Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford

Lady in Waiting to Four Queens of Henry VIII

Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn, Jane's Sister-in-Law. Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images

Known for: married to Anne Boleyn's brother; testified against her brother and Anne in the trial leading to their execution; executed for enabling affair of Catherine Howard

Occupation: English nobility; lady of the bedchamber for four queens
Dates: ? - February 13, 1542
Also known as: Jane Parker, Lady Jane Rochford

Background, Family:

  • Mother: Alice St. John
  • Father: Henry Parker, 10th Baron Morley
  • Siblings: Margaret, married Sir John Shelton

    Marriage, Children:

    • husband: George Boleyn (about 1504 - 1536, married 1526) - brother of Anne Boleyn, queen and second wife of King Henry VIII
    • children: a George Boleyn, who died in 1603, is sometimes counted as her son; most likely, her marriage was childless.

    Jane Boleyn Biography:

    Jane was born in Norfolk, though the year is not recorded. She may have been educated at home; At her husband's death, she possessed two books. She was first noted at court in 1522, playing a part in a pageant put on by Henry VIII.

    Her family arranged her marriage to George Boleyn in 1526. Henry VIII had begun his pursuit of George's sister Anne Boleyn in 1525. George Boleyn was given the title Viscount Rochford in 1529. In 1532, when Henry VIII entertained the French king Francois I at Calais, Anne Boleyn, and Jane Boleyn appeared together. Anne married Henry VIII in 1533, at which time Jane was a lady of the bedchamber to Anne.

    Anne's marriage to Henry began to fail quickly, and Henry's attentions began to turn to other women. Anne miscarried in 1534 and had discovered that Henry was having an affair. Jane was dismissed from court by Henry for causing one of Henry's favorites to leave the court, probably at Anne's instigation.

    The somewhat-ambiguous contemporary reference to this incident has sometimes been interpreted to refer instead to Jane's support of Mary, Henry VIII's daughter by his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.

    By 1535, Jane had definitely sided against Anne, when Jane was part of a Greenwich demonstration for Mary. Her actions were taken as a protest against Anne because the protesters asserted that Mary, not Elizabeth, was the rightful heir to Henry's throne. This incident led to a stay in the Tower for Jane and for Anne's aunt, Lady William Howard.

    Some have concluded that the idea that Anne and her brother George were committing incest may have been spread by Jane. Jane's testimony was key evidence Cromwell used in the case against Anne. And Jane testified against her husband with a sworn affidavit stating her belief that he had committed incest with Anne. She was in attendance at Anne's trial, hearing witnesses accuse her husband and Anne of incest.

    Another charge against Anne at her trial, though it was not spoken in court, was that Anne had told Jane that the king was impotent -- a piece of information Cromwell had obtained from Jane.

    George Boleyn was executed on May 17, 1536, and Anne on May 19.

    After her husband's death, Jane Boleyn retired to the country. She was in serious financial trouble and obtained some help from her father-in-law. Apparently, Thomas Cromwell was also helpful to the woman who had been helpful to him in making the case against Anne.

    Jane became a lady of the bedchamber to Jane Seymour and was selected to bear the train of the Princess Mary at Jane Seymour's funeral.

    Jane Boleyn was lady of the bedchamber to the next two queens, as well. When Henry VIII wanted a quick divorce from his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, Jane Boleyn provided evidence, saying that Anne had confided in her in a roundabout way that the marriage had not actually been consummated. This report was included in the divorce proceedings.

    Now firmly with a reputation for which the historian Lacy Baldwin Smith used the phrase "pathological meddler," Jane Boleyn became a lady of the bedchamber to Henry VIII's young, new wife, Catherine Howard, and Jane was again at the center of that court.

    In that role, she was found to have been a go-between arranging visits between Catherine Howard and Thomas Culpeper, finding them meeting places and hiding their meetings. She may even have instigated or at least encouraged Catherine's affair with Culpeper.

    When Catherine was accused of the affair, which amounted to treason against the king, Jane Boleyn first denied knowledge of it. The interrogation of Jane over this matter caused her to lose her sanity, raising questions whether she'd be well enough to be executed. A letter to Culpeper was produced in Catherine's handwriting, in which was found the sentence, "Come when my Lady Rochford is here, for then I shall be at leisure to be at your commandment."

    Jane Boleyn was charged and tried. The act of attainder against "Lady Jane Rocheford" called her "that bawd." She was found guilty, and her execution took place on Tower Green on February 3, 1542, after Jane made a prayer for the king and alleged she had falsely testified against her husband. She was buried at St. Peter ad Vincula Church.

    Books About Jane Boleyn:

    • Allison Weir. The Six Wives of Henry VIII. 1991.
    • Julia Fox. Jane Boleyn: The True Story of the Infamous Lady Rochford. 2007.
    • Philippa Gregory. The Boleyn Inheritance. 2008. (fiction)