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Jane Boleyn: The True Story of the Infamous Lady Rochford [Paperback]

Julia Fox
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 24 2009
A fascinating debut biography of Jane Boleyn, the lady-in-waiting who witnessed and survived Henry VIII’s perilous reign, until she too became a victim.

In a life of extraordinary drama, Jane Boleyn was catapulted from the obscurity of the English countryside to the forefront of Henry VIII’s spectacular court, as lady-in-waiting to not just one, but five of Henry’s wives. Always at the centre of court life and intrigue, Jane attended the parties, the masque balls, and the jousts, and participated in the royal births, the weddings, the funerals, and the personal drama that swirled around the king, his wives, and their courtiers. As Henry’s wives rose and then fell, taking so many down with them, Jane stayed on. Her story gives readers an amazing, ongoing view of the personal toll that Henry’s long and ruthlessly violent reign took on the people closest to him, and positions her as a survivor — that is, until she herself became the subject of the king’s rage.

History has not always been kind to the “Infamous Lady Rochford,” but in this fascinating biography, Julia Fox goes back to the original documents to rehabilitate Jane as a modern woman forced by brutal circumstances to fend for herself in a privileged but vicious world.


From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Wife of Anne Boleyn's brother George, Jane, Viscountess Rochford, has been painted by historians, beginning with the Protestant Elizabethan John Foxe, as a barren, jealous shrew who lied about George and Anne's incestuous relationship, helping send them to their deaths for treason against Henry VIII. Jane herself was executed for treason several years later for abetting the adultery of Henry's fifth wife, Catherine Howard. According to Fox's revisionist account, Jane was faithful to the opportunistic Boleyn clan; she didn't rush to slander her husband, but succumbed under Thomas Cromwell's relentless interrogation, repeating an indiscretion by Anne about Henry's sexual dysfunction. Moreover, Fox says, George's execution was a financial blow to Jane—his royal perquisites of lands and offices were seized. Jane clawed her way back to a senior court position when she was ordered by Catherine Howard to pass messages to her lover, and Jane's complicity, according to Fox, opened the door for historians to excoriate Jane for her sister-in-law's death. In her debut, Fox never quite convinces readers that her lackluster, almost faceless Jane is a courageous, mostly blameless victim of court intrigues, and this amateurish, toothless history is more a rehash of Anne's rise and fall with a tag-on about Catherine's foolhardiness. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

Advance praise for Jane Boleyn

“A riveting story–expertly written and based on an impressive body of research. Julia Fox’s book re-creates the inner life of one of the great scapegoats of history and vividly depicts the fervid, extravagant, interbred world of the Tudor court.”
–Sarah Gristwood, author of Elizabeth & Leicester

“Jane Boleyn’s true history was obscured by lies and propaganda. Now, in an outstanding debut by Julia Fox, the full tragedy of her thwarted life has come to light. A fascinating and moving read, Jane Boleyn exposes the harsh reality of Henry VIII’s court, where cleverness and ambition often led to the block.”
–Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire

“This electric account of the life of Jane Boleyn brings us face-to-face with the glittering but brutal world of Henry VIII’s court. For centuries the infamous Lady Rochford was accused of betraying her husband to his death on charges of incest with Anne Boleyn. Julia Fox’s immaculate detective work and vivid storytelling bring to life one woman’s struggle to survive at the apex of a society where success brought untold riches and a king’s anger cost you your life.”
–Leanda de Lisle, author of After Elizabeth


From the Hardcover edition. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
By microfiche TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
That's Julia Fox's assessment of Jane Parker Boleyn, Lady Rochford, wife and widow of George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, the brother of the infamous Queen Anne Boleyn Tudor. Jane was loyal to her husband's family, helped them advance, enjoyed the perks of that advancement and suffered great financial loss when her husband was executed. So why would she frame him and his sister with an incest charge? It wasn't in her interest. Cromwell must have twisted her statements when he interrogated her.

