on November 11, 2009
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.
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. Fox's knowledge of the period, in effect saying 'Jane would have /could have /probably seen /heard /said /done /thought ...'
To me, Ms. Fox's knowledge of Tudor court life is the fruit of the book, why I give it 4 stars. This is the first study of Jane, Lady Rochford, and perhaps all we, the interested non-historians, will know about her. Jane was not 'center stage' in the Henry/Anne drama. If all had gone well, or if the King had never wooed and married Anne, Jane would have lived out her days as a courtier's wife and lady of honour at court. It might have been interesting or dull, but her life would have provided some inkling as to how women of her station lived. How Anne's sister Mary lived, for instance. Jane, Anne or Mary 'might have' done/said/heard thus and so, based on the rules, beliefs and ways of their times and their courtly stations. That's what Ms. Fox learned about and what she writes about: the Tudor lady courtier.
Two things that grated: 1) Sir Thomas Boleyn is almost always called "Thomas", not 'Sir Thomas' or 'Boleyn', 'Rochford' or 'Wiltshire'. All the other males but he and 'George' are called by their titles. Jane's father, Sir Thomas Boleyn's contemporary, is always named "Morley" or "Lord Morley". It makes 'Thomas' sound like a boy.
2) Ms. Fox must be a fan of Queen Elizabeth I. She mentions her future greatness nearly every time she mentions her. I admire her too, but such fulsome, frequent praise sounds like gushing and historians should not gush.