Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Review: Jane Boleyn by Julia Fox

As everyone knows, Jane Boleyn, bitterly jealous of her husband George's close relationship with his sister Anne Boleyn, gave evidence that led to the executions of both for adultery. Not satisfied with that, Jane went on to serve Catherine Howard, where for twisted reasons she aided and abetted the queen's adultery with Thomas Culpepper, leading to Catherine's execution and Jane's own as well.

In Jane Boleyn: The True Story of the Infamous Lady Rochford, Julia Fox demolishes this long-accepted story by looking at contemporary sources. She notes that there is no evidence that Jane was on poor terms with her husband or with Anne Boleyn and no reason why she would want to exchange her very comfortable life as George's spouse and the queen's sister-in-law for the precarious existence of a traitor's widow living off a small jointure. When George was in prison, she sent a letter to him through the constable of the Tower promising to attempt to intercede on his behalf, a promise that cheered the imprisoned man. She did not testify at George's trial (no one did), but on pretrial questioning by Cromwell may have told him that Anne had complained of Henry's difficulty in sustaining an erection, a statement that George at trial was requested not to read aloud but did, with disastrous consequences when the statement was twisted to suggest that Henry could not function sexually at all and thus could not have fathered Anne's child.

Fox follows the widowed Jane through her subsequent service to Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves to her service with Catherine Howard. She points out the difficult position Jane faced when asked to assist with Catherine's communications with Culpepper: she could refuse and be sent in disgrace from court, where she had succeeded in making sort of a career for herself and where her life was centered, or she could go to Henry and risk his wrath if she turned out to be wrong about the queen's intentions. Once she realized the full extent of what was happening, it was too late to extricate herself. She chose to keep silent and to continue to obey her queen, a disastrous choice but one for which she accepted the consequences with composure and courage.

In Jane Boleyn, Fox not only reassesses Jane's tarnished reputation and shows us how she became reviled over the centuries, she introduces us to Jane's upbringing and family, including her scholarly father, who had the misfortune to survive Jane and who may have quietly recorded his grief in a translation presented to Henry VIII.

Well researched and full of compassion for its subject, this is a must read for those interested in the Tudors--and even for those who aren't.

11 comments:

Alianore said...

This sounds great. Despite reaching saturation point with the Tudors some time ago, I'd definitely like to read it.

Alison said...

I got this one for my birthday, haven't got to it yet! I think my new book pile is getting dangerously high...

Susan Higginbotham said...

Alianore, it's worth while even if you're at Tudor saturation point! It skims over the very familiar details as far as the wives go and pretty much focuses on what directly concerned Jane.

Alison, I know what you mean. And Happy birthday!

Carla said...

This does sound interesting. But oh dear, whatever are novelists going to do if deprived of Jane as a wicked-witch/insane-lunatic figure?

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I've been intrigued by this book ever since I read about it over at Reading the Past. It's definitely going on my Amazon Wish list.

kmg said...

Susan,
I did not realize you had another book out! I downloaded "The Justicar's Wife and loved it. I enjoy your writing so much and I check your blog fairly often. You got me hooked on that Edward II blog written by the really cool sounding lady Alianore. Back to the book, I am so excited and ordering right away! You have a really entertaining blog and I feel as if I know you. (I do the Historical Novel Society and a couple of newsgroups.) I see your name often. Keep up the good work! By the way, I LOVE your sense of humor! I don't comment much, with all the writers around I am horrified of making some awful spelling blunder or other critical error making me sound ridiculous! But I do love the read all the info!
kathygarrelts@aol.com

Susan Higginbotham said...

Carla, I guess they'll have give up and move to another era!

Elizabeth, thanks for stopping by!

Kathy, thanks so much! (I don't think I've ever heard from anyone before who's read The Justiciar's Wife!) And please do comment if you feel like it--no comment police around here!

Alianore said...

Thank you, Kathy! Glad to hear you're enjoying my blog.

Felicia J. said...

I just picked up "Jane Boleyn" from Barnes & Noble. I read Philippa Gregory's "The Boleyn Inheritance" about a year ago, and her portrayal of Jane is still fresh in my mind.

Just one question. Isn't that "headless woman" on the cover taken from a portrait of Jane Seymour?

Susan Higginbotham said...

Felicia, I don't know. The dust jacket says it's a Hans Holbein but doesn't give the subject's name.

Anonymous said...

I'm from the Shelton family and this view of our history is fascinating!