Jane Boleyn: The True Story of the Infamous Lady Rochford

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9780345485410: Jane Boleyn: The True Story of the Infamous Lady Rochford

In a life of extraordinary drama, Jane Boleyn was catapulted from relative obscurity to the inner circle of King Henry VIII. As powerful men and women around her became victims of Henry’s ruthless and absolute power, including her own husband and sister-in-law, Queen Anne Boleyn, Jane’s allegiance to the volatile monarchy was sustained and rewarded. But the price for her loyalty would eventually be her undoing and the ruination of her name. For centuries, little beyond rumor and scandal has been associated with “the infamous Lady Rochford.” But now historian Julia Fox sets the record straight and restores dignity to this much-maligned figure whose life and reputation were taken from her.

Born to aristocratic parents in the English countryside, young Jane Parker found a suitable match in George Boleyn, brother to Anne, the woman who would eventually be the touchstone of England’s greatest political and religious crisis. Once settled in the bustling, spectacular court of Henry VIII as the wife of a nobleman, Jane was privy to the regal festivities of masques and jousts, royal births and funerals, and she played an intimate part in the drama and gossip that swirled around the king’s court.

But it was Anne Boleyn’s descent from palace to prison that first thrust Jane into the spotlight. Impatient with Anne’s inability to produce a male heir, King Henry accused the queen of treason and adultery with a multitude of men, including her own brother, George. Jane was among those interrogated in the scandal, and following two swift strokes from the executioner’s blade, she lost her husband and her sister-in-law, her inheritance and her place in court society.

Now the thirty-year-old widow of a traitor, Jane had to ensure her survival and protect her own interests by securing land and income. With sheer determination, she navigated her way back into royal favor by becoming lady-in-waiting to Henry’s three subsequent brides, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, and Catherine Howard. At last Jane’s future seemed secure–until an unwitting misstep involving the sexual intrigues of young Queen Catherine destroyed the life and reputation Jane worked so hard to rebuild.

Drawing upon her own deep knowledge and years of original research, Julia Fox brings us into the inner sanctum of court life, laced with intrigue and encumbered by disgrace. Through the eyes and ears of Jane Boleyn, we witness the myriad players of the stormy Tudor period. Jane emerges as a courageous spirit, a modern woman forced by circumstances to fend for herself in a privileged but vicious world.

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About the Author:

After graduating from the University of London, Julia Fox taught history in both public and private schools for a number of years, specializing in the Tudors and in nineteenth-century Britain and Europe. She currently lives in London with her husband, the historian John Guy, and their two cats. Jane Boleyn is her first book.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

Childhood

It was time to go. The horses shifted and stamped restlessly. They always seemed to know when a long journey was imminent. The carts were laden with fashionable clothes, domestic items, everything needed to make life comfortable. Servants and escorts were ready too. For Lord Morley’s daughter, Jane Parker, a new life was about to begin. She rode out toward London, leaving her family home at Great Hallingbury behind.

Until now, the Tudor mansion built by Lord Morley had been her world. The solid, red-bricked house replaced an earlier Morley dwelling that had nestled in the same Essex village for over three hundred years. It was huge, a magical place for giggling children to hide and play. Scattered among the richly carved oak furniture and plate inside the building were many reminders of Lord Morley’s mother, Alice Lovel. When she died in 1518, Alice made generous bequests to her son. Lord Morley could sleep in the bed of cloth of gold and tawny velvet she left him. He could sit in her “best chair,” which stood in the long gallery that Morley equipped with expensive linenfold paneling and tall, graceful windows. Alice’s gilt bowl emblazoned with her own coat of arms as well as that of her first husband’s was on display for all to see. An even older and more precious heirloom was the special cup with its gilt cover, which Alice said was “gotten” by her ancestors. That too was on view. One of the exquisitely embroidered wall hangings also came from her. Lord Morley had been allowed to choose whichever one he wanted from her estate. Everything fitted perfectly into his newly constructed home, which was one of the finest in the county. Its grounds were impressive too. If the weather was fine, Jane roamed happily outside in the carefully tended gardens, which stretched for over two acres. There was an orchard to provide apples, pears, and quinces for the quince marmalade that everyone loved. There was a pond surrounded by trees and stocked with fish. There was a long brick stable block and hay loft, so necessary for the Morley horses, surmounted by tall red Tudor chimneys. Whether Great Hallingbury (or Hallingbury Morley, as her father preferred to call it) was snuggling under thick snow or basking in the warm sunshine of a summer’s afternoon, the setting was idyllic, especially during those few precious years of childhood when time passes slowly and growing up seems so far away.