Jane had wit enough to call in favours and argue a better jointure (a sort of pre-nuptually agreed upon widow's allowance from her husband's family.) out of Sir Thomas Boleyn. She became and remained lady in waiting to Queens Jane (Seymour), Anna (von Cleves), and Katherine (Howard) until Queen Katherine's affair with Thomas Culpepper was discovered and she was executed just after her mistress. She wasn't stupid or mad, argues Ms. Fox. She was caught in court intrigues because she was the obedient servant and loyal sister-in-law and cousin-in-law to Henry's two executed queens.

According to the jacket, Ms. Fox's husband is the Tudor scholar John Guy, she lives in London and she has taught Tudor history. So she has more access and thus a better knowledge of the era than I. Probably Jane was maligned after her death. I'm not saying Ms. Fox is wrong; but there does not seem to be solid evidence in the book about Jane's attitude toward her husband and his family. She has one written statement that George thanked Jane for sending him news while he was in the Tower. Apparently they did not hate each other's guts. We know where they married. We know what houses and perks they recieved. We know why and how George died. We know why and how Jane died. The rest is conjecture based on Ms.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Mrs. Q: Book Addict TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
I was very excited to read this book, but it was not what I expected. The book is more of a biography of Anne Boleyn or Catherine Howard. There is very little documented information on Jane Boleyn, and this book shows. There are many sentences of this sort: 'Katherine was ordered to return her jewels so that Anne could have them. Jane certainly saw the glittering stones. She may even have helped Anne fasten them around her neck.' Another example is : ' We cannot be certain that jane was with her sister-in-law, but it is likely that she was there and was one of the first to see the face of the child who would one day become England's most famous Queen.' I believe the biography does not go in the direction is should have or was meant to. It felt forced, Jane is mentioned but it certainly does not seem like a biography. The facts pertaining to Anne and Catherine were interesting and well documented, but that wasn't the angle I was looking forward to. There is no 'true' story being told, only educated guesses. Lady Rochford's story was not brought to life. I would recommend reading another biography about Henry VIII.
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Amazon.com: 3.1 out of 5 stars  89 reviews
47 of 48 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ambitious and a survivor - not a victim Dec 30 2007
By J. M. Perry - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
There isn't a lot known about Jane Boleyn and this book is purely speculative. I appreciate the author's attempt to shed light on the infamous Lady Rochford, but the book falls short. The author's most quoted source is the Spanish ambassador, Chapuys, who was certainly a biased individual. I found the descriptions of the marriage negotiations and Jane Boleyn's widowhood fascinating. I wish there had been more discussion about the marriage between George Boleyn and Jane. The author says very little about George. The author's premise is to provide a more balanced picture of Jane Boleyn, but even the author is forced to concede that Jane Boleyn gave evidence against Anne of Cleves when Henry wanted to end that marriage and helped Catherine Howard conduct and conceal an adulterous affair. This was after she survived the bloodbath when Henry VIII disposed of Anne Boleyn. Not only did Jane survive, but she retained royal favor, serving Henry's next three queens. These are facts that confirm rather than contradict the accepted version of Lady Rochford.

I appreciate the difficulty of writing about a subject about whom so little is known but the legend of a conniving, hateful wife. I can appreciate Jane Boleyn being swept along during the rise and fall of her sister-in-law. Jane Boleyn was savvy enough to overcome the difficulty in regaining her position after the executions. She was not foolish, as evidenced by her negotiations with Thomas Boleyn for her jointure. Why did she allow herself to be caught up in Catherine Howard's dangerous and foolish love affair? The author doesn't provide a satisfactory hypothesis. The book was an interesting read.
82 of 92 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Treachery, lies, and scandal but how much of it is true? Jan. 1 2008
By Rebecca Huston - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
One of the more interesting women of the reign of King Henry VIII of England tends to be either vilified, or given not much more than a momentary glance. She has come down through history as a treacherous woman, providing the testimony that doomed two queens to execution for adultery, and even accusing her husband of commiting incest. To cloud the matter further, it seems that she was mad and unknowing when she laid her head on the headsman block.

Author Julia Fox peels back the legends and works at recreating the real Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, from the information that actually exists about her. And what the reader discovers is that Jane Parker, as she was born, was hardly the scheming creature that popular fiction and some histories have made her out to be. But neither was she a completely innocent pawn either, and Jane Parker turns out to just an average woman, who finds herself in the middle of various conspiracies where a wrong word could mean a person's death.

