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Jane Boleyn, Viscountess Rochford: So Sweet A Maiden?

May 3, 2018

I wrote my first post on Jane Boleyn’s afterlife in fiction five years ago — a blink of an eye, really, when you consider that she had spent multiple centuries being pilloried both in fictional and non-fictional works. At that point, Julia Fox’s biography Jane Boleyn: The True Story Of The Infamous Lady Rochford, which revealed the series of small mistakes and scholarly errors which had confounded Jane’s biography for so long, had already been in print for five years, but had had little apparent effect on novelists. At the time, I wrote that “with the newly-uncovered blanks in her life, you would think that novelists would leap at the chance to remake her in a way — not heroic, as nothing of what survives of her suggests heroism, but at least not overtly treacherous — that could make the Boleyn story quite different, but so far most of them have managed to restrain themselves.”

That the book had no obvious immediate effect on novels isn’t surprising — after all, it takes time to plan and write one, and furthermore, this one book, however conscientiously researched, was up against hundreds asserting the exact opposite of what it said; even the most dedicated writer isn’t going to be able to read literally everything, and a writer who is centering her story around Anne Boleyn will naturally reach for the excellent work of Eric Ives and his many predecessors. Also, as has been apparent with many other books which upended, or attempted to upend, received wisdom about Anne Boleyn’s story, it takes time both for new messages to seep in and old ones to fade away. People read older books, and the newer books which repeat what the older ones said — this is why characters like Anne’s stepmother, who was mistakenly invented by Agnes Strickland in the mid-nineteenth century and whose existence was conclusively disproven by Philip Sergeant in 1923, continued to appear both in nonfiction biographies and novels throughout the remainder of the twentieth century and even into the twenty-first (I’ve seen her appear as late as 2008, in Luther’s Ambassadors). Retha Warnicke’s hypotheses about Anne’s fellow victims being secretly homosexual/bisexual and her last baby being deformed took a good ten or fifteen years to find their way into her fictional existence, but they got there. Eric Ives’ hypothesis about Cromwell engineering Anne’s fall to prevent her thwarting him in his plans for monastic funds, while it didn’t make much of a ripple when the book was first printed in 1986, has been appearing steadily since the book’s revision and reissue in 2004. I’m pleased to see that Fox’s book finally appears to be making an impression.

However, this doesn’t mean that new books in which Jane figures prominently are all trending in one direction, because unlike Warnicke and Ives, Fox’s book did not so much aim to offer new facts, as to remove old ones. She has only the most tentative hypotheses to offer about Jane’s character, habits, and how she was remembered after her death. This isn’t her fault, the information simply isn’t there, but it does result in passages like this:

Like so many other families in Henry’s England, the Morleys had no choice but to accept their loss. With his daughter’s mangled body putrefying in its makeshift grave, Lord Morley settled down to what he did best: he shut himself away in his library and wrote. The result was a translation of Boccaccio’s De Claris Mulieribus. …. Morley worked hard in the months following Jane’s death and presented his completed and exquisitely decorated manuscript as his New Year’s gift to Henry in 1543. Ostensibly it was his way of distancing himself from his daughter’s crimes …. [but] Morley inserts a phrase of his own when describing Polyxena’s death: “O, that it was against all good order …. that so sweet a maiden should be devoured by the hands of Pyrrhus for to satisfy for another woman’s offence. (299-300)

Fox goes on to say that the insertion is clearly a reference to Jane. At this stage, I don’t believe it’s possible for anyone to declare it to be clearly a reference to anything, but it’s an intriguing piece of trivia which also demonstrates just how barren this particular field of inquiry is. Now that it has become clear that Jane is much less likely to have been, in Antonia Fraser’s phrase, “a bird of ill omen”, trying to explain the behavior which led to her death has become even more of an exercise in trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle which is missing three-quarters of its pieces.

