Click here to read reviewer Karyn Johnson's take on Jane Boleyn.
Perhaps not as infamous as her sister-in-law Anne, Jane Boleyn enjoyed a remarkable longevity at Henry VIII’s court that eluded the rest of the family, save Anne’s uncle Thomas Boleyn, politically astute in removing himself from imminent danger. As a woman, Jane’s position was far more precarious: her fortune was tied to marriage and the generosity of the powerful, not the least of whom was Henry VIII, who was comfortable with Jane’s presence in his queens’ chambers, at least until her unforgettable betrayal as Catherine Howard’s accomplice.
At the pinnacle of family power, Jane observed Anne’s deft manipulation of a love-struck Henry, the would-be-queen achieving marriage and coronation at Henry’s side. As George Boleyn’s wife, Jane’s position was enviable, a member of the queen’s inner circle, enjoying luxury and position that left her craving more of the same. Once acquired, such heady tastes became addictive, as Jane Boleyn soon learned.
Although the city grumbled over the harsh treatment of Catherine of Aragon, Henry’s first and legitimate wife who was cast aside for the scheming Anne, they bowed to the wishes of their monarch. But after Anne’s fall from grace, Lady Rochford had a dilemma: whether to retire to her diminished estates as a widow, or to follow quite another path, remaining at court to attend Henry’s new queen, Jane Seymour. It would seem that the temptation to bask in royal entitlements at court was too seductive.
Jane chose court, carving out a niche for herself as a familiar, not only in Seymour’s chambers, but also attending the unfortunate Anne of Cleves and the foolish Catherine Howard, who wounded Henry with the ultimate betrayal in the waning years of his manhood. Once Henry committed to a path, there was no turning back. The pragmatic Jane seemed to appreciate this fact, prepared to serve whatever marriages the king entered to maintain the lifestyle to which she had become accustomed.
While there is no evidence that Jane betrayed her sister-in-law, Anne Boleyn, or husband, George, there is ample evidence of Jane’s participation in Catherine’s infidelity, love letters between the queen and Thomas Culpepper mentioning Lady Rochford by name. There was simply no way for Rochford to disassociate herself from the perfidious fifth queen of Henry VIII. Even her distressed mental state did not inoculate Jane from Henry’s wrath; she was never again to be trusted, her life forfeit as was her husband’s years earlier.
Fox offers a stirring account of Jane’s progress through Henry’s court, the intrigues, dangers, conspiracies and much-touted infatuations of a king grown used to having his way no matter the cost. A witness to one of the most dynamic and written-about periods of English history, Lady Rochford remains a fascinating figure, the Boleyn who survived the beheading of Anne and George, only to ultimately face her own.