Review

Jane Boleyn: The True Story of the Infamous Lady Rochford

by Julia Fox

A
quick Internet search for “Jane Parker Boleyn” provides
little information about her. What one can find is far from
flattering: Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, is remembered by history as
having testified against her husband, George, and his sister, Anne
Boleyn, helping pave the way to their executions. Jane stayed
mostly in the court’s favor before she herself was executed
in 1542. Just who was this mysterious woman, and how did she come
to be a powerful confidante of five of Henry VIII's queens? And,
above all, does she deserve the horrible reputation she has
acquired as a traitor and a liar? Julia Fox, an historian
specializing in the Tudors, has written the first account dedicated
to Jane Boleyn.

Fox's narrative is detailed and informative, painting a vivid
picture of Henry's turbulent court. At a time of great religious
change and social upheaval, Jane Parker, daughter of Henry Parker,
Lord Morley, was raised for an upwardly mobile marriage and a life
of privilege. Her match to George Boleyn seemed perfect to both
families. Soon after her wedding, she found herself in the inner
royal circle, and when Henry turned his affections away from Queen
Katherine to the bold Anne Boleyn, Jane's life became one of
intrigue, romance and danger. Soon Katherine was cast off the
throne and Anne was crowned. Jane, as a lady-in-waiting, was the
new queen's companion, and her fortune and prestige as a member of
the Boleyn family seemed secure.

However, as is common knowledge, the queen fell out of favor, was
tried and was executed by beheading. Her brother, Jane's husband,
was executed as well. With no spouse to care for her, and her
mistress disgraced and dead, there seemed little place for Jane in
Henry's court. But over time and with cunning, she found herself
again in a queen's chambers and managed to stay in that enviable
yet dangerous position until she, too, was brought to court,
decades later. Charged with helping yet another queen, Catherine
Howard, commit adultery, Jane was executed right after Catherine.
Henry married once again.

JANE BOLEYN recounts this fascinating life with energy and
imagination. Much of Jane's story is lost, but Fox convincingly
argues that she was a victim of the times and a virtual prisoner of
the vicious world of the English throne. Still, Jane was no
innocent: she deftly navigated the circumscribed world of royalty,
ensuring, until the end, a place of financial and social security
for herself.

Lighter than a textbook but still dense with facts, dates, names
and theories, Fox's book illuminates not only Jane Boleyn's
exciting life as witness to one of the most captivating eras in
western history, but also that era itself. As England struggled to
understand and define its beliefs in the face of a changing
Christendom, and as Henry abandoned tradition to secure an heir for
his throne (and satisfy his libido), Jane was there, never fully in
the spotlight but never far from it either.

Although many gaps in the record are filled by Fox's educated
guesses and the book is occasionally bogged down with repetitions,
JANE BOLEYN is a fascinating debut from a promising history writer
who pays attention to a figure long overdue for such
consideration.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 22, 2011

Jane Boleyn: The True Story of the Infamous Lady Rochford
by Julia Fox

  • Publication Date: December 26, 2007
  • Genres: Biography, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0345485416
  • ISBN-13: 9780345485410