4 May 1536 – Lady Rochford seeks to comfort her husband – The Fall of Anne Boleyn

On 4th May 1536, on the third day of his imprisonment in the Tower of London, Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, sent her husband, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, a message of comfort.

What do we know about this message and what else happened on this day in 1536?

Find out in this video or by reading the transcript below:

According to Sir William Kingston, Constable of the Tower of London, it was on 4th May 1536, two says after his arrest and imprisonment, that George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, received a message from his wife, Jane. Kingston’s report to Thomas Cromwell is damaged, but I will share with you the bit that we can read:

“After your departing yesterday, Greneway gentleman usher came to me & [blank] Mr. Carew and Master Bryan commanded him in the king’s name to my [Lord of] Rotchfort from my lady his wife, and the message was no more . . . see how he did; and also she would humbly suit unto the king’s highness . . . for her husband; and so he gave her thanks.”

So, Jane was asking after her husband and reassuring him by saying that she would petition the king on his behalf. George responded by sending her this thanks.

There is no surviving evidence that Jane did petition the king, but that’s not to say that she didn’t try. I’m sure her message comforted her husband.

By the way, although some authors would have you believe that while Jane was sending her husband messages of comfort that she was actually playing her part in the Boleyns’ fall by providing evidence against George and Anne, this is simply not backed up by evidence. Jane is not mentioned by any contemporary source as providing evidence to the crown. The only names that come up are the Countess of Worcester, Lady Wingfield and Nan Cobham.

On the same day that George received Jane’s message, two further men became prisoners at the Tower of London: popular courtier and favourite, twenty-five year-old Sir Francis Weston, and William Brereton, another royal favourite and a man who was very powerful in Cheshire and North Wales and who was opposing Thomas Cromwell’s planned administrative reforms there.

You can read more about these men in my article The arrests of Sir Francis Weston and William Brereton.

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5 thoughts on “4 May 1536 – Lady Rochford seeks to comfort her husband – The Fall of Anne Boleyn”
  1. I have often wondered how George Boleyn’s wife Jane Lady Rochford came to be entangled in the web of deceit surrounding the fall of her husband and his sister, Queen Anne Boleyn, of course it is really just fiction maybe based on rumour and writers of historical fiction like to colour up the tragic tale of the Boleyn’s fall from grace, we have the martyred queen her adoring brother, and the vengeful bitter wife, it makes a fine story, but there is no proof that Jane was anything other but a loving and supportive wife to her husband, the message of good cheer she sent him is what any worried and caring wife would send her husband, she declared she would petition the king for him but sadly we have know proof of that, but I believe she did, she must have been so shocked when he was arrested for incest she must have thought it was ridiculous, and such an evil thing to say about her charming talented spouse, she must have also beloved that it was just an evil plot to bring down the queen as there were murmuring at court at the ludicrous charges against Anne, she had her sister in laws confidence and would have known how worried she was that the king did not love her anymore and of his interest in Jane Seymour, now she was accused of incest with her own brother, Jane would not have believed them capable for they may have been extremely close, but were also two normal heterosexual people and also she knew both George and Anne were very religious pious people, the sin of incest went against their deeply held reformist beliefs, I believe the closeness both Anne and George felt for the other is what Cromwell used to twist into the vile sin of incest, Jane’s life had up till then had been good, born the daughter of noble parents and blood kin to the king, she had been wed to George Boleyn one of the rising stars at court, and whose family were quickly gaining influence due to the kings love for his sister, there is no knowledge of any envy or malice towards her sister in law, and Jane was not mentioned amongst the other women in Anne’s household who testified against her, being George’s wife, surely she would have as Claire mentions, Eric Ives believes the third lady may have been Nan Cobham, but none of these wretched women would have wanted to bring distress to their mistress, and Lady Wingfield was a friend of the queens, it is safe to assume they had been interrogated by Cromwell and / or his spies, he did not have to do the dirty work himself, Lady Worcester really was the one who by her foolish chatter to her brother, who was a friend of Cromwells gave Henry’s devious chief minister the means to being the queen and her faction down, no doubt she regretted it all the days of her life, Jane had served Queen Katherine and was a friend of the then Princess Mary, her father Lord Morley also was a supporter of her, and because of these close ties it has often been assumed that Jane did not care for her sister in law, but she was George’s wife and her first duty was to him, they lived comfortably at court and also had several fine residences in the country, there were no children but that cannot be taken as proof of an unhappy marriage, George never derided his wife in public and we have no letters that speak of his animosity towards her, it seems Jane’s reputation as a vengeful envious wife was built on hearsay, and nothing more, and being members of the influential Boleyn family anything amiss would surely have been recorded? When her husband was slain we can easily say her world fell apart, and proof of her devotion is there in the inventory of her goods made when she was in the Tower years later, there were piles of black material, black hats and other sundries, it was noted she wore nothing but black for the rest of her life, and she never married either, which being still young and attractive she must have had the opportunity, we have no descriptions of Jane only that she must have been attractive to have taken part in the chateau vert pageant, along with Mary and Anne Boleyn, as only the most attractive girls were chosen, there is a contemporary sketch said to be of her but it could be of her sister in law also, if it is indeed Jane then she was indeed very pretty, for the sitter has a serene charming oval face, after the death of George being long at court, she was soon back in service to Jane Seymour and then Anna from Cleves, and finally to Catherine Howard, had she not fallen with Catherine she would no doubt have served Henry’s sixth Queen Catherine Parr, but unfortunately for Jane, this time Henry’s fifth queens sad fate was to be inextricably linked with her own.

