It is through my connections to the Tudor world online that I ran into author Adrienne Dillard. Adrienne is a total sweetheart and sent me her book to review after I asked her to write an article about Jane Boleyn for my site. I already had a growing “To Be Read” pile going on but I moved her book closer to the top because I was reading about Katheryn Howard at the time and I thought Jane Boleyn would be a great follow-up book. I wasn’t sure what to expect since this is the first book by Dillard that I’ve read. She has also written Cor Rotto – A Novel of Catherine Carey and Catherine Carey in a Nutshell.
Jane Boleyn, or Jane Parker, Lady Rochford is often portrayed as a villain in novels and TV series such as Showtime’s The Tudors. It is because of those depictions that average people like you and me get our first impressions of Tudor “characters” from. I’ve always believed Jane’s depictions to be unfair and one-sided, she was a very complex woman who became tangled in two major controversies in her lifetime.
The Raven’s Widow – Book Review
Jane Parker never dreamed that her marriage into the Boleyn family would raise her star to such dizzying heights. Before long, she finds herself as trusted servant and confidante to her sister-in-law, Anne Boleyn; King Henry VIII’s second queen. On a gorgeous spring day, that golden era is cut short by the swing of a sword. Jane is unmoored by the tragic death of her husband, George, and her loss sets her on a reckless path that leads to her own imprisonment in the Tower of London. Surrounded by the remnants of her former life, Jane must come to terms with her actions. In the Tower, she will face up to who she really is and how everything went so wrong.
The Raven’s Widow is a brilliantly told story about Jane Parker, wife of George Boleyn, Lord Rochford. The story is told in two timelines, her time with Anne and George and her time with Katheryn Howard.
The story begins with a young Jane who is trying to find her way and control her mouth. It continues with her blossoming into an amazing and loyal woman who suffered way too much loss in her lifetime. One of the things I have always wondered was, why did she and George never have children? Of course not everyone had children, or were able to, but other fictionalized stories about the couple would lead you to believe that their marriage was a sham and George was gay. In this story you cannot help but feel for Jane and George who struggle to get pregnant because of their limited time together due to his loyalty to the King. My heart broke along with her’s through each miscarriage she suffered.
Jane had always noticed that her brother Henry’s friend George Boleyn was attractive but was turned off by all the attention he received from the other ladies. When Jane found out she was to marry George she was not pleased with the decision at all. Their marriage was an arranged one that over time turned into true love. A great love.
Each character in the story came to life while reading it – that’s everyone from Mary Boleyn to Jane’s servant Lucy and even Thomas Cromwell. Anne Boleyn shares a decent amount of the story with Jane and George and is just as fiery and hot-tempered as we all imagine from stories about her. You really can’t blame her either, especially near the end, she became desperate to save herself, her family and her daughter from disaster.
As I was finishing this book I had tears in my eyes – I had become so attached to Jane that I didn’t want her ending to come. Nor did I want this amazingly written book to end.
This book is a real page-turner and you’ll have a difficult time putting it down. Even though I knew where the story was going it left me anxious for what was to come on the following pages.
On February 15, 1542 Ottwell Johnson sent a letter to his brother at Calais. Only two days prior, he had been part of the throng of people filtering in through the great stone walls surrounding the Tower of London, braving the bitter winter air to stand witness to Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford’s final hours on Earth.
I see the Quene and the Lady Retcheford suffer within the Tower, the day following, whos sowles (I doubt not) be with God, for thay made the moost godley and christyan’s end, that ever was hard tell of (I thinke) sins the worlds creation; uttering thayer lively faeth in the blode of Christe onely, and with goodly words and stedfast countenances thay desyred all christen people to take regard unto thayer worthy and just punishment with death for thayer offences, agenst God heinously from thayer youth upward, in breaking all his commandements, and also agenst the King’s royall Majesty very daungeriously: wherfor thay being justly condempned (as thay sayed) by the Lawes of the Realme and Parlement, to dye, require the people (I say) to take example at them, for amendement of thayer ungodly lyves, and gladly to obey the King in all things, for whos preservation thay did hartely pray; and willed all people so to do: commending thayer sowles to God, and earnestly calling for mercy upon him: whom I besieche to geve us grace with suche faeth, hope, and charite at our departing owt of this miserable world, to come to the fruytion of his godhed in joy everlasting. Amen.
