jealousy of his close relationship with Anne. Certainly, this was the conclusion formed at the time and for many generations afterwards. Subsequent generations of historians also believed that Jane's testimony against her husband and sister-in-law in 1536 was motivated by spite rather than any actual belief in their guilt, hence her generally unfavourable historical reputation. Within a generation, George Wyatt, whose father Thomas Wyatt had known the Boleyns personally, described Jane as a "wicked wife, accuser of her own husband, even to the seeking of his own blood." A century later, an English historian asserted that the reason Jane had testified against them was based purely on her "inveterate hatred" of Queen Anne, which sprang from jealousy at Anne's superior social skills and George's preference for his sister's company to his wife's. Georgian and Victorian histories pointed to Jane's own eventual violent death in 1542 to suggest that moral justice had triumphed because "the infamous Lady Rochford... justly deserved her fate for the concern which she had in bringing Anne Boleyn, as well as her own husband, to the block".
Despite this negative view of Jane by contemporary witnesses, it was rejected nearly 500 years later by her modern-day biographer, Julia Fox, who believes that Jane actually enjoyed a warm and supportive relationship with Queen Anne and that it was the terror of the palace coup against the Boleyns in 1536 that provoked Jane's testimony, which was twisted by the family's enemies anyway. In her 2007 book, Fox writes:
"Jane Rochford found herself dragged into a maelstrom of intrigue, innuendo and speculation. For when Cromwell sent for Jane, he already had much of what he needed, not only to bring down Anne and her circle, but to make possible the King's marriage to Jane Seymour... Faced with such relentless, incessant questions, which she had no choice but to answer, Jane would have searched her memory for every tiny incident that occurred to her... [But] Jane had not been quick to tell tales, but she had buckled under the pressure of relentless questioning... And it was her weakness under interrogation that gave her future detractors - happy to find a scapegoat to exonerate the King from the heinous charge of callously killing his innocent wife - the ammunition to maintain that it was her evidence that had fooled Henry and destroyed Anne and George...".
George Boleyn was beheaded on Tower Hill on 17 May 1536 before a large crowd. His final speech was chiefly concerned with promoting his new-found Protestant faith. Four other men, one of them a commoner, were also executed alongside him, also accused of having been Anne's lovers. Only the commoner, a musician, had confessed and it was reported that he had been savagely tortured into doing so. (Members of the aristocracy and gentry could not legally be tortured.) Anne was executed two days later, beheaded by a French swordsman, within the walls of the Tower of London. Anne's poise and courage at the scaffold were much commented upon and public opinion in the weeks and months after often "made of Anne a persecuted heroine, bright with promise and goodness as a young woman, beautiful and elegant." It is not known whether Jane witnessed the execution of either her husband or her sister-in-law, but the posthumous sympathy Anne aroused in many (particularly sentimentalists) meant that many of those linked to her fall were cast in the roles of villains. According to historian Julia Fox, this mindset explains how Jane's actions were construed as being those of a cruel and jealous intriguer.
Whatever the truth of Jane's involvement in the fall of the Boleyns, or her feelings towards it, the immediate aftermath was very hard for her, both socially and financially. The lands which the Boleyns had built up during Anne Boleyn's reign and over the last four generations, including the titles Earl of Wiltshire and Earl of Ormond (Ireland) were to pass through the male line only, and thus were lost to the family with George's death. Jane continued to use the courtesy title of Viscountess Rochford but without a son she could not really benefit from what remained of the Boleyn family fortune. (Modern rumours that George Boleyn, Dean of Lichfield, a colourful character, was the child of Jane and George are now thought to be false.)
Later political intrigues
After her husband's execution, Lady Rochford was absent from court for several months. She spent this time securing her financial position by negotiations with her father-in-law, Sir Thomas Boleyn, but mainly with Thomas Cromwell, the king's chief minister. The Boleyns eventually allocated her the sizable annual pension of £100, precisely what they had given their eldest daughter Mary, when she had been widowed eight years earlier. It was much less than her previous income as sister-in-law to the queen-consort, but it was enough to keep her as a noblewoman, which was essential for her return to Court, something Jane worked doggedly for in 1536 and 1537. It is unknown when she returned to court, but she was a lady-in-waiting to Queen Jane Seymour, so she probably returned within a year of her husband's death. (Jane Seymour died soon after childbirth, within eighteen months of becoming Henry's wife.) As a viscountess, she was allowed to bring a number of her own servants with her, lodge in the palace, and be addressed as "Lady Rochford". Fine meals were provided for her every day from the budget of the queen's household.
Following Jane Seymour's death, the King subsequently married Anne of Cleves, a German princess recommended by Thomas Cromwell. However Henry soon wanted to be rid of Anne, and sought an annulment. In July 1540, Lady Rochford testified that the Queen had confided in her that the marriage had never been consummated. This allowed the king to annul the marriage and marry his teenage mistress, Catherine Howard.
Lady Rochford kept her post as lady-in-waiting to the new Queen Catherine and exerted considerable influence over her, eventually becoming one of her favourites. When the teenage Queen grew bored with her aged and obese husband, Lady Rochford helped arrange secret meetings between the Queen and the handsome courtier Thomas Culpeper. The affair progressed with Lady Rochford's help during the royal tour of the North in 1541. Then Queen Catherine's past indiscretions were uncovered in the autumn and her private life was investigated.
