Jane Boleyn – Did she help bring down Anne Boleyn?

Posted By on February 13, 2019

Today is the anniversary of the execution of Jane Boleyn (née Parker), Lady Rochford, on 13th February 1542. She was executed at the Tower of London with her mistress, Catherine Howard, fifth wife of King Henry VIII.

The two women had been found guilty of high treason by an act of attainder, Catherine for her past relationship with Francis Dereham and “her will to return to her old abominable life”, and for ‘confederating’ with Jane to “bring her vicious and abominable purpose to pass with Thos. Culpeper”. They were sentenced to death.

You can find out more about their executions in my “on this day in Tudor history” video for today – see https://youtu.be/4nGL47QKe4k.

Whenever I write about Jane Boleyn’s execution I always get comments about it serving her right because she betrayed her husband, George Boleyn, and her sister-in-law, Queen Anne Boleyn, so I thought I’d do a video on why I believe this to be nothing more than a myth, and a nasty one at that. It’s part of my series on Questions about Anne Boleyn. You can subscribe to the Anne Boleyn Files YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/AnneBoleynFiles.

Here is my video:

Julia Fox wrote a guest article for us on Jane Boleyn a few years ago and you can click here to read it.

9 thoughts on “Jane Boleyn – Did she help bring down Anne Boleyn?”

  1. Christine says:

    I too find it strange that Janes name was not mentioned in the scandalous charges against Anne and her brother George, that’s a very good point as here we have a queen of England, the most notorious queen consort in the world on trial for her life, the charges plotting to kill the King and having carnal relations with five men one her own brother, surely her name would be bandied not only round the English court but that of Europe as well? George himself as Claire says does not mention Jane but merely refers to one woman, and here is the mystery who was she and why has Jane been the woman who has gone down in history as the viper who accused him and the queen of incest? As George himself was to bitterly remark, ‘on the words of one woman you are ready to believe the worst of me’ he was it appears convicted on hearsay and it would not stand up in court today, he does not mention his wife and surely as Claire says he would, I too have Ives wonderful book on Anne and he mentions one of the accusers could have been Margery Horseman, the woman who started it all of of course was Lady Wingfield who was admonished by her brother for straying from the marital field, she then possibly not thinking said worse goes on in the queens apartments, it was highly defamatory and gave Cromwell just what he needed to destroy her and the whole Boleyn faction, whoever did mention that Anne and her brother were involved in incest we will never know but I think it was Cromwell, and yet somehow Jane has had the blame all down the centuries, because she discussed the Kings alleged impotency with him, and yet we have no proof if their marriage was an unhappy one or if George betrayed her with other women or men as Prof. Warnicke suggests, such theories are just that – there is no proof that substantiates it and this is where novelists have had a field day with Jane, she makes a good subject for a story, but why should she want to ruin her husband and the queen, as iv said before she was a member of the Boleyn family and if they fell so did she, why bring ruin on herself? Why risk her position at court also and the disgrace and fall out from such an accusation, she had known her husband for some time she had been at court for many years and theirs was an arranged marriage, it may not have been blissfully happy but they may have been content enough with each other, they both had their duties at court, they were the products of their age they knew noble families were wedded off to each other love did not come into it, they made the best of their lives and George was a favourite of the King, years later as she waited in the Tower an inventory was made of her goods and among these were yards of black material and black gowns, it was obvious that after her husband’s death she had taken to wearing widows weeds a lot, in fact she probably never wore anything else, another sign of devotion to her husband, her reputation has taken another beating because of her collusion with the young Queen Catherine Howard, in her escapades with the Kings young groom of the stool, Thomas Culpeper, thus Jane has been painted as a sneaky jealous wife without moral’s or scruples, she helped the queen deceive her husband what sort of woman would do that? The answer is she probably felt she had no choice, we will never know but Jane had been at court a long time and had witnessed the way the king treated his wives and old favourites who no longer pleased him, it is highly likely she was happy about arranging the secret meetings for the queen for she knew it was very very dangerous, Jane had lived quite a turbulent life and her mental breakdown I think was due to the sheer worry of the deception, Catherine herself had suffered from hysterics, these two women I feel deserved some compassion even though Catherine had betrayed the King, her protests that she and Culpeper had not slept together was no defence, as the very meetings with just themselves and at night looked sinister, Jane really could argue that she was merely acting on the queens orders yet it was the King who was the master in his kingdom not the queen, and her first duty should have been to him, thus she was guilty of withholding information, which meant she was guilty of misprision of treason, Henrys fury meant that Jane should die and it sounds almost comical in a kind of dreadful way, that he had a bill passed to enable him to execute the insane, just so he could execute Jane, he had her sent to the home of the Admiral and his wife to be looked after and nursed back to health, one wonders at the idea of a person being cared for just so they were well enough to die! Jane survived the downfall of her husband’s family and she had served three more queens after Anne Boleyns death, but her involvement in Henrys fifth queens activities cost her her life, she has had a bad press over the years and I believe it’s time she was vindicated.

