Jane Boleyn, She-Wolf?
Her Early Life
Jane Boleyn (maiden name: Parker) was born around the year 1505. She was a member of a very wealthy and political family. She first joined the court in her teens, having been a member of Queen Katherine of Aragon's household. In fact, she even went to The Field of the Cloth of Gold in the year 1520 in France.
She was a beautiful woman, having been selected as a lead performer of a masquerade in the year 1522. Only the most attractive of women were chosen to participate in this performance. There are no contemporary portraits painted of her during her lifetime, so we have to go on supposition.
Jane married George Boleyn in 1524/1525, making her approximately 19 or 20 years at the time of the union. She gained the title of Viscountess Rochford through her marriage, and was known as Lady Rochford throughout her lifetime. She and her husband were gifted Grimston Manor in Norfolk as a wedding present by King Henry VIII, who had had it refurbished. Hot-and-cold running water, a chapel, tennis courts, imported furniture, and a marital bed draped in gold and satin. King Henry had really outdone himself!
It is unknown the exact nature of their marriage, but it is popularly portrayed as an unhappy one. Though a modern historian claims that George Boleyn was homosexual, there is no evidence to confirm this. Not only that, but people who lived in that time were highly religious, making this claim highly suspect.
Given that their relationship was childless - and they had been together for over 12 years - I must draw a logical conclusion. Either one (or both) of them had fertility issues, or they had not consummated their relationship enough to produce an heir. Given the sheer lack of evidence to support either possibility, I personally concur with the popular opinion that their marriage was unhappy.
I believe that, as brother of the Queen of England, he would have had a lot of admirers. Given the Boleyn's rise from relative obscurity, it's highly possible that Lord Rochford (as his title addresses him) may have found it hard to resist the temptations of courtly life. If he had committed adultery, Lady Rochford may have resented him and it could have drawn a wedge between the two.
The Boleyn's Downfall
Anne Boleyn may have made Lady Rochford jealous. The king was madly in love with her, whereas her own husband was not. However, I highly doubt it. In 1534, she supported Queen Anne in eliminating one of the king's mistresses. In response, King Henry VIII had exiled Lady Rochford for a period of a few months. This is not the action of someone who actively despised their relative-by-marriage. It's the action of someone who respects the person they serve and seeks to please them.
And, what is absolutely irrefutable is this: in early 1536, the axe swung on the entire Boleyn faction and its supporters. George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, was accused of having "carnal relations" with his sister, the Queen of England. He was locked in prison in May 1536. It was the testimony of Jane Boleyn that helped convict him, in which she told the interrogators that he and Anne Boleyn had committed incest since late 1535.
What would have motivated her to say such things? Was it jealousy of Queen Anne's relationship with her brother, which she didn't share? Or, was it her way of getting vengeance and breaking free of a cheating and improper husband? Then again, maybe it was simply a case of Lady Rochford cracking under immense pressure from her interrogators and threats of harm if she did not comply. In addition, she may not have wanted to lose her reputation and be supplanted, nor offend her king. We will never truly know; all we can do is draw on theories.
I am of the opinion that she simply supplied this information under intense duress and panic. She never would have willingly sacrificed her own livelihood, no matter the cost. Back then, women had absolutely no economic freedoms of any kind. They were completely dependent on the financial support of their husband. Not only that, but the king was seen as God in human flesh and worshipped as such. She probably also considered any religious ramifications of displeasing her lord and sovereign, and as a result, God. Everything backfired on her when, after the executions of her husband and sister-in-law, the people of Tudor England cast her as a villain. To make matters worse, she took a heavy financial hit.
Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, left court for a few months to have her estates settled. Following negotiations with her former father-in-law, Thomas Boleyn, she received an annual pension of £100. Back in those times, it was enough for her to secure a modest fortune and live the privileged noble lifestyle of which she was accustomed.
So, she returned to court sometime within the year and established permanent lodgings there. As Viscountess, she was entitled to a number of servants, five meals a day, and the right to be addressed as "Lady Rochford."
Serving the Queen(s)
Shortly after arriving back at court, Jane Boleyn came to serve the new queen, Jane Seymour, as a lady-in-waiting. Then, she died, which likely devastated Jane Boleyn as she was quite close to the late queen. Upon the arrival of Anne of Cleves, Jane Boleyn moved into her household as a lady-in-waiting. We don't know what Jane thought of the new queen, but we do know that Lady Rochford testified that the Queen had confided in her that the marriage had never been consummated. As a result of this confession, King Henry VIII was able to annul his marriage to her.