I think the most plausible explanation for Jane’s foolish behavior is simply that she became involved because Catherine gave her a direct order. She was the queen’s pawn, rather than the other way around. Then, once embroiled, and with no male protector in whom she could confide and on whom she could rely, her dangerous situation spiraled out of control.” Add to this the fact that Jane may have felt that she had a relatively short window in which to commit herself to a course of action (if she had come forward after a few weeks or a month, would it have been treated as a revelation or as a confession of complicity?) and it’s a plausible enough explanation for why, rather than taking her story to others, she waited for the time when it would come to her. (345)

Hilary Mantel’s review of the book is fair, thoughtful and excellently written — and she also sees its central weakness, which is that while it convincingly strips away the old image of Jane, it can offer no new one to replace her — which may be why Mantel decided to stick to the traditionally malicious interpretation in her novel; since the character, while not soundly sourced in history, is certainly an arresting one when skilfully written. Mantel does note in the afterword to Bring Up The Bodies (2012) that we “tend to read Lady Rochford backwards” due to her eventual execution for complicity in Katherine Howard’s affair, and that there’s every chance she may not actually have been the “one woman” who made the accusation of incest.

Alison Weir, characteristically, has no such insight. Her take on the book, which appears in her own The Lady In The Tower, shows no evidence of her having read much more than halfway through it:

Julia Fox, Jane Parker’s recent apologist, is almost certainly overstating her case when she claims that the Rochfords’ marriage was successful and there is no reason to suppose it anything but happy … The traditional — and sounder — view is that the marriage was an unhappy one; it may be significant that it produced no children — George Boleyn, Dean of Lichfield in Elizabeth I’s reign, is more likely to have been Rochford’s bastard than his son by Jane. But, sadly for romantics, the surviving evidence convincingly shows that Jane did testify to her husband having committed incest with his sister, and that she also confided to her interrogators some highly sensitive — and probably false — information. (117)

Leaving aside the question of just how voluntarily anyone can “confide” in people described as “interrogators”, Weir’s very sketchily cited sources dramatically fail to support her claim, when one can track them down (Claire Ridgway has a good overview in this post — she also shows how none of Weir’s cited contemporary sources actually give the accuser a name).

This means that any novelist who’s well up on more recent Tudor nonfiction has numerous options open to her; she can decide that she prefers the traditional interpretation, either because she’s not convinced that there’s smoke without fire or because she simply likes the drama it produces. She can modify the traditional interpretation so that Jane is guilty of some but not all of what she’s been accused of, often due to abuse or fear (alternatively, she can punch things up so that Jane is even worse than Bishop Burnet painted her). Or, she can throw tradition to the winds and interpret Jane as a completely different sort of character than she’s been shown as before. What I find especially intriguing is that in the twenty or so most recent books which I’ve acquired, they break just about evenly into one of those three groups. The only completely consistent trend I can see in them is that they all insist on Jane’s relative religious and political conservatism — when her beliefs are mentioned at all, she is always made to be sympathetic to the old religion and Princess Mary’s cause, and unwilling to let either of them go. Considering the (possible) demonstration in Mary’s favor, and more significantly, her own family’s strong aversion to the reformist movement, this is understandable — especially when you consider what a useful source of conflict and debate it creates for scenes which center on Jane and her husband. But as to her fundamental character and personality, it may be that Jane is becoming a relative rarity in Tudor fiction — a true wild card, a major character who can just as easily be portrayed as Anne’s best friend or worst enemy.

First let’s take a look at how the traditional “wicked wife” Jane has been doing. She gets only a very brief mention in both A Light In The Labyrinth (2014) and The Queen’s Promise (2013) but it’s clear in both instances that Jane is the standard-issue treacherous betrayer of George — however, we never see her in person so she’s never fleshed out much beyond that. The Boleyn King (2013) is an alternative history in which both Jane and Anne herself survive into their fifties, but even the Jane whose husband wasn’t executed and who continues to hold a place of honor at court is described as having “the eyes and tongue of a snake”, is preternaturally unpleasant, and clearly would have been happy to put the knife in Anne’s back had the opportunity arisen. And there have even been a few new versions of the sort of Jane who used to turn up in books like The Uncommon Marriage (1960) — not just evil but floridly, hilariously evil.

Exhibit A here is In Bed With Anne Boleyn (2014), in which Jane uses ancient Egyptian rituals to curse her enemies — and, in what I believe is a first, is described as someone who would be “more at home on the Greek island of Lesbos.” (There have been quite a few gay George Boleyns but in this genre, as in much else, Jane has usually been left behind.) This version of Jane voluntarily comes to Cromwell and — anticipating what she’d be accused of years later — tells him that she was the one who carried messages to Smeaton from Anne (“I only informed Smeaton when the queen wished to see him. I never stayed to find out why he answered my call”) and what’s more, that she had seen Anne and George in bed together. Cromwell doesn’t believe it. “You disgust me,” he says. “Is your hatred for your husband so great that you are willing to bring the queen to the scaffold block?”

