on 11 January 2008
Although there is much argument about the motivations of many of the main players in Tudor politics, the motives of Jane Parker, Lady Rochford, are some of the most difficult to fathom. Accused by many historians of playing a deliberate role in the downfall of Anne Boleyn and her brother George (her own husband) for reasons which can only be guessed at and also having played an undeniable role in the fall of Catherine Howard, which also resulted in her own destruction, Lady Rochford is a chief figure in some major court dramas and yet we know almost nothing about her. Julia Fox attempts to redress the balance and to provide a more positive depiction of Lady Rochford in the process, but with limited success.
The main problem is the lack of material directly relating to Lady Rochford that Fox has to work with. Hardly any of her own letters survive and she is not often mentioned by contemporary eyewitnesses. As such, Fox is forced to tell her story using the more voluminous amount of information relating to the Boleyn family and by supposition using contemporary ideas of family, dress, behaviour, etc. This does little to create a more defined image of Lady Rochford as a character in her own right - instead, it is chiefly a retelling of the story of the Boleyn family with Jane slotted in (she was "probably" at an event that they were at, she "probably" thought along the lines that they did, etc) and all Fox's ideas of her own thoughts and often movements have no firm foundation. Fox claims that, contrary to popular opinion, the Rochford's marriage was largely a happy union, and yet offers no clear evidence to support this. Also, despite Fox's best efforts to debunk the idea put forward by many historians that Lady Rochford's motivation was vindictive and possibly even a result of mental instability, her attempt to exonerate Lady Rochford from having deliberately assisted in Anne Boleyn's downfall is unconvincing: we are told that she and Anne had been close at one time at least and that Lady Rochford's future was tied to that of the Boleyns, and yet Fox is always hedging her bets for Lady Rochford to have opinions in direct conflict with Boleyn ambitions (she "probably" sympathised with the treatment of Princess Mary, who Fox improbably claims may have had a long-standing friendship with Lady Rochford) - not only is there no evidence given to refute her role in the fall of the Boleyns, Fox's own argument is inconsistent in supporting this line. Fox also makes little of the fact that Lady Rochford was well rewarded financially by Thomas Cromwell after the coup, which would suggest that she had less to lose materially in turning against them than Fox would have us believe; incredibly, Fox also claims that Rochford's relations with her Boleyn in-laws remained cordial after the fall, and yet can only support this using evidence that Thomas Boleyn increased her jointure after 1536, which even she admits was done "grudgingly" and was most likely as a result of pressure from Cromwell which Boleyn, as a result of the fall of his family, could be in no position to resist.
There is less historical ambiguity about Lady Rochford's role in the fall of Catherine Howard and yet Fox's argument here is also largely unconvincing. There may be some truth in Fox's claim that she stayed at court when she easily have gone into comfortable retirement because of the draw of the glamour and excitement of serving at court; however, her assertion that Lady Rochford only became so embroiled in Catherine's illicit affairs for fear of losing her place at court as a senior confidante to the Queen does not make sense. It is not conceivable that a woman with so much experience of court life and having been witness or participant in the presumed adultery and destruction of one queen would simply go along with such dangerous behaviour; if she was a reluctant participant, she could hardly have done more to assist Catherine's meetings with Thomas Culpepper, and the sheer level of her involvement would be much more likely to imply that her role was willing rather than the converse. What her reasons were are still not clear by the end of this book, but to me it seems extremely unlikely that Fox's interpretation is the correct one.
However, one minor success of this book is to put forward a fairly interesting perspective on court life, particularly around Anne Boleyn - it does provide a reminder that she also spent significant time with her ladies, whereas many accounts of Anne's life concentrate on her role in the male-dominated world of politics, and this is worth bearing in mind as it does to some extent enrich the sense of Anne as a person by giving more of an idea of what her life was like.