  2. Jean North says:

    I found your article very interesting. You obviously are lucky to be able to gain access to papers etc that we can’t. On your evidence I would say Jane seems to be innocent of condemning George and Anne, and was lucky to have come through those times. I don’t feel she would have sent to enquire after George if she had been instrumental in their downfalls. I would love to believe the myth that she “confessed a part in their downfall” because it would make a better “story”. Lady Worcester never gets blamed in any documentaries or films. She’s buried fairly near to where I live. She was accused by her brother of “loose behaviour” and she retorted ” not as bad as the Queen” or words to that affect. Her brother Anthony Brown then repeated this to Cromwell after making enquiries. It’s sad because Anne was a good friend to Lady Worcester and had enquired after her health(she was pregnant) when she was in the Tower, she must have been devastated that her friend had testified against her.
    I have loved the Tudor era from an early age, I’m now 66. I’ve read many books, both factual and fictious on the era, and have been lucky to visit some of the places associated with Anne Boleyn, Never, Blickling, Hampton Court, the tower to name a few. I enjoy your articles.

  3. Esther says:

    There was a reference to “one maid more” … I recall reading somehwere that the word “maid” was not used to refer to married women. Does anyone know if this is true or not? Also, George’s reference to “just one woman” — if the woman was Jane, I would think George would have been able to attack her credibility (for example, he might point out that he had the legal right and the G-d given duty to “discipline” or “correct” Jane — and argue that her resenting this would give her a motive to lie)

  4. Banditqueen says:

    First of all I find it disgusting that people who don’t understand the actual meaning of Karma use this to claim that Jane deserved to die because she had anything to do with the downfall of Anne and George Boleyn. There is no evidence to support that Jane had anything to do with the arrest of her husband, but even if she had have done, no she didn’t deserve to die for so called Karma.

    I know several Buddhist people who would be horrified at such an idea as Karma has nothing to do with this life in any event, so these people who trot this rubbish out need to go and read what Karma actually means. Misuse of this very holy idea is actually very insulting to them and it’s obviously people who are very ignorant who come out with this nonsense. The same people have said on social media that Anne deserved her fate as well, which is insulting and nonsense. These ladies didn’t deserve to die in this horrible way and no it wasn’t pay back for anything and I am sorry but this sort of talk makes me mad.

    Jane Boleyn is a scapegoat for the novels and films because she is known to help Kathryn Howard to meet her alleged lover. George Boleyn wasn’t committing incest with his sister, Queen Anne and there is no evidence Jane said anything to lead to his arrest. Jane and George may not have been blessed with children but that doesn’t mean they had an unhappy marriage. Jane only complained that he spent too much time away from her on the King’s business at Court. That sounds more like a woman who says she is missing her husband or needs his help with his business at home, not an abused wife who would be glad he was away, surely? Jane did support Princess Mary rather than anyone else but they don’t appear to have had a breach because of this. She also supported her husband after his arrest and hoped to plead for him.

    As in other articles and the video, Jane isn’t mentioned in reports on the trial as accusing George of adultery with the Queen. Elizabeth Browne accused Anne via gossip to cover up her own adultery. That was during an argument with her brother. That is gossip, not evidence, but was twisted to be evidence. Anne confided to her sister by law that Henry may have had problems in bed, which was used at the trial of George Boleyn, which again is embarrassing but gossip. Cromwell had to make a case were there wasn’t one and he used every bit of nonsense he could find. There was nothing, as far as we know, from Jane which he used at the trial. She is a scapegoat. She has been unfairly blamed.

    We cannot be certain why an experienced lady, who had served four previous Queens helped Kathryn Howard in such a reckless way. We don’t know whose idea it was, but certainly having helped them once she was bound to help them again or report them. Once she knew that Kathryn was being foolish she had to either obey her as Queen or report her to the King. That was a difficult dilemma as it implicated herself in treason. Kathryn could be manipulative and may well have used tears or threats, we don’t know. But Jane helped her, she was confided in by Kathryn and in fact, she was the only one that she trusted and had attend on her. I suspect Jane had sympathy for the young woman and felt her loneliness. Having taken on this trust and acted as her chaperone, she continued to do so and was drawn more and more in. Yes, it was very foolish but there was no real evidence that Kathryn and Culpeper committed adultery, although they both admitted that they intended to do so. The couple both blamed Jane and she blamed them and it was a complete mess. However, Jane had a breakdown and should not have been executed. Parliament was forced to pass a law allowing insane people in a treason trial to be executed. Both women were beheaded on this day 1541. They were found guilty and condemned by an Act of Parliament. They didn’t have a trial.

    I don’t believe Jane Boleyn said anything about betraying her husband at her execution or that Kathryn wanted to die the wife of Culpeper as the eye witness reports contradicted this. The two women died with dignity.

    RIP Jane Boleyn and Kathryn Howard. Amen.

  5. Christine says:

    Ah I got confused, there your right it was Elizabeth Browne not Lady Wingfield who made that unwise remark about the queen, why she has escaped vitriol where poor Jane has not alludes me, yes she was annoyed because her brother berated her, so she thought she would remark on the queen and her other ladies morals, stupid silly woman!