The daughter of a minor nobleman, Lord Morley, Jane Parker grows up expecting to marry and have a household of her own, with security and some means to ensure a safe future. It was the typical role expected of every English gentlewoman, and from all accounts, Jane was more than happy to work towards it. Her father, a noted diplomat and scholar, had already started discussions with the Boleyn family nearby, and Jane was married at a young age to her cousin, George Boleyn, already becoming a young courtier at King Henry's household. As his wife, Jane would find herself in a glittering world, full of fine jewels and clothing, wonderful entertainments that she would take part in, and even a spot in Queen Catherine of Aragon's household as one of her ladies. It was a heady prospect, and one that Jane delighted in.

Now Jane Boleyn, she would have seen the stellar ascent of the Boleyn family when the youngest sister Anne arrived at Henry's court. One sister, Mary, had already become one of Henry's mistresses, but had never held out for riches or titles, and when Henry tired of her, he married her off to a minor nobleman of the court, William Carey. Anne decided that was not going to happen to her, and no matter how determined the King was to have her in his bed, Anne held out, proudly stating that she was too good to be his mistress, and held out for the role of his wife and queen.

It was possible -- Henry's current wife, Catherine of Aragon, was six years older than he was, and had born a long, sad succession of dead babies, resulting in an only daughter, Mary. And Anne was much younger than Henry, vivacious, educated and merry -- a woman far more interesting than Catherine. For seven years, Henry wrangled with Catherine and her powerful relatives, and finally declared himself the head of the Church in England, and broke with Roman Catholicism, to marry Anne. For the Boleyns, it was the route to permanent fame, and Jane Boleyn soon found herself a titled lady, Viscountess Rochford, a home in a royal palace that had been turned over to George Rochford, and ever growing number of manors and glittering wealth.

But Anne would give only a daughter, Elizabeth, and miscarriages to Henry, along with tantrums and shouting -- never something that a man wishes to linger in. And his attention had already turned to another young woman -- Jane Seymour. Jane was quiet, nearly plain, demure, and submissive to Henry's desires.

Unluckily for Jane Boleyn, it would be some of her words that would doom her husband and sister-in-law to the headsman. When Henry's lawyer, Thomas Cromwell, tell to disclose what she knew, she mentioned that the two siblings would be alone in Anne's bedchamber, their heads close, whispering. And what would doom George, was Jane's murmurring to him that the King's virility was a bit lacking in Anne's bed -- a secret that would doom nearly all of them.

Jane managed to hang onto some of her wealth, but nearly all of the lands and revenues and wealth vanished. The only person she could turn to was Cromwell, the man who had arranged for her husband's death...

Reading through this biography, I found myself very surprised by many of the twists and turns. There were quite a few surprises here -- I had no idea that Jane served as a lady-in-waiting to the first five of Henry VIII's wives. Eventually, it would be the last of them, Catherine Howard, that would provide her downfall, and the loss of everything, especially her reputation.

It's an interesting account of survival and betrayals. Most biographies set in the Tudor period focus on Henry and his many queens, and the lesser known people around them get not much more than a footnote. Here some of the grandness of Tudor life is given, especially in some of the court spectacles and ceremonies such as coronations, christening of royal infants, and even funerals.

Fox's writing is more of a fictional style, trying to build a bridge between her subject and her readers, and trying to reveal some of the psychology behind Jane's actions. Most of the time it works, and it gives a good look at the how the court must have appeared to someone who was not born into this grand life. While it is clear that the author has a great deal of sympathy for her character, she also doesn't try to whitewash it either.

Along with the narrative, there are two inserts of various art work from the period, showing the main players in this drama. Genealogical tables show the ties between the Parkers and the Boleyns. The footnotes are extensive, and the sources used excellent, with Fox going back to many of the originals to untangle the truth from the fiction. Two appendices discuss a possible portrait of Jane Rochford, and how her name became so blackened by later writers and to the modern day.

