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Fox fails to defend the indefensible
on 26 July 2012
Whilst I have to praise Fox's unique knack of storytelling, along with the vivid descriptions making the book highly accessible and readable, I have to conclude that Julia Fox ultimately fails to vindicate Jane Parker, Lady Rochford's reputation as a potential key participant in the downfalls of Katherine Howard and her sister-in-law, Anne Boleyn, for while Fox, does not condemn her, she does not convincingly defend her either.
There were many aspects of the book which the author either overlooked or dismissed out of hand without further explanation.
For instance, she does not delve into the nature of Jane's relationship with her husband, George Boleyn and does not pay any heed to previous academic debates suggesting that they had a volatile marriage. Rather than investigating all possibilities given the evidence which we do have, she simply dismisses the idea that their marriage was unhappy, stating that there is no evidence to indicate that it was anything other than conventional. Taking heed not to give too much credence to accusations of bias, she could have explored contemporary accounts of the time for instance, which suggested that George may have been promiscuous (this has been explored by Alison Weir), and that he possibly kindled a close family relationship with his sister, Anne.
Furthermore, Fox also, out of hand, dismisses Lady Rochford's involvement and later chastisement, as a result of a demonstration in support of Mary in late 1535 - stating that as a member of a prominent family, it would have been unwise for her to do so, and therefore she surely would not have been involved.
Again, if Fox wished to support this point of view, she could at least have explored the alternative possibility.
In this regard, I feel that Fox neglects key moments which may have defined Jane's character, for if she was involved in a public demonstration to support Princess Mary as the sources appear to suggest, it lends credence to the suggestion that Jane was already starting to turn against the Boleyns by this point and would make perfect sense of her later betrayal of her husband and sister-in-law.
In failing to explore this argument, I feel that Fox missed an opportunity to try to explain Jane's motivations in the events of April - May of 1536.
Given Jane's alleged support of Mary in 1535, her father's allegiance to the Princess, and Mary's growing friendship with Jane and her family from 1536 onwards, we have a clue as to what possibly governed Jane to act in the manner which she did, notwithstanding other issues of which we are not aware, however Fox also fails to pay much credence or significance to Jane's correspondences with Cromwell.
When asking the latter for help to secure an increase on her jointure for instance, she pledged to provide him with "services" - alluding to such may indicate that she was prepared to act as spy for him, very possibly as she may well already have done by acting against her sister-in-law and husband, and he in return, may have been instrumental in placing her very speedily back in court where she could be "useful" to him, as Fox herself intimates.
Such actions may well characterise a "love of intrigue" attributed to her by other historians as well as a good dose of double-dealing, as she ensured that following her husband's demise, she not only resolved her own financial security but was able to ensure that she was close to central power once again - something which Fox does not appear to pay too much attention to.
The impression left by Fox is that Jane was possibly a politically shrewd character. She began to extricate herself from the Boleyns at a crucial time, ensuring she would not share their downfall. She was also eager to secure the best possible deal from Thomas Boleyn - even if it meant doing so at the expense of his heir and daughter, Mary Boleyn - securing her increased jointure by Act of Parliament and securing a very speedy return to court, given the fact that she was the wife of a convicted traitor.
Such circumstances along with her reference to providing Cromwell with "services" can surely be an indication that her involvement in the downfall of Anne and George were far less insignificant than Fox suggests.
While she is correct in her assertion that Jane was solely attributed to insinuating that Anne had downplayed Henry's virility and that she may have been the subject of relentless investigations, being the wife of the Queen's brother-in-law and the Queen's trusted confidante, Fox cannot discount the possibility that Jane played a greater role in the accusations than this.
Indeed, her correspondence with Cromwell could indicate that he was very eager to assist one who had proved very "useful" to him and Fox cannot discount the possibility that Jane may have supported and actively encouraged accusations of incest either, as she was incredibly well placed to know of Anne's lengthy and often late-night discourses in her chamber with her brother. Given her other accusers, there is no unequivocal evidence to suggest that either of them helped procure charges, beyond that of normal adultery.
All in all, I feel that Fox presents a very one-sided version of Jane Parker's story. Due to lack of available sources (which cannot be attributed to her), she is forced to tell her story from the viewpoints of others, and her involvement in the scandals which besieged Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard feel rushed in comparison to her rather lengthy focus on Anne and George Boleyn.
While she does not actively defend Jane's role in the Katherine Howard scandal, she appears to suggest that Jane would be averse to telling tales on her mistress and that she was somehow made a scapegoat by Culpepper and Katherine. In this respect, Fox neglects to mention that Jane Parker actively tried to defend her position at the expense of the younger, naive and immature, Katherine.
Indeed, having been the sister-in-law to an executed queen and an experienced member of court, it is somehow questionable to accept Fox's conclusion that Jane Parker had no choice but to follow Katherine's orders without question and being one who had stood her ground against the formidable Thomas Boleyn, is even more doubtful.
While I feel that Fox overlooks certain key events, and on the whole does not divulge any new information to support her arguments, her writing style which makes the book highly interesting and accessible is commendable. Furthermore, the last chapter of the book which explores the aftermath of Jane's demise and her father's possibly veiled thoughts and reactions to it are highly interesting.
In the guise of a Latin - English translation of a Bocaccio work, Fox suggests very convincingly, that Lord Morley used the characters of Troy, Polyxena and Pyrrhus to construct Jane's story as one who had died as a result of the misdeeds of another. Indeed, if used to tell Jane's story, this could be characterised as Morley's moving tribute to a daughter whom he felt had died as a result of Katherine Howard's mishaps.