The Queen was first detained in her apartments and then placed under house arrest at Syon Abbey, a disused convent far from Court. Her confidantes and favourites were questioned and their rooms searched. Many servants and ladies-in-waiting recalled Lady Rochford's suspicious behaviour with Catherine and Culpeper, with the result that Jane was herself detained for questioning.
Subsequently, a love letter from Catherine to Culpeper was discovered, which explicitly mentioned Jane's role in arranging their meetings. This was a crime of misprision of treason, which carried the death penalty in Tudor England. Jane was imprisoned in the Tower of London for several months, while the government decided how and when to proceed against the accused.
Downfall and execution
During her imprisonment in the Tower, she was interrogated for many months, but as she was an aristocrat she was not tortured. Under psychological pressure, however, she seems to have suffered a full nervous breakdown and by the beginning of 1542 was pronounced insane. Her "fits of frenzy" meant that legally she could not stand trial for her role in facilitating the queen's adultery, but since he was determined to have her punished, the King implemented a law which allowed the execution of the insane for high treason. Jane was thus condemned to death by an Act of Attainder (that is, without trial) and the execution date was set for 13 February 1542, the same day as Catherine Howard's.
The Queen died first, apparently in a weak physical state, although she was not hysterical. Jane, who had been on the scaffold to watch the girl's death, then spoke before kneeling on the just-used scaffold. Despite her nervous collapse over the last five months, she was calm and dignified and both women won mild posthumous approval for their behaviour. One eyewitness, a merchant named Ottwell Johnson, wrote that their 'souls [must] be with God, for they made the most godly and Christian end.'  The French ambassador Marillac merely stated that Jane gave a 'long discourse'; Johnson says that she apologised for her 'many sins', but neither man's accounts supports the later legend that she spoke at length about her late husband or sister-in-law. According to Alison Weir, the dead queen was not much more than seventeen at the time of her death and Jane was about thirty-six.
In fiction and media
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (May 2014)|
Lady Rochford has appeared in numerous novels, especially those on Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. As noted earlier, Vengeance Is Mine by Brandy Purdy is written from Lady Rochford's viewpoint. She also features in Robin Maxwell's The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn, Suzannah Dunn's The Queen of Subtleties and briefly in Margaret George's The Autobiography of Henry VIII. Jane's character is also mentioned in Wendy J. Dunn's Dear Heart, How Like You This? which is based on the life of the poet Thomas Wyatt. Rochford is a minor character in Sovereign, the third installment of C. J. Sansom's Shardlake series of murder mystery novels, set in 16th century England. A larger role is given to Lady Rochford in Jean Plaidy's novel The Rose Without a Thorn. Jane appears in the historical novel The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory, which tells the story of her other sister-in-law, Mary Boleyn. One of its sequels is The Boleyn Inheritance, which casts Lady Rochford as one of its lead characters and its central villain. It details the final three years of her life and her involvement with Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard.
In some modern novels, Jane's vicious resentment of Anne leads to her psychological disintegration - she is portrayed as being mentally deranged and obsessively jealous in Vengeance is Mine and almost sociopathically amoral in The Boleyn Inheritance. In both, she is also presented as sexually voyeuristic and given to petty spying.
In the 1970 BBC series The Six Wives of Henry VIII starring Keith Michell as Henry, Sheila Burrell portrayed Lady Rochford in several segments throughout the program, primarily in the segments concerning Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. In the 2003 British 2-part television drama Henry VIII, Lady Rochford was played by British actress Kelly Hunter. She appeared opposite Helena Bonham Carter as Anne Boleyn, Ray Winstone as Henry VIII and Emily Blunt as Catherine Howard. In the film adaptation of Philippa Gregory's novel The Other Boleyn Girl, Jane Boleyn (played by Juno Temple) was a minor character. In both these representations, Jane was shown as being a political tool in the hands of her husband's uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, although the presentation of her in The Other Boleyn Girl was more sympathetic.
Jane is also represented on season two of the Showtime series The Tudors, by actress Joanne King opposite Irish actor Padraic Delaney as her husband George. In this version, their marriage is miserable, with both pressured into it by their parents and Jane finding it increasingly humiliating to put up with her husband's love affair with Mark Smeaton. They are shown frequently arguing and there is one incident of marital rape, which has no factual basis. However, Jane is not shown as hating Anne and so her betrayal of the Boleyns is motivated by her hatred of George. She befriends Jane Seymour when she is queen and is made her lady-in-waiting and remains a close friend until Queen Jane's death. She remains chief lady-in-waiting to Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard. She eventually enters into a sexual relationship with Thomas Culpeper (a detail invented for the series). She is responsible for instigating the affair between Culpeper and Catherine, motivated both by a desire to keep Culpeper (who has a pathological obsession with the young queen) and out of a hatred for Catherine, who she sees as grossly inferior to Jane Seymour and even Anne of Cleves.
|Ancestors of Jane Boleyn, Viscountess Rochford|
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