Many books that put forward a revisionist argument go too far in trying to prove their point - this might be more forgivable if the alternative conclusion reached had sufficient evidence to at least be plausible. However, whilst Julia Fox's book may raise the question of whether we should automatically condemn Lady Rochford as a "bawd", it does not have the evidence to support its assertions and as such, by the end of the book, any reader with a reasonable knowledge of this period will have learned almost nothing new about Lady Rochford than they knew already.
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.
on 27 November 2007
I have to say that I really enjoyed this book. It was refreshing to read about an oft mentioned, much vilified but still relatively obscure female member of the Tudor court and I found the entire book, overall, fascinating and really interesting to read as it did have a lot of period detail about the behind the scenes workings of Henry VIII's court.
However, and there is always a however, I was disappointed by the lack of emotional insight into Jane's life and especially her marriage to George Boleyn. I would have liked to have read more about their relationship and how well they got on and whether the author believed there was any truth in the rumours about George's promiscuity or homosexuality and how this may have impacted on his marriage. I never really got a feel for how they interacted as a couple or for the dynamics of their ill fated marriage. Were they unhappy or not? Was Jane really bitterly jealous of his closeness to his sister, Anne? Some discussion of this would have been welcome.
Also, I was surprised to find that there was no mention of the possibility that George and Jane may have had a son. This is not documented fact but I would have expected at least a brief discussion of this in the notes, if only to say that the future Dean of Lichfield was in all probability the son of an obscure Boleyn cousin and not George and Jane themselves. It felt like quite a glaring omission though.
The other problem was the constant repetition. Enough about Jane's masque stockings already! I appreciate that there was not much information to be going on with here but the continual 'Jane *may* have been here' and 'as daughter/wife/sister in law/aunt to XXX, Jane had every right to be there' really started to grate after a bit. I know that this wasn't the author's fault as she was just trying to wring as much drama out of the scant evidence on offer but it often came across as a bit grasping at straws and wishy washy.
I have to reiterate though that I *did* enjoy this book and I would definitely recommend it to anyone with an interest in Tudor history. It was engagingly written, interesting and dramatic which slightly makes up for the lack of actual information about Jane herself rather than just the world she lived in.
This attractively written book tells the story of Jane Boleyn, the wife of Queen Anne Boleyn's brother George. Not a great deal is known about her life other than her involvement in the fall of her brother and sister in law, and her own demise together with that of Queen Catherine Howard six years later, but a fair amount can be divined from property transactions and other documentation. The thrust of the author's argument is that Jane cannot have betrayed her husband and Anne as is traditionally thought as this would have been economic suicide for a woman in her position (she did suffer comparative poverty after their executions until she was able to persuade her father in law Thomas Boleyn to provide for her more liberally). I can see the author's point, but am not sure that I am really persuaded that she has been quite as grossly maligned as the author believes; I suspect that Jane was caught up in events that spiralled beyond the control of a woman who seems to have been seduced by the glitz and glamour of court life and unwilling to relinquish being at the centre of events - so naive rather than malign perhaps, though having been at the heart of events for some years, she arguably should have known better. She was fortunate to have restored her position as a lady of the bedchamber to Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves and finally, fatally, to Catherine Howard. Again, she got caught up in the latter's affair with Thomas Culpepper, and this time there was no escape; by the standards of the time, she was justly condemned for abetting the Queen's treasonous affair. A Tudor tragedy, to be sure, but not, in my view, on a par with that of Anne and George and many others wrongly brought down by King Henry VIII.
on 23 January 2009
I can only re-iterate the review of Rumbahbah - the facts are just not there. This is not Fox's fault of course - virtually no contemporary information about Lady Rochford exists, not even a portrait, so it was quite an ambitious undertaking to attempt to write a biography. The book is mostly 'padded out' by what we do know about the Tudor Court and the Boleyns, and it does get slightly irritating to read yet again that 'Jane would most likely have been there' or Jane 'would probably have witnessed this'. As for her long marriage to George Boleyn (which produced no children)it is pure supposition to suggest that because it was long, it was a happy one. Obviously Jane was instrumental in bringing him to the block, but Fox does not really want to discuss this, suggesting that Cromwell somehow tricked her into implicating her husband, when there is no concrete evidence for this at all. We simply do not know what her evidence was, and this is pure conjecture. The book was ultimately very disappointing, nothing we did not know already, and whereas it would perhaps be going too far to say that what Fox doesn't know she makes up, it is fair to say that she relies heavily on pure guesswork.