    1. Banditqueen says:

      And the brother of course was a buddy chum from the old days of the King, the son of another buddy chum of the King and in with another buddy chum of the King, Charles Brandon, through a former marriage. Anthony Browne went straight off to both Cromwell and the King. Silly woman is right, but I don’t believe she intended it as a slur on the Queen or for anything to be used and she was probably horrified about what happened to the Queen. Her brother accused her of having a child by someone other than her husband, yes, her words were stupid, but she wasn’t to blame for Anne’s downfall.

      So why isn’t she treated by prosperity the same way as Jane Boleyn? I can’t answer that for I have a theory. She isn’t as well known as the Boleyn family. She wasn’t married to George Boleyn, the brother of the Queen and her co accused. His wife makes a more direct target, whereas a much lesser known Countess is not a no one suspect in the eyes of novelists and history. Any one of Anne’s ladies could have been named, made to give details of who came to her rooms and her behaviour, but one careless outburst by Elizabeth Browne and the vultures land and move in. Elizabeth is named in an obscure source and Jane was known as George Boleyn’s wife, his childless wife. It was assumed that their marriage was unhappy and he had a reputation to boot, whether deserved or not, genuine or not, so it was easy to malign her. Elizabeth Browne is a name on a page, a gossip, maybe she has a bit of a reputation as a wife, but she is not the shadow of a well known member of the notorious Boleyn family. Jane’s very connection to George is what makes her an easy target and of course she was involved in scandal and treason herself. A fake speech from the scaffold is attributed to her by Georgio Leto who wrote over one hundred years later. In it, according to Claire’s video from yesterday, on the Tudor Society and YouTube On This Day sites, she is meant to have said that she was being punished as she was guilty of lying about her husband and the Queen, Anne Boleyn. This was a fake speech and we have eye witness testimony to contradict it. The antiquarian above was renowned for making sources up. Unfortunately, this is the stuff that the movie makers love and probably one of the things behind Jane’s suffering reputation. No such public confession is attributed to the Countess of Worcester. Unfortunately, it was reported to the authorities by her brother and she was named as the first accuser of the Queen. We don’t know what she was asked. We don’t know what if anything she told the authorities, but I am guessing anything she said was twisted and she was bullied.

      On a note of interest, Professor George Bernard believes that the testimony of the Countess of Worcester was absolutely key to providing evidence of the guilt of Anne Boleyn. The main evidence comes from a poem which in my book makes it suspicious, although she is named in the report of Justice Spelman. Professor Bernard of course is the one historian who believes Anne was unfaithful with Mark Smeaton and Henry Norris, but ironically not her brother. He also credits EB with being in a position to know what she was talking about as she had a prominent position in Queen Anne’s Bed Chamber. It still raises questions on the issue of how she knew and what she said but we don’t know if she actually said anything. It also doesn’t answer who brought these men to the Queen and stood as chaperone. Anne would have needed help to commit adultery. Unlike with Kathryn Howard, nobody else was arrested as a collaborator in her alleged crimes and unlike Jane Boleyn, nobody brought gentlemen to her in the middle of the night. But hey, the Professor has his book, so Anne was guilty of some of the crimes she was accused of and E B was her first accuser. He was the only one to believe this but it has also filtered into ficton, but with Jane Lady Rochford as the notorious accuser. Remember her name was also maligned as “that brewd” in the Bill of Attainder. Her later trial and execution with the equally notorious Kathryn Howard which has contributed to her name being blackened by history, drama, fictional depiction, memory and popular imagination or social media.

      1. Banditqueen says:

        I forgot, Lady Wingfield was used indirectly, although she died in 1534. She was said to have confided something about Anne in a dying declaration, which we don’t have any more which implicated the Queen in something. It was meant to have been used as evidence but we don’t really know anything more. She had borrowed money from the Queen but her letters to her show affection so I really don’t see this as a reason to turn against her mistress and friend. Henry wanted his wife out of the way, Cromwell was told to make it happen, so it’s not beyond the realms of possibility he could have manufactured evidence, especially if his case was far from watertight. Of course this sort of evidence would not be used today as it’s hearsay, unless it was proved to be particularly valuable and from a dying eye witness.

      2. Christine says:

        It is a good theory because yes Elizabeth was not very well known to historians, she and her family appear vague minor figures at court, she is just recorded as being one of the queens women and yet she was the one who and yes I do agree, unwittingly set the cat among the pigeons, Jane was a member of the prominent Boleyns, sister in law to the queen so her name carries more weight, I believe it was Lady Worcester George was speaking of at his trial, yet I cannot believe she accused him of invest, her words were twisted by Cromwell and his men, the police do it today, they get you in a room and will relentlessly badger you over and over, till they get what they want, in the end some people have even confessed to something they have not done, just to end the torment, poor Lady Worcester must have been terrified, Cromwell’s henchmen must have been ruthless and we can well imagine what forms their interrogation took.

  6. Michael Wright says:

    Thank you for disentangling this mess. Though I knew Jane’s scaffold confession was false I had no idea it was fabricated by one guy. It really says a lot about our species that we grab on to the most salacious thing and repeat it over the centuries. Lady Rochford was a good person. She deserves better than this.

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