How the mighty had fallen: Jane Boleyn and her role in fall of Anne and George Boleyn

"The Tudors"

On this day in history 13 February 1542 Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, widow of George Boleyn and former sister-in-law of ill-fated Queen Anne Boleyn, was executed along fifth wife of Henry VIII, teenage Catherine Howard.

Lady Rochford remains a mysterious and controversial historic figure. Through centuries she was perceived as a wicked wife who provided a false testimony against her husband and his sister. I must admit – Jane Boleyn is one of those historic characters that I feel especially drawn to. In today’s article I will take a closer look at Jane and her involvement in the Boleyn’s downfall.

My article is also a guest post on the blog On the Tudor Trail

 Who Jane Boleyn was?

She was born as Jane Parker, daughter of Henry Parker, 10th Baron Morley and Alice St John. Jane was related to King Henry VIII and therefore her family was politically active, respected and well-connected at the court. Jane’s date of birth remains unknown although the most probable date seems to be c. 1505.

Although no portrait of Jane survived, she was probably considered attractive in her times – she was chosen to play in prestigious “Château Vert” masque at Court in 1522, where also her future sisters-in-law (Anne and Mary Boleyn) played their parts. Jane played the role of Constancy, Anne Boleyn was Perseverance, Mary Boleyn was Kindness, and the King’s sister Mary Rose Tudor was Beauty.

Jane & the Boleyn family

The date of marriage between Jane Parker and George Boleyn is not recorded; according to Alison Weir they married ‘late in 1524’. They were both about the same age, young and attractive, members of prominent English families.

The tradition goes on to say that the marriage was an unhappy one, particularly because of George Boleyn’s homosexuality and Jane’s jealousy about his relationship with his sister Anne Boleyn.

Historian Retha Warnicke believes that George Boleyn was homosexual. Her theory led many people to believe in unhappy union between George and Jane.  Retha M. Warnicke based her opinion on three pieces of evidence;

1)  George Cavendish’s ‘Metrical Visions’: Cavendish described George Boleyn’s ‘unlawful lechery’ which suggests that young Boleyn committed some kind of sins; but was homosexuality one of them? The answer is no. It is highly possible that George Boleyn was unfaithful to his wife and that he had had affairs, but there is no mention that he was homosexual. In 16th century every sin was considered as great offence against God, and perhaps George Boleyn committed some sins (adultery for example) but there is no mention about homosexuality. What is very interesting, Cavendish describes George Boleyn as a womanizer and not homosexual:

“I forced widows, maidens I did deflower. All was one to me, I spared none at all, My appetite was all women to devour, My study was both day and hour.”

2)   George Boleyn’s scaffold speech: Retha M. Warnicke argues that in his last words, George confessed that he was a homosexual. But George’s last speech is no different than any other scaffold speeches of that time; he simply admitted that he is a sinner, like all people, and that he deserved to die. Perhaps he meant that he did not lead a chaste life, but it does not imply that he was a homosexual.

3)   Retha M. Warnicke stated that George Boleyn had a homosexual affair with Mark Smeaton, the court musician because at some stage they both had access to the same book.

Personally I do not believe that George Boleyn was a homosexual – I actually think that he was a wealthy and powerful young courtier, a rising star who was handsome and learned. Perhaps his beauty and quick wit could have been the reason of gossip about his unhappy marriage. But we also have to consider this – George Cavendish was Cardinal Wolsey’s secretary and therefore he held the Boleyns responsible for his master’s fall. So it is obvious that he did not respect them, and it is possible that he exaggerated or even lied about certain matters.

Perhaps the only thing that caused tension between George and Jane was religion.  In his book “The Boleyns: The Rise and fall of a Tudor Family” David Loades states that:

“There is no sign that Jane was anything other than strictly orthodox in her faith, and she had no patronage of any significance to indicate otherwise, while George was clearly in the evangelical camp”. (David Loades, “The Boleyns: The Rise and fall of a Tudor Dynasty”, p.141)

George, as well as his royal sister Anne, developed a strong interest in religious reforms. Jane Parker from the other hand came from a Catholic family. Her father, Lord Morley spent few years in Margaret Beaufort’s household (mother of Henry VII, grandmother of Henry VIII) where he came to know John Fisher, who was executed in 1535 as he refused to accept Henry VIII as the Supreme Head of the Church.  Perhaps Jane’s family, as most people in England, blamed Anne Boleyn for the executions of both John Fisher and Sir Thomas More.

When Jane Parker married George Boleyn she probably did not suspect that her sister-in-law, beautiful and glamorous Anne, would become Queen of England. Anne paved her way to the top and Henry VIII married her against all odds. Jane became one of Anne’s ladies-in-waiting and found herself a member of a royal family. Although we do not know what the relationship between the two women was, we can easily assume that they knew each other well before Jane married George.

