Jane Parker or Mrs George Boleyn has gone down in history as the woman who accused her husband and sister-in-law of incest. She was also the woman who connived to allow Katherine Howard to meet her lover Thomas Culpepper- resulting in Katherine being executed and Henry VIII changing the law to allow for the execution of the insane so that Jane could share the same fate on the 13th February 1542.
The image at the start of the post is a Holbein. Recent consensus is that this particular Lady Parker is actually Grace Parker – nee Newport the wife of Jane’s brother Henry rather than Jane.
Jane was described by Henry as a “bawd” because she had helped Katherine to meet with Thomas, had passed on letters and kept watch whilst the pair conducted their assignations during the royal progress to York.. It can’t have come as a total surprise that Henry ordered her arrest when he discovered what had been going on. rather unreasonably Thomas Culpepper and Katherine Howard both tried to put the blame on Jane for orchestrating the meetings. Jane had a nervous breakdown whilst in confinement.
So, what else do we know about her? She was descended from Margaret Beauchamp of Bletsoe, Margaret Beaufort’s mother – making Jane a distant Tudor relation which accounts for her court links. Her father was raised in Margaret Beaufort’s household. Jane first appears in the court records in 1520 pertaining to the Field of the Cloth of Gold. She would have been about fifteen. She served in the households of Catherine of Aragon, her sister-in-law Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves and also in Katherine Howard’s. We know that she appeared in court masques and we know that in 1524 /25 she married George Boleyn.
Warnicke theorises that Jane and George were unhappily married because of George’s sexuality- certainly something wasn’t right if Jane was prepared to send her husband to the block on some rather unpleasant charges. The primary source evidence for this comes from George Cavendish’s account of Boleyn. However to counter this it should be noted that Cavendish was loyal to Wolsey and there was little love lost between the Cardinal’s faction and the Boleyns. It should also be noted that George had a bit of a reputation with the ladies. The only bad thing that Chapuys, the Imperial Ambassador, could say about George was that he was very Protestant in his outlook. It’s safe to say that had Chapuys got a whiff of George being homosexual that it would have been recorded in his letters.
Whatever the family relationship, in 1534 Jane helped Anne to get rid of an unnamed mistress of the king’s and that Jane was banished as a consequence. This allowed Anne the opportunity to place another potential mistress under Henry’s nose – a Howard girl- possibly Madge Shelton and someone who was unlikely to be used by the conservative faction at court to weaken Anne’s position. Jane herself was back at court the following year.
Popular history claims that Jane told the king that one of Anne’s lovers was George but whilst the primary sources talk about ‘one woman’ they don’t actually name Jane as the culprit and there is certainly no written evidence to support the idea although that doesn’t preclude the possibility of verbal evidence. Like so much popular history we think we know what happened but the closer you look at the evidence the more elusive the truth becomes.
Julia Fox, Jane’s biographer states that Jane was only named during the reign of Elizabeth I. Jane was long dead and who else cold have told such blatant lies – but a mad woman? Alison Weir on the other hand concludes that Jane was probably instrumental in George’s execution. It is also true to say that an anonymous Portuguese writer claimed a month after Anne’s execution that Jane was responsible for the incest accusation. Weir deduces that Jane was jealous of the closeness that existed between her husband and Anne.
It is true though that the evidence of George’s trial points to Jane telling Cromwell that Anne Boleyn had talked of Henry VIII’s impotence which one imagines would have been more than enough to get Anne into serious hot water with her spouse.
Jane didn’t benefit from her husband’s death. Thomas Boleyn refused to pay Jane’s jointure. She was forced to write to Cromwell asking for help.
And whilst we’re at it we should perhaps also look at the idea that Jane was insane at the time of her execution. Primary evidence supplied by Ottwell Johnson reveals a woman who went to her maker calmly and with dignity despite the fact that no one in her family had attempted to intervene on her behalf. Lord Morley (Jane’s father) and his son Henry perhaps realised the extent of Henry’s anger.
Finally – just to make life that little bit more interesting in 1519, the year before the first written account of Jane at court Henry VIII had a fling with “Mistress Parker” or at least court rumour said he did. At fourteen Jane fitted Henry’s liking for young mistresses best typified by Katherine Howard. Jane like so many other of his mistresses was related to him and like many other of his mistresses a large wedding gift was given. Alternatively maybe Mistress Parker was Jane’s mother Alice St John?
In 1519 Henry was in the midst of his affair with Bessie Blount the mother of his illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy. Mistress Parker was a diversion whilst Bessie was pregnant. Could Alice have been Henry’s mistress and gained her daughter a place in Catherine of Aragon’s household? It’s possible.
Alice outlived her daughter and like her husband she did not publicly mourn the death of Jane.
Fox. Julia, (2008) Jane Boleyn: The Infamous Lady Rochford
Retha M. Warnicke “The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn: Family Politics at the Court of Henry VIII”