9 February 1542 – Lady Rochford is taken to the Tower
Posted By Claire on February 9, 2017
According to chronicler Charles Wriothesley, it was on this day in history, 9th February 1542, that Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, widow of George Boleyn and sister-in-law of the late Queen Anne Boleyn, was taken to the Tower of London:
“This yeare, the 9th of Februarye, a preist, being parson in the Towre of London, hanged himselfe withe one of his garters. And the same night the Lady Rochford was had to the Tower.”
Lady Rochford was to be joined in the Tower the following day by her former mistress, Queen Catherine Howard. She had been accused of helping the queen with her treachery, i.e. helping her to meet her alleged lover, Thomas Culpeper, and the two women had been found guilty of treason by an act of attainder and sentenced to death. Following her arrest, Lady Rochford had been taken ill with “symptoms of madness” and had been cared for at the home of Sir John Russell, Lord Admiral, on the Strand. She was obviously deemed fit enough to travel to the Tower by 9th February.
Notes and Sources
- Wriothesley, Charles (1875 edition) A chronicle of England during the reigns of the Tudors, from A.D. 1485 to 1559, Volume 1, Camden Society, p. 133.
- Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume XVI, 1401.
14 thoughts on “9 February 1542 – Lady Rochford is taken to the Tower”
The fact that a law was passed permitting the “insane”, as they were termed, to be executed, to me speaks volumes about how angry Henry VIII actually was at this time, and how betrayed he felt. He wanted to wreak vengeance on everyone associated with Katherine Howard. Not only was she to be executed, but Jane Rochford was to go the same way, even though she had suffered a mental breakdown. Most of Katherine’s family were imprisoned and they were fortunate to eventually escape with their lives. Francis Dereham was hanged, drawn and quartered for little more than engaging in a sexual relationship with a young girl two years before she went to court.
I find it very moving that Jane’s father, Lord Morley, sought to vindicate his daughter’s memory. This has been argued by Julia Fox and refers to a translation made by Morley, who was very well-educated, in which he contrasted the innocence and vulnerability of a handmaiden executed for her misdeeds with the corrupt and manipulative nature of her mistress, a clear dig at Katherine Howard. Lady Rochford was not a sociopath, nor was she responsible for the executions of her husband and Anne Boleyn, but she does seem to have delighted in intrigue and gossip, and maybe she was guilty of little more than recklessness. It was a sorry end for the dowager viscountess.
I agree with you, and would in fact question the King’s state of mind. He was angry and disappointed and vengeful, but to an extent that went beyond sanity. Many of his decisions during these last few months don’t seem rational. As you say, he is recking vengeance on anyone connected to the Howards. The Leigh family also suffered through their connection to the family. Jane Dowager Vicountess Rochford, Henry knew had become ill and had what we would call a mental breakdown, but he just threw her to the wolves, having her nursed back to health before killing her. Even the Victorians introduced a law to stop ‘insane ‘ people being hung for murder. Henry just wanted revenge. Even if Jane was guilty of misprison of treason, her state of mind should have saved her. You are spot on…there was no way Jane betrayed her husband or acted to bring people down, she seems to have felt some empathy for the young Queen and helped her. On a practical level, if Katherine was determined to see her friend or lover, Jane had a very difficult choice…obey or tell someone and cause Katherine trouble. As an older woman she should have had more common sense, but probably thought that if she chaperoned her mistress, nothing untoward would happen. In any case, this is very vindictive and Catherine’s entire family were arrested, tried and put in the Tower. Norfolk only escaped by denouncing them all and licking the King’s boots. Henry’s anger went beyond sanity. You could say…the guy had lost it. It must have been terrifying for the poor women and for everyone involved. Henry’s vindictive vengeance knew no bounds, that’s how much he felt betrayed. Jane had also been betrayed, for Katherine and Culpeper had diverted all their blame on to her. I too feel that although her actions were foolish, she was in some kind of shock and no longer responsible for her actions. The Tudors recognised insanity…some mercy could have been shown, even if she was confined to a medical facility.
Henrys rage towards Jane could also have been caused by her connection to his second queen, another faithless wife, it’s true he was full of murderous rage, he even at one point called for a sword to ‘ slay her whom he had once loved’, and Jane being guilty of aiding and abetting the queen was not going to get away with it either, Catherine, Jane Derham and Culpeper, her family, her uncle the Duke and her grandmother they had all betrayed their King so it seemed to Henry, he must have felt a complete guillible fool and wanted vengeance, he thought all the court was sniggering at him and so his anger is understandable, he was grief stricken because he had cared so much for Catherine, she was his ‘rose without a thorn,’ his perfect ‘Jewel of womanhood’ then his world comes crashing down and all hell breaks loose, it was said the Tower was so full of the Howard family there was not enough room to accommodate them all, I think this was the turning point in Henrys character, he had been in love and thought he had the perfect wife then he realised she was not the person he believed her to be, from that moment I feel his paranoia grew and never again would he be so soft towards another man or woman, Culpeper had held an exalted postition in his household and he was fond of him, yet his loyalty was misplaced, all these people Henry loved yet they had all deceived him, from that moment on he became ever more suspicious and wary and intolerant and he was determined never to be made a fool of again.
