Henry VIII and Family

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Lady Jane Rochford....Looking at all sides of the story....

Lady Jane Rochford

One intriguing figure in Tudor history whom I feel has not had nearly enough research done about her is Lady Jane Rochford (also known as Jane Boleyn). From almost everything I have read about her, you get a picture of an embittered, spiteful woman who hated her husband, or his sister, or both, with such venom that she helped to bring about their demise. She is also infamous for aiding the fifth wife of King Henry VIII in committing adultery by arranging for Catherine Howard and Thomas Culpepper to meet secretly.

But, what if everything is not as it seems? What if the former Lady in Waiting was given a raw deal by historians? This is something I have given quite a bit of thought. It all started when I recently had a conversation about Jane with a friend of mine who is a fellow Tudors fan. She raised some questions that got me thinking, and she also had some very valid points, at least as far as Anne and George Boleyn are concerned. I thought I would share some of these questions and points of interest that came to mind for me.....

I have read that Jane historically had an unhappy marriage and as a result, she hated George vehemently and was quite happy to testify against him.

Okay, ladies and gentleman.... in Tudor times... how many marriages were all that happy? For that matter, how many people at that time period had the luxury to marry for love? Especially in the case of nobility, marriages were almost ALWAYS arranged by the parents or relatives for their child/ward. And, it was almost ALWAYS with the intention of benefiting the families involved. There was not a lot of thought or care given to the two that were to be married. This was just reality.

While it may be perfectly true that Jane's marriage to George was not a happy one, it is not something so out of the ordinary in those days that it could have driven her to want him dead.

Which also leads me to another thought......Let's say that Jane actually DID have a hand in George and Anne's demise..... what GOOD could that actually have done for her?

Once Anne and George were executed, the entire family was in disgrace and lost many titles and lands. Jane, not having an heir from George would not have and did not benefit from any of the remaining luxuries left to the Boleyns or Howards. It is said she wrote many times to Cromwell, trying to redeem her name and be allowed back to court. She also spent a lot of time trying to stabilize her finances. The Boleyns finally gave her a modest pension, but she was always working towards more. So, the question presents itself: Why would she willingly put herself through all of that extra misery, financial distress, and disgrace just for revenge? It's not really even a true sort of revenge, since she indeed suffered from George and Anne's fall.

Julia Fox, an historian who has written about Jane Rochford, gives the sort of perspective I am driving at. She claims that under the pressure and barrage of questioning that must have been fired at her, Jane must have simply buckled and told them whatever they wanted to hear. Cromwell had what he needed by the time he had questioned Jane. I am sure it would have been a most frightening experience, to be taken to the Tower and interrogated in that manner. And, it would not be so far fetched for Cromwell to use intimidation tactics to get the results he wanted. After all, it's perfectly clear that his advancement depended upon getting rid of the Boleyns. Later, when people started to sympathize with Anne and George's plights, Jane emerged as a jealous and spiteful villain.

Being an Anne Boleyn "obsessor," I was not so quick to see some of these possibilities, that Jane was a pawn, her words twisted and used under pressure to rationalize the murder of the Queen and 5 innocent men. But, I have definitely realized that it has a lot of merit. And is a very real possibility.

As for Jane's activities concerning Catherine Howard and Thomas Culpepper..... well.... that could definitely go one way or another.

We all know that Catherine Howard, although very young, was in no way naive when it came to sexual affairs. Could Lady Jane have been the one to instigate the Queen's affair with Henry's servant? Or was she merely doing as commanded by her Mistress?

From all appearances, it looks as though Catherine and Culpepper were only too happy to place full blame on Jane for arranging everything, but she could not have MADE them have sex.... that was completely of their own doing, and obviously not the fault of anyone else. I have this impression from the cirucumstances that the beleaguered Lady in Waiting got caught in the middle of the whole charade and was merely doing as she was instructed at Catherine's behest.

If Jane did in fact suggest Culpepper to Catherine, or "entice" her to begin an affair with him, it is clear to me that it spiraled out of her control as the two lovers seemed to stop caring that what they were engaging in was deadly. Catherine was in love with Culpepper, as the one letter she had written him can testify. That letter is what sealed Catherine's fate.... it was not anything that Jane had done.

So, why does she continue to get the blame?

Why does she continue to be an historical scapegoat?

The only answer I can come up with is that Lady Jane Rochford has not been researched without bias. Usually when a person discovers her, it is because they are researching Anne Boleyn, George Boleyn, etc, and when reading their stories, you only get one version of her. I personally plan to do more research on her, as I think it would be very interesting to see what I could uncover.

****Image of Lady Jane Rochford can be found here:


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  1. Oooo very interesting, I have never thought of lady rochford like this. I have a great interest in the tudor era and am very happy I found your blog!!!

  2. Thank you so much for your comment! I am very glad you enjoyed reading this post. :) I am just starting out, but so far I am having a lot of fun with it! :)

  3. amymiles@optushome.com.auMarch 21, 2011 at 5:30 AM

    I've read Julia Fox's account too and I have to confess I have changed my mind about Jane Rochford. I've always assumed she was jealous and bitter of the relationship that Anne and George shared and her testimony was a result of that jealousy. But I've been thinking lately there might be more to her. We assume that her marriage to George was unhappy but a few historians have said there was no real proof of this. Similarily she and Anne were assumed as enemies but they actually worked togther at one point in I think 1534 or 35 to get rid of a rival from court. I've also wondered whether there was a chance Jane's testimony was dictated by the Duke of Norfolk or even Thomas Boleyn. And the other thought is whether the testimony was given due to the influence of another powerful man such as Cromwell with whom Jane shared at least a religious affinity. Whatever the case it is an interesting topic.

  4. The portrait is actually not Jane Boleyn. It is thought to either be Elizabeth Tudor or Lady Jane Grey. There is also a possibility of it being Amy Robsart, wife of Robert Dudley. http://www.kateemersonhistoricals.com/TudorWomenQ-R.htm

  5. Thank you for the information. I will work on finding an accurate image of Lady Rochford for this post.

  6. Julia Fox's book is fascinating-and I believe she is right! If Jane was that hateful, Anne Boleyn would have dismissed her, just as she did her sister Mary. And the Spanish ambassador, Chapyus, would surely remarked on it, along with suggestions on how to exploit that in favor of Queen Katherine and her daughter Mary. Read Julia Fox's book, you may be surprised.

  7. La mujer de ese retrato es Lady Rochford? Pense que no habia muchos retratos de ella

  8. This is a very interesting view, why wouldn't women be just as ambitious as men in the Tudor court. Who knows she may have wanted favor for herself not thinking she would be arrested and sent to the tower.

  9. I appreciate all the comments on this post. Everyone has had some wonderful insights and things to say about it and I am glad it made everyone think a little deeper on the topic of Lady Jane Rochford. Thank you so much for reading!