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Jane Parker Boleyn ( 1505 - 1542 )  Category ( women_in_history ) [suggest a correction]
 

Jane Parker Boleyn, Lady Rochford, was a noblewoman who was associated with the court of England's King Henry VIII. She became particularly important at court for a time as the wife of Queen Anne Boleyn's brother, George. She also served later as a lady-in-waiting to Henry's fifth wife, Catherine Howard. Jane Boleyn was executed along with Queen Catherine Howard, some years later, in 1542.

Born in Norfolk, England to a family with court connections, she was the eldest daughter in the family. Her family was rich, respected, and politically connected. Her father was an intellectual and provided an education to all of his children. Like most children of the nobility, she was sent to court at an early age, to become acquainted with its ways and to meet and grow up with other noble, as well as royal, children. At court, she became a part of Queen Catherine of Aragon's household. She was also present at The Field of the Cloth of Gold, which was an English-French state visit.

Little is known of Jane's appearance, though some scholars point to a Holbein portrait that may feature her likeness. It is likely that she was considered attractive, especially since she was among the young ladies chosen to perform in the 1522 court masquerade, Chateau Vert. Seven court ladies were chosen as the lead actresses and dancers for the production, which was quite elaborate. Among the other performers included Anne and Mary Boleyn. Two years later, Jane married George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford, brother of Anne Boleyn.

Though Anne was already considered a popular, fashionable, and sought-after young lady at court, she had not yet become involved with Henry. It is at this time that an unsubstantiated rumor that Jane instantly hated Anne and was jealous of her popularity first developed. King Henry bestowed a manor house on the newlyweds, Jane and George. As the Boleyn family was soon on the rise, the couple later were the recipients of Beaulieu Palace. The couple lavished attention on their estate, including improvements on the chapel, building a tennis court, installing bathrooms with hot and cold running water, and other luxurious features. They purchased exotic carpets, heavy mahogany furniture, and adorned their bed with cloth of gold and linen quilts. By all appearances, the couple appeared to be happy and content.

Yet, for centuries rumors have swirled that the marriage was a miserable one. George Boleyn's sexuality is often the center of such speculations; specifically, that George was gay, and that therefore the marriage was unhappy. However, historical evidence suggests that George had affairs with women, rather than men, though certainly heterosexual affairs likely did little to encourage a happy marriage. Jane Boleyn is a minor character in the great tapestry of Tudor history, and what she is chiefly remembered for is her involvement in bringing about the downfall and eventual execution of Anne Boleyn. Supposedly she provided testimony that her husband, George, had sexual intercourse with his sister, the queen. George was convicted of incest and treason, and Jane's testimony may have stated that the brother and sister had engaged in sexual relations for many months, which may have resulted in pregnancy. Anne miscarried in 1536.

Overwhelmingly, most contemporary accounts and other witnesses contradict Jane's supposed accusations. Jane's testimony, if it existed at all, is generally regarded as inaccurate, but, if she did make such statements, historians generally agree it was done out of spite and malice, perhaps towards Anne, or George, or both. Within a generation, the poet Thomas Wyatt the Younger, whose father was a close Boleyn ally and former suitor to Anne, wrote that Jane was a "wicked wife, accuser of her own husband, even to the seeking of his own blood." Other, more recent scholarship, suggests that Jane was used as a convenient skapegoat.

Around one year later, after retreating from court and working to make her finances secure again, Jane returned to court as a lady-in-waiting to Henry's new wife, Jane Seymour, and then after her death, to his fifth wife, Catherine Howard. In the case of the latter, Jane Boleyn was able to exert a good deal of influence, due to the new queen's youth and inexperience. When Catherine quickly became bored and disgusted by her old, obese husband, the king, it was Jane who helped her arrange secret meetings for Catherine and the young, handsome Thomas Culpepper.

One year after that, the queen's extra-marital and pre-marital activities were exposed, along with Jane's regular assistance in the affair. Jane was ordered to the Tower of London. While there, she was interrogated, but since she was an aristocrat she could not be tortured. She apparently suffered a complete nervous breakdown and in early 1542 she was declared insane. Normally, this would have protected her from execution, but Henry decided to create a temporary law that allowed for the execution of the insane. She was executed with a single blow of the axe, and buried, along with Catherine Howard, close to Anne and George Boleyn.


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