Debating the ‘infamous’ Lady Rochford

Originally posted on May 19, 2023.

In the month of May, Jane Boleyn will invariably receive an uptick in debate, discussion, and interest regarding her alleged involvement in the destruction of the Boleyn family. Despite ongoing rehabilitation efforts for Lady Rochford, she remains vindicated as a bitter, consistently covetous schemer who played no small part in the downfall – and death – of history’s most infamous queen.

Jane Boleyn’s life and legacy is seemingly more relevant than ever, with combatants on both sides rushing to defend or demolish her reputation – blackened to that of a ‘wicked wife, accuser of her own husband, even to the seeking of his own blood,’ according to at least one contemporary.

Anne Boleyn’s overthrowing in May of 1536 was swift. Carefully maneuvered by the King’s chief adviser, Thomas Cromwell, who connived to terminate Henry’s second marriage in order to make way for the promotion of a new queen more closely aligned with his own interests, he interrogated all those who could’ve witnessed Anne’s alleged crimes, including her own sister-in-law. Jane’s purportedly incendiary testimony, fueled by her disdain for George and jealousy over his close relationship with Anne, has been widely speculated to have been the impetus behind the Boleyn sibling’s downfall, leading them and four others to the scaffold on charges of adultery, treason and incest.

Anne Boleyn went to the scaffold after less than 5 years as Queen of England

Lady Rochford would face her own execution less than six years later, entangled in an illicit love triangle swirling around Henry VIII, his young bride Katherine Howard, and the dashing courtier Thomas Culpeper – resulting in the death of all three accused. No one, least of all the Boleyn’s detractors, could forget the incriminating testimony Jane had willingly handed over to Cromwell, all those years ago, as she lowered her own head onto the block.

But was this really the case?

Despite how often Jane is blamed for scheming with Cromwell and facilitating her husband and sister-in-law’s deaths, Jane was most likely not present at court in April/May of 1536. Far from living lavishly after their executions, Jane Boleyn lived in exile, impoverished, patiently waiting to be reinstated to the new queen’s household – which she would find very different from the palaces Anne Boleyn, once her confidante and queen, presided over.

The allure of a resentful and cunning manipulator far outweighs that of a devoted, bereaved spouse, so it is the former narrative that remains in near constant circulation in adaptions of Anne Boleyn’s fall from grace.

Jane Boleyn – an innocent victim or wicked wife?

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