4 May 1536 – Jane Boleyn sends a message of comfort to her husband

Posted By on May 4, 2016

Signature of Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford

Signature of Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford

Around 4th May 1536, in his daily report to Thomas Cromwell, Sir William Kingston, Constable of the Tower of London, wrote of Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, sending a message to her husband, George, who was imprisoned in the Tower.

Kingston’s letters to Cromwell were damaged in a fire in 1731 at Ashburnam House, but they are still an excellent primary source. Here is what he said about Jane’s message and George’s reaction (the dots are the illegible parts):

“After your departynge yesterday, Greneway gentelman ysshar cam to me & . . . Mr. Caro and Master Bryan commanded hym in the kyngs name to my [Lord of] Rotchfort from my lady hys wyf, and the message was now more . . . se how he dyd; and also she wold humly sut unto the kyngs hy[nes] . . . for hyr husband; and so he gaf hyr thanks […]”1

So, from this, we know that Sir Nicholas Carew and Sir Francis Bryan had commanded a gentleman usher called Greenway to carry a message from Jane Boleyn to George. The message was to see how he was doing in the Tower and to assure him that Jane would petition the king on his behalf. George sent a message of thanks back to her.

There is no evidence that Jane did petition Henry VIII or Thomas Cromwell, but that’s not to say that she didn’t. Although some historians have said that while she was sending this message to George she was actually busy giving Cromwell information and went on to become “the principal witness in the Crown’s case” against the Boleyns, this just is not backed up by contemporary sources.2 Justice John Spelman, in his report of the case against Anne Boleyn in 1536, named Bridget Wiltshire, Lady Wingfield, as posthumously providing evidence:

“And all the evidence was of bawdery and lechery, so that there was no such whore in the realm. Note that this matter was disclosed by a woman called Lady Wingfeilde, who had been a servant to the said queen and of the same qualities; and suddenly the said Wingfeilde became sick and a short time before her death showed this matter to one of her… [the rest is missing].”3

Lancelot de Carles, secretary to the French ambassador, recorded that it was an argument between Elizabeth Browne, Countess of Worcester, and her brother, Sir Anthony Browne, which brought the Boleyns down. In the argument about her own offence (possible adultery), Elizabeth allegedly defended herself by claiming that that her offence was nothing in comparison to the offences of the Queen, who had allowed members of the court to come into her chamber at all hours. Elizabeth went on to say that if her brother did not believe her, then he could find out more from Mark Smeaton. She then accused George Boleyn of having carnal knowledge of his sister, the Queen.4

John Husee, in his letters to Honor, Lady Lisle, wrote that three women had accused Anne Boleyn of infidelity: “The first accuser, the lady Worcester, and Nan Cobham with one maid mo; but the lady Worcester was the first ground”.5 It is not known who “Nan Cobham”6 was and we, of course, do not know who the “one maid more” was. Eric Ives believed the mystery maid to be Margery Horsman, a member of Anne’s household. In a letter to Sir William Fitzwilliam, treasurer of the household, Sir Edward Baynton, Anne Boleyn’s vice-chamberlain, had written about a problem with the case against Anne Boleyn, i.e. that only one man had confessed to sleeping with the queen, and at the same time mention his friendship with “mastres Margery” who had a “great fryndeship” with the Queen. It sounds like Baynton was trying to get information from Margery.7

Eustace Chapuys, imperial ambassador, makes no mention of Jane being the Crown’s star witness or being the one to provide the Crown with the evidence needed to bring down the Boleyns. It seems strange that Chapuys and Hussey would not have named her if she had, after all, it would have been quite a scandal if a woman had accused her husband of committing incest with the Queen. While Jane appears to have told the Crown of the Queen confiding in her about Henry VIII’s sexual problem, there is no evidence that she said any more than that or that she was a witness at the Boleyns’ trials.

You can read more about Jane Boleyn and the fall of Anne Boleyn in the following articles:

The 4th May 1536 was also the day on which Sir Francis Bryan and William Brereton were arrested – click here to read more.