”Anne Boleyn and I go back a long way. We met first at my marriage to George … I offered her friendship; she gave back only disdain. I performed black magic and alchemical miracles for her including when I destroyed the hated Cardinal at her request, in return she would not even recognise me as a full member of the Boleyn family … I said nothing when she goaded the king into heresy and guaranteed the destruction of his soul by the wicked magic she used to blind him into marriage and crowning her queen. She deserves to die given what she did to good queen Katherine, trying to poison her and her daughter Mary, not to mention the destruction of the true religion. She is a vile whore, whom the tarot cards foretold would die horribly.”

The logic behind the tarot-using, demon-raising Jane being deeply concerned about religious orthodoxy is hard to understand, and to his credit, Cromwell does push back a bit by pointing out that she used her “black arts” in 1526 (it’s not clear how he knows this) and Wolsey didn’t die until 1530 and that cards are meaningless. Jane’s reply is “You are not a believer, Master Secretary; don’t ever underestimate Satan. The day may come when you could use my powers and I won’t lift a finger to save you.” How this Jane was unable to escape from the tangle she got herself into with Katherine Howard is a mystery that’s left to the reader.

The incredibly malicious Jane who appears in Mayflowers For November (2016) is startling both in the cruelty of her actions and the unclearness of her motives. We can presume that she and George don’t get along, but her hatred for Anne seems to be even stronger. After the four non-Boleyn men are tried and condemned on May 12 1536, a maid sees Jane supervising while Anne’s apartments are pulled apart.

Lady Rochford was standing by the fireplace supervising the removal of a portrait of Queen Anne from a huge golden frame. One of the men had an axe and he chopped the portrait into quarters and threw it on to the fire.

“So, a queen is burning as was prophesied,” Lady Rochford said.

Later, she taunts Madge Shelton, asking whether she’ll cry more for Norris or Weston when they die. Madge’s response is is “Poor Jane! You will be a pauper when your husband is found guilty at his trial on Monday and all his wealth confiscated.” Jane, confidently anticipating the result of the begging letter to Cromwell she hasn’t yet written, responds that “Good Master Secretary will see that I am well provided for.” Then again, since Anne wasn’t actually tried until May 15, Jane may have inside information about what’s going to happen in the future, if she’s ready to actually tear down and burn her portrait before she’s even technically been found guilty.

The traditional portrayal of Jane takes on a twist in the next group of books — although she’s still done what she’s accused of, she’s done it because she felt backed into a corner and has accused George and Anne from a combination of fear and the desperation to escape an unhappy marriage. These are stories in which George seldom comes off well — at best he’s callous and neglectful, at worst he’s actively abusive and Jane’s accusation is virtually a form of self-defense — her one, shining chance to escape her marriage. The fact that this particular form of escape meant a severe social and financial downgrade is usually ignored, but not always — in the alt-history novel Between Two Kings (2015), Jane recalls George as someone who “degraded and tormented her while he was alive,” and she knows very well how much it will cost her to be rid of him.

She had been reconciled to the fact that her future would be dark. She had been resigned to the fact that she would probably never wear expensive dresses again, would never attend tournaments and festivities at the court, and would never eat from silver and gilt plates. She had accepted that she would have to depend on her parents’ charity for the rest of her life. All that she had wanted was a way out of her marriage to George.

When she’s interrogated by Cromwell, she has no idea what’s going but eventually realizes that he’s fishing for damaging information about the two siblings, and after some broad hints, she finally understands what he wants and gives it to him. The fact that Anne would be collateral damage is something she desperately tries not to blame on her testimony — telling herself, in a fine example of blame-shifting, that Anne was doomed when she miscarried regardless, so it didn’t matter what Jane may have said about her later.

Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession (2017) has Jane — a religious traditionalist — married to a George who acknowledges that he’s committed multiple rapes, who sleeps around, and who has also conscripted Jane into some nonstandard practices and involuntary threesomes (oddly not described as rapes, although it’s clear that she doesn’t want any of it.) When Anne discovers that Jane was the one to accuse the siblings of incest, her thought is “Jane, that little hellcat! What a vile revenge she had wreaked for George’s base use of her, and for Fisher’s death.” When Kingston tells Anne that Jane’s accusation seemed to him to be made “out of envy and jealousy” Anne’s reply is “That’s what she wants the world to think. No, she is for the Lady Mary. She means to destroy me and my blood.”

Anne may think that — even the author of the book may think it, given that the “my blood” could be construed as a hint at Jane’s doomed assistance of Katherine Howard — but anyone reading Jane’s angry descriptions of what George has done to her can guess that her fear and anger at him were quite enough motivation to be going on with.

Bring Up The Bodies (2012) features a Jane who is every bit as malicious as most of the Janes of old (Cromwell even pushes back against the incest suggestion, which is hers alone — she hints that it’s the only way Anne can guarantee that a secretly illegitimate child could have a non-suspicious appearance) but even in this version of the story it’s clear that Jane is miserably married to George — it began with George telling her on their wedding that “I am only doing this because my father says I must” and has gone steadily downhill ever since; she suspects that her childlessness is due to his giving her a venereal disease. Even after cynically handing Cromwell the weapon to destroy both her husband and his sister, Cromwell finds himself thinking almost sympathetically of her.

For what can a woman like Jane Rochford do when circumstances are against her? A widow well-provided for can cut a figure in the world. A merchant’s wife can with diligence and prudence take business matters into her hands, and squirrel away a store of gold. A labouring-woman ill-used by her husband can enlist robust friends, who will stand outside her house all night and bang pans, till the unshaven churl tips out in his shirt to chase them off, and they pull up his shirt and mock his member. But a young married gentlewoman has no way to help herself. She has no more power than a donkey; all she can hope for is a master who spares the whip.

In Le Temps Viendra (2013/14) Jane starts off well — she’s shy, somewhat prickly and “not the harridan history painted her as” until the day she’s rusticated for picking a fight with Henry’s mistress and is furious at not being saved by either George or Anne (it doesn’t help that she suspects George doesn’t mind having extra free time to socialize with other women). Her affinity for Princess Mary leads her accuse the two of them of incest both out of anger at being (in her view) abandoned and the desire to help Mary’s cause. As in Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession the grafting of the personal with the political here doesn’t truly convince. Neither Jane comes across as someone so completely devoted to Mary or her mother that she would be willing to set her own future alight in order to offer them a nebulous, impossible to guarantee political advantage. It smells of a hasty post-hoc rationalization and nothing more than that.

The Kiss Of The Concubine (2013) is a particularly interesting case because the author does a marvelous job of sticking to Anne’s perspective and Anne’s only. The Jane she sees is one who begins as a friendly girl who’s very fond of George and willing to deal with the fact that George isn’t quite as much into her as she is into him. Over the next few years she gradually becomes unhappy and bitter, albeit she has spells of renewed friendliness towards her sisters-in-law, and Anne attributes this unhappiness to her lack of children (“Jane, who craves a child of her own, pays babies little heed, pretending they hold no charm for her.”) Neither George nor Jane is portrayed as irredeemably evil, but they simply don’t get along and George makes no effort to either hide his lack of interest in her or his too-enthusiastic interest in other women. Anne, who clearly isn’t being told as much as she wants to know, thinks unhappily that “If they had a child their problems would be over, I know they would. But how can you get a child with a partner you dislike more with each passing day?” It’s clear to the reader that there’s a lot going on behind the scenes, but as Anne doesn’t know what it is we’re not given any extra hints.

The end of Jane’s storyline stays true to the spirit of the book; Anne, imprisoned and surrounded by women whom she can’t trust, is told that Jane has accused George of committing incest. But Anne knows Cromwell and she also has no chance of seeing or speaking to Jane in order to find out how this actually happened or even if it’s true at all — she’s surrounded by misinformation and has no real idea what’s going on and no reliable way to find out. In the end, Anne chooses to believe that if Jane did make the accusation, it was under duress or because her words were twisted — and since Anne never finds out what it really was, neither will we.