Offences against God and the king…Justly condemned…Ungodly lives – these are damning words indeed. Could that bawd, Lady Rochford, expect anything better? After all, it’s her own fault she found herself kneeling before the block on a scaffold drenched, just moments before, in the sticky crimson blood of her mistress, right? What goes around comes around – her death was payback for her role in the downfall of her husband and sister-in-law.
I don’t think so.
To accept Jane’s death as karma, you have to accept that she played an active role in the judicial murder Anne and George Boleyn, and I don’t. Though television shows like The Tudors and books like Wolf Hall would like to convince you of her duplicity, there is no evidence for it. Yes, there are rumors and hearsay, but those came long after her death and were most likely colored by her actions at the end of her life. However, she was guilty of helping Queen Katherine Howard and Thomas Culpeper meet; she confessed as much during her interrogation in 1541, this we know for certain. It’s only her motivation and the extent of her involvement that are up for debate.
When the Privy Council met with Katherine Howard on November 12, 1541 to grill her on her late night activities with Thomas Culpeper, she made it clear that the fault belonged to her lady-in-waiting. It all started when Lady Rochford had told her that the king’s groom desired to speak to her. Katherine insisted that she demurred several times, but Jane was unrelenting, even ‘swearing upon a book’ that Culpeper meant no ill will towards her. It was only because of her lady’s nagging that she eventually gave in to that first meeting at Lincoln. She goes on to recount, almost word-for-word, conversations she had with her maid about how the meetings were wrong, her fear of being caught, and her constant protestations. Were these accusations true or were they the words of a terrified young woman desperate to save her own skin?
When it came time for Thomas Culpeper’s examination, he appeared to sing the same song as Katherine; it was Lady Rochford who contrived these interviews. At face value, Culpeper’s wording could intimate that the meetings were Jane’s idea, but contrived can also be taken in much less sinister way, merely that Jane planned the meetings. That’s true – she did. Jane did look for hidden, out-of-the-way places – she did sneak about – with the queen.Culpeper backs that up: ‘The queen would in every house seek for the back doors and back stairs herself.’ Later in the interrogation, the groom details Katherine’s flirtations and gifts she gave him. He said that Lady Rochford provoked him much to love the queen and he intended to do ill with her. Ah, there it is – Jane’s provocation.
The other interrogations all paint a picture of a woman so forceful, so influential, that she managed to convince an entire household to knowingly partake in treason. It almost seems outlandish. How could the widow of a convicted traitor wield so much power? She couldn’t. She wasn’t even the most senior lady in Katherine’s household. So why did everyone blame Jane? No one knows. The only clear fact from these records is that Lady Rochford was not a popular courtier. Perhaps therein lies the answer.
Jane Boleyn’s only biographer, Julia Fox, believes that she most likely agreed to help Katherine one time, and then because she said yes once, she felt as though she had to continue – it all snowballed from that first event. I concur that it’s the most likely explanation, but why in the world would she have agreed in the first place, knowing what had happened to her sister-in-law only a few years earlier? With the benefit of 500 years distance from the events, we can look back at it and smirk at how foolish she seemed, but Jane didn’t have that luxury. She was in the moment, making a split second decision that, eventually, became life or death.
Katherine Howard’s household is reminiscent of the ‘mean girl’ cliques of popular culture. Ripe with competition, it was a pit of jealousy and vanity. The details of Katherine’s affair may have remained hidden from the king, but it was almost an open secret in her household, nearly everyone appeared to know about it. When it was finally brought to light, the ladies closed rank, leaving Lady Rochford out in the cold. For someone as unpopular as she seems to have been, it’s not a great leap to believe that Jane agreed to help because she wanted to be liked. If she pleased the queen, then perhaps Katherine would show her favor. A valid theory, for certain, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right one – or the only one.