on 22 July 2010
I was intrigued to find this book, about the shadowy Jane Boleyn. As the blurb said, the author - who is married to the excellent historian John Guy - had an opportunity to explore the conflicts this woman faced. Did she testify against her husband, George, and his sister Anne Boleyn, because she was threatened with death herself as an accessory? What did she say? Why, four years later, did she help Queen Katherine Howard to meet her lover, Thomas Culpeper, knowing this was certain death? Was she mentally ill?
What a shame that the author gives us little or no answer, not even gossip and speculation. I get no sense of Jane Boleyn as a personality, merely a kind of innocent nothing, watching events unfold.
How can Julia Fox believe that Jane was innocent of making a deal with Cromwell, to bring the Boleyns down, when afterwards, Cromwell looked after Jane's finances so carefully and the King even signed a private Act of Parliament to secure a property deal for Jane? It stinks...whether or not Jane had much choice in the matter, I'd like to know. But I'm none the wiser here.
Then there's Jane's husband George Boleyn...or was he gay or bisexual? Instead, she pads the book by re-telling the Boleyn story and justifies it by saying words to the effect of 'Jane would have been there when...'. This is ok, competent and readable, but many books tell this story.
I cannot stand history books which don't give you basic names, and facts like who the person is married to. Julia Fox makes occasional irritating omissions - Henry the Eighth's sister is Mary and to call her merely 'The French Queen' when she was at the time in question, widowed and married to Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, is not giving us enough information. Julia Fox has been a history teacher. I'd say, Must Try Harder next time.
on 13 April 2016
Fantastic. Julia Fox has written in an easily readable style, which really brings the story to life. The reader can visualise the scenes perfectly and follow this tragic tale of Jane Rochford, the wife of Anne Boleyn's brother, George. She has gone in to history as the jealous wife, whose evidence brought about the deaths of Anne and George, and whose actions brought about the execution of Queen Catherine Howard and her own death. However, letters and evidence show that this is not the whole truth, and that she has been maligned by early historians. I found Julia's account very moving. Here was a young girl who had everything - wealth, beautiful clothes, property, a good marriage, an honoured position at court, and lost it all. If Anne Boleyn had given birth to a son, or if Jane had retired from court after George's execution, her life could have been so different. Julia Fox has done a brilliant job in telling the truth about Jane. I look forward to more of her history books.
on 27 May 2016
This is more a book about the Boleyns than Jane Boleyn, nee Parker. All they say about her is "Jane would have been there". Jane Parker was a very interesting character and I would have loved to hearn more about her, but I won't learn anything in this book.
on 22 June 2008
I'd agree completely with the review already written about this book - as a piece of historical non-fiction it falls short. It is full of too many suppositions and the assigning of emotions to characters doesn't work in a factual book I'm afraid. There were several cases where comments were made such as "Jane would have been proud of such and such..." or "Jane would most probably have been there" or "Jane would almost certainly known of such and such happening.." which I found generally annoying.
My main take on the book is that it is basically another telling of the Anne Boleyn/Katherine Howard stories rather than being about Jane herself - no evidence is produced to prove that she wasn't the unpleasant person that history records her as.
That said, the book itself is an enjoyable read if you read it as a novel rather than a work of historical fact and I'd recommend reading it on that basis.
on 20 May 2009
I have just finished reading this book and really liked it. I thought it read almost like a novel, which is something that I enjoyed. My only complaint would be that there does not seem to be much information on Lady Rochford, but the author certainly does her best with the sources available. It was intriguing to read about a less well known historical figure and her life story ties her in with the major events of the time, such as the death of Anne Boleyn.
I would recommend this book to anyone looking for more detail about a less well-known historical figure as it is an excellent read.