The Jane of The Kiss Of The Concubine may be completely innocent or she may not be — it’s unclear whether she belongs in the ranks of the unhappy, abused Janes or whether she should be classified in the entirely new category of Janes whose worst misdeed was saying a few easily twisted words — after which she has to watch in horror as Cromwell turns them into something that was never originally intended.

The one book I’ve read so far in which an innocent Jane was the undoubted leading character is The Raven’s Widow (2017), in which Jane is portrayed as well-intentioned, strongly devoted both to Anne and George (more so to Anne, at first — George takes a while to grow on her even after their marriage, but their rough spots are created from religious arguments and miscarriages, not dislike or abuse). Like another Jane — Seymour — this one could be ultimately described as bound to obey and served. Her father’s life — holed away in the country translating classics and refusing to contradict anything his sovereign or his priest might tell him — has taught her that the key to both happiness and survival lies in obedience. “My father would always do as his king told him. It was little wonder that I found myself as biddable as he.” Part of her conflict with George stems from his distinct lack of interest in obedience — he slips forbidden religious books into their rooms and insists that reforming church practices would be better than just doing what they’re told. Any inclination Jane may have to follow him dies when he does; George’s death is the ultimate sign that disobedience ends badly. Hence, when Katherine Howard orders Jane to start carrying messages to Thomas Culpepper, Jane does as she’s told.

Other books in which Anne is the lead character tend to cast Jane in the role that’s often been occupied in the past by Margaret Wyatt — someone who isn’t necessarily a close friend, who is at the very least a friendly ally. (Amusingly enough, several of those older books have Margaret Wyatt being in love with George Boleyn!) In Je Anne Boleyn (2015/6) Jane is gossipy type and distinctly not Anne’s favorite — “she really could be so cloying” — but while annoying she’s also as solid as a rock and is genuinely compassionate to Anne when the latter learns that Henry is sleeping with Madge Shelton. Perseverance (2014) sees Jane as “more of a sister” than Mary Boleyn

Out of all of [my companions] I was probably closest with Jane. Even though I loved my sister, Jane seemed to understand me more and did not act jealous, as Mary occasionally did. We often spoke about George, and when he didn’t have time to visit her, I would send her news of him and how he was.

This Jane is happily married, full stop — in fact, seeing George and Jane acting affectionately towards each other makes Anne feel even worse about the condition of her own marriage to Henry.Oddly, their childlessness isn’t mentioned here even as Anne complains to George about her lack of a living son and Jane assists her with the aftermath of a miscarriage. Possibly they’re just remarkably patient people.

Probably the most interesting Jane Boleyn I’ve encountered so far turns up several times as a secondary character in the Courted trilogy by Katherine Longshore. Tarnish (2013) shows us the young, single Jane at court; she’s nervous and tense as a bowstring (she can never completely stop biting her nails). Initially Anne thinks of her as a naive and rather irritating, if friendly, girl, and despairs of ever getting her to reject her engagement to George, whom Anne dislikes and who is already developing a well-earned reputation as a rake. But just as George turns out to have dimensions which Anne never expected, so too does Jane; far from being led into a marriage to a man she’s deluded about, it turns out that she understands what he’s like but has chosen him consciously in order to thwart another match her father planned for her.

”You started saying all these bad things about George, trying to make me hate him. But I couldn’t face the alternative. I was the one who mentioned George to my father. I was the one who suggested it. Before he could promise me to … to …” She shudders.

“You changed your own destiny.”

“I’m sorry.” She winces and puts a finger in her mouth.

One all-too-believable moment in this version of Jane’s story comes when the young Jane, quarreling with Anne over George’s deficiencies and Anne’s attempts to warn Jane off, demands to know whether Anne thinks she’s the only woman good enough for him. Later on we’ll understand both sides; Anne was genuinely attempting to help Jane by getting her to break an apparently unsuitable engagement, and Jane, who already knew everything she was being told, was angry and frustrated and trying anything to get Anne to stop. Out of such acorns will much larger rumors grow later on. In Brazen (2014) Jane will despairingly tell Mary Howard that she has no idea how Cromwell ever knew she had said that, since it was so long ago, but she couldn’t deny that she had, and Cromwell turned it into something she had never intended and did not want.