Just a short walk across the fields from the house was the parish church of St. Giles. It is still standing. Built largely of flint and limestone, and with a square bell tower, the church was small and intimate. The nave, forty-five feet long, with circular windows set deeply into the walls, led into the chancel through a round arch constructed of Roman bricks, for there had once been a Roman site here. It was probably in this pretty church, so much the heart of the village, that Jane was baptized. About the year 1505, the tiny girl was carried to the porch of St. Giles by her mother’s midwife. Lady Morley was not present as it was customary for mothers not to reenter society until they had been churched or purified about forty days after giving birth. With Jane’s godparents at her side, the midwife gently took her inside for the baptism itself. There, at the stone font, before the richly carved rood screen and amid the painted walls and brightly colored statues of saints, the baby was welcomed into the great Catholic fold. Lord and Lady Morley knew how important it was to have babies received into the protection of the church as quickly as possible after their birth. Life was unpredictable and diseases often struck without warning; they did not want their little daughter to fall into limbo, the dreadful nothingness that awaited the souls of unbaptized children. Everything, therefore, was correctly done. The priest blessed Jane with holy oil on her shoulders and chest, on her right hand and on her forehead. Salt was placed into her mouth so that she would be “freed from all uncleanness, and from all assault of spiritual wickedness.” She was dipped three times into the sacred water in the font. She was anointed with holy chrism. The godparents, whose names are lost to us, made their promises. They vowed to ensure that Jane’s mother and father kept her “from fire and water and other perils” and to be certain that she knew “the Pater noster, Ave and Creed, after the law of all holy church.” They told the priest the name chosen for her: she was christened Jane, possibly after her father’s sister, another Jane Parker. Family ties were always important.

As she rode away from these familiar surroundings, Jane knew just how important those ties were. She had every reason to feel pride in her lineage. Her father, Sir Henry Parker, Lord Morley, was a peer of the realm. He owned lands in Norfolk, Buckinghamshire, and Herefordshire as well as in Essex. He came from ancient stock. His ancestors had played their part in tumultuous events over the centuries, helping to quell the Peasants’ Revolt and fighting for king and country in the Hundred Years’ War against England’s traditional enemy, France. Yes, Jane could feel proud.

Of course, she knew it could all have been otherwise. The family lands and title came through Jane’s grandmother, Alice Lovel. Alice’s brother, a previous Lord Morley, died in Flanders fighting for Edward IV. However, while he had died a hero, he also died without children so his entire estate went to Alice. Girls sometimes had their uses. But Alice’s first marriage, to Sir William Parker, Jane’s grandfather, brought the family close to disaster: Sir William Parker fought on the wrong side at the Battle of Bosworth. He supported the doomed Richard III against Henry Tudor, the victorious Henry VII. Sir William survived the battle but the new king never really trusted him. His son, the young Henry Parker, the future Lord Morley and Jane’s father, was fortunate to have been brought up in the household of Lady Margaret Beaufort, Henry VII’s mother.

Stern and formidable she might be, but Lady Margaret was loyal to those she took under her wing. She was particularly concerned that the little boy should receive what she felt was his due, especially when his mother remarried after Sir William’s death. Lady Margaret paid five hundred marks (just under four hundred pounds) to Alice’s new husband, Sir Edward Howard, to make sure that young Henry Parker kept some family land, presumably at Great Hallingbury. Sir Edward adhered to the bargain and also remembered his stepson in his will of 1512. He bequeathed the manor of Morley Hall in Norfolk to his wife, Alice, for her lifetime, after which it would pass to Jane’s father. The legacy did not come without conditions, however. In exchange, Morley was required to give land worth ten marks a year to the prior and convent of Ingham in Norfolk or forfeit Morley Hall to them. Morley was lucky that Alice and Sir Edward had no children to complicate the situation even more. Sir Edward had sired two bastards for whom he did his best to provide: he asked the king to choose one; the other was allocated to Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. Howard hoped their new guardians would be “good” lords to his sons, but as an extra safeguard he left the boys money to help them set “forth in the world.”

This did not, of course, affect Lord Morley or his inheritance. In fact, as far as Jane’s father was concerned, the Howard marriage, which might have proved so awkward, brought him both land and valuable connections at court. The Howards were a very influential family. Sir Edward’s father was the Duke of Norfolk, one of the leading men in the land, and Sir Edward’s sister, Elizabeth, had married Sir Thomas Boleyn. Sir Thomas was a rising star, an ideal companion to the gregarious Henry VIII, certainly a man it was advantageous to know. And he was a neighbor, for the Boleyns owned lands in Essex and Norfolk just like the Morleys. Being linked to the Boleyns brought more associations since Thomas had sisters who married into other Norfolk or Essex families. His sister Anne, for example, married Sir John Shelton, Alice married Sir Robert Clere, and Margaret married Sir John Sackville. The inter- relationships were all very complicated but Lord Morley had every reason to believe that he and his family would gain from them. And Sir Thomas Boleyn had a son, George, who was more or less Jane’s age. Who knew what time might bring?

Certainly, as she rode to London, Jane understood that her destiny lay outside the confines of Great Hallingbury. Even while she enjoyed those brief years of childhood, Jane realized that they were but a preparation for the future—hers. Lord and Lady Morley took the upbringing of their children very seriously. It was their duty. Both boys and girls must be taught all that society demanded if they were to take their rightful place when the time came. Lord Morley had a love of learning that lasted all his life. Educated at Oxford himself, he wanted a stimulating and rigorous education for his son and heir, Henry. Expertise in the classics, though, was not something to encourage in his daughters. No husband would want a wife who was more knowledgeable than himself. And so Jane’s schooling was designed to fit her for the role of a wife and mother. She stayed at home in those early years, learning how to read and write, how to supervise servants and run a large household, and how to harness the healing properties of common herbs so that she could treat everyday ailments. Then, of course, there was needlework. Jane spent hours quietly sewing and perfecting convoluted yet delicate stitches. In this she was not alone; most wealthy women excelled in this pastime. Even Queen Katherine made shirts for her husband and thought nothing of mending them herself as a sign of her love. Jane’s favorite lessons, though, were ...

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