In 1534 Jane Boleyn conspired with Anne Boleyn against king’s new mistress, but when Henry VIII found out about it, he banished Jane from court. Although we do not know when and in which circumstances Jane came back, we can assume that this incident strained the relationship between Jane and Anne.

Jane’s presence at court is recorded again in 1535:

“When [Princess] Mary had left Greenwich to go to Eltham, a great many women, in spite of their husbands, had flocked to see her pass, and had cheered her, calling out, that notwithstanding all laws to the contrary, she was still their princess. Several of them, being of higher rank than the rest, had been sent to the Tower. On the margin of that report … we find (written by Dinteville himself): ‘Note, my Lord Rochford …’ The ambassador clearly meant that Lady Rochford … was among those who had cheered Mary.” (Paul Friedman, “Anne Boleyn: A Chapter of English History 1527-1536”, p. 128)

Although Jane was Anne’s sister-in-law, she probably found herself thorn between loyalty to her husband’s family and loyalty towards her own family and beliefs. It is possible that Jane was shocked at the bloody executions of Bishop Fisher and Sir Thomas More – people whom she as a Catholic admired and respected. It is obvious that there was some kind of tension between Jane and Anne Boleyn. Perhaps Jane blamed Anne for her banishment in 1534 and it changed her attitude towards Anne?

The black legend of ‘infamous Lady Rochford’

 The legend about Jane Boleyn says that she – eaten up with jealousy for George’s close relationship with Anne, provided false testimony that send them both to the scaffold.  Through the course of history Jane was described as:

Wicked wife, accuser of her own husband, even to the seeking of his own blood” (George Wyatt)

“The infamous lady Rochford… justly deserved her fate for the concern which she had in bringing Anne Boleyn, as well as her own husband, to the block.” ( C.Coote)

The question is why Lady Rochford has such a bad reputation? Did she really testify against her own husband and his sister?

First, let’s forget for a while about accounts of Jane Boleyn’s jealousy and spiteful character, described years after her death. Let’s take a look on contemporary evidence about Jane’s involvement in her husband’s fall. In reports and despatches there are such descriptions;

-          ”That person who, more out of envy and jealousy than out of love towards the King, did betray this accursed secret, and together with it the names of those who had joined in the evil doings of the unchaste Queen” /anonymous Portuguese account, 10 June 1536/; No mention about Jane Boleyn; only ‘that person’ is held responsible for Queen Anne Boleyn’s downfall.

-          On George Boleyn’s trial he reportedly said ”On the evidence of only one woman, you are prepared to believe this great evil of me!”/Lancelot de Carles/: again, no mention about Jane, only about mysterious ‘one woman’ who testified against George.

-          Bishop Burnet who probably had access to contemporary sources lost to us, stated that Jane ‘carried many stories to the king or some about him’. (Eric Ives, “The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn”, p. 331).


There is no contemporary evidence that names Jane Boleyn as her husband’s accuser. She is not mentioned by name as the woman who was responsible for accusations of incest between George and Anne Boleyn. It was years after Jane’s death that she was labelled as ‘evil’, ‘wicked’, ‘jealous’ and ‘spiteful’.

Why then, long after Jane’s death, she was so much slandered? Julia Fox, author of only modern biography “Jane Boleyn: The True Story of the Infamous Lady Rochford” has her own opinion about that;

”Once Anne Boleyn’s daughter, Elizabeth I, was queen, an explanation was needed for why Henry VIII had sent Anne to her death for treason and incest. Just as Elizabeth’s mother, herself a Protestant icon by then, must have been innocent of the charges, the queen’s father, it was thought, would not have ordered Anne’s execution unless he had believed her guilty. Conveniently ignoring Henry’s passion for Jane Seymour, it was easy to suggest that the king had been told lies. And the person who had told the lies, it was alleged, was Jane. Executed for alleged treason, and with no one to speak for her, she was the perfect scapegoat. Yet I found that if you looked at it with a fresh and unprejudiced eye, the evidence didn’t stack up against Jane. You could even track how the myths developed. Once I knew that, I wanted to tell her story and stick up for her—it was about time that someone did”. (

In her book Julia Fox argues that Jane Boleyn had no reason to give a false testimony against her husband; moreover, after George’s execution she found herself in a difficult financial position. By the end of May 1536 Jane was writing a letter to Cromwell asking him to intercede with the King on her behalf;

“Jane, widow of Lord Rochford, to [Cromwell].

Beseeching him to obtain from the King for her the stuff and plate of her husband. The King and her father paid 2,000 marks for her jointure to the earl of Wyltchere, and she is only assured of 100 marks during the Earl’s life, “which is very hard for me to shift the world withal.” Prays him to inform the King of this. Signed.” (Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 10: January-June 1536).

