Born: ABT 1510, Blickling, Norfolk, England
Died: 13 Feb 1541/2, Tower Green
Buried: St. Peter ad Vincula, Tower of London
Father: Henry PARKER (1º B. Morley)
Mother: Alice St. JOHN (B. Morley)
Marrried: George BOLEYN (2° V. Rochford) 1526
Jane Parker was the daughter of Henry Parker, 8th baron Morley, by Alice, eldest dau. of Sir John St. John of Bletsoe, Beds. She was born in Norfolk, England around the year 1505 and her family was wealthy, well-connected, politically active and respected members of the English upper-classes. Her father was an intellectual, with a great interest in culture and education. She was sent to Court in her early teens, certainly before her fifteenth birthday, where she joined the household of the King Henry VIII's wife, Catalina of Aragon. She is recorded as having accompanied the royal party to France in 1520, at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. She was probably considered attractive in her day, given that she was chosen to appear as one of the lead dancers in the prestigious "Château Vert" masquerade at Court in 1522. The seven performers were selected from the ladies of court in large part for their attractiveness. Two of the other performers included Jane's future sisters-in-law, Anne and Mary Boleyn.
Her sister Margaret married Sir John Shelton, related to the Boleyn family, and her brother Henry was a courtier. In late 1524 or early 1525, she was married to George Boleyn, brother of Anne Boleyn, later the second queen of Henry VIII. As a wedding present, the King gave Jane and George Grimston Manor in Norfolk. As the Boleyn family's wealth and influence increased, the couple were given Beaulieu Palace as their chief residence, which George and Jane decorated with a lavish chapel, a tennis court, a bathroom with hot-and-cold running water, imported carpets, mahogany furniture and their own large collection of silverware. Their marital bed was draped in cloth of gold with a white satin canopy, linen quilts and a yellow counterpane.
British historian Alison Weir concludes that the marriage was unhappy, principally because of George, although she concludes that the exact nature of his sexuality is difficult to ascertain: '...[A] talented young man ... He was very good-looking and very promiscuous. In fact, according to George Cavendish, he lived in 'bestial' fashion, forcing widows, deflowering virgins... [and] it has been suggested he indulged in homosexuality activity too, but there is no evidence for this, although he may well have committed buggery with female partners...' However, Julia Fox, Jane's most recent biographer disagrees with both arguments and concludes that the exact nature of the marriage is unclear, but suggests that it was by no means unhappy.
There is absolutely no evidence on what she thought of her older sister-in-law, Mary Boleyn, who had been at Court with Jane since they were both teenagers. It is generally assumed that Jane was not overly fond of Anne, allegedly because of Jane's jealousy of her. Regardless, Jane plotted with Anne to banish one of the King's young unnamed mistresses from Court in 1534. When the King discovered her involvement, Lady Rochford was herself exiled for a few months. Since she gained the courtesy title of Viscountess Rochford by marriage, she was usually known at Court (and by subsequent historians) as "Lady Rochford".
After eleven years of marriage, George Boleyn was arrested in May 1536 and imprisoned in the Tower of London, accused of having had sexual intercourse with his sister, the Queen. It was Jane's supposed testimony which helped convict him of incest and treason, stating that she believed that he and his sister Anne had been involved in a sexual relationship since the winter of 1535, thus strongly implying that George had been the biological father of a foetus Anne had miscarried early in 1536. There was no truth in these rumours, according to the vast majority of contemporary witnesses, but they provided the legal pretext which the Boleyns' enemies needed to send Lord Rochford to the block.
Generations of historians believed that Jane's testimony against her husband and sister-in-law in 1536 was motivated by spite rather than any actual belief in their guilt, hence her generally unfavourable historical reputation. Perhaps may have been because her father, Lord Morley, had been a devoted supporter of Catalina de Aragon, or an attempt to remain on the winning side. Within a generation, George Wyatt, whose father Thomas Wyatt the Younger had known the Boleyns personally, described Jane as a '... wicked wife, accuser of her own husband, even to the seeking of his own blood...'. This negative view of Jane has been rejected by her biographer, Julia Fox, who believes that Jane actually enjoyed a warm and supportive relationship with Queen Anne and that it was the terror of the palace coup against the Boleyns in 1536 that provoked Jane's testimony. Accordind to Fox, when Cromwell sent for Jane, he already had much of what he needed, not only to bring down Anne and her circle, but to make possible the King's marriage to Jane Seymour. Faced with such relentless, incessant questions, which she had no choice but to answer, Jane would have searched her memory for every tiny incident that occurred to her.
It is not known whether Jane witnessed the execution of either her husband or her sister-in-law. But the immediate aftermath was very hard for her, both socially and financially. The lands which the Boleyns had built up during Anne Boleyn's reign and over the last four generations, including the titles Earl of Wiltshire and Earl of Ormond (Ireland) were to pass through the male line only, and thus were lost to the family with George's death. Jane continued to use the courtesy title of Viscountess Rochford but without a son she could not really benefit from what remained of the Boleyn family fortune.