  2. I wonder why modern historians still accuse Jane of testifying against Anne and George … when Chapuys says that there weren’t any witnesses at all.

  3. I recently read a biography of Jane Boleyn, and it did note that Jane was mentioned in a roundabout way during George’s trial. The lords asked George if he had slandered the king, and then gave him a slip of paper, advising him not to read it aloud. However, he ignored them, and *did* read it out loud. It suggested that George and Jane had discussed the king’s flagging sexual prowess. It seems possible, at least, that Jane and George did discuss the king’s relations with Anne, and that perhaps Jane let that slip when she was questioned. It’s hard to imagine that the lords would make it up out of whole cloth when it cast the king in a negative light. But that, of course, doesn’t mean that Jane was trying to undermine George at all.

  4. Despite the lack of evidence, Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford is still noted as the woman who betrayed her husband, George Boleyn and gave evidence about his incest with the Queen. Yet, Judge Spellman mentioned Lady Elizabeth Browne, Countess of Worcester as the first accuser of Anne Boleyn and doesn’t say anything about her sister in law in his trial reports. Even then her so called evidence has to be taken as gossip because she was under pressure from her brother, Sir Anthony Browne and Thomas Cromwell. She was pregnant and her sharp tongue hit back at accusations of her own infidelity. Nor could her written testimony have been that powerful because she wasn’t called as a witness, as far as we know. There is certainly no record of Jane Boleyn giving such testimony. Many of Anne’s ladies would have been questioned, but they only had tittle tattle to report and innocent observations. According to Chapuys the men were condemned on very little evidence, no witnesses and gossip. Anne’s was most likely the same. George Boleyn had one piece of evidence against him, the piece of paper he was told not to read from. Yet, he did and it went against him. This said that the King could not satisfy a woman in bed. It’s likely that this piece of misinformation was passed in confidence from Anne to Jane who complained that George was always at Council meetings. She felt neglected and wanted her husband home, she probably missed his company or they didn’t have a great marriage. However, we don’t know much about their relationship. Jane supported Princess Mary and was imprisoned for a time because of this. She fell out with George over it, but all couples quarrel and there’s no evidence that they had an unhappy marriage. This is another ridiculous assumption based on the fact that they had no children. I don’t know how that proves anything, I have been happily married for 29 years without children. Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Buckingham hated his wife, Katherine Woodville it has been claimed, yet they had four living children. This is the only basis of claims that Jane gave evidence against her husband about his adultery with his own sister, the Queen.