I agree. Henry obviously saw the Howard’s as providing two faithless and sexually deviant Queens. Henry was really wrapped up in Katherine, he thought she was perfect..a jewel of womanhood. He was in deep shock and grief. Yes, I see his anger towards the family in the same light…one Queen who as far as he was concerned plotted against him, may be an accident…but two from the same family…of course they were all involved in a conspiracy. That’s definitely what Henry seems to imply that they knew about her past and put her in a position that he would notice her anyway. He must have thought they were all in on it..whatever it was. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, unless you see it from his point of view..he blamed them for making a fool of him, twice. Henry really lashed out..I think he also completely lost it. No wonder he didn’t want a trial..it was too much.
Also the report says Lady Rochford was nursed back to health within a few weeks, if you have a complete mental breakdown it can take about six months to recover with drugs and therefore I find it hard to believe Jane had this most distressing illness, there were no medicines available for mental illness so unless she was suffering from clinical depression I find the modern diagnosis for mental breakdown hard to believe, unless after a fit of hysteria it was believed she had gone insane, yet both Anne Boleyn and Catherine had been hysterical after their arrest, the latter when she under house arrest and being questioned by Cranmer, and those two ladies were not judged insane merely hysterical with fear, and you do not go from being sane to mental to sane again in a matter of weeks, therefore I find it hard to believe that Jane Rochford had had a breakdown, now I’m no doctor this is an unknown area for me but i had a friend who had a breakdown and both an aunt and they couldn’t function without drugs and although they were allowed to be at home it was a complete nightmare for their families, could Jane have just had a mild form of psychosis (if such a thing exists) possibly knowing what the consequences would be she just went crazy with fear and started throwing things around, screaming her head of etc, which made people believe she was insane, the fact she calmed down well enough for her execution tells me she was possibly very strong minded and was able to function well enough having had a good rest at the Admirals home, she then appears to have resigned herself to her fate and went to her death calmly, two beheadings in the same day and so the little chapel of St. Peter Ad Vincula welcomed two more victims to her doleful breast.
An act allowing the execution of a person with madness/lunacy was given royal assent on 11th February, just two days before Jane’s execution, which to me suggests that she was not well at that time. Although there is no evidence that she displayed any signs of madness at her execution, I think that she must have still been mentally unstable.
…”another faithless wife.”
Anne Boleyn was never unfaithful to Henry. Henry wanted to get rid of her so they made her a “whore” and even accused her of incest with her own brother. It was all lies and everyone knew it.
I have a question more than a comment: Do you think Lady Rochford really was guilty of abetting the “adultry” (whether actual or not) of Katherine Howard, or did she “talk too much” and incriminate herself by mistake?
Renita, it is not in dispute that Jane Rochford abetted Katherine Howard’s meetings. She sought places for the queen to meet with Culpeper in each palace that they visited during the northern progress. Some of Katherine’s ladies even believed that Lady Rochford had instigated the affair. Regarding incriminating herself, Culpeper, Katherine and Jane all blamed each other and refused to accept responsibility. Whether Jane was bullied by the queen or whether she willingly went along with it (and actively encouraged it) is disputed, but as mentioned in the above comment, she was extremely reckless nonetheless.
I’ve never understood why Lady Rochford was so stupid as to facilitate a love affair for the queen. She had seen how brutally Henry had dispatched both her husband and sister-in-law. What did she gain by helping the queen have an illicit love affair, when the consequences were so dangerous?
Renita, remember that in that situation, to even know about the situation and not to tell put Jane in a very dangerous position, never mind whether she was more active in helping Katherine. We’ll never know exactly what happened but it does seem to be a case of all three people putting themselves at great risk for foolish reasons.
Did they not remember what happened just a few years earlier to Queen Anne? Especially Lady Rochefort. Wow, they must have thought that was then and this was now! Not so bright I’d say or really bored with life.
I think Jane must have been really alone and afraid. Yes there is no doubt that she actively sought out places for Katherine to meet her paramour but did she have a choice? It’s not entirely clear if Katherine or Jane instigated the meetings, but Jane could either obey if Katherine demanded or she had the idea. She did indeed like intrigue and nothing gets the juices bubbling like sneaking about in the middle of the night, trying not to get caught. Katherine may have thought she was still back in the Maidens Dorm, but Jane should have known better, much better. She should certainly have warned Katherine of the folly of meeting men at night as Queen, even if no sexual contact took place. However, if Katherine had the idea and could not be dissuaded, could Jane have stopped her or disobeyed her commands? Katherine could be rather insistent and even make threats if she didn’t get her own way, Jane may have felt she had no choice. There was something she could do, report the Queen, but that put her mistress in terrible trouble and danger. Whatever the truth, Jane was committed when the intrigue began, to at least at as chaperone and protect Katherine’s honour. It is very sad that Katherine and Culpeper and the others all betrayed her trust and blamed her entirely. Then the poor lady lost her mind and it is very vindictive that Henry changed the law especially to execute her. Even the Victorians knew you don’t hang someone who was mad or mentally ill. This was not justice, it was revenge.
hello Bandit Queen, I enjoy your well thought comments here. I have been getting more interested in Jane Boleyn lately. The one thing that has always stood out in my mind is why after only a few years since the murder of her husband and sister in law would she allow herself to be put in such a dangerous situation. I am beginning to wonder if she was already losing touch with reality when she began helping Catherine Howard. I realise there is no way of knowing but would love to hear your thoughts on this