Thursday, December 4, 2014

Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford and the Fall of Anne Boleyn.

by Danielle Lianne Marchant

What do you think when you hear the name “Lady Rochford”? It is no surprise that the majority of people would give answers that have negative connotations. As the sister-in-law of Anne Boleyn, Jane Rochford had allegedly accused Anne of having an incestuous relationship with her husband, George Boleyn. In addition to the inflated accusations of multiple-adultery, witchcraft and plotting King Henry VIII’s death, the charge of incest helped to seal Anne’s tragic fate. This double-betrayal of both her sister-in-law and her husband firmly cemented Jane Boleyn’s posthumous reputation as a pariah of Tudor history.

Suggestions for this betrayal range from Jane not being very close to Anne, being unhappily married to George, to revenge for being told to leave court after helping Anne to rid the court of one of Henry’s mistresses (a woman that still remains nameless to this day). However, did the charge of incest really come from Jane Boleyn? Was Jane partly responsible for sending her own sister-in-law and husband to the scaffold? Here, I will look at the different factors that contradict many of these ideas.

The accusation of incest – a question of two ladies being mixed-up?

Anne Boleyn’s trial and execution is still a major talking point amongst historians 500 years later. Her fall from grace was swift and brutal over a period of three weeks. As late as April 1536, despite Anne’s failure to produce the long-awaited son, King Henry still showed signs of loyalty to his second wife, even attempting to improve relations between himself, Anne and Charles V who saw Anne as an imposter in the place of his late aunt Catherine of Aragon, King Henry’s first wife.

However, in May 1536, things changed dramatically. Within a few weeks, members of the court close to Anne were interrogated and five men, including Anne’s brother, were arrested and then executed, culminating in Anne’s own execution on the 19th May. Much debate surrounds the evidence presented and the reasons behind Anne’s fall and one of the areas often scrutinized is the charge of incest.

It has been stated that Jane was not the lady-in-waiting that had accused Anne of incest; the accusation may have come from another lady-in-waiting, Elizabeth Browne, Lady Worcester. Lady Worcester has been described as the “first accuser of the Queen”. When her brother, Anthony Browne, who was one of the King’s privy councillors, reprimanded Lady Worcester over her loose, promiscuous behaviour - she had also fallen pregnant at the time with a child that was believed to be not her husband’s, Henry Somerset, but may have even allegedly belonged to Thomas Cromwell - she replied to her brother that she wasn’t really that bad. She replied “But you see a small fault in me, while overlooking a much higher fault that is much more damaging. If you do not believe me, find out from Mark Smeaton. I must not forget to tell you what seems to me to be the worst thing, which that often her brother has carnal knowledge of her in bed”.

From here Anthony had no choice, but to follow up his sister’s accusations discreetly as withholding such accusations would have meant terrible consequences for himself. Therefore, is it possible that somewhere along the line, historians have simply confused Lady Rochford with Lady Worcester, inevitably making her a scapegoat?

Anne and Jane were close.

Anne and Jane were close. As a lady-in-waiting, she would have seen everything and would have been a close confidant. During her struggle to conceive a son, allegedly, it was to Jane that Anne confided that Henry was impotent. In the events leading up to Anne’s execution, such a statement was treated as treasonous information that could not be withheld and therefore, Jane had no choice but to admit what Anne had said to her, or risk being interrogated and put on trial herself.

In 1534, when Henry turned his attention to another woman at court, Anne plotted with Jane to be rid of this woman. This attempt was unsuccessful and instead led to Jane’s temporary exile from court. The fact that they both plotted together shows closeness and for Jane to take out her wrath on Anne as a result of the failure of this plot doesn’t quite make sense as it was Henry that had her exiled from court and not Anne.

The marriage game.

In the 16th century, marriage was not about love; it was about business, uniting families of the nobility together. Jane was married into what her father Henry Parker, Lord Morley, believed was a rising family - the Boleyn family. A match with George Boleyn would have been perfect for his daughter. Even though Jane and George would not have been forced together either – the couple did have to at least like each other in the first place - Jane’s marriage to George was not primarily about love; it was a union between the Parkers and the Boleyns. Also, even though George was probably a womanizer, there is nothing to suggest that he was particularly violent to Jane giving her a reason to hate him enough to want to put him on the scaffold. Their marriage was probably no more different to any other marriage of the nobility. Therefore, the notion of Jane betraying him as an act of revenge against him as a result of an unhappy marriage does not fit.

A question of faith?

Anne Boleyn to this day still never fails to continue to inspire many women and has her own posthumous following. It is inevitable that her followers will try to find someone to blame for her tragic ending. During the reign of her daughter, Elizabeth I, even though Elizabeth did not open an enquiry into her mother’s death, people felt slightly more comfortable to mention Anne’s name after she had been erased from history. Anne’s memory seemed to also be at the centre of Protestant propaganda; she was portrayed as a heroine of their faith. This image that was created of her must have contributed to how historians would then speak of her. As Lady Rochford was Catholic, this may have helped to fuel the image of her being an enemy of Anne. However, how true is that “Protestant” image of Anne? It has also been indicated that Anne was in fact still a Catholic and died a Catholic. Her Book of Hours which can still be seen today at Hever Castle, Kent, is evidence of Anne still showing devotion to the Catholic faith.

Therefore, the more we look into the relationship between Anne and Jane, the less black and white it seems. There are facts that challenge the commonly held perceptions of Jane, making Jane more and more appear as a scapegoat in English History.


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Sources and further reading:
Jane Boleyn: The Infamous Lady Rochford - Julia Fox, 2007, Orion Books Ltd.
Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions - G.W. Bernard, 2010, Yale University Press.

Anne Boleyn – from possibly around 1533-1536. By Hans Holbein.
“The Lady Parker” – thought to be either Jane Boleyn, or her sister-in-law, Grace Newport. By Hans Holbein, around 1526 to 1533.

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