Was it revenge? Perhaps. Contrary to the image we have of Jane benefitting from George Boleyn’s downfall, his death hit her interests hard. As a convicted traitor, all of his goods were forfeit to the Crown. It is only through Thomas Cromwell’s good offices that she was able to keep some of his household-stuffs, including their marriage bed. She had to wage an enduring legal battle with Thomas Boleyn to claim any of her jointure lands, and she never again rose to the same status she had during her husband’s lifetime. Whether or not you believe that the Rochford marriage was a love-match, it’s doubtful that Jane relished George’s demise. Beyond the request for the return of her marriage bed and her decision to wear widow’s weeds rather than remarry, Jane was the only one to reach out to offer comfort to George during his imprisonment. If there was no love between them, there was at least affection. His death impacted her emotionally, as well as financially.
Though it’s usually glossed over, Jane’s mental state played a large role in her downfall. The Imperial Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, reported that she ‘went mad’ on her third day of imprisonment so she was sent down the Thames to Sir John Russell’s home on the Strand to recuperate. The king even sent his own doctors to look after her. What would appear to be benevolent generosity on His Grace’s behalf actually had a far more selfish bent. He wanted her well-amended because it was illegal to execute the mentally ill. Regardless of how composed Jane later appeared on the scaffold, the fact that the king had that particular law changed speaks volumes about her stability. Perhaps she had exhibited signs before she found herself in the Tower?
When considered separately, none of these theories offer a satisfactory conclusion, but together they show a clear picture of the complex nature of human behavior. What was once unexplainable can become understandable. The capacity for rational thought is severely hindered under the influence of psychological distress. Jane’s later life was filled with instability, so it’s no small wonder she made decisions that we would now consider outrageous and risky. The events of 1536 sent shockwaves throughout the Tudor court, leaving lasting damage on those at the epicenter.
Source for Ottwell Letter:
Original Letter Illustrative of English History Vol II Ed. Henry Ellis
About the Author: Adrienne Dillard
Adrienne Dillard is a graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies with emphasis in History from Montana State University-Northern. Adrienne has been an eager student of history for most of her life and has completed in-depth research on the American Revolutionary War time period in American History and the history and sinking of the Titanic. Her senior university capstone paper was on the discrepancies in passenger lists on the ill-fated liner and Adrienne was able to work with Philip Hind of Encyclopedia Titanica for much of her research on that subject. Her previous works include best-selling novel,”Cor Rotto: A Novel of Catherine Carey” and the non-fiction “Catherine Carey in a Nutshell” for MadeGlobal’s History in a Nutshell series. When she isn’t writing, Adrienne works as an administrative assistant in the financial services industry and enjoys spending time with her husband, Kyle, and son, Logan, at their home in the Pacific Northwest.
Anne Boleyn creates strong reactions when her name is brought into conversation. Whether you believe she “deserved what she got” or you believe she was a “victim” of Henry VIII, it all comes down to the fact that she was a woman. A woman in 16th century England was generally at the mercy of her father’s ambitions. Whether Anne Boleyn acted on her own fruition, or was at her father’s bidding, I’m not sure we’ll ever know for sure. What we do know are the major events of her life.
Upon creating this timeline for Anne Boleyn I didn’t believe I’d have much to put into it. It wasn’t until I started to dig deeper into her life that I started realizing there were more events than at first thought.
I’ve included the combined Kent and Middlesex Indictments as well, you will see them noted as (Alleged Offenses). Included in these are links to the Anne Boleyn Files webpage where I gathered the information. If you click on the date it will bring you to the page.
I’m certain I’ve missed some events. If you notice a major event that I’ve missed please let me know.
Anne Boleyn was born at Blickling, Norfolk, to Thomas Boleyn and his wife, Elizabeth Howard.
Anne is appointed a maid-of-honour at the court of Margaret, archduchess of Austria. Anne later leaves to serve Mary, queen of France, wife of Louis XII (and Henry VIII’s sister).
January 1 – King Louis XII of France died. Anne remained at the court of the new French queen, Claude for almost 7 years.
Anne’s sister, Mary Boleyn wed her first husband William Carey.
Anne is recalled to England by her father, Thomas Boleyn. At this time Anne’s sister, Mary is the King’s mistress.
Anne had returned to England to marry her cousin, James Butler. The marriage proposal was agreed upon by their fathers to settle the claim of the family Earldom of Ormond. The proposal was eventually dropped.
March 1 – Anne made her first (recorded) appearance at Henry VIII’s court while playing the part of Perseverance in a Shrove Tuesday pageant at York Palace in London.