Notes and Sources

    1. Cavendish, George (1825) The Life of Cardinal Wolsey, Volume 2, Samuel Weller Singer, p.220.
    2. Weir, Alison (2011) The Lady In The Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, Ballantine Books, p. 212.
    3. ed. Baker, J.H. (1977) The Reports of Sir John Spelman, Selden Society, London, p. 70-71.
    4. de Carles, Lancelot, “Poème sur la Mort d’Anne Boleyn”, lines 861-864, in La Grande Bretagne devant L’Opinion Française depuis la Guerre de Cent Ans jusqu’a la Fin du XVI Siècle, George Ascoli, translated by Susan Walters Schmid in “Anne Boleyn, Lancelot de Carle, and the Uses of Documentary evidence”, dissertation, Arizona State University, 2009.
    5. ed. St Clare Byrne, Muriel (1981) The Lisle Letters, Volume 3, The University of Chicago Press, p. 377, letter 703a, John Husee to Lady Lisle, 24 May 1536.
    6. See Anne Boleyn’s Ladies-in-waiting for the various theories regarding Nan Cobham’s identity.
    7. Cavendish, p.226.

25 thoughts on “4 May 1536 – Jane Boleyn sends a message of comfort to her husband”

  1. bruno says:

    Black legend, it seems.
    You will laugh at me, but just few months ago, I knew nothing about her.
    Save what I had been told (in “The Six Wives…” tv serial) .
    Sown as an unattractive and much frustrated woman (playing later dangerous games with her little girl-queen, as if she was unable to get sentimental or sexual relations in her own right) .
    I am now pretty sure it was not the case at all . This common gossip against her person as well as her alleged confessions against her husband were rather meant in order to put the blame on someone else as KH and Cromwell … ?

    1. Boleyn says:

      You aren’t your own there Bruno, I once had the same ideas as you, but over time and through reading more, I’ve come to know a very different Jane to the one that is generally stereotyped.
      I think that she was a very loving person, clearly devoted to George, whether their marriage was happy or not is still debated, but I feel personally that it was one of mutual satisfaction. Jane probably had got the sparkling wit that both Anne and George clearly had, but she was in a way a restful wife for George.
      As for her downfall when Katherine Howard was Queen, I think she was no more guilty in any involvement in the Katherine/Culpepper bit that she was when Anne and George fell.
      She was just a Victim of Henry’s manical schemes, and because of what Jane was supposed to have allegdely said about Anne and George, mud sticks and Jane was drowned in it.
      If Jane was as black as history seems to have painted her, one has to ask why she tackled a woman who caught the eye of Henry during his marriage with Anne? If she didn’t give 2 straws about Anne or George, then why would she jepodise her postition in court by brawling with another court lady?

      1. Boleyn says:

        I meant hadn’t got the sparkling wit of Anne or George..

        1. bruno says:

          Yes Boleyn, I had understood I think.
          And what you say sounds pretty well.
          Jane was a hsitorical nobody – just two ro three things being known about her:
          her lineage – making her a not-so-distant cousin to KH;
          her own marriage to George Boleyn; the circumstances of her being widowed;
          and, finally, the equally very special circumstances of her own execution.
          Only the fact she did not bear any child was another matter of debatting her husband’s tendancies and perversities (as if it was never enough for the three of them).
          Even if she went mad in the end – keeping one’s calm required a hero’s soul – we can guess that someone had an interest in making all evidences about the lady vanish, later.
          I NOW definitely don’t see her as an ill-balanced woman, but as a victim indeed

  2. Globerose says:

    Hi Bruno,
    Eustace Chapuys seems to me to have a lot in common with my Border Collie puppy – totally loyal and ready to round up anything that moves! Is it, is it really possible, that he missed “the scandal of the century”, when his ears and nose were permanently snuffling at the scandal ground? I don’t know. What do you think?

  3. Sonetka says:

    It’s crazy how the long the story persisted — while personally I think Julia Fox’s biography was a bit overextended (having to guess too much about most of Jane’s daily life) she did an incredible service in actually going back to the original sources and discovering how that story got started from the thinnest of speculations and eventually mutated into what it is now. I agree that there is no way Chapuys wouldn’t have mentioned Jane being a witness — it would have been a great scandal in high life, and since he had no problems discovering, and passing on, information about Mary Boleyn’s pregnancy and Jane’s temporary banishment for picking a fight with one of Henry’s favorites, there’s no way this would have escaped his attention.

  4. bruno says:

    I think that you are fully right.
    Adorable puppies, aren’t they ? They are so fond to show off their how loyal and busy at their service indeed .
    So well depicted …
    I tend to think that the gossip was NOT Jane Parker but Chapuys instead …
    It appears that there was, on a historical level, less than nothing against this woman…

  5. Hello all – I just wanted to make a short comment about Chapuys… as I studied and studied the original documentation while writing my two Je Anne Boleyn books, I became less inclined to ever be able to use his accounts as truthful or viable. Gosh – the man knew how to whine! Or whinge – whichever! He just would go on and on, telling Charles whatever he wanted to hear. You could imagine him just kissing up to his boss in the most smarmy way. I fully believe that almost everything he said about Anne were either blatant lies, the result of mean gossip, or so falsely exaggerated that it is unusable. Therefore I would believe nothing he said or implied about Jane. Poor thing – I think she was a follower – never able to assert herself in a way which would make her stand out in such glittering company, and got swept up due to her gullibility.

    1. bruno says:

      Ah Ah! Sandra Vasoli, may I say : very colourful account ?
      It makes sense to me : Eustace Chapuys was certainly much devoted, both to Queen Katherine and to his master Charles V, but well he could very well find times boring when serving at the english court.
      When persons are rather unuseful (I mean, he was a presence for poor Queen Catherine but what good did he bring to her ?) and have to WAIT for sturdy things to mention, they tend to re-establish themselves in their self-esteem (and of course in others’ opinion) by exaggerations as you put it.
      Jane Seymour might have been not THAT PALE (no, in that case, it is an obvious thing that he told the truth) ?
      To be serious, just an assumption but I think that when Anne Boleyn was concerned, he told unreliable things (in other circumstances, he admitted avoiding to get close to her, what did he really know about her, but second-hand tales?), but is rather accurate about other persons – as long as he was given the opportunity of really meeting them .
      Because he was bound to be cautious in his letters to the emperor.
      At the time, given the frailty of the systems of alliances, these ones could change in a quick; it was too risky to say lies when sovereigns would pay visit to each other and check what they had been told by their envoys.
      But he was a real gossip this man (like our french Saint-Simon, sharp-tongued memorialist in his own right).
      Jane (Boleyn)’s gullibility ? How do we know?
      Being Anne’s sister-in-law would prove sufficient a charge to thank Cromwell and the king himself (when she was attached to queen Catherine Howard, in a subordinate position) for having this time kept her head on her shoulders …

  6. Esther Sorkin says:

    Why this distrust of Chapuys? He’s the guy who pointed out such important facts as that she (and four of the men) were convicted without “valid confession or due proof”? It is the completeness of his dispatches that really supports the idea that Anne was absolutely innocent; if his dispatches were not consistently reporting on her, then the absence of any rumors or any evidence that Anne was two-timing Henry could not be taken as evidence that she was innocent. Sorry, but I don’t see how you get it both ways. If you want to believe that Anne was innocent, you need to accept Chapuys as basically accurate.

    1. bruno says:

      Yes you’re right we have to keep being serious about the man.
      But personally I meant nothing else than his sort of day-to-day gossip .
      Yes when Anne’s trial and execution are concerned, Chapuys would not dare assert some loose pieces of tittle-tattle indeed.
      As Claire pointed it out, I think that by then many persons were conscious that Anne was in fact innocent (see Charles V’s sister’s reaction when hearing of the fact, she KNEW that KH had had his wife executed on false grounds)
      He certainly was a dutiful man but I find rather “amusing” – even if not devoid of interest – to find he gave accounts on KH’s wives looks and so on.
      And yes, I was lacking of serious and really find Chapuys’ reports most interesting .

    2. Sonetka says:

      I think Chapuys has gotten a bad rap recently. Yes, he definitely had his point of view and it was not pro-Anne but at the same time, the fact that he wasn’t pretending to impartiality means that the absence of certain things (reports of Anne fooling around, etc) and his comment that the conviction appeared to him to be based on invalid grounds are even more valuable from him than if they came from someone whose opinions weren’t clear, or who was Anne’s partisan. And there is the fact that he wasn’t just writing all this down for fun; he was there to let Charles V know everything that he considered potentially relevant politically. It wasn’t in either Charles’ or Chapuys’ best interest for Chapuys to invent things out of whole cloth or start veering off into fantasy when he wrote his reports.

  7. Globerose says:

    MORNING All…. don’t historians have a tried and trusted way of assessing the truthfulness or otherwise of any source material? Something like … what possible motive would Chapuys have for his comments that Anne was innocent; this woman whom he hated so much and her ideas even more? Wouldn’t a historian believe Chapuys on the basis that it is extremely likely he himself believed it true.
    Has anyone ever thought that he might genuinely believe Anne innocent as charged because he had failed to uncover evidence himself or, even that it might reflect a bit badly on him for being so far out of the loop? Would Charles V like his ambassador to write, “Well, I am clean amazed. I had no idea.”

    1. Claire says:

      I think he genuinely believed that Anne Boleyn and the five men were innocent. He wrote of how they were “condemned upon presumption and certain indications, without valid proof or confession”. He obviously had not seen/heard anything that made him believe the charges and he was someone who was close to the Catholic conservatives who had been plotting with the Seymours.
      He also wrote of how “there are some who murmur at the mode of procedure against her and the others, and people speak variously of the King; and it will not pacify the world when it is known what has passed and is passing between him and Mrs. Jane Semel. Already it sounds ill in the ears of the people, that the King, having received such ignominy, has shown himself more glad than ever since the arrest of the putain; for he has been going about banqueting with ladies, sometimes remaining after midnight, and returning by the river.” Chapuys may not have liked Anne Boleyn, but he obviously felt that her execution had more to do with Henry wanting rid of her so he could marry Jane Seymour, than with justice.

      1. Christine says:

        At her trial the Lord Mayor said of how they could prove nothing against her but that they were determined to get rid of her, and if five innocent men had to be brought down in order to do that, so be it.

        1. Claire says:

          Hi Christine,
          I’ve never read a source with the Lord Mayor of London’s words, where did you see that?

  8. Christine says:

    Hi Claire Norah Lofts quoted it in her biography ‘Anne Boleyn’.

    1. Claire says:

      Ah, ok, Weir quotes it too but doesn’t cite a reference and I’ve just checked Norah Lofts’ book and she doesn’t give a reference. Thanks!

      1. Christine says:

        Your welcome.

  9. Christine says:

    I must stress he didn’t say the bit about five innocent men that was me.

  10. Nita Pitts says:

    I’m also another one who thinks Jane Boleyn was innocent in this case but complicit in the Kathryn Howard case. Even though it was an arranged marriage, at the very least, she owed her husband and his family loyalty and I think she was very loyal. There seems to be no indication that anyone (Anne, George, Thomas, etc.) treated her badly, so as a loyal wife, she would have sent a message to her husband and tried to petition the King herself.
    As far as her involvement in the Kathryn Howard, I think she was complicit (along with someone else in the Boleyn faction but I don’t know who) because they wanted Kathryn pregnant with a healthy baby boy. What better way to ensure a healthy baby than with someone other than Henry and he was so besotted with Kathryn at the time, he probably wouldn’t look too closely at the baby’s features. I think the Boleyn faction could see that Edward was “frail”, probably wouldn’t last long, and that if Kathryn had the “spare” the Seymour faction would be out and Boleyn faction in. And in the process, cuckold Henry (as revenge for George and Anne.) The problem was-Kathryn was stupid and Jane mishandled things as well.

    1. bruno says:

      Yes you are right in pointing her role in the case of Katherine Howard, some years later
      For we can find a letter from Catherine to Culpeper mentioning her and their “rendez-vous” she arranged for their own benefit, without any doubt .
      I guess that her black legend began well before this, though.
      Indeed, she fought for her own rights as soon as being widowed and sort of became reconciled with Cromwell, once Lord Rochford executed.
      Maybe the fact shocked her own relatives (and in-laws)?
      She clearly had no interest in accusing George (whatever her feelings towards him), because his estate was then seized by the Crown.
      But she was granted a place at court as lady-in-waiting of KH’s queens.
      Being immediately near to Jane Seymour doesnt show her as a loyal servant of Howards’ interests.
      That is the reason why I doubt she would indulge herself in hasardous plots (such as those you are thinking out).
      Too dangerous game to cuckold KH (all the more for personal revenges).
      Why did she take such a risk, I don’t know.
      Catherine Howard’s case would show her (not Catherine, too young and naive to be blamed) as stupid .
      Even if no mishandling of her : her name was found in personal missives (it was the very fact that she “helped” both lovers – sexual meaning or not – that lead to her being executed).
      Was young Prince Edward that “publicly” frail ?
      It is a curious thing indeed : legitimate or not, both the known sons of KH died at about the same age (as did his only brother), in their teens.
      Of course, newborns’ expectation of life was short by then, but children would rather die sooner

    2. bruno says:

      Sorry for having used the verb “think out”, which is not correct.
      This plot might have been real; if so, Jane Boleyn was a silly woman indeed

  11. Christine says:

    I think Jane has had an unfair press partly due to the fact she testified against her husband and secondly, writers of historical fiction have chosen to portray her as a kind of shrew who was jealous of Anne and of the closeness she had with her brother, all of that could be pure fantasy, we will never know what these people said behind closed doors and so it’s just speculation, Jane could have been threatened with the dreaded charge of treason and put in the Tower if she didn’t tell Cromwell and or his interrogators what they wanted to know, she alone has been responsible for accusing Anne of having an incestous relationship with her husband but it’s like Mark Smeaton confessing he had slept with her, how do they get these confessions? Torture goes on today and we just don’t know what methods they used to extract these so called confessions, the human body is weak and it’s not cowardly to be afraid of torture, the fact that Jane wrote to her husband whilst he was in the Tower and tried to comfort him speaks volumes about their relationship for if she hated him then she would just leave him to rot, Elizabeth Browne was the one person who mentioned the incest charge so why has Jane been smeared with it for half a century? This lady who was part of Anne’s set does not appear to have liked her very much and quite possibly was jealous of her, Elizabeth wasn’t very moral as her argument with her brother shows so when he accused her of in today’s terms, sleeping around she was annoyed and then to take the heat of her mentioned the Queen, it was only in conversation with her brother yet it was an extremely dangerous thing to say and had dreadful consequences, that gave Cromwell the ammunition he needed yet really it was just womens gossip, it could well have been that Elizabeth had come onto George and had a knock back so she was angry with him, gossip is highly flammable and yet really that’s all it was, yet Henrys chief minister chose to make it into something more and somehow Jane was dragged into it, she managed to rise above the Boleyns fall and was back at court in the service of Anne of Cleve’s and Catherine Howard, yet she made a mistake in getting involved in the scandal surrounding Henrys fifth Queen and I believe it was that which made her appear as this rather unsavoury woman who was responsible for her husbands death and that of his sisters when really she was just a hapless woman not very bright but who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, regarding Catherine Jane was foolish and shouldn’t have encouraged her as she had lived through the saga with Anne Boleyn and therefore knew what the penalty was had she been discovered, when Catherine was found out they both went to the block and Janes reputation has stuck ever since as a woman who was not very moral and who was responsible for bringing down her husband and wife and who incited Henrys fifth Queen to commit treasonable adultery, as with Anne the truth is quite possibly very different.

  12. Banditqueen says:

    Jane Parker Boleyn, Lady Rochford may not have given evidence against her husband, there is no evidence that she did say anything about George Boleyn being in love with the Queen, but she did complain to her sister in law that George did not treat her right as his wife. Anne was not sympathetic and complained about Henry’s ability in bed, something that was read out at her trial. Historians have taken these two tiny pieces of evidence to mean that the marriage of George and Jane Boleyn was so unhappy that when questioned about his relationship and if she knew anything, Jane out of revenge was only too willing to help. There is no evidence that Cromwell or others even questioned Jane, let alone used her evidence to set up George Boleyn and Anne.

    I think it is not inconceivable that Cromwell asked all of Anne’s ladies about her, even asked Jane but there is no evidence as what many said was of no consequence. The ladies mentioned above are the ones that are given as Anne’s accusers and Jane Boleyn is not one of them. There is nothing to show that Jane was called as a witness. Had Jane said something incriminating against George she would have either been called or her statement would be recorded as would her name by the Justice in his reports on the case. Jane Boleyn as far as I am concerned did not give evidence that her husband and Anne were lovers or defame him in any other way. Her own name has been slandered in this case by novelists and authors who love a gossipy story. The information and evidence shows that she was concerned about her husband and did not betray him.

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