Jane’s letter was answered and she soon came back at court as Lady of the Bedchamber to king’s third wife Jane Seymour. Jane Boleyn managed to secure herself a position of lady-in-waiting to king’s subsequent wives, until her own execution in 1542.

Again the tradition goes on to say that before Jane laid her head at the executioner’s block, she admitted that she gave a false testimony against Anne and George Boleyn.  However this is not true. An eye-witness to Jane’s execution, Otwell Johnson did not mention any such confession. Julia Fox writes that Jane confessed that she:

“committed many sins against God from my youth upwards and have offended the king’s royal Majesty very dangerously, so my punishment is just and deserved. I am justly condemned by the laws of this realm and by Parliament. All of you who watch me die should learn from my example and change your own lives. You must gladly obey the king in all things, for he us a just and godly prince. I pray for his preservation and beseech you all to do the same. I now entrust my soul to God and pray for his mercy.” (Julia Fox, “Jane Boleyn: The Infamous Lady Rochford”)

Otwell Johnson was apparently impressed with Catherine and Jane’s dignity that he later wrote:

“Their souls must be with God, for they made the most godly and Christian end.”


There is no evidence that names Jane Boleyn as her husband’s accuser. Therefore I do not believe that she played a major role during Anne and George Boleyn’s downfall. Even if Jane testified, she might break under the investigation – perhaps she said nothing hurtful, and Anne and George’s downfall was a foregone conclusion?

Although I do not believe that Jane gave a false testimony against her husband and sister-in-law I have to say that I am not entirely convinced by Julia Fox’s sympathetic portrayal of Jane. I have to agree with Alison Weir that Jane “had a talent for intrigue”. She did conspire with Anne Boleyn in order to get rid of king’s new mistress in 1534, she did show her support for the Lady Mary in 1535 when it was clearly a very risky thing (she was briefly taken to the Tower on that account), and she did help teenage queen Catherine Howard to meet her beloved Thomas Culpepper.

I believe that it was Jane’s nosy nature that brought her own downfall. She was found guilty of high treason and taken to the Tower, where she suffered a nervous breakdown. Perhaps Jane though that this last act of desperation will save her from the traitor’s death, but she was wrong. Henry VIII was eager to put her to death and he implemented a law which allowed the execution of the insane.

Any signs of a nervous breakdown that Jane suffered during her imprisonment in the Tower were now gone. She faced her death with courage and dignity.


Alison Weir, “The Lady in the Tower”

David Loades, “The Boleyns: The Rise and Fall of a Tudor Family”

Eric Ives, “The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn”

Julia Fox, “Jane Boleyn: The Infamous Lady Rochford”

Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 10: January-June 1536

Original Letters, ed. Ellis, 1st series II, pp. 128-9 (LP XVII, 106.)

Paul Friedman, “Anne Boleyn: A Chapter of English History 1527-1536”

Retha M. Warnicke “The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn: Family Politics at the Court of Henry VIII”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
2 Responses
  1. Patricia says:

    I love your website. It’s difficult for me because I am french and I do not speak english very well but I love it.
    I am very interested in Anne Boleyn’s story and I would like to ask you some questions.
    Do you know exactly how many miscarriages Anne Boleyn did after her daughter’s birth ?
    Is it right that one was a boy ?
    I don’t think that is normal, she was young and in good health.Do you think that somebody could have poisoned her ? Somebody who didn’t want her to have a boy ?
    Finally, do you think that she really was in love with the king ?
    Thank you very much for your answers.

    PS : naturally, I’ve got my B necklace….

    • Sylwia says:

      Hello Patricia!
      Thank you for your comment. I’m happy you like my website.
      I will try to answer your questions;
      About Anne’s miscarriages I know all this what is written in primary sources and history book – some historians claim that she was pregnant 4 times, some say 3 times. I will write an article about Anne’s pregnancies and in this article I will take a closer look on this aspect of Anne’s life.
      Well, that times prenatal care was very bad, and young women were dying because lack of care. Imagine also that in Tudor times women used to drink wine and ale all the time, even in pregnancy. They were not eating vegetables. So diet played major role.
      I’m not sure how to answer your last question – I think Anne didn’t love Henry in the beginning, perhaps later she really fell in love with him.
      Great, I’m happy you have B necklace :-) In my shop I have also HA necklace inspired by Anne’s portrait.

Leave a Reply

  • Archives

    • 2015 (2)
    • 2013 (1)
    • 2012 (13)
    • 2011 (16)
  • Products

    HA Necklace
  • Elizabeth' Rainbow Necklace
  • Anne Boleyn B Necklace