In Gilt (2012) Jane is now widowed and the senior attendant at the extremely (possibly overly) youthful court of Queen Katherine Howard. Her natural nervousness has hardened into a state of perpetual, low-grade fear. This Jane will never try to change her own destiny again, now that she’s experienced the fallout from the one time she did; the loss her husband and friend in a brutal way, and the conviction that it was partly her fault for giving in to Cromwell under questioning and giving him the material he could twist into evidence. Her fear heightens her talents for staying both obedient and silent. When the young Kitty Tylney taxes Jane with both assisting and turning a blind eye to Katherine Howard’s affair — “You, who watched your husband and his sister lose their heads over the exact same issue that you now facilitate”, Jane’s first response to is to deflect the question while revealing as little as possible. “My husband was accused of incest. I see nothing of that sort happening here.” Kitty, not understanding why she’s acting so dense, is angry.

I thought you were a grown-up,” I spat. “I thought you were a mentor.”

Jane’s expression changed for a fraction of an instant. Sadness. Pain. My words had done their work. Then the courtier was back.

“You have no call to be so blunt, Kitty,” she said. “I have done nothing to you.”

“No, and you’ve done nothing for Cat, either,” I retorted. “Nothing good, anyway.”

Jane stared at me with eyes the color of the withering fields beyond the city walls. The eyes of a woman who had seen great sorrow. The eyes of a woman who had seen great sorrow. Who saw terror and possibly madness in the future. It filled me with remorse.

“I’m sorry, Jane.”

“Don’t feel sorry for me, Kitty,” she said, her voice so cold I almost flinched. “I’m not worth it.”

This author has never written a book actually centered around Jane, but I don’t think she needs to — her love, fear, anger and despair come across so vividly as it is that another book would feel redundant.

Seeing what Jane can be turned into, now that she’s no longer entirely yoked to the image of the “wicked wife”, has been fascinating and I expect it will only get more interesting from here — though one curious instance four months ago made me wonder if perhaps it’s possible to be too conscientious. In this post, author Lissa Bryan explains that she withdrew her Anne Boleyn novel Under These Restless Skies (2014) because she had subsequently learned that the case for Jane Boleyn’s being Anne and George’s accuser was even weaker than she had originally thought.

In one of these notes [in her book’s afterword] I mentioned that the way I’d portrayed Jane Parker, Lady Rochford, as the scheming, vindictive person who’d caused Anne’s downfall had started to fall out of favour. But that was putting it mildly. Over the last few years, I’ve learned more about Jane, and I saw that I had maligned an innocent woman, attributing a malice to her that the historical record doesn’t show. I’d made her an architect of Anne’s demise and that’s just not true …. The more I’d learned, the more what I’d done weighed on me. I was able to update my Tudor history blog with more accurate information as it came my way, but not the book. I stopped promoting it. I didn’t want to do interviews any longer.

The book’s rights have since reverted to her and she now plans on rewriting it to exonerate Jane, and to replace any copies of the original book which people send to her. (Incidentally, I’d be happy to buy one of them if any is available — right now there isn’t one available online for a halfway reasonable price.) I can certainly understand her continuing discomfort knowing that a book with her name on the cover and so much inaccurate information on the inside is out in the world; I’d probably feel the same way. At the same time, when you consider all the alternative histories, the vampire novels, the insane nineteenth-century novels in which the characters bore only the barest resemblance to their historical counterparts, I do wish she hadn’t felt the need to withdraw the original. Update, certainly, but the book — and the character — were products of their time and the sources which were given to her then, and they make their contribution towards painting a portrait not of Jane herself, but of how one well-read, conscientious writer still saw her at the point in time. Considering everything her fictional counterparts have been doing for the last four hundred years, I doubt the real woman — whatever she was really like — would find much to upset her in that.