Following her husband's execution, Lady Rochford was absent from court for a time, during which she spent much of her time attempting to stabilise her financial position, which she did through negotiations with her father-in-law, Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire; her father, Henry Parker, Lord Morley; but mainly with Thomas Cromwell, the King's chief minister. The Boleyns eventually allocated her the sizable annual pension of £100, precisely what they had given their eldest daughter Mary, when she had been widowed eight years earlier. It was nowhere near the amount she had commanded when she had been sister-in-law to the queen-consort, but it was enough to finance a moderate upper-class lifestyle, essential for her return to life at Court, which was something Jane worked doggedly for throughout 1536 and 1537. It is unknown when she returned to court, but she was a lady-in-waiting to Queen Jane Seymour, which means she probably returned within a year of her husband's death. As a viscountess, she was allowed to bring a number of her own servants with her, lodge in the palace, and be addressed as "Lady Rochford". Fine meals were provided for her every day from the budget of the Queen's household.
Following Jane Seymour's death, the King married Anne of Cleves, recommended by Thomas Cromwell. At the household of Anne of Cleves, three surviving ladies from Cleves were naturally closest to the Queen, but three Englishwomen, despite linguistic difficulties, became very much part of her domestic circle — Lady Rutland, wife of her Chamberlain, and two widows, Lady Rochford and Lady Edgecombe. The Queen's forthright English ladies-in-waiting became impatient at the delay in her conceiving. Jane, Lady Rochford, believed that directness was the only remedy and one day told her: 'I think your grace is still a maid'. After an embarrassed silence, Anne replied, naively: 'How can I be a maid... and sleep every night with the king?' and described her innocent bedtime ritual: 'When he comes to bed, he kisses me and takes me by the hand and bids me, "Goodnight sweetheart," and in the morning, kisses me and bids me, "Farewell darling." Is this not enough?'. Lady Rochford would later testify in Jul 1540 to aid the King's divorce from her, stating that this Queen had confided in her that their marriage had never been consummated. This allowed the king to annul the marriage with Anne of Cleves and marry his teenage mistress, Catherine Howard.
Lady Rochford kept her post as lady-in-waiting to the new Queen Catherine and exerted considerable influence over her, eventually becoming one of her favourites. When the Queen grew bored with her aged husband, it was Jane who helped organise secret meetings between Catherine and the handsome courtier Thomas Culpepper. The Queen wrote to Thomas Culpepper to '... come when my Lady Rochford is here, for then I shall be at leisure to be your commandment...'. The affair progressed with Lady Rochford's help throughout the royal tour of the North in 1541, but Queen Catherine's past was uncovered in the autumn and an investigation was launched into her private life.
At first, the Queen was detained in her apartments and then eventually placed under house arrest at Syon Abbey, a disused convent far from Court. Her confidantes and favourites were questioned and their rooms searched; many of the servants and ladies-in-waiting recalled Lady Rochford's suspicious behaviour with Catherine and Culpepper, with the result that Jane was herself detained for questioning. Subsequently, the letter from Catherine to Culpepper was discovered and it explicitly mentioned Jane's role in arranging their meetings. Jane was taken to the Tower of London and imprisoned there for several months, whilst the government decided how and when to proceed against the accused.
During her imprisonment she was interrogated for many months, but as she was an aristocrat she was not tortured. Under psychological pressure, however, she seems to have suffered a full nervous breakdown and by the beginning of 1542 was pronounced insane. Her 'fits of frenzy' meant that legally she could not stand trial for her role in facilitating the Queen's adultery, but since he was determined to have her punished, the King implemented a law which allowed the execution of the insane. Jane was thus condemned to death by an Act of Attainder (that is, without trial) and the execution date was set for 13 Feb 1542, the same day as Catherine Howard's.
The Queen died first, apparently in a weak physical state, although she was not hysterical. Jane, who had been on the scaffold to watch the girl's death, then spoke before kneeling on the just-used scaffold. Despite her nervous collapse over the last five months, she was calm and dignified and both women won mild posthumous approval for their behaviour. One eyewitness, a merchant named Ottwell Johnson wrote that their 'souls [must] be with God, for they made the most godly and Christian end'. The French Ambassador Marillac merely stated that Jane gave a 'long discourse'; Johnson says that she apologised for her 'many sins', but neither man's accounts supports the later legend that she spoke at length about her late husband or sister-in-law.
The execution was carried out with a single blow of the axe and she was buried in the Tower of London alongside Catherine Howard, and very close to the bodies of Anne and George Boleyn.
Julia Fox, Jane Boleyn: The Infamous Lady Rochford (2007)
R. M. Warnicke, The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn: Family politics at the court of Henry VIII, (1989)
Alison Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII,
Alison Weir, Henry VIII: King and Court, (2002)
The Papers of George Wyatt,' ed. D.M. Loades
P. Heylin, Affairs of Church and State in England during the Life and Reign of Queen Mary, pp. 91-3 (1660)
C. Coote, The History of England, from the Earliest Dawn of Record to the Peace of MDCCLXXXIII, 9 vols., (1791-8)
David Starkey, Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII, p. 569 (2004)
Carolly Erickson, Mistress Anne, p. 259 (1984)
Calendar of State Papers: Spanish
Original Letters, ed. Ellis, 1st series II, pp. 128-9 (LP XVII, 106.)
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