Monday, 11 February 2013

Jane Parker, Lady Rochford

The infamous Lady Rochford was born as Jane Parker in around 1505. Her family was wealthy, well-connected and had a good reputation; Jane herself was distantly related to Henry VIII. Jane was sent to court before she was fifteen and she joined Catherine of Aragon's household. We know that she went with the King and his family to the Field of the Cloth of Gold. Later she was a one of the seven graces - alongside her future sisters-in-laws Mary and Anne Boleyn - at the masquerade Chateau Vert.

The only surviving likeness of Jane
In late 1524 or 1525 she married into the Boleyn family when she married George Boleyn and became Viscountess Rochford. At this time Anne Boleyn was somewhat attached to the King but the relationship was only beginning. The King gave the newly married couple Grimston Manor as a wedding present. The marriage itself is widely considered unhappy; mostly because of the uncertain sexuality of George Boleyn who has often been portrayed as being either homosexual or bisexual.

When the Boleyns were falling from power in 1536 and George Boleyn was arrested, Jane herself witnessed against her husband and sister-in-law, Anne Boleyn. According to Jane's testimony it was George who had fathered the foetus that Anne miscarried in 1536; however there was no truth in this which added to Jane's later reputation of being malicious towards her family through marriage. Since no one else testified the same as Jane it was her testimony alone that provided the judges with evidence that would sent George and Anne Boleyn to the scaffold.
There has generally been agreement - both contemporary and later on - that Jane was driven by an immense jealousy towards Anne based on Anne's superior social skills and popularity. Thomas Wyatt, who had been a close friend of the Boleyns, described Jane as a "wicked wife".

After the fall of the Boleyn Jane found herself in a difficult situation both with regards to finances and status. The lands given to the Boleyns where taken back to the crown and since the titles of Earl of Ormond and Earl of Wiltshire only passed through the male line, there was no benefits left for Jane. In the following years Jane was - understandably - absent from court and spent most of her time trying to get a hold of her finances. She mainly communicated with Thomas Cromwell and from times to times Sir Thomas Boleyn and in the end she was allowed an annual pension of 100 pounds - enough to keep an upper-class lifestyle. Through 1536 and 1537 Jane focused mainly on getting back to court and she served as a lady-in-waiting to Jane Seymour which meant that she came back to court less than a year after her husband's execution.

As Viscountess she was allowed to take several servants with her and was entitled to be greeted as Lady Rochford. When Henry VIII wanted a divorce from Anne of Cleves, Jane (once again) testified and helped the King get his divorce by saying that Anne of Cleves had admitted that the marriage was not consummated.  His new Queen, Katherine Howard, would be the last Queen that Jane served.

Jane kept her position as lady-in-waiting to the new Queen Katherine and had a good deal of influence over the inexperienced Queen - she would eventually become a favourite of Katherine's. It was Lady Rochford who arranged the meetings between Katherine Howard and her lover, Thomas Culpepper, even on the progress to the North.
But when the King was informed of Katherine's past, Jane was in a dangerous position. When the Queen's favourites and ladies-in-waiting testified that Lady Rochford had had a strange and suspicious behaviour when she was with Katherine Howard and Thomas Culpepper. Soon Jane herself was detained and questioned. Jane's fate was sealed when a letter from Katherine to Culpepper was found - describing how Lady Rochford had helped the couple. Jane was consequently taken to the Tower and spent several months under arrest.

Jane must have thought of George and Anne who had spent their last hours in the same place. As an aristocrat Jane could not be tortured but the many interrogations eventually led to a complete nervous breakdown. In the beginning of 1542 she was declared insane - at the time it was considered that insanity and psychological issues were the same. According to the law of Tudor England an insane person could not be executed. However, Henry VIII wanted to punish Lady Rochford for her part in his "humiliation" and forced a law through that permitted the execution of the insane. Hereafter it did not take long before Jane was convicted on an Act of Attainder (without a trial because her "fits of frenzy" prevented her from being tried) and was sentenced to execution on February 13th - the same day as Katherine Howard.

The Queen was executed first and Jane - who had been watching the execution - made a short speech before kneeling down. Despite her previous hysteria she was calm and dignified. A single blow ended the life of the infamous Lady Rochford and she was buried with Katherine Howard in the Chapel St. Peter ad Vincula - not far from George and Anne Boleyn.

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