  1. Esther permalink

    Do any of the people who think George and Jane hated each other ever explain why it appears that neither party ever tried to terminate a childless marriage? Nobility wanted heirs as much as royalty. After all, the Countess of Northumberland tried to get her marriage annulled (claiming that her husband — Henry Percy — was in a pre-contract with Anne Boleyn) — so Jane could have tried if George was really abusive. Brothers of two other of Henry’s wives — Edward Seymour and William Parr — were able to dump unwanted wives (Parr’s problem was remarrying before Parliament approved the dissolution of his first marriage). Not surprised that Alison Weir relies on an inaccurate picture of Jane in both her fiction and her alleged non-fiction — she does a lot of this (check Kathryn Warner’s site for comments on Weir’s book on Isabella to show how often she does this)

    • sonetka permalink

      Never that I can remember — the standard approach seems to be to take it for granted that it would be virtually impossible for them to end their marriage since if it was so hard for the king, it must have been even harder for lesser folk. Which of course isn’t true (as anyone who’s had occasion to read up on Charles Brandon’s marital career can attest) and since there was no potential kingdom’s inheritance at stake, George and Jane could have at least tried — even if, like the Countess of Northumberland, they had not succeeded, there would have been some trace left in the record.

      I truly can’t understand why Weir has found so much favor — there’s so much circular reasoning and weak arguing and she’s so vague about sources. And quite apart from her insistence that all the contemporary sources which don’t name Jane as the “one maid more” actually must mean her because sources 150 years later think it was the case, she puts so much weight on wild cards like George and Jane’s childlessness. I realize that in high school health class we were left with the impression that standing less than five feet from a human male led to pregnancy 50% of the time, but there are couples who simply have a great deal of difficulty or find it impossible to have children, no matter how they feel towards each other. For that matter, we don’t even know if they *were* childless, strictly speaking — miscarriages, stillbirths, even deaths in infancy might well have been lost to the record. We don’t even know what really occurred with Anne’s second pregnancy, except that it didn’t end in a healthy birth — and she was the Queen of England when that happened!

  2. A couple of things you might be interested in (sorry it’s off topic, but I can’t seem to find an email address for you):

    I know you’re not crazy about most of Allison Weir’s work, but so far I’m enjoying her novel on Jane Seymour. Probably because Jane’s not much focused on in fiction and she’s presented as a rather fully rounded character–disliking Anne because of what happened to Catherine, but wishing her annulment rather than her death, genuinely developing feelings for Henry, and hoping she can influence him to what she believes is the true faith.

    Secondly, there’s a new YA novel called Fatal Throne, by multiple authors. Different YA authors take a chapter each from the POV of each of the six wives, with M.T. Anderson doing interstitial chapters from Henry’s POV. It’s quite well written from what I’ve read so far and I hope you’ll cover it.

    Perhaps in the near future, you can branch out into Tudor-themed movies/series–I’d like to see your take on Ray Winstone’s Henry VIII (IMO, mostly good with some flaws). Or novels that focus on other wives but have Anne’s shadow still hanging over them (like Philippa Gregory’s The Boleyn Inheritance and The Taming Of The Queen).

    Say what you will about Philippa Gregory, but her novels that focus on the wives of Henry VIII really give a sense of what it must have been like to live in a realm where a spoiled and mercurial child held absolute power–his subjects weren’t safe, his friends weren’t safe, his wives weren’t safe, and that tension just thrums through those three novels.

    • sonetka permalink

      No problem, I love rambling comments because it means EVEN MORE TO TALK ABOUT. I’ve been incredibly bogged down for the last few months and then took a longish vacation so I’m really behind on books; thank you so much for the recommendations. And yes, Weir isn’t my favorite, but Jane Seymour is a tough subject and if she can breathe a little more life into her than usual I’d be happy to check it out. (And I for one have no problem imaging that Jane thought an annulment would be forthcoming — it was SOP for a monarch trying to ditch an inconvenient spouse, whereas framing and execution was something that, in England, had literally never happened before.)

      Philippa Gregory’s books are just fun; I enjoyed The Other Boleyn Girl even as I rolled my eyes at some scenes because she just went all out and there really was a very tangible feeling of insecurity wreathed around everyone. It must have been rather like being close to Stalin — you could never be sure what would set him off, and poor timing would mean death. I also enjoyed “The Boleyn Inheritance” though the Jane Boleyn parts I thought were weak — her insanity just didn’t come across as very convincing to me, plus it portrayed her as having a surviving son, which changed everything. I had not heard of Fatal Throne and will definitely be checking it out, the concept sounds great.

      I’m not sure about movies and TV because for some reason while I love reading the books and can get through just about anything, I have a harder time concentrating on anything that’s filmed. But once I get a little more free time that may change :).

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