I had not really expected much when I had read this biography, but as I continued, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the story. It's far from being sensationalistic, and it tries to present the story as close to the probable truth as possible. I will continue to look forward to more from this author in the future.

Four stars, overall. Recommended.
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Jane, Anne, Jane, Anne, and Catherine Aug. 16 2008
By Linda Pagliuco - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
There are countless historical personages about whom very little documentary evidence remains extant, and Jane Parker Boleyn is one of them. Julia Fox has attempted to piece together a biography of this woman, lady in waiting to 4 of Henry VIII's ill fated queens. As wife and widow to Anne Boleyn's brother, George, Lord Rochford, Jane was a firsthand witness to the madness that swirled around the court of England's most monomaniacal monarch. Fox portrays her not as the infamous, self-serving turncoat, but as a woman buffeted by the demands and restrictions placed upon Tudor women of her social class. Whenever I read about the women in Henry's court, I marvel that they could have been so blind to the likelihood, almost the certainty, that they would come to the same tragic end as their immediate predecessors. But it's impossible to place oneself in the shoes of another, especially after more than 400 years, and that's part of what makes Tudor history so fascinating. Was Jane a social climber? Undoubtedly. Julia Fox has done a service in depicting this ancillary courtier in the context of her available options, as far as they can be known.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brought to you by the words "Maybe" and "Probably" Feb. 28 2008
By MJS - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Telling the story of any woman that lived more than 500 years ago is a challenge. Unless the woman in question was highborn, there is unlikely to be much secondary information about her and unless she wrote letters and the receivers saved them, there's no insight into the woman herself. This is the challenge Julia Fox faces in writing about Jane Parker Boleyn.

The Infamous Lady Rochford was on scene for the beheading of two of Henry VIII's wives. The first, Anne Boleyn, was a natural. Jane was not only Anne's sister-in-law, she was a lady in waiting to Queen Katherine. The second always strike me as simply odd. Who keeps their dead/annulled wife's sister-in-law around to take care of your new wife? Especially when you had her husband executed for sleeping with his sister/your wife? Surely good help wasn't that hard to find in Tudor England.

Fox starts out tentatively, telling Jane's story with liberal use of the words "maybe", "probably", "perhaps," and "we can't be certain." Another writer might have boldly made suppositions and presented them as likely facts. I can't fault Fox for being so scrupulous but it did make those first chapters a tiring read for me. Once Fox has access to primary sources, she's more at ease and Jane's story picks up.

Jane Boleyn remains unknowable through no fault of Fox's. There are few surviving letters from her and her testimony at Catherine Howard's was obviously constrained. Fox makes a convincing case that Jane was simply seduced by the abundant luxury of living close to and being in favor with the King. If he liked you, the perks flowed and you were sleeping in a custom carved bed and drinking from gem-encrusted gold cups. You were also living at the most exciting place in England. The temptation was too much for Jane. Even after seeing the consequences suffered by Anne and George Boleyn. She also convinced me that Jane probably (there's that word again!) did not conspire against or even testify against Anne and George.

Fox is less successful at explaining why Jane helped Catherine commit adultery. That is a hard one to explain even from the lips of the woman herself. And Fox does occasionally try to wring too much from her scant primary sources like when she tries to make a direct connection between the likely charitable endeavors of Jane and Anne and the charitable bequests in the will of Anne's grandfather.

This is an interesting attempt to reclaim a notorious figure from the unsubstantiated stories told against her for centuries. I'm not sure who is the best audience for this book, though. If you're a Tudorphile, like me, you'll find yourself covering a lot of ground you've been over before many times but you will get a fresh perspective on Jane Boleyn. If you're new to the Tudors, will you even care about Jane Boleyn? I'm not sure. If you are interested in the lives in non-royal women in Tudor England, you could do much worse than to read this book.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Much Jane In It March 17 2008
By Jack M. Walter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Going along with what others have said here, there is not much material about Jane herself in this book, most likely because not much is available. Ms. Fox writes well for the most part. Some sections are in need of some editing, but some passages are quite absorbing and fascinating. The author would do well to pick as her next subject someone about whom much more is known. This is a pretty interesting book, however, if you want to read about Henry VIII and his first five wives.
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