Anne was secretly betrothed to Henry Percy
January – Cardinal Wolsey broke the betrothal of Anne and Henry Percy. Anne was sent back home to Hever Castle, and Percy was married to Lady Mary Talbot, to whom he had been betrothed since adolescence.
Anne’s sister Mary Boleyn gives birth to a daughter, Catherine Carey, thought to be the illegitimate daughter of Henry VIII.
Historian David Starkey dates the start of Henry’s feelings for Anne to Christmas and New Year 1524/1525, shortly after he had stopped sharing a bed with Katherine of Aragon.
Anne’s brother George Boleyn weds Jane Parker.
The King’s secretary was sent to the Pope Clement VII to request an annulment of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon.
June – Anne contracted the Sweating Sickness while at Hever Castle. Henry VIII sent his personal physician, William Butts, to care for Anne at Hever – she recovered.
Mary Boleyn’s husband, William Carey died of the Sweating Sickness
October – Cardinal Wolsey was officially stripped of the office of Lord Chancellor, and was required to return the Great Seal.
November 29 – Cardinal Wolsey died.
January 5 – Pope Clement VII wrote to Henry VIII forbidding him to remarry and threatened excommunication if he took matters into his own hands and disobeyed Rome.
Katherine of Aragon is banished from court and her rooms were given to Anne.
Autumn - Anne was dining at a manor house on the river Thames and was almost seized by a crowd of angry women. Anne just managed to escape by boat. (Source: Fraser, Antonia The Wives of Henry VIII New York: Knopf )
October 25 – Anne is introduced by Henry to King Francis I of France.
November 14 – Anne and Henry secretly wed.
January 25 – Henry and Anne marry in “public.”
April 12 – Anne attended Easter Sunday mass “with all the pomp of a Queen, clad in cloth of gold, and loaded with the richest jewels”. It was her first public appearance as Queen and she wanted to make a statement that she was indeed Henry VIII’s rightful wife and Queen.
May – Henry’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon was annulled.
May (a few days later) – Thomas Cranmer declared Henry and Anne’s marriage valid.
December 3 & 8th – Anne “procured” Sir William Brereton “to violate her” at Hampton Court. (Alleged Offense)
Anne’s sister, Mary wed in secret her second husband William Stafford. The secret marriage angered both Henry VIII and Anne because Mary married beneath her station. This resulted in Mary being banished from the royal court.
April 12th – Anne “procured” Mark Smeaton at Westminster (date for Anne procuring Smeaton). (Alleged Offense)
May 8 & 20th – Anne “procured” Sir Francis Weston at Westminster. (Alleged Offense)
June 6 & 20th – Anne “allured” and then slept with Sir Francis Weston at Greenwich. (Alleged Offense)
Anne became pregnant again.
April 26th – Mark Smeaton “violated” Anne at Westminster. (Alleged Offense)
May 13 & 19th – Anne “allured” and then slept with Mark Smeaton at Greenwich. (Alleged Offense)
October 31st – Anne and some of the men plotted the King’s death at Westminster. (Alleged Offense)
November 2 & 5th – Anne “procured” her brother George Boleyn,Lord Rochford, “to violate her” at Westminster. (Alleged Offense)
November 27th – Anne gave gifts to the men at Westminster. (Alleged Offense)
December 22 & 29th – Anne “allured” and then slept with her brother George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, at Eltham Palace. (Alleged Offense)
January 7 – Katherine of Aragon died.
January 8 – Anne plotted the King’s death with Rochford, Norris, Weston and Brereton at Greenwich. (Alleged Offense)
Sometime after the death of Katherine of Aragon it’s possible there was a fire in Anne’s bedchamber. There is no definitive evidence to confirm these claims.
January 24 – Henry VIII has his famous jousting accident.
January 29 – Anne miscarried a male fetus.
April 28 – Henry Norris came to Anne’s household – she asked him why he had not yet married the maid of honour he kept visiting. When Norris shrugged that he preferred to ‘tarry a time’, Anne joked: ‘You look for dead men’s shoes, for if ought came to the king but good, you would look to have me.’ Imagining the death of the king was a treasonous offence, and Norris replied, aghast, that ‘if he should have any such thought, he would [wish] his head were off’.