Why would Lady Rochford have spoken against her former mistress and, as such, betrayed her? Without this testimony, the king would have had to go to greater lengths to have his marriage annulled. Perhaps Lady Rochford cracks easily under pressure and spills the beans. We can see how this is now becoming a pattern.
In the year 1540, King Henry VIII married his teenage bride, Lady Catherine Howard. She was now the new queen of England.
Many Secret Meetings
She ingratiated herself with Queen Catherine Howard and quickly became one of her favorites. Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, was the one to arrange the many secret meetings between the queen and Thomas Culpeper, a dashing young courtier. No one knows exactly what went on between the two, but it was apparently so scandalous that it had to be held without the king's knowledge.
I think they did meet, and converse, but I think nothing happened beyond that. After all, Lady Rochford was essentially a chaperone. Perhaps the queen felt unsafe going alone, or wanted someone there to make sure she would be okay. Regardless, in the fall of 1541, these many secret meetings became public knowledge. The life of the queen, and all those in close association with her, was now in serious jeopardy.
Arrest and Downfall
Tudor politics was indeed a very slippery slope to climb. Lady Rochford and Queen Catherine Howard were placed under house arrest. After searching Culpeper's chambers, a letter was discovered which was presumed to have been written in the queen's hand. It clearly and explicitly states the role of Lady Rochford in the arrangement of the secret meetings. Upon this discovery, Lady Rochford was relocated to the Tower of London.
She was interrogated for many months and eventually developed a nervous breakdown from the strain. The law was such that no one could legally execute an "insane" person. King Henry, in his fit of frustration, ordered that Parliament enact a bill making it legal to put an insane person to death.
Jane's days were numbered.
She and the queen were executed together, on February 13, 1542. They were reported as being afraid but pretty composed. Jane watched the queen die first, and then had to kneel on the bloodied scaffold. I can't even imagine the horror, the degradation, of having to not only prepare for your own murder but also to have to lay in the blood of the person who perished before you. Truly abominable.
With a single blow of the terrifying axe, both of these magnificent ladies were dead.
My Own Conclusions
After having examined the evidence, I have, tragically, realized Jane Boleyn's true motives.
1. She helped her mistress Anne Boleyn eliminate a court rival who had vied for Henry's affections. She also testified under oath that her husband had committed adultery and incest with the queen. As a result, she spent months recovering her fortune and received a much-reduced pension.
Analysis: She wasn't jealous of her sister-in-law, but rather was quite supportive of her. She cracked under the strain of interrogation and never would have willingly sacrificed her income or livelihood for the sake of "getting even."
2. She claimed that Anne of Cleves had never consummated her relationship with Henry. As a result, Henry had his marriage annulled and Jane Boleyn was now without a job.
Analysis: Jane Boleyn had no definable reason to seek revenge against her mistress. She likely folded under the pressure of the interrogation.
3. She arranged several secret meetings between Queen Catherine Howard and Thomas Culpeper. As a result of these dealings, and the several months of interrogation, Jane Boleyn developed a nervous breakdown and a special law had to be passed for her to be executed.
Analysis: She seeked to appease her mistress and grant her what she had asked for. She developed a nervous breakdown due to the agony of realizing a bloody axe would be her end.
Were these the actions of a malicious person, out to their own ends? No! Jane Boleyn was a true survivor in every sense of the word, but ultimately folded under all the stress. If I may say, she was also eager to please. She said what people wanted to hear, and did what people wanted her to do. Sure, she cracked under the strain of all the interrogation, eventually developing a nervous breakdown. Facing possible execution, who wouldn't?
Jane Boleyn? Definitely not a she-wolf!
What do you think? Please post your thoughts below!
Was Jane Boleyn a she-wolf?
Summary of Jane's Life
Tenure of Service
Sister-in-law to Anne Boleyn
Yes - Testified that Anne Boleyn had committed incest with her brother, George Boleyn
1536-1537 Jane Seymour
No - Jane Seymour had died after giving birth to a coveted male heir.
1540-1540 Anne of Cleves
Yes - Testified that Anne of Cleves had not consummated her relationship with Henry
1540-1541 Catherine Howard
Yes - Interrogated for months on end before having a nervous breakdown and being executed