    There is one really dodgy source in which Jane Boleyn, on the scaffold in 1542,_being executed for helping Kathryn Howard commit adultery, admitted that she had betrayed her husband, George Boleyn, giving false evidence against him, written by George Leto in the seventeenth century. Apart from the late record of this source, it was found to be a fake and invented. Leto has long been discredited so why is he even still an authority? Other than this, we have nothing contemporary to support these accusations against Jane Boleyn. Yet, a great number of authoritative historians have no problem in trotting out that it was she who bore witness against her husband and turned against him. Her reputation has suffered as a result and media and drama show her working with Thomas Cromwell as an ally, reporting gossip and lies to him and acting as his spy. The fact that Lady Rochford later helped Kathryn Howard find places in which to meet Thomas Culpeper, her lover and was beheaded as a result of this, the wording of the Attainder against her that paints her as a Madame almost and portrayals as a nasty gossip in the Other Boleyn Girl, all entrenched her poor reputation in the historical and popular imagination.

    This letter is only one small glimpse into the life of Jane Boleyn and it shows a woman who cared for her husband and was concerned about his health. This isn’t the action of a wife who has turned King’s Evidence. The research and biography by Julia Fox has gone to great lengths to restore her reputation, its such a pity the majority of historians still ignore it. Jane was at least a woman who could be pitied in the Tudors, even if she was mistreated by George. She struggled to obtain her financial rights as a widow and Cromwell had to intervene to help her, she was to suffer unjustly, even though it wasn’t her fault, a point made in the Tudors, when Queen Jane shows compassion to her as she entered her service. Jane did go on to serve Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves and Kathryn Howard, as did many others, this was how these women survived. It was also noted in the inventory taken of her goods before her trial that she owned a lot of black clothing, even more than might be usual for a woman of her status, which may suggest that she mourned her husband all of her life.

    1. Julia Fox’s biography is really very good, it does dispel a lot of the myths surrounding Lady Rochford and her ‘unhappy marriage’, and yes lack of offspring in a marriage certainly does not prove any animosity, lack of love between a couple, Jane could have had miscarriage’s we know nothing about, maybe she had a medical condition that was obviously unknown about at the time, look at the unhappy marriage between the Duke of Norfolk and his wife, they hated each other yet they had two children together lady Mary Howard and Thomas Earl of Surrey the poet, there could have been more who did not survive the trials of childbirth, of course the negating of heirs was important amongst the high born but the Earl of Northumberland Anne’s old love did hate his wife and she him, there is evidence about that as well as the Norfolk’s unhappy marital life, but none about George and Jane’s marriage, there is also as you point out the ridiculous execution speech, another myth, observers at her death spoke only of her calmness and bravery on the scaffold, at his trial where George in what we can only assume was contempt at the sham of the trial, he read out aloud the inflammatory pice of information that was handed to him, there must have been titters in the courtroom, in Wolf Hall it had everyone laughter to the rafters, George said ‘on the words of one woman you have decided to believe the worst of me’, Jane was assumed to have been this woman, at her trial the proof of incest against the queen was it was noted she was alone with her brother a long time, hardly proof of any wrongdoing going on, and that they kissed each other in the French fashion, ‘she procured her own brother to violate her’ the charges read, we can see Anne’s women had been rounded up and harshly interrogated yet all they could have said was Anne kissed her brother on greeting and farewell, I do not believe they French kissed each other, one historian noted they had both lived in France a long time and adopted many French customs, yet French kissing is intimate and I believe they merely pecked each other on each side of the cheek, innocent looks words and gestures were made to look vile and depraved, we can see Cromwell adding bits to the so called evidence with his quill and parchment, at both their trials George was very vocal blasting the ridiculous evidence with his witty clever remarks, it was wagered he would be found innocent so good an account did he make of himself, with Anne she was dignified and silent, only replying no to the ludicrous charges, observers at both their trials could not believe they were anything other than innocent, they both made a sham of the proceedings and at the end, nothing was proven against either any of them.

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