April 29 – Mark Smeaton taken for questioning.
May 1 – May Day: Henry attended a joust with Anne at Greenwich Palace. When the tournament ended, a message was passed to the king. Henry abruptly rose from his seat and left for Westminster by horse. Leaving Anne behind.
May 2 – Anne was arrested and taken to the Tower of London along with her brother George.
May 15 – Trial of Anne and her brother George where they were found guilty.
May 17 – Cranmer declared the marriage between Henry and Anne was null and void. This sentence meant that it was as if the marriage had never happened. Their daughter Elizabeth automatically became illegitimate with this declaration.
May 19 – Anne was executed on Tower Green inside the walls of the Tower of London.
Lady Jane Parker was born in Norfolk around 1505 to Henry Parker, 10th Baron Morley and Alice St John. Her family was wealthy, well-connected, and respected by their peers.
As a noblewoman, we can assume that Jane’s education included reading, writing, religious instruction and courtly entertainment like… dancing, singing and playing an instrument.
Jane joined the English court in her teens to likely serve as a Maid-of-Honor to Queen Katherine of Aragon. We first hear of her when she is listed as attending the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520.
In 1524/25 Jane Parker married George Boleyn. Jane’s marriage with George was most certainly arranged by their parents to benefit them one way or another — we do not know for certain whether or not the marriage was a good match. There is no evidence to prove whether George was homosexual, or whether he was a womanizer. Many authors have picked a side, but we’ll stay neutral in the matter since there is no definitive proof one way or another.
Around 1534, as a Lady-in-Waiting, Jane worked with her sister-in-law Queen Anne Boleyn when it was discovered Henry VIII was having an affair with an unknown woman. Together, they conspired to have the lady removed from court. However, when Henry found out about their scheming he banished Jane from court. We do not know for certain when Jane was allowed back at court, but most likely she was only gone a few months. Just enough time for Henry to forget about the incident and move on to his next mistress – quite possibly Madge Shelton, cousin to Queen Anne. Some have suggested that Madge was a puppet for Anne Boleyn. Anne supposedly pushed her cousin to be a mistress to the king so she could make sure her position was safe as queen.
In Alison Weir’s book, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, she states that Jane Boleyn was instrumental in the downfall of her husband and Queen Anne. Weir claims that Jane was envious of the relationship between George and Anne.
Jane and her husband George were married eleven years when he was arrested in May 1536. He was charged with incest and plotting to kill the king. It has been said that Jane gave testimony against her husband, but again, there is no evidence to corroborate that statement, however, author Antonia Fraser suggests that Jane was the one who was responsible for Anne and George being charged with incest. Never was Jane mentioned by name, nor George’s wife mentioned as someone who gave testimony against him. If Jane had given testimony against her husband and sister-in-law, it was only verbal – there is no written testimony available from her.
George’s trial was after Anne’s and the evidence against him (per Weir’s book) was based on a time that he and Anne had once been witnessed to be closeted alone together for an extended period of time, in addition to what others had verbally claimed (true or not).
Rochford said he knew that death awaited him and would say the truth, but raising his eyes to Heaven denied the accusations against him
Rochford was not tried at Westminster, but at the Tower, with the Queen. His calm behaviour, and good defence. More himself did not reply better. The judges at first were of different opinions, but at last one view overturned the other and they were unanimous. The duke of Norfolk as president, though maternal uncle of the accused, asked them if he was guilty or not, and one replied guilty. Rochford then merely requested the judges that they would ask the King to pay his debts. via – Henry VIII: June 1536, 1-5
Jane Boleyn was most likely interviewed about her husband and sister-in-law, but we cannot verify what she said or did not say. It’s obvious that history has made her out to be the wicked wife who sought revenge on her unfaithful husband by accusing him of incest and treason. The truth is we just don’t know…and never will, unless new evidence comes forward. It’s unfair to judge her in this situation until we have more facts.
Of course, later on in history she was executed for her involvement in the affair between Katheryn Howard and Thomas Culpeper – but that’s a story for another time.
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The Six Wives of Henry VIII, by Alison Weir Who’s Who at the Tudor Court, by Victoria Silvia Evans Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser