Jane Boleyn by Julia Fox

Spring 2008 CSANews Issue 66  |  Posted date : May 24, 2008.Back to list

It seems that these days, we are inundated by Tudors; movies, books, and an upcoming television series, "The Tudors." The Boleyn girls have become as ubiquitous as Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan, and even more scandalous, in a regal way.

In her new novel, historian Julia Fox sets out to reassess the tarnished reputation of one Jane Boleyn, wife of George Boleyn and sister-in-law to both Anne and Mary Boleyn. The novel is "Jane Boleyn: The True Story of the Infamous Lady Rochford."

As the daughter of a nobleman, young Jane was lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine of Aragon, in the tempestuous court of King Henry VIII. At the time of her marriage to George, King Henry was having a very public affair with her sister-in-law, Mary Boleyn (who bore him a daughter).

When the fickle king became obsessed with Anne Boleyn, Anne held out for a legitimate marriage; thus leading to disputes with the Pope and separation from The Church of Rome in.."England's greatest political and religious crisis."

Fox vividly describes the royal court seasons, the royal births, weddings and funerals, the annual visits to Great Houses and the celebratory feasts. There is a particularly salacious account of..."the great spectator sport, of bedding the bride."

Fox has certainly researched her subject in a meticulous manner. There are 82 pages of references, footnotes and bibliography. What emerges, though, is stark evidence that there really is very little documented evidence of Jane Boleyn's life. There are so many inconclusives: "Jane should have been there when"... or..."Jane might have seen...", that Fox has actually spun a portrait of speculation.

There are records to prove that Jane Boleyn served in the court during Anne's reign, and that she was involved in the interrogations when Henry grew impatient with Anne's failure to produce a male heir. Jane apparently buckled under relentless questioning, and repeated one of Anne's indiscreet remarks about Henry's sexual inadequacies.

In Philippa Gregory's, "The Other Boleyn Girl," Jane is painted as a jealous snoop but, again, there is no evidence that she actually accused Anne and George of incest, adultery or treason.

After their beheading, described in exquisite detail, Jane Boleyn was left at 30, the disgraced widow of a traitor. She could have settled for a secluded life on a very modest income, but the excitement of the Tudor court was in her blood (speculation again!). She manipulated her way back to royal society and became lady-in-waiting to Henry's next three brides: Jane Seymour (who died shortly after childbirth), Anne of Cleves (a political, unconsummated arrangement), then finally and fatally, the beautiful, promiscuous young Kathryn Howard.

Here, Fox admits, Jane Boleyn made the dangerous decision to help her cousin, Queen Kathryn, in her extramarital trysts. For this, Jane lost not only her head, but her reputation.

She became the perfect scapegoat: Generations have been educated to despise "that bawd", "the infamous Lady Rochford."

Fox concludes that while Jane was indeed guilty of helping Kathryn conduct an illicit affair, she has been unjustly accused of "plunging her husband and sister-in-law into an untimely grave."

One of the very few things about Jane Boleyn that is preserved for posterity is her manner of passing. "She died courageously.....She confessed she had sinned...she prayed for her prince, she made a "godly" end."

Willa McLean is